Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 20th 2012
My Little Monster
Episodes 1-7 Streaming
Shizuku Mizutani is quiet and plain and obsessed with her grades. Blunt-spoken and self-sufficient, she has earned a reputation for iciness that isn't entirely undeserved. Haru Yoshida is insane. Immensely strong and totally devoid of self-control, he responds with extreme violence to any injustice or cruelty he witnesses. He hasn't been to class in months, though people still remember his legendary opening-day rampage. Shizuku meets Haru when she's bribed into delivering some handouts to his house. She finds a simple boy who wants only to make friends. He finds a complicated girl with an excoriating clearness of vision, and no qualms about voicing what she sees. It's the first time Haru has met someone who isn't afraid to brace him head-on, and the first time Shizuku has felt something other than academic success move her. And so begins a highly unlikely, extremely bumpy journey into the wilds of teen love.
Unapproved uses of My Little Monster: Stimulating minds. Expanding horizons. Breaking hearts. Approved uses: Warming you up from the inside out. On the shojo romance scale, Little Monster weighs in on the lively, comedic side—closer to the effervescent emotional attack of Lovely Complex than the dead-serious drama of, for instance, this season's Say, "I Love You". If anything it's even brighter than Complex, which after all had a healthy obsession with heartbreak. Little Monster is a romantic comedy in the way that things like Golden Age screwball comedies were: not a laff riot, not a parade of gags, and not a weepie with a few lonely jokes mixed in, but a very funny look at what happens when two strange and strangely well-suited people try to navigate the thorny path to true love together.
Shizuku and Haru are not the kind of people who are naturally suited to romance. As the title says, Haru is a monster: hugely strong, incredibly impulsive, driven by pure instinct. He's essentially a wild child. He's smart and perceptive too, but that doesn't stop him from clocking anyone who so much as looks at Shizuku wrong, or from dumping his soda on Shizuku's head when in their second meeting she tells him—quite rightfully—to give his current circle of friends the boot. Shizuku is a Vulcan. Okay, maybe not exactly; but she does function mostly on logic. She doesn't feel things as strongly as others; not sadness, not affection. She doesn't form attachments easily. She sees the world as it is and makes no allowances for the illusions and fantasies that others use to cope. She is honest to the point of cruelty, but is even-handed in the extreme—as hard on herself or her friends as she is on her enemies. For Shizuku the material world is more real than the emotional; life is about making a living—thus her obsessive-compulsive need to get ahead in school.
Both are the kind of character who is too often a bit player, either a quirky romantic rival doomed to failure or an oddball best friend on hand to supply color. They're the romantic underdogs, the neglected misfits, the characters that are unutterably satisfying to see in lead roles—the kind we root for because, for all their exaggerated eccentricity, they are us: strange and imperfect and clumsy. They're good together too: equal parts funny (a horny Haru is a scary thing), cute (an embarrassed Shizuku or Haru is scary adorable), and strangely compatible, each moderating and bringing out the best in their often extreme partner. Shizuku in particular is a joy to watch evolve as she examines her new feelings and feels her way through new situations with the total, shameless (and frequently funny) honesty that is characteristic of her.
That balance—fun, cute, intelligent, emotionally satisfying—is characteristic of the show. Take the supporting cast. There's girly girl Natsume, who knows that guys love her and girls hate her, and loves Shizuku because Shizuku just doesn't give a crap. She spends her days communing with her net buddies and pining for real friends, and is a frizzle-brained weirdo of the first order. There's a carefree baseball boy; a gang of dumb, backstabbing, but essentially goodhearted delinquents; and a romantic rival prone to hilarious self-inflicted emotional wounds. They are all odd and flawed and compassionately written, equally capable of delivering rat-a-tat comic mayhem or steering the same mayhem into unexpectedly poignant territory. Together with Haru and Shizuku they develop a series-wide rapport that blasts through a blinding series of mood shifts—from silly to romantic to introspective to angry to sweet and warm—and yet somehow always maintains its equilibrium, never crossing the line into either frivolity or emotional drudgery and never devolving into an uncontrolled mess.
It's a sprightly, nimble performance from director Hiro Kaburaki, whose wonderful Kimi ni Todoke was more remarkable for its stately grace than its crackerjack energy. He keeps the series moving at a ricocheting gallop, pausing here to dwell on Natsume's insecurities about Shizuku's friendship, or there to appreciate Shizuku's changing priorities, but always returning to the rapid-fire sparring of Haru and Shizuku or the quick-change dynamic of their relationship or the razor-timed jokes of the series' ever-present humor. Episodes feel quick and eventful, yet never crowded or rushed.
That said, the strengths and weaknesses Kaburaki developed during Todoke are still in evidence. He's still plagued by an peculiar blindness to the ebb-and-flow of plot that causes him to cut his episodes off in weird and arbitrary places, making them feel like random chunks of a larger tale rather than meaningful units of their own. (In Todoke the same blindness resulted in a first season that concluded nine episodes before it actually ended). And his eloquence still outstrips his sense of humor. Not that he hasn't a knack for humor (check out Natsume's introductory pratfall, or Shizuku's Olympic-speed backpedal whenever Haru does something that creeps her out), but his knack for cinematic poetry is far stronger. Little Monster is far and away most memorable when Shizuku and Haru spend an afternoon idyll on the school roof, wind ruffling their hair as Shizuku smiles beatifically into the sky and decides to open herself up to life. Or when, in a moment of powerful, bewildering compassion, in the fading light of day, Shizuku embraces a heartbroken Haru and seals both their fates forever. Not that that's a bad thing. Not at all.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ A delightful romantic comedy romp with an odd, fun and all around great couple at its center.
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