Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Little Monster
Shizuku Mizutani just wants to study all the time. She aspires to be the best, and that requires a lot of hard work, so when her teacher assigns her to bring handouts to the class delinquent, Haru Yoshida, she's not thrilled. She's even less happy when Haru latches on to her – it turns out that he's starving for friendship and scared to go to school. Soon Shizuku finds herself the caretaker of the class monster, a turn of events she's not sure she's happy with...but maybe she's not that upset about it either? Maybe, just maybe, there's more to life than studying after all.
Plenty of shoujo manga, either romances or comedies, have quirky characters. They might eat a lot, or look terrifying but really just be the sweetest so-and-so around, and, generally speaking, how they're treated tells us whether we're reading a romance with a comedic subplot or a comedy with a romantic sub-plot. My Little Monster, however, mixes this up somewhat, by giving us a hero and a heroine who go a little beyond “quirky” to somewhere in the vicinity of “emotionally stunted,” leading to a story that is neither romantic comedy nor comedic romance, but somewhere in a little genre all its own.
The story opens with Shizuku Mizutani. Her classmate Yoshida hasn't attended school since he got into a fight on the first day, and her teacher has bribed her with study guides to go deliver him some course materials. She's not thrilled with the assignment – Shizuku's only real goal in life is to be “the best,” and for her right now that means a single-minded devotion to her studies. So she's both surprised and off-put when Yoshida, who prefers to be called by his given name, Haru, turns out to be starved for affection and latches on to her as his friend. It takes most of the volume for Shizuku to come to terms with this, partially because one of his first moves is to accost her, but slowly we see that she's thawing and realizing that, as her elementary school teacher once told her, there's more to life than studying.
On a very basic level, My Little Monster is about two people with the social skills of a radish. (Two more named characters are added in the second half, but at this point they aren't major figures.) Shizuku has voluntarily isolated herself and Haru is a combination of hot-tempered and utterly naïve. The result is that both of them bumble along through the story trying to understand emotions and how they ought to treat one another. As it turns out, Haru may not be quite as dim as he comes off (both intellectually and emotionally), but his desperate yearning to have friends definitely has an effect, sometimes adverse, on his actions. That both characters have good hearts underneath it all is very apparent, with Haru taking in a stray rooster and Shizuku unable to tolerate people taking advantage of others, but for the most part both of them are stumbling through human interactions. There's something particularly interesting about having neither hero nor heroine be even remotely perfect characters, and it definitely makes the book stand out as a little bit different from its brethren.
Robico's art doesn't rely much on backgrounds, establishing a setting at the scene's start and then just using tone behind the characters. Everyone is fairly easy to tell apart, and if everyday facial expressions aren't her strong suit, she is quite good with the more extreme ones. Shizuku's perpetually frozen neutral face makes her stand apart from the other characters, as she only really changes her expression when she's surprised or annoyed, compared with the more mobile faces of Haru and the rest. This does help to establish her character in ways beyond her narration and dialogue and works very well.
Some readers may remember the questionable line in the anime version of the series where Haru grabs Shizuku early on in the story. The manga phrases his threat as, “If you scream, I'll hurt you,” which, while it is hardly what we want to hear from the romantic lead, is also not nearly as objectionable as other translations. The translation in generally reads well, although there is one speech bubble that appears to be missing a word, which is hardly good, but it does not hinder comprehension and only happens the once. Pacing can be a little odd, with the story relying heavily on flashbacks that really don't need to be there, since half of the time they are just taking us back to moments previous to the current action, but this slows down as the book goes on, so presumably Robico figured things out.
My Little Monster has romantic elements and comedic elements, but at its heart is about two people learning to get along with each other. Haru becomes more savvy, Shizuku becomes more emotionally open, and there's a pet rooster. This first volume establishes enough to pull us in while still gearing us up to want to stick with the characters for the long haul. It has its awkward moments, but on the whole this is a first volume that introduces us to a story that is both familiar enough and different enough to want to keep reading.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Robico does a good job establishing both Shizuku and Haru and their issues. Some funny moments, while others are heartstring tuggers. Definitely engaging.
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