I’ve watched a lot of shoujo anime in my time. It doesn’t matter if it’s cliche or derivative, if it’s shoujo, I’ll give it a fighting chance. Maybe even more than that, actually. Remember how excited I was to see several shoujo series in last fall’s lineup? I had grandiose plans to write about all three of them regularly, but you know me and my unannounced blogging breaks… In any case, I wanted to write up a few last thoughts before jumping headfirst into the spring season and totally forgetting about those shows.
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun was problematic from the very beginning, I knew that. I stuck with it out of misled loyalty to its female main character, Shizuku. I liked her — she was no-nonsense and unflappable. Even if she’s freaking out internally, you wouldn’t know it looking at her. Like many great poker players, she knows that revealing too much emotionally could cost you the game, and she’s too determined and stubborn to lose.
Enter Haru, unstoppable force to her immovable object. He enters with the force of a hurricane, disrupting her peaceful world and everything that she’s built up so far. He confesses that he’s in love with her, and then takes it back, only to repeat that cycle again. It’s one thing to be an adolescent in love, but in Haru’s case, it almost seems as if he’s using Shizuku as his emotional crutch instead of as an actual romantic partner.
In a romantic relationship, there is an expectation of a mutual give-and-take between partners. In Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, it didn’t feel that way; Shizuku was offering more to Haru than she was receiving. Their group of friends came about because of Shizuku, even Yamaken and his friends warmed up to Haru because of her. Shizuku, despite her stoic reputation, was aware of the rules of society, and like it or not, abided by them. Haru thought that he could get through life punching and kicking his way in, failing that, he decided to stay at home and hide. When he found his new “in” back to society through Shizuku, he pushed his way in without consideration. How is that a foundation for love?
Of course, Shizuku isn’t exactly a perfect heroine either, that’s a given. Like Haru, she changes her feelings every two minutes, one minute claiming that he’s altered her worldview for the better, yet the next minute she’s doing a total reversal. As teenagers, this is typical and expected and maybe in their case, the flammable mix of hormones and feelings makes it difficult to process what role they want that other person to fill in their life.
Towards the end of the series, Shizuku mentions something about how she and Haru seem to be “out of sync,” like they can’t have the same feelings or be in the same mindset at the same time. I think that best sums up my dissatisfaction about their relationship in a nutshell. It’s bad enough to be the subject in a one-sided relationship, it’s possibly even worse to be the object of the one-sided relationship.
It’s also problematic for me how Shizuku and Haru don’t really share fundamental values: she’s extremely studious and focused on school because she wants to get a good job and succeed in the future, he doesn’t have those concerns. When he told her he loved her for the umpteenth time, he was genuinely surprised and displeased when she still chose her prep lessons over spending time with him. It’s just another example of them not being in sync, not just over feelings but goals. The classes are important to her — even at the risk of breaking up her relationship with him again, but he doesn’t seem to get it nor does he want to. In Kare Kano, Yukino and Arima were in the same situation, fighting to be at the top of the class, but even at their lovey-doviest, I don’t think Yukino ever yielded to Arima, nor did Arima ever ask Yukino to give up her competitive edge to play with him. Because they shared the same value for education, Yukino and Arima continued to challenge and support each other on the academic battlefield, which isn’t the case with Haru and Shizuku.
For a series that I didn’t love, I sure am able to write at length about it. That’s definitely one of the reasons that I keep going back to shoujo. Even if the stories are similar to something that I’ve seen or read before, there’s enough variation in the narratives to make it different. Shoujo deals very well with emotional choices and their repercussions — illustrating the same struggles that we all have to deal with each day. My frustrations with the story and the characters may help me make better choices for my own life, especially if their circumstances mirror my own. There are stories and characters that are difficult to like, much less love… and that’s all right. Stories are reflections of our reality, and not all of it is easy to like, much less love.