Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
Having never been a fan of the shoujo genre, I’ve only picked up this anime due to recommendation from Alex after the first episode. At the time I decided to watch it, I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I did.
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (being referred to solely as Tonari from this point on) focuses on the relationship between Mizutani Shizuku and Yoshida Haru, the two vastly different protagonists of this romance. Shizuku is the very definition of a bookworm: she’s obsessed with her marks and with studying in itself, so obsessed that her whole life spins around that one activity. Haru, on the other hand, appears to be a complete delinquent, having never attended high school before meeting Shizuku and getting himself into fights all the time. But it’s perhaps due to said difference that they balance each other so well. In fact, one could almost say they’re a perfect complement to each other. And it is through such contrast in their personalities and priorities that they slowly start to take a different approach towards life and relationships, which is specially true in Shizuku’s case.
As an anime which is supposed to present the development of a romantic relationship, I feel Tonari had a lot more to offer than plenty of other series of the same style. There are a few reasons for such an impression, starting by the lighthearted comedy so ever present that prevents the show from falling into the melodramatic soap opera category (I’m looking at you Sukitte) and finishing in the approach given to the characters, their interactions and relationships. Throughout the entire series, I’ve always felt Tonari is not as focused on romance as it is on human relationships and how we need them. Be it friendship or romance, the focus is always on the human closeness issue. It’s brought up in different ways with different types of issues, but it’s probably the main running theme in the series, and that’s something I enjoy and identify with.
Another point of great enjoyment comes from the satisfaction felt when watching intelligent characters take the screen. We haven’t got a bunch of unimaginably dense characters who can’t understand the meaning of ridiculously obvious reactions. From Shizuku and Haru to the supporting cast, everyone is a perceptive individual who can pick up on the most subtle details and is aware of the need to understand such details in order to protect their little world. From start to end, Shizuku struggles with the control she’s always had over her life and how it seems to be slipping away from her grasp as she takes on a broader view of the world and starts to understand what it is to have friends. That control is something she wants to protect, yet without paying the price she had paid up until then, as she also wants to be with Haru and her new friends. Haru is a guy who can appear to be the most clueless person in the world, yet through his amazing honesty and bluntness often come insightful remarks, as unexpecteldly as one could imagine.
But the best thing is that the main characters aren’t the only ones with depth. The supporting cast is amazing in its own right, from the lonely Natsume who’d do everything to keep her friends close, to the kind-hearted Sasayan who mainly speaks out whenever he feels like helping someone (and when he does, you’d better be paying attention – the guy is way more perceptive of others than he looks), to the arrogant Yamaken, who’s one of my favorite characters in Tonari, partly due to the sheer strangeness of his lifestyle, partly to his helpful remarks despite him always trying to appear harsh and partly due to… his awful sense of direction, which reminds me of myself. Walking confidently towards somewhere while having no idea where he’s going. (Yeah, I do that a lot^^) Yet despite everyone’s different personalities, they’re trying to grasp control of their lives in quite a realistic way.
One other thing I’ll have to mention is that, curiosuly, Tonari does have one of my most hated “things” in romantic series: love triangles. However, they’re handled so well and realistically, without the cliche villainous third party trying to get between the main pair, that I hardly even noticed such dynamics, let alone be bothered by it. Actually, the characters who were introduced as liking the protagonists were portrayed in as neutral a light as everyone else, and actually added a lot to the series’ enjoyment rather than detracting from it. Because they weren’t simply made to get in between Haru and Shizuku. They were true round characters who had their thought process and got their own independent development.
However, despite everything good that Tonari has to offer, which is undoubtedly a lot, it did have some less enjoyable quirks that kept me from rating it even higher. One of them, and perhaps the most relevant, is the repetitive pattern of Shizuku and Haru’s relationship which seems to travel quite the bumpy road from start to end. They seem to take turns at confessing and changing their mind as when the other one finally accepts them. Such is an annoying pattern most shoujo follow in order to keep having middle climaxes without ending the story. Which sucks. In Tonari’s defense, though, the repetitive actions are well backed up by different motives and different events behind the characters’ indecision. They’re also quite well portrayed in terms of inner thoughts, once again, specially in Shizuku’s case, as would be expected, since we see most of the happenings through her perspective. Speaking of Shizuku, I find her to be an excellent character. Her change upon falling in love with Haru is gradual and believable, and she keeps her individuality as a character. That’s something that Tonari deserves endless praise for, as one of my main reasons for disliking this genre is the loss of individuality of the female lead.
The other less desirable quirk Tonari could never run from is its incompleteness. Being that not even the source material is completed yet and how this is apparently far from adapting all that is published so far, such as thing was to be expected. As such, Haru and Shizuku’s relationship doesn’t get a proper closure, neither does Natsume’s subplot. A lot of Haru’s past is also yet to be disclosed, and the root for his aggressiveness, that doesn’t seem to steam solely from social ineptitude, is still unknown to the viewers. However, I feel like the series managed to pass its points across quite well: the importance of having people to support you and people with whom you can share your good moments and turn to on your bad moments; the way it’s impossible to be on a relationship with someone, be it love or friendship, without eventually hurting your peers but even so, even through all the mistakes, it’ll be worth it. Those two points were reflected countless times in these 12 episodes, and I felt were conveyed in quite an effective way. The finally episode itself seems like a metaphor for the later point. I first thought of it as a bizarre episode, something quite strange to air as a finale, but after reflecting on it for a bit, I understood it was about Haru’s journey to share the sight of the firefly with Shizuku. To share something beautiful with someone you love. Even making lots of mistakes in the mean time, it ends up being worth, for the journey and the company both make what you want to share even more beautiful. Or so I understood it.
As it’s apparent by the above paragraphs, these two small issues just mentioned don’t detract all that much from the enjoyment of the series as a whole, nor from getting what it was all about, nor from laughing at its funny moments (and there are plenty). Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun was a series I really enjoyed following, a series with well-developed characters (in fact, I believe it packed quite a lot of character development for a mere 12 episodes), an amazing art style with a colorful and eye-catching color palette, and a show that would always put a smile on my face regardless of my mood before watching it. It is definitely something worth watching, both for fans of the shoujo genre and for everyone else.
Dusk’s Score: 8 Meeps out of 10 (Very Good)
Alex’s Score: 8 Meeps out of 10 (Very Good)