This is babby’s first shoujo, and I’m beginning to understand why people end up not liking this genre in general.
Unsurprisingly, I started watching this series because all of the hubbub surrounding one particular scene in the first episode. For those who are still living under a boulder by this point, I’m talking about where Haru pulls Shizuku into an alleyway and threatens to rape her if she resisted (namely, the scene in the above image). Since I found the entire exchange to be inconsequential to how the rest of the episode turned out, and wasn’t necessarily bothered by the use of rape as a joke because I’m a heartless misogynist pig, I decided to follow the series. I’m really more familiar with josei anime (Nodame Cantabile, Sakamichi no Apollon), so watching a shoujo was a new experience for me. And, as I watched Haru’s and Shizuku’s relationship develop, I honestly wondered why this anime wasn’t clicking with other people. It lacked the horrendous melodrama that other shows (by now) are notorious for, and while the tone was light the story had its share of heart as well. An ideal romcom, to put it that way. That, unfortunately, didn’t last long.
We had our disagreements over this anime, too, when it came to showing the series in anime club. Freddie admired how well the manga was being adapted but knew that there was going to be issues as the story progressed (because he read the manga beforehand). This anime was also competing against Kamisama Kiss in the beginning weeks of the quarter and only barely won out, much to Madarame-sempai’s disappointment. Yet, to be honest, the audience is still 50/50 about this anime. One regular made it painfully clear that anyone remotely inclined to have a feminist mindset would immediately pin down Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun to having a couple with an abusive boyfriend. Haru is a controversial character, as are most other bishies of the same genre, because of how sleazy they come off as to the audience. He never leaves Shizuku alone and is perpetually suspicious of any potential rivals who comes near her. He invades her personal space repeatedly without her permission. He steals a kiss from her and she gets all doki-doki and red-faced as if she liked it and stuff. He even licks her at one point and almost does it a second time. That just frustrates the living crap out of the strong, independent women (who don’t need no man) watching this anime. These are but a few of many problems these people have with Haru, but they also have problems with Shizuku for being willing to gloss over some of his transgressions for the sake of staying together and thus absolving him of his crimes towards her.
I disagree with that sentiment because Haru is clearly unsuccessful in capturing Shizuku’s heart through these actions alone. Yes, she does end up making up with Haru after the storm settles, but it’s always presented as both parties having a fault in each incident. Haru may be a sleazeball at times, but Shizuku isn’t exactly being straight about her feelings for him and that’s confusing as hell to deal with, enough for someone with enough mental instability like Haru to take drastic measures to figure out exactly what she is thinking, whether he means to do this or not.
Now, for the last six episodes or so, the relationship has refused to budge. There’s a sense that the story progresses using romance, but there’s a lack of romantic progression, period. If that makes sense at all. Does it? No? Well, allow me to explain.
Like I say in the excerpt, I sincerely hope that this anime is getting a second season because it would justify why the story suddenly started to focus on the supporting cast instead of finalizing all the details between Haru and Shizuku. Yet, the more I think about it, perhaps the point of this anime might not be in the success of landing a relationship with your high school crush. When an anime would normally be rushed in getting their main couple to get all lovey-dovey and kissy-kissy by this point, each character in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is still trapped in “will they or won’t they” land. My theory is that this is because none of the characters can truly pursue love unless they have completely sorted out their problems. And boy do these people have problems, but my focus in this post will be on Haru and Shizuku (as much as I like Natsume, bless her awkward, tech-savvy soul).
Shizuku is unable to balance spending time with Haru, a boy she is hopelessly infatuated with, and chasing her childhood dream of making lots of money by excelling in school (and indirectly make her mother proud). In her mind, the two options go in completely opposite directions: if she hangs around with Haru and enjoys the company of her friends, her grades drop. If she has to focus on studying, she must shut Haru and the rest out of her life. Her way of thinking is detached, yet efficient; instead of working sub-optimally by attempting to find balance in friendship and personal success, it’s in her best interest to maximize attention and production to the things that matters to her most. Either she has friends and subpar grades, or has excellent grades and no friends at all. Problem is, she’s trying to justify this mindset while already have gone far off the deep end, in terms of making new friends and finding love.
She can’t undo the feelings from when she was chasing after Haru, which makes it more frustrating when Haru suddenly finds the inspiration to seek her own affections at precisely the most inopportune time. She also can’t deny the connections she’s made over the years with Natsume, Sasayan, Oshima, Yamaken, Mi-chan, and others whose names I can’t for the life of me remember right now but the ones mentioned make the most impact. Despite finding no romantic fulfillment thus far, she does hang out with the gang for both Christmas and New Years, events which she has all the opportunity to refuse, much like she did with the festival when she was a child. I think what we’re waiting for out of Shizuku is the realization that she can’t adhere to her old routine anymore, not after she’s made so much progress in her social life. And, once she’s sorted out her personal problems, she might finally have some time left for Haru.
Some may find this time-consuming exchange to be a bunch of meaningless, filleresque back-and-forth. However, it exists for the purposes of realism; changing one’s character is a surgical process where everything you ever believed up until that point is now put into question. I first had unrealistic expectations for Shizuku to change immediately, but the less I relied on her narration and the more I paid attention to her actual behavior, the more I understood exactly what was going on in her head. As much as Shizuku is detailed in her explanation of her own behavior, we must keep in mind that she’s also unreliable.
As for Haru, he has a whole different slew of problems that kind of makes Shizuku’s issues look like mere trifles in comparison. As gathered from the sparse flashbacks and his combative relationship with his older brother, he definitely has both a broken childhood and serious mental issues. Being born an obscenely strong genius earned both the resentment of his envious older brother and the social rejection of his peers. He has few role models in his life, the most prominent being his dead aunt, and was absent from meaningful social interaction during his most impressionable period of life, which is middle school. With that, it’s no question that Haru will stop at nothing to make sure the one person who reached out to him becomes the person he can consistently rely upon during his troubles. That person happens to be Shizuku.
He at first rejects Shizuku’s feelings for him because he realizes that his feelings for her are based on something entirely different, namely the physical attraction he craves out of her. The time it takes for him to sort out his feelings and feel ready to accept Shizuku unfortunately happens to be the same point where Shizuku decides to stop chasing Haru and focus on her studies instead. He’s truly in love with her romantically at this point, but is clueless about how to handle this new development. Some of this is because he has a significant lack of worries when it comes to school. He’s smart enough to skip studying, so he’s only at school for finishing exams, socializing, and, most of all, Shizuku. Her decision to focus on studying during school hours baffles him and causes his carnal obsession with her to resurface once again. In trying to figure out the reasons why she’s avoiding him, he ends up getting too up close and personal. Things start to get complicated between them. Additionally, this is all amidst other pressing issues, like his violent tendencies. Certainly doesn’t make him look like optimal boyfriend material, but it serves to explain why he behaves this way, not as a way to approve his behavior but instead to ground it in a factual sense.
I like stories about how character relationships change over time, and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, while being a bit controversial at times, ends up doing this well. I also really, really hope this gets a second season, in case I haven’t said this enough already. I don’t want all of these issues to be tied up sloppily with just one episode to go.