Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – 13 (End) and Series Review

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Since this is the last time I’m going to be able to say it about a TV episode, I’m going to repeat myself one more time – I love Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun.

Brains Base just delivers.  They deliver with original series, they deliver with adaptations, and they even deliver with anime-original endings of manga adaptations.  If there was ever a show that deserved more than one cour, it’s this one – but economic realities are what they are.  Given the timeless dilemma studios face in this situation, Brains Base and director Kaburaki Hiro did exactly what they should have – left things open-ended but still found a way to touch base with the feelings of all the main cast in a highly entertaining way.

What we have this episode is something of a “best of” episode comprised of entirely new material.  I say that because each cast member was shown off being themselves, and the series itself displayed all of its many faces.  For my money Tonari may just have the deepest cast of any anime this year, and might be the most balanced show in terms of finding the perfect emotional mix.  Here we saw Shizuku being overzealous in her studying, somewhat cold, and brazenly self-analytical.  We saw Natsume trying too hard, but for the right reasons.  We say Sasayan smiling on the outside at the center of the group, holding his true feelings inside.  Even Yamaken (tsundere and delusional) and both groups of extended friends (goofy and outrageously lacking in common sense) were at their best.  Most of all we saw Haru being a complete loose cannon, a force of nature that was quite beyond the ability of any of his friends to understand.

I didn’t know this was an anime-original episode at the time I watched it, and I wouldn’t have guessed because everything was so much in character.  This is characteristic of Brains Base – even with a source material as strong as Natsume Yuujinchou, some of the best eps have been original material.  Frankly, I came into this episode expecting to feel sort of depressed – a great show coming to an end too soon, likely without any kind of resolution to the relationship issues at the heart of it.  But the magic of Tonari is that it’s a show that deals with serious teenage issues in an entirely thoughtful way, yet never crosses the line into maudlin or depressing territory.  And more than anything this episode was simply fun – it made me laugh over and over, and smile pretty much nonstop.

Ooshima’s friend Miyama Yuu (Yahagi Sayuri, rapidly becoming one of my favorites) is a perfect example of Tonari in action.  She didn’t appear at all in the first nine episodes, and did so only as a staring face (“Jii…”) in the tenth.  She got off a line or two the next week, and this week was fully incorporated into the madness.  No character is wasted in this series, no matter how deep into the supporting cast you go – and Yuu mines more laughs per minute on-screen than just about anyone in the show.  It’s her face, her attitude, and her completely deadpan reaction to the weirdness she inevitably walks into the middle of.  Even someone like Jouji, one of Yamaken’s retainers – I don’t think I could have told you his name before this week, and I don’t recall him even speaking – is part of the action.

There was something so distinctly Haru about this episode.  I loved the way he briefly entered into everyone’s orbit, pausing only long enough to confuse the hell of them, forget something and offer a vaguely insulting aside, then was gone.  That’s Haru in a nutshell – like a force of nature as much as a person, and it’s what makes his potential relationship with Mitty such a hard road.  Haru has no idea of the impact his reckless and impulsive behavior has on his friends – he simply reacts, in this instance chasing a winter firefly (I strongly suspected the Nagoya explanation was too obvious).  He’s an incredibly high-maintenance person, and very childlike.  Mitty aptly refers to his “innocence and sincerity” and those qualities he has in abundance – in such abundance that he breaches the comfort level of almost everyone around him.

For Mity, especially, this is a hard sell because she’s such a control freak about her own life.  She needs “ground rules” for everything, even the first sunset of the year – even if it means spoiling the experience for herself.  And Haru was born to blow ground rules to smithereens.  She openly wonders if she’ll ever be able to “look at the boy next to me with honest and sincere affection” – but confesses that looking at Haru’s lightning bug was a lot prettier because she wasn’t alone.  And while it’s easy to forget, Mitty was alone when this series started – trapped in a cage mostly of her own making, socially isolated.  And it was her encounter with Haru that started her an another path – one that threatens her ordered existence but opens her eyes to a world of possibilities she never knew existed.  They’re an extremely odd pairing, this painfully self-aware girl and fecklessly erratic boy – but there’s no denying that each offers the other something they need in their lives.  The question is whether that’s enough.

Of Sasayan and Natsume, the best supporting characters in any shoujo romance of recent vintage, there’s no more closure than with the main couple – just a frustrating lack of communication and a vague hint of possibility.  New Year’s fortunes aside, Natsume seems completely oblivious to those possibilities but Sasayan is not – he’s clearly very aware of Natsume as a girl, and of his own growing feelings for her.  I can’t say his reluctance to put himself of the line is unwise – with Natsume seemingly oblivious to his interest and nursing a hopeless fantasy about Mi-chan, this is the wrong time to act.  It’s certainly frustrating to see from a distance, where a connection between them seems like the most natural thing in the world, but life isn’t that simple – and certainly not when you’re 16.

I look at this ending in something of the same light as I do the one from Hyouka – while it lacked the sheer poetic magnificence of that episode, they share a very sympathetic viewpoint.  When you’re 16, life is anything but certain – it’s a seemingly endless string of possibilities that defies categorization and understanding.  Everyone copes in their own way.  Sasayan smiles and observes, Natsume decides that when trying hard isn’t enough she should try twice as hard.  Haru demands an impossible certainty and indulges his ephemeral emotions, and Mitty tries to fit everything into a category she can understand and file it away for later.  Each of them is simply being themselves, and they’ve each been remarkably true to themselves for the entire series.  It’s that consistency that makes them such sympathetic and believable characters, and that’s helped make Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun one of the most compelling series of the year.

This isn’t the last time I’ll be writing about Tonari this year.  All in all this may be my favorite shoujo romance since Bokura ga Ita, and while the main romance might not be quite as engaging I can say that the overall viewing experience was far more pleasant.  It’s just a terrific series on every level.  Sometimes adaptations fail to live up to a manga’s standard, sometimes they succeed by being extremely faithful (like Jormungand) and sometimes they actually make something even better (Minami-ke and Natsume are two good examples).  I’ve been inspired by the anime to read the Tonari manga – only as far as where the anime reached in episode 12 – and while it’s excellent, I can tell you that in my view the anime exceeds it.  It takes what’s a good story on the page and turns it into a great one on the screen by using the tools that anime has at its disposal that manga doesn’t – excellent music, a superb cast, and some of the cleverest and wittiest visuals of the year.  There’s an irresistibly whimsical tone to the anime that’s much more pronounced than in the manga, but miraculously the serious issues at the core of the series aren’t diminished in any way as a result – the characters are just as compelling, but the overall experience is uplifting and fun.

As sad as it was to see Tonari end with so much story still to tell, there is a little good news – an OAD is going to be included with the 12th volume of the manga next year.  I’ll take what I can get, because unless we see that there was a huge spike in manga sales it’s unlikely we’re going to see a second season of the anime.  I want to be miffed at Brains Base for doing this to me yet again, but the fact that they adapt shows they sometimes can’t finish is a reflection of the fact that this is a studio still willing to take chances – one that decides what properties to adapt based not just on commercial potential, but on artistic merit.  And I’m thrilled that they took a chance on Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, that they trusted the audience to find it, and that they did such a brilliant job with the adaptation.  Now go out and buy some Blu-rays and manga to show them how much their work is appreciated.

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24 comments:

  1. ...and I love Tonari, too. It isn't hard for me to form a bond with the characters (and in just 13 episodes...), and when that happens, I am not "rational" anymore... Call me biased, but this is the best shoujo of the season -- it made me laugh and cry with the characters, and I loved the interactions amongst them. I hope that there will be a season 2..started with the manga already...

    Thanks, Enzo, for blogging this wonderful series.

    ~Ronbb

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  2. I was very surprised to learn that the series only had 13 episodes; was expecting 26. Which goes to say how much I was enjoying the series or perhaps that the pacing fooled me. Hopefully a second season.

    I would still say that Honey and Clover ranks as the best romance series I've seen thus far, though to be fair, Honey and Clover is a bit more towards the drama side whereas Tonari is a bit more towards the comedic side, so not quite the same type of genre.

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    1. Agreed but HC also happened to have a heck of a lot more episodes to tell a complete and ended story.

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    2. I second that HC is the best romance anime that I've seen. It was just 36 episodes if I remember correctly, but was and still is a romance masterpiece in my view.

      However, Tonari is also great, too, and one of the best that came out in the past few years since HC ended, along with Nana and Nodame Cantabile.

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  3. Hello. This is Shizuku Mizutani, the main character of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. I am glad you enjoyed the show.
    PS. There are some typos in this entry.

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  4. R.I.P JOJIIIII! Hehe let this be a lesson, it's probably not safe to leave the hospital when you still need to wheel around an IV drip/blood bag. I'll really miss this show. :(

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  5. This was definitely a fun show to watch. I don't know if it elicited quite as much emotional reaction in me as in other folks, but it was still well done and good entertainment. Mainly, I guess it just didn't push my buttons as reliably as some other shows this season have.

    I thought the ending was well done, tho.

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  6. This show was unexpectedly my most enjoyed show of the season.

    The cast of characters were simply marvelous in my eyes because of how they tended to stray away from general conventions and were generally well-rounded and solid characters.

    I especially adored how the relationship between Sasayan and Natsume was almost completely platonic in its nature, unlike what Sukitte and other romance shows which tended to "pair off the extras".
    With Sasayan genuinely trying to help Yana with Natsume, and Sasayan being genre savvy enough to recognize both Yamaken's and Natsume's growing affections for Mizutan and Mi-chan-san, it is my assertion and hope that he would not (in near future) be attracted to Natsume, because he would have been aware of it if he were.


    PS: Yamaken marks the slow but eventual rise of the male tsundere. Personally, I can't wait.

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    1. I'm going to offer a contrary theory here...

      I think Sasayan is interested in Natsume. I think there's evidence in his behavior that he's interested in Natsume. But he knows she's crushing on Mi-chan, so any boy her own age has no chance while that's going on. So he's pushing Yana as a sacrificial lamb. Then, when the ground is friendlier later, he plans to make his move.

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    2. I'm pretty sure you're right, but I really hope this show would go the slightly more unconventional route because that would make it more interesting and enjoyable.

      Because that would mean Sasayan is pushing Yana as the sacrificial lamb while pushing Natsume towards Mi-chan, with the knowledge of the high chance of failure and significant emotional distress for both cases. Which would make him a jerk, which I doubt the author would want to go for that angle.

      My other alternate theory is that as Sasayan, with all goodwill and intentions, slowly tries to matchmake his two friends (be it to each other or to Mi-chan or whatever), Natsume and Sasayan would get unconsciously together as they start to support and rely on each other, ala Toradora-style.

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    3. I don't think he's pushing her towards Mi-chan - he just realizes he can't pull her away. I don't think trying to set her up with Yana makes him a jerk - I just think it means there's more to him than his good-guy façade. I'm sure he realizes that while the whole Mi-chan thing has no chance, he also has no chance to compete against Mi-chan as long as Natsume is holding onto the fantasy. He probably figures he stacks up a little better against Yana.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Let's not spoil the manga. Some of us haven't read it that far yet.

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  8. I've been reading the magna and sasayan is quite the sneaky one. no, i think it's been obvious that he really likes her, he's Just trying to play it safe -and can you blame him after the way she runs a mile after someone confesses to her. but i am rooting for these two. they would be amazing together!

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  9. Dodle god What is HC?

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    1. Honey and Clover. If you didn't seen it yet, then it's about time to do so. :)

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    2. really nice series.......met my expectations.......worth watching

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  10. I finished in ONE day all 13 episodes!!!! I enjoyed every single episode and I felt really sad that this masterpiece just had 13 episodes....It wasn't an 'ending' ending right? I mean, it felt like it was an open ending. Will there be any follow ups after episode 13? Was this season 1? I think I am going to read manga too cause I am really curious about the ending. How many chapters has the manga? And is there a link where I can read it completely in English?
    Thanks a lot!

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  11. Didn't anyone else feel offended that they didnt notice that nagoya was missing? I love that chicken!!!!! ah well it ended too soon I still want more!!!! I hope a second will be licensed soon!!!

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  12. I felt slightly offended nobody noticed the chicken was missing lol I want MORE this was a really good watch >_<

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  13. This was an amazing anime in my opinion. I would watch a episode or two then would think about the show all day until I watched another it had me hooked instantly I literally cried when it ended I didnt know what to do with my time anymore I just hope for a season two I need an answer for this cliff hanger they left me with

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    1. The manga is great too. I honestly don't expect another season for the anime, sadly.

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  14. I stumbled on this review by accident and I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed reading your review of TnK. You put all my feelings into words so beautifully and accurately. Love Haru x Shizuku.
    I particularly loved this line: there’s an irresistibly whimsical tone to the anime that’s much more pronounced than in the manga.
    I'm only a couple of chapters into the manga but from the spoilers I accidentally saw on Tumblr, I think the manga's ending will be just as amazing. I LOVE a good ending so I'll probably love both endings just as much.
    Now excuse me while I dig through your archives to read more well-written reviews. :)

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