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.
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.