Oh boy am I excited for this one! Read on to find out more about Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun!
I had a bit of a hard time choosing which manga to review first (since there are a lot of good ones out there that deserve more attention than they get) but with the anime adaption coming up in October, I though it would probably be best to start with this one. It also doesn’t help that this is one of my favorite mangas that’s currently being serialized.
Title: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun (The Monster Seated Next to Me)
Japanese Publisher: Dessert, October 2008
English Publisher: None (?)
Genres: Comedy, Romance, School Stuff, Shoujo
Total Volumes: 9+ On-Going
Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun, which I’m just going to shorten down to Tonari from here on out, sets up a storyline that is possibly as old as the sun: a simple tale of Girl meets Boy. She’s a good student, but a bit of a loner because of it and he’s a wild child delinquent, who is always getting into fights. By some chance they meet and start to develop feelings for each other while attracting friends blah, blah, blah, etc etc etc. We’ve all read this story a million times, right? Well, that’s were Tonari takes your expectations of that old story, slaps them, and then turns them on their heads.
Our main heroine is Shizuku Mizutani, a high school girl obsessed with studying so that she can make 10 million yen a year once she graduates. She’s a very cold, distant person, who doesn’t interact with other people and or have any friends. She’s also incredibly honest and straightforward. One day, her teacher manages to bribe her (with text books!) into taking some class notes to a student who’s been absent since the first day of class.
Enter Haru Yoshida, who, because of his inablity to interact with people, has been suspended from school for fighting. They meet, and Haru, after deducing that people only bring their “Friends” notes when they are absent, decides that Shizuku must be his friend. It’s at around this time that Shizuku realizes that Haru 1. clearly understands social norms less than she does and 2. that he’s a naive fool. It turns out that Haru wants to come back to school but is afraid to do so because everyone wants to fight him (in reality, everyone is scared of him.) With some straight talk and a bit of coaxing, Shizuku (reluctantly) gets Haru to come back to school.
The story evolves from there, mostly focusing on how Shizuku and Haru grow and mature mentally as they make friends and start their off-beat courtship. We’re introduced to characters like Natsume Asako, a pretty girl who lives her life online and desperately wants to make real life friends but is hampered by her good looks that make boys confess to her all the time and girls to hate her because of it, Souhei Sasahara, an absolutely normal baseball player who’s really the only one who seems to understand how real people function, and Kenji “Yamaken” Yamaguchi, a smart rich kid who is Haru’s “love rival”.
Sounds like a totally normal Shoujo manga up till now, right? But there two things that make this a “MUST READ” in my mind and not something to be missed because it sounds like something we’ve all read before.
1. The characters actually MATURE. Shizuku, Haru, and Natsume ALL have serious problems interacting in a social setting at the start of the manga. But they learn from their mistakes and start to actually GROW AS PEOPLE. They aren’t just reduced down to their quirks and doomed to play to those stereotypical rolls until two chapters before the end when they suddenly become a whole other person (if they change at all!)
Take Shizuku for example. At the start of the story she can’t fathom basic human emotions like sadness at a class pet dying or wanting to feel close to other people because those emotions would distract her from her studies (and side note: she actually has a legitimate and sort of heart-breaking reason to want to earn so much money other than wanting to be rich.) But she doesn’t STAY an emotionless robot. In just 33 chapters she actually gets to the point where she can understand and comfort Natsume when she’s upset.
Does she have a long way to go still? Yes. Does she make mistakes along the way? Oh yes. But that’s what makes her (and all the other characters) so great; they’re all flawed but working to better themselves and that’s what makes them so likable and human. And because of that, this becomes one of those rare mangas where you like ALL the characters, even the “rivals” (I part of me loves the idea of Shizuku and Yamaken together, even though a bigger part of me loves Shizuku and Haru)
Plus, it’s just nice to read a shoujo manga where the characters actually notice and acknowledge their feelings, talk about them in a (semi)normal manner, and where the main girl character doesn’t spend 20 chapters wondering “Why is my heart going doki-doki all the time around Boy X?” before she finally realizes she’s in love.
2. The art. This might not seem like a very good reason but trust me, it is. Tonari is drawn in a style that is sooooo not a typical shoujo style. There are no blooming flowers in the background everywhere, no dramatic two page spreads (I can only think of about 3 full page spreads in all the volumes up till now), no super long flowing hair all over the place. I mean, 95% of the time Shizuku’s eyes are just simple black orbs as opposed to the huge, flashy eyes that are typical of the genre. Very, very, rarely are any eyes shown with a clear iris and pupil. When’s the last time you saw that in a shoujo manga? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s wrong that most shoujo manga is super flowery and sparkly like a Twilight vampire in the sunlight, but it’s just so refreshing to see something done differently.
I could keep going about this manga for another 1,000 (or more) words, and I still wouldn’t do it justice. What it boils down to is this: this is a great, if slightly underrated, manga, with stellar characters, one-of-a-kind art, heart palpitation inducing romance (HARU AND SHIZUKU ARE SO CUTE TOGETHER IT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO VOMIT RAINBOWS), good humor, and is just generally something off the beaten path. I can highly recommend it to you (even if you don’t typically like shoujo), especially at a time like now, right before the new anime starts (which I’m hoping will be good and stay faithful to the spirit of the manga.) I’m not totally sure if this manga has been licensed yet (some sources say yes, some say no. I can’t find any printed copies on any website or a release date for any of the volumes) so look it up online, and hopefully, it and the anime will both get proper releases soon!
Stray thoughts that didn’t fit anywhere else:
- Speaking of refreshing, it’s nice that Shizuku doesn’t cry every three chapters like a typical shoujo heroine. (Actually, Haru is really the one who cries. And only twice and once was because he was happy. As far as I can remember.)
- Finally, a manga where misunderstandings are cleared up as soon as they happen and aren’t dragged on and on and on for chapter after chapter! (I’m looking at you Kimi ni Todoke…)
- Did I mention that the love confession happens in chapter one? ‘Cause it does. That’s how good this manga is.
- As if you need yet another reason to read this: There’s no “evil” girl (or group of girls) who picks on the heroine for no reason other than she’s evil and jealous! Seriously, that’s one thing I usually hate in high school based shoujo.