Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun - 08

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We have a situation in the two shoujo romances this season where the lead couple probably shouldn't be together, but for entirely different reasons.

This is a series that really cries out for a longer adaptation, because it’s hard to see any way that four more episodes are going to do it justice.  The presence of a very complicated and interesting lead pairing and an exceptionally strong supporting cast have made the first eight episodes exceptionally involving, but they've opened so many possibilities that it seems only too likely we’re going to end up with either a rushed ending that cuts too many corners (one suspects that Sasayan’s character arc has already been largely a casualty of scheduling, and that Shizuku’s family will be too) or one that simply leaves everything hanging and acts as a commercial for the manga.  I hope people do buy the manga, but the fans of the anime deserve better than that, and I hope they get it.

I've already discussed Sukitte Ii na yo at length today and I won’t re-hash it at length here, but there are some very interesting contrasts between this cast and that one, and between the two series.  Without a question Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is the more fanciful show, the funnier and more absurd and prone to theatrics (and certainly the better, though I like them both) but it goes deeper than that.  In Mei and Shizuku we have two very different takes on the socially isolated bookworm, and the two male leads could hardly be more different.  I’d argue that the romance in Sukitte is more “realistic”, but while the overall take on teen romance and sex in that show is refreshingly honest, the actual romance in Tonari is far more engaging for me, and it mostly comes down to the strength of the characters themselves.

To start with Shizuku, where she stands out is in her forceful, take-no-prisoners personality – but while she projects self-awareness, she practices self-deception.  Even so, she “gets it” about the nature of her relationship issues in a way that Mei doesn’t.  It’s become clear that Shizuku very much likes to be in control, and everything about her relationship with Haru projects a lack of control.  The surest way to be in control, of course, is to brook no outside influence from relationships at all – and that’s the method she practices through most of her childhood.  Above and beyond that, though, Haru is a loose cannon to begin with – dangerous in both the literal and existential sense.  He can’t control himself, so what chance does Shizuku have?  Everything about him is a threat to the wall she’s built around herself (one suspects ever since her Mother effectively abandoned her, though that’s pure speculation).

Haru is a tough one to deal with, both for Shizuku and as a viewer.  It can’t be ignored that Haru is reckless to the point of psychosis – while he hasn't intentionally injured Shizuku – or now Ooshima – he has accidentally struck Shizuku twice in a fit of rage, and grabbed both of them hard enough to leave a mark.  Haru is a child in a man’s body, a savant with no boundaries, a man-sized boy with an out-of-control temper and a past that fills him with rage (and from what we've seen, not without justification).  I still suspect Haru suffers from some sort of personality disorder, but whether that’s the case or not Shizuku isn't responsible for him – and she shouldn't be with him unless he proves he can get better and take control of his demons.

They’re quite the pair, these two – far from perfect both of them, but fascinating characters just the same.  Shizuku can’t quit Haru, in her own words, and I suspect for some of the same reasons he’s so interesting as a character.  What can be said in Haru’s defense is that he doesn't bad things out of desire to hurt and out of cruelty – he simply can’t stop himself.  And as he proved this week, he’s capable of realizing after the fact that he’s messed up, and apologizing – hey, it’s a start.  In reality it was Yamaken who caused the first incident with Shizuku this week, and Yuzan the one with Ooshima.  Why?  because they could – and they knew it.  They knew they could get into Haru’s head and make him crazy because they know how weak he is – but just because they can do something doesn't mean they should have.  What Haru did wrong he did out of impulse, what Yamaken and Yuzam did they did out of cruelty (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word).  It’s minor cruelty but cruel just the same to intentionally agitate someone just because you know you have his number.  Yamaken at least has the excuse of being a kid, but Yuzan – who seems to waver between seemingly being just misunderstood and being genuinely as creepy as Haru (and now Yamaken) seem to think – has no excuse at all.  If he had a purpose in showing up at all apart from trying to ruin an event Haru had worked hard for, it’s not readily apparent.

Because this is a shoujo romance there must by decree be a triangle here, and it appears that Yamaken is going to be the third point of it.  Whatever Haru’s faults I can’t see him going for Ooshima or any other girl unless Shizuku were to reject him so thoroughly he couldn't possibly think he had a prayer – and I’m not sure even then.  He’s simply too straightforward, obsessive and naïve.  The cards have been laid, though, for Yamaken to become a factor.  I’m not favorably disposed towards him so far, as he seems both arrogant and less than honest.  But Shizuku and Haru are so messed up, both individually and as a couple, that it’s hard to be too optimistic.  Shizuku did at least make some major strides this week.  First, she realized that she too was being cruel to Haru in her own way, because he simply doesn't possess the social awareness to understand her confusing signals to him.  She also finally confronted the ugly truth head-on – she studies to avoid dealing with other people, and until she’s ready to give up that security blanket a little she’s not ready to be in a real relationship.  So by admitting she’s not ready she gets closer to being ready, and finally puts Haru out of his misery with a straight answer.  Can Haru now confront his own issues and get closer to being ready himself?

As always, Natsume is a breath of fresh air this week – adorable in her haunted house getup (though I have no clue what it was, I loved the little hat).  She’s utterly transparent and that really provides an interesting contrast with Shizuku, and she was well-deserving of the apology she earned from her friend – it was heartbreaking to see how happy she was to finally be confided in, and how devastated she was to be shot down afterwards.  I really thought there was a moment there when Sasayan walked in on her crying with Yuzan next to her that he was finally going to be allowed to open up – that we were going to see the fascinating character that’s obviously lurking beneath the surface, but never getting the chance to shine – but alas, it didn't happen, and I suspect it’s not going to happen in the anime version.  That’s a real shame, because there’s a world of potential with his character that even being largely underwritten in the adaptation can’t fully conceal.

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18 comments:

  1. Oh my god, Mitty....

    "I lost control of my emotions and yelled at him. In hindsight, there was no reason for me to get upset."

    Kind of disheartening to see this as she was completely justified in doing so. She even stated to Haru earlier in episode 06, that he needs to respect her space after he licked her.

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    1. If that's referring to the punching scene, I think she realized it was unfair to pour full blame onto Haru because he was provoked by that dickhead.

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  2. Maybe Sasayan really is a normal dude who just plays baseball. He seems to get on fine with everyone he comes across, which seems to be main issues with the characters. I haven't seen any indications that he's anything more, though he probably does deserve more screen time, as does Natsume.

    Either his story complicates the 12 episode format too much or it isn't worth delving into in 12 episodes. He could be like a Tsuruya character who pops up once and a while but never gets character development. We like those characters for their talent to support the main story.

    I'm pretty sure there's another character they have introduced yet who keeps popping up in the OP/ED. May get a 2nd season yet.

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    1. Or you could be slightly infatuated with the character because you adore his VA?

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    2. I love him already since he is my favorite character in the manga and I love his seiyuu!

      Anyway, you don't really need to worry about his arc coming up very soon in the anime schedule. It's far from being his turn, like Naryreal said but he will have an arc in the manga very soon, I feel it! (sorry for kind of spoiling you).

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  3. Actually, Sasayan is not getting little screentime due to Scheduling: he is like that in Manga as well.

    But I am pretty sure they are planning at least another season. For example, I don't think they can manage to put in the scene with crying Natsume which you saw at start of ep1 not to mention that there is already enough material for two entire seasons (I can even guess where season 2 could end... and it would be a decent and conclusive end to series as well tbh). These days studio's often split a season into two cours to not have to worry about animation quality drops.

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    1. I think it very much depends on BD/DVD sales, though with a shoujo manga sales are of paramount importance too.

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  4. What draws me so much into this show is it's characters -- and I like how they develop, grow and interact with one another. I laughed and cried at the same time as I watched this episode -- it's not just about teenage love but friendships amongst them as well. Haru and Shizuki are like the yin and yang -- one likes to set boundaries and takes control, while the other has no boundary or doesn't even know what it is. This makes it very interesting to watch, but the efforts that both put in to come closer is where I got hooked. I do want a season 2 to come, so let's just hope and wish that they do well in manga sales.

    ~Ronbb

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  5. Enzo, I agree with your comments about Natsume and her hat. I only have one question. What exactly keeps that thing on her head? This is like a crazy gravity defiant hat. It scoffs in the face of physics and spits on sir Isaac Newton's grave.

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    1. Fashion top hats like that are usually attached to an elastic band that goes around the head. Girls may try to hide the band by styling their hair over it. It's a style thing.

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    2. Actually its probably just got a regular hair clip attached to the underside of the brim, I have one just like it...Most of the ones I see these days are the same because an elastic band is annoying.

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    3. Indeed, the secret is in the hair clip attached to it ;). I had a fashion top hat like that and it stayed happily in place.

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    4. Obviously the hat is weightless, otherwise she wouldn't have needed to pull it down when she was trying to hide behind the bushes...

      ;)

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  6. Yeah, we're barely getting into Sasayan's arc in the manga. And I really mean just barely. He won't be getting a lot of focus any time soon, though Natsume and Ooshima might.

    Yeah, I really like this episode because it truly does mark a step forward in their relationship. Shizuku is more honest with herself, and Haru apologizes when he screws up. Though I do admit, Haru has a lot more work to do than Shizuku if they both want it work out.

    And it's actually a nice twist on the "will they/won't they?" romance angle. Rather than play the whole in-denial/scared-of-rejection/not-in-the-same-league game that so many shoujo pull, Shizuku and Haru are very honest with their feelings. But they are both just not emotionally mature enough to take a step forward and actually be in a relationship with each other. That's what makes it engaging to me, at least. I mean, in lots of romance, we know that the leads like each other or at least will grow to like each other, so depending on how long it takes it can get taxing to wait until they finally confess, but here, they're upfront with their feelings and the journey isn't about admitting it to each other; it's about sorting out their own issues so that they can actually have a stable relationship. Love isn't just about the butterflies and pounding hearts that come with it; it's also about the work that the people put into their relationship to make it work.

    I'm getting off my soapbox now, I promise.

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    1. yeah, that's what romance is about! no one can like everything about the other perfectly, that's not how love works out. so in that sense, i disagree with you, tonari is definitely more realistic than sukitte for rom

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  7. ONLY 13 EPS? SAY IT AIN'T SO!!

    Well being a manga person I have no problems going off to track down the manga for this and reading it there, but I'm sad the cut off time will be so short, I suppose I was niave to think this could make 24 eps.

    As for this epsiode (and 7 since I saw them in a row) They were pretty solid eps though oddly enough I was acctually irritated a bit with Mitty and Haru's actions. Even though Mitty is being creul to haru by not giving him straight answers, Haru is...well...Haru. I really don't mean to sound like a copy and paste from your posts but you get the picture, and I think the end to episode 8 is a step in the right direction.

    I have to agree I'm loving Natsume, and in a sense Ooshima, I don't know why but there is something about the kind of character thats fun to watch fumbling all the while knowing its sadly for naught, Enjoyable...

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