Review: My Little Monster

Most everyone can get behind a love story between unlikely people, but what if those people are a bookworm and a sociopath? Add in a chicken and we have a recipe for entertainment. Today we take a look at a surprisingly funny series where a choice must be made between academics and love.

Title: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (My Little Monster)
Original airing: Oct 2, 2012 to Dec 25, 2012
Studio: Brain’s Base
Episodes: 13
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Shoujo, Slice-of-Life, Romantic Comedy
Source: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun manga by Robico

Where I watched: Netflix (English subtitle)

Watch the trailer here

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:

Shizuku Mizutani is apathetic towards her classmates, only caring about her grades. However, her cold view of life begins to change when she meets Haru Yoshida, a violent troublemaker who stopped attending class after getting into a fight early in the school year. He is not much different from her, though—he too understands little about human nature and does not have any friends. Much to Shizuku’s surprise, he proclaims that she will be his friend and immediately confesses his feelings towards her upon meeting her.

The synopsis for this series reads like the tried and true romantic comedy setup. A boy and a girl appear to be very different, but connect over something seemingly insignificant. Hi-jinks and hilarity ensue. So, what would make a series like this stand out?

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While the comedy tag on this one was a factor in my deciding to watch, as I felt I could use a laugh after Your Lie in April, I thought that this series had the potential for some interesting character work. Knowing that Shizuku and Haru are so emotionally abnormal, I wanted to see the result of these two personalities coming together and the experiences that could lead to them eventually bonding. This wouldn’t be a story where the more confident and collected character leads the other out of their shell, but rather one where both would need to learn from each other to find a sense of fulfillment between them.

Also, my wife felt like watching this one. I’m always eager to share anime with her, so why not give it try?


Story

The story begins when Shizuku Mizutani is asked to deliver homework to classmate Haru Yoshida after he hasn’t been coming to school since the first day of class, having never paid much attention to the empty seat beside her (hence the ‘Tonari’ part of the title) until then. Although Shizuku is content to focus on studying and maintaining top marks, her one-track life is suddenly disrupted when she finds herself the abrupt target of Haru’s affection.

Don’t let the name of this series throw you off.  My Little Monster has no supernatural or fantasy elements. “Little Monster” refers to Haru’s  violent outbursts and innately aggressive behavior which manifests when Haru begins interacting with others. Despite his tendency toward violence, the word ‘monster’ is a bit of a harsh label. Viewers soon realize that Haru, while flawed, is mostly a clueless, fun loving, boy who is eager to make friends. As for his personality, it could never be described as ‘little.’

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Haru’s impulsive, violent outbursts make him the ‘Little Monster’

What makes the show “My Little Monster,” is Shizuku’s sense of responsibility towards Haru. Though reluctantly placed in this role, Shizuku continuously finds herself smoothing over Haru’s conflicts and warning him about false friends.

Haru’s clueless behavior and explosive personality, offset by Shizuku’s frigid indifference, is what makes this series enjoyable.  While Haru is naive to social customs, Shizuku is equally inexperienced when it comes to dealing with friendships/relationships (and the emotions that come with them). As the pair navigate through the events and obstacles that seemingly define teenage years (school, friendships, first kisses, and unforgettable moments), they begin to realize the importance of trust, true friendship, and love.

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Haru’s awkward attempt at comforting the reserved Shizuku

What follows in this all too short narrative is an often unfortunate back and forth. Shizuku struggles with Haru’s insistence that their relationship is closer than mere friendship, but even during the points in which she starts to come around, things don’t seem to sync up properly for this couple. We see Shizuku backpedal in many instances (though it is often entirely Haru’s fault) to the point where one wonders if a romance is possible. To its credit, however, the series provides a believable portrayal of these two characters who do have to make real efforts at understanding one another before they can become close.

At a length of only 13 episodes (a standard single season), the series struggles to fit in everything it tried to show. Being a manga adaptation, I don’t know if the writers had planned for more more seasons given the content this series featured. Several characters are introduced and plot lines started that do not seem to conclude.  My wife and I attempted to deduce the motives behind these intriguing characters (Kenji, Yuzan, etc.) and what sort of plot twist we could anticipate. In the end, these characters offer little in the way of furthering the story and likely were added to the anime because they play a role in the manga. If the anime series would have taken time to flesh out these characters and integrate them better into the plot, it would have elevated My Little Monster greatly.

It would be unfair of me not to mention how Haru’s personality dangerously straddles the line between good-natured and violent psycho at times. In the first episode, Haru pulls Shizuku into an alley as and threatens to rape her if she makes a sound. If you take the time to Google it (which I did), you will see a lot of discussion on the internet with viewers taking sides on just how much merit to give this comment. Also, although it is played for comedic effect, the results of Haru’s first day in school are shown as a permanent stain on the side of the school wall, which suggests a rather serious fate for whoever left it. I’m not going to bombard you with mine (or everyone else’s) opinions about how this series sometimes crosses the line. This is just a forewarning, so you are not shocked by some of the more questionable moments in this anime.  I should also express a disclaimer that any enjoyment I got from this series overall does NOT mean I condone rape or violence in any way.


Characters

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As I initially expected with this series, it does a good job in presenting the characters in a believable light, including an outlandish Haru. They have a variety of personalities, ranging from timid to friendly and outgoing, but there seems to be a common thread among them in the sense that they all feel some measure of loneliness. They find some comfort in coming together, but still struggle to resolve their feelings at times.

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Shizuku Mizutani is an awkward loner but is completely indifferent to it. Plenty of anime have relied on the archetypal socially-inept female character with a shy personality who becomes easily embarrassed when interacting with peers. Shizuku’s character is a refreshing deviation from this standard as she is bluntly honest and readily accepts her label as social outcast (and her grade school nickname of “Dry Ice”). Her focus, shaped by her family situation, is on working hard in school to have the life she wants. Far from timid, Shizuku’s indifference to others makes her appear as a cold, somewhat selfish, person. Even later in the series, when Shizuku begins to make friends, she doesn’t appear overly sentimental towards them. While Shizuku’s behavior may be viewed as stubborn, it’s rather empowering that she refuses to conform herself to fit what other perceive to be as normal.13bb53e5edf3f909

Haru Yoshida (Shizuku’s “little monster”) is introduced when Shizuku is forced by the teacher to bring his missed schoolwork to his home. Viewers soon learn that Haru avoids school out of fear of social situations, which stems from a past event. His brief interaction with Shizuku is the beginning of, in Haru’s mind at least, an invaluable friendship. Although his decision to befriend Shizuku comes quickly, Haru’s inability to relate to others becomes problematic throughout the series. Due to a lack of understanding for social norms, Haru sometimes reacts impulsively, which results in violent, jealous outbursts. His actions are portrayed as comical in most cases, but even his undignified moping at times masks his vulnerability. Failing to have any meaningful relationships in his life thus far, even within his own family, Haru is reluctant to allow anyone to threaten his place with the one person that he feels a connection with (Shizuku herself included).

Shizuku and Haru share some similarities. Both are very intelligent, with Haru being naturally so and Shizuku working hard to maintain her above average rank. Both have situations from their past that led them to isolate themselves from others. Finally, the personalities of both characters have been shaped to influence how they conduct themselves when faced with others. Shizuku has become indifferent, mentally placing those in her life in boxes, and emotionally-detaching herself from most situations. Haru initially hides from the world and, when faced with it, responds violently.

The differences between these two characters contrasts nicely as well. Viewers learn that Haru, though wary of society, is eager to make friends and does so by integrating himself into group and school activities.  Shizuku finds Haru’s newly acquired social status penetrating her isolated world and, despite her best efforts to detach herself from it, she often finds herself accompanying Haru to various gatherings after much persistence. Along with all this teenage awkwardness comes learning to appreciate the value friends add to life and how the beginnings of love presents itself when least expected.

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One of the more interesting supporting characters is Natsume Asako, whose personality is seemingly opposite of Shizuku’s. Viewers soon realize that although the two girls are quite different, both have become social outcasts.

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Because of her natural beauty and eager personality, Natsume attracts the attention of boys. Although the curse of being too pretty is hard to sell as a character flaw, Natsume is far too timid to handle the feelings of  jealousy that arise from other girls as they inevitably shun her. Desperate for interaction where she isn’t judged by her outward appearance, she decides that her only ‘real’ friends are on the internet.

Natsume also cares little about doing well in school; choosing to spend all her time online with her friends. But when her grades begin to suffer, threatening her having to take remedial classes which would interfere with her offline meet-up plans, she seeks out Shizuku to be her tutor due to her high class rank.

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Natsume’s sensitive, carefree personality is a welcomed contrast to Shizuku’s reserved, studious behavior. Although Natsume has all the makings of a popular, trendy teenager, she is just as socially awkward as Shizuku as she can’t seem to make friends with girls and doesn’t trust boys. Seeing this awkwardness as a common bond, Natsume attempts to develop a close friendship with Shizuku (who she affectionately calls “Mitty”) throughout the series.

Not to be left on the sidelines, Natsume remains a relevant presence in the series by forming, and being the target of, a secret crush. Her success as resolving these feelings, while at the same time coming to terms with the idea that she would be the third wheel in the relationship she is cheering for between her new friends, drives much of her development.

This anime has a great many more supporting characters, with small arcs throughout the story. They could likely fuel their own stories, if given the chance to shine, but the small number of episodes and the great amount of time the show needs to spend on Haru and Shizuku leave them limited. But if these characters were still not enough to convince you to give this series a try, there is also a rooster named Nagoya.

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Animation

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While there is nothing extraordinary about the animation for My Little Monster, you will not be disappointed by the quality.  The artwork is clean with colorful backgrounds that are visually pleasing without detracting focus from the characters. Often times the more dramatic points in the series are portrayed using muted colors in line with the shift in emotions.

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The use of simplistic, seemingly featureless art style to depict various emotions (anger, sadness, overwhelming joy, embarrassment, frustration, etc.) is used throughout the series, as is typical for many anime. These exaggerated emotional responses to rather trivial situations are what makes these scenes hilarious and memorable.

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Sound

OP: Q&A Recital! by Haruka Tomatsu
ED: White Wishes by 9nine

The music choices for this anime are very well executed. The opening theme is catchy and addictive, capturing the slight silliness of the series and the excitement of developing a relationship with someone. The ending theme is cheerful but sentimental, and just as was the case with my last anime, it is very much the theme song of the series.

Throughout the series, energetic moments are accompanied by brass instruments or upbeat tempos, sometimes using electronic enhancement to give a sense of fun or triviality. The more sentimental, reflective periods are accented with soft string and piano. In particular, Tetsukazu no Kanjou (lit: “untouched feelings”), which is featured at the beginning of the trailer (top of this post), is used to enhance quieter scenes, using soft and slow instrumentals to invoke a sense of melancholy. Its main melody is used in a few other BGMs with varying tempo and accompanying instruments, and most fits the show’s themes of wanting to remember the pleasant times enjoyed with friends and fill the void that comes from longing to be with others.


Overall Appeal

Delivering plenty of comedy alongside its themes of light romance and togetherness, My Little Monster provides an enjoyable experience for anyone looking for an easy-going anime that won’t consume a great deal of time. With lovable characters and the ever amusing social challenges that high school brings, there is plenty to keep the viewer engaged. The grounded nature of slice-of-life tends to make for less than thrilling stories, but the struggles that Haru and Shizuku face in trying to resolve their changing feelings provide a compelling enough arc in this short series.

Knowing nothing about this series before hand, I found that it hit most of the points that I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much they delved into the characters mindsets without utilizing excessive monologue or showing entire episodes of introspection (*ahem* EVA). Anime characters tend to have a widespread problem with clearly expressing themselves, but seeing just how troubled Haru felt in being unable to connect with Shizuku in the way he desired made me really feel for him. As I said earlier, many of the characters struggle with loneliness, and it made for a thoughtful, though at times sad, experience. So much for cheering up after Your lie in April.


Summary and Recommendations

Overall, My Little Monster is everything you should expect from a light-hearted, romantic comedy. It is absolutely slice of life comfort anime, but the deviation from how character personalities are typically depicted is refreshing and what sets it apart.

While it is very much a romantic comedy, the series won’t leave your feeling warm and fuzzy throughout. As with any slice-of-life anime, the life part is often tricky to handle, and the real emotional challenges that many of the characters face will leave you wanting badly to see something work out for them. This isn’t by any means a flaw, but something you should think about if you were looking for pure lightheartedness.

While it portrays believable, flawed characters with real emotions and struggles, the failure to resolve story arcs makes this anime fall just short of the mark. The introduction of supporting characters that added little to the overall story and a few unresolved threads is absolutely frustrating for viewers. This made for a disappointing final episode, with none of the satisfaction that comes with completing a series. Instead, I was left questioning if anything truly significant occurred. From what I’ve read, the manga manages to resolve some of these failed arcs and give a sense of closure to the series. Of course, I can’t comment on the manga, as I haven’t read it, and because this is a review of the anime.

Despite being less than satisfied with the ending, My Little Monster remained consistently entertaining from start to finish. Even if the status quo wasn’t altered greatly by the events of the story, I felt that the protagonists did learn something, and would at least be better able to face the challenges that still lied ahead for them.

Watch if you:
Enjoy comedic anime that isn’t over the top
Like light romance
Find slice-of-life entertaining

Don’t watch if you:
Need to have conclusive story arcs
Find obsessive behavior disturbing


My Rating

While it may have fallen flat in the areas where it is most lacking, My Little Monster really shines in its strong points. I did enjoy what I saw, and genuinely would have wanted more. I give it 3.5 out of 5 Shizukus.

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Final Thoughts

Walking away from a show without feeling like you’ve seen everything isn’t a great feeling, but I don’t think it’s wrong for slice-of-life to emulate actual life in that sense. We don’t always get nice and tidy conclusions to stories or have happily ever after endings. Sometimes, we have to accept the way things are a given point and see how they from there. In the complex case of human relationships, that’s often the case.

My advice is to watch My Little Monster without any expectations for a dramatic outcome or riveting plot twist. The best thing you can do with this series is to simply let the story and the characters occur around you. Like Haru’s experience with Shizuku, trying to force the series around your expectations is, obviously, an exercise in futility. Enjoy the characters for who they are, because the story is thoroughly charming on that aspect alone.

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3 thoughts on “Review: My Little Monster

Add yours

  1. Nice review. This is one of the few shows where I didn’t mind a lack of a final resolution. It kind of felt like these guys were just going to keep growing and working things out. I did want the side characters to get a bit more development and I wouldn’t have objected to a second season though.
    Great series with lots of fun moments and I really enjoy the main couple and how awkward and yet stubborn they are. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I think you summed it up quite nicely. The series is about all those fun moments and these friends spending time with each other – not about resolving Shizuku and Haru’s relationship. They are fun to watch, especially together, so I would have liked to see more of that.

      Liked by 1 person

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