Reviewby Theron Martin,
Interviews with Monster Girls
In biology teacher Tetsuo Takahashi's world, the existence of “demi-humans” – genetic mutations in humans that give them traits akin to creatures of legend – is a rare but long-established reality, complete with government assistance programs to support them. Tetsuo has been academically fascinated by demis since his college days, but he's never met one before. That's about to change, starting with the new math teacher at his school, Sakie Sato, a succubus who takes extreme measures to restrain the effect of her overpowering pheromones. On top of that, there are three demi girls among the first-year students: the energetic vampire Hikari Takanashi, the humble dullahan Kyoko Machi, and the self-conscious snow woman Yuki Kusakabe. With Hikari as a catalyst, Tetsuo gradually earns the trust of these demis by helping them with their problems in exchange for interviews about their demi natures.
Riding the current wave of monster girl titles is this manga adaptation from winter 2017, which takes a somewhat unusual approach to the genre. Rather than treating its subject matter as exotic potential love interests, it approaches the monster girls in a primarily academic fashion. The result does not come off anywhere near as dry as that description might imply, thanks to a mix of lovable characters and semi-serious explorations of real-life issues that create an excellent balance of goofy fun and surprising sincerity.
One of the critical factors to this series' success is that protagonist Tetsuo is a full-grown adult who handles the demi girls in his care with close consideration. That includes carefully keeping his distance from any romantic entanglements; he even does his best not to show it when Sakie's aphrodisiac affects him, since he doesn't want to make her uncomfortable as his coworker – of course, this backfires when Sakie takes a romantic interest in him because she thinks he's resistant to her pheromones. Beyond that, only one of the student demis shows any romantic interest in him as a first crush, so the series is able to barely skirt by the semblance of being a harem series. The script is also careful to keep Tetsuo's involvement in potential student-teacher improprieties to a minimum, though it does also play with that line at times. (Even if it's considered part of an experiment, walking around town all day with a teenage student would probably be frowned upon.) Fanservice shots are also limited to Sakie's character, and in most cases focus more on Tetsuo's discomfort rather than playing up her sex appeal for the audience.
Another standout factor of the series is Hikari. While a standard genki girl on the surface, Hikari is utterly unable to contain her mix of youthful exuberance, quirky wit, sly mischief, boldly outgoing personality, and general loopiness. She doesn't hesitate to confront bullies and can obliterate uncomfortable social situations by matter-of-factly dissolving tension, but she's still silly enough to do things like latch onto snow woman Yuki for relief from the summer heat. She's awesomely comfortable in her own skin, which the show reinforces is thanks to her enormously considerate family. (The father and sister even lighten their hair color a little so Hikari's blond hair won't stand out so much.) Though she doesn't drive everything that happens in the series, Hikari acts as the catalyst for a lot of the story's momentum. The other demis are distinctly likable too, but Hikari feels like the real star of the ensemble.
The third standout factor is also the most likely to be hit-or-miss for viewers: the series' attention to detail. While the story does allow time for the development of interpersonal relationships, it focuses more on how the particular circumstances of each demi's nature affects her life. This is the one place where Hikari doesn't dominate the scene, as her vampire nature is the least restrictive of the four, and audiences are more used to the normalization of vampire traits. (Her penchant for nibbling on people's arms is still some of the most amusing stuff in the series, though.) Much more fascinating are the practical adaptations that Machi has worked out for dealing with her detached head, especially in the ways she has to manually turn or nod it, or other ways she must compensate to communicate like other humans do. Half of one episode even delves into the physics behind how her head and body are still connected. Sakie's efforts to minimize the impact of her succubus nature are also interesting, as is the way that Yuki learns about how her cold generation works.
The series even finds a bit of room for philosophy, by periodically addressing where the balance lies between ignoring and acknowledging traits that make a person different. This is most clear in an early scene where Machi's friends seem evasive about bringing up anything about her dullahan nature, which Machi doesn't fail to notice, and the shocked reactions of Machi's classmates when Hikari doesn't bother to tiptoe around the issue are priceless. Later on, the show also ruminates on where the line lies for a teacher between helping students and making them too dependent on that help. This part resonated with me the most, and while the story ultimately lets Tetsuo off a little too easy, the heartfelt admissions from the demis about how much he's helped them can easily get emotional for viewers.
With its emphasis on light comedy and slice-of-life moments done monster girl-style, the series remains focused more on ongoing character development than a driving plot, with many episodes divided into distinct halves that each deal with a different issue. As a result, it views more smoothly in isolated episodes than through marathon viewing. That format also doesn't give the show many opportunities to deliver showstopping animation, but the solid animation effort by A-1 Pictures shows through in subtler ways, such as the distinctive body language of each major character. The generally bright and cheery (but not garish) color scheme suits the light tone of the series quite well, while the artistic effort as a whole stands out most in the character designs. This isn't a spectacular visual effort, but it satisfies the needs of the series well enough. The musical score is also fitting, with its best moments being its light use of strings to complement both playful and more poignant moments. The opener and closer, though also fitting, are also innocuous.
Funimation's release of the series comes in its standard Blu-Ray/DVD combo set. On-disc extras consist only of clean theme songs and some promos, which is a little disappointing; an English commentary at least could have been interesting. The most important role to get right for the English dub was Hikari, and Bryn Apprill was definitely a fitting choice; she beautifully captures Hikari's exuberance and free-wheeling attitude. Cris George takes more getting used to as Tetsuo, since the tenor of his voice is significantly different than Junichi Suwabe's delivery, but the performance quality is on the mark. The other key roles follow suit, especially Sarah Wiedenheft's take on Yuki, who particularly shines in her more humorous moments. Minor tweaks to the script don't change anything in a significant way.
Overall, Interviews with Monster Girls delivers an entertaining and occasionally thoughtful package that avoids the seedier pitfalls common to the monster girl genre. If it lacks anything, it's room for monster boys in its scenario, and there are definitely some aspects of demi-human life that warrant further exploration. Still, this humble comedy does remarkably well with the ground it does cover.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Hikari is especially lovable, great attention to detail in worldbuilding, can be thoughtful and analytical
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