It may be that those who read this article will think me an impostor, for I not only am writing about a shoujo anime with a heavy focus on romantic relationships, but also chose my subject before watching the episode in question. All I knew about the tenth episode of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun was that it was to be A Christmas Episode, and hence ideal for this series here at Beneath The Tangles. Right? What could go wrong?
Ever since I watched and enjoyed both Skip Beat! and Honey & Clover, I have been burnishing my shoujo credentials. I’m glad I went into shows like Clannad, Kaichou wa Maid-sama! and most recently Ouran High School Host Club with an open mind. And if I ever get around to watching Toradora! and Kimi ni Todoke, the transformation will be complete.
But seriously, I think it would have been helpful to have watched Kimi ni Todoke before Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, since I suspect they have more than a passing similarity. I can say about Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun that it is about teenage romance, yes — the good and the bad, the thrilling and the awkward — but also about growing up, learning about others, and perhaps most important of all, learning about oneself.
So why should any of us be surprised when the heroine Mizutani Shizuku and her worst friend Yoshida Haru (for I cannot think of a better way to describe their tumultuous relationship through the first 9.5 episodes) find themselves at a Christmas party with classmates? Surely you know the type of party — the one with a barely-hidden love polygon which no one knows how many corners it has, that everyone knows about but no one acknowledges. Of course we are not surprised. We have all been to such parties ourselves after all.
Do we identify with the boy who is jealous for the girl who likes another boy? Or the girl who likes the first boy, but the feeling isn’t mutual? Or the happy-go-lucky boy who is actually enjoying himself in spite of the thick tension permeating the room? Or the girl who has a hopeless crush on the much older chaperone? Do we identify with being one of the corners of the polygon, or (what may or may not be worse) being an isolated point?
All of these are present at this Christmas party. And I will admit it, it was uncomfortable to watch. Not because I didn’t understand, but because I did. So what’s the deal with this odd Christmas present that we’ve unwrapped?
Well, the best was yet to come after the party, because finally Shizuku decided. And whether we smile wryly as we think back to Youthful Love, or remember it with something like awe as Something Momentous, there’s no question that the moment has quite an impact on both Shizuku and Haru.
Whether we are still in high school ourselves, or left it behind long ago (I myself graduated in nineteen coughtycough), this uncomfortable yet endearing anime lets us all reflect on those days with our eyes wide open. There were awkward, even unbearable moments, but there were also cheerful times. We shouldn’t whitewash the one nor forget the other. And we can consider how far we have come, and perhaps how far we have yet to go, in this odd thing they call “growing up.” And I for one see nothing wrong with that.
An odd present to find under my tree, perhaps. But I’m glad I opened it. Perhaps, if you meet the “monster next door,” you too will enjoy meeting him.
For I bet you’ll think you’ve met him before too.