Friday, May 2, 2014

Manga Review: My Little Monster (volume one)

Back in the fall of 2012 I was pleasantly surprised to see that a new anime with a very bland sounding premise (girl is badgered by boy and a romance somehow develops) ended up becoming one of my favorite shows of the season and was then saddened when manga readers noted that due to how the series ended it was unlikely to get a second season. Well, that and the DVD sales, although I was a little surprised that this was the only one of the three shojo shows that season (the other two being Kamisama Kiss and Say I Love You) to not get licensed in the US since I thought it was by far the strongest. So I was quite excited that Kodansha USA announced that they were going to be putting it out and, like a good little manga fan, I went to my local independent book store, ordered it, and then actually got my book before anyone else did it seems, hurray for being a trendsetter!

My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, volume one) by Robico

Mizutani Shizuka does not have any friends at school and this is entirely by design. She's always cared more about studying, plus the rewards she gets for doing well, and when she's by herself she can get so much more done. And so it takes a bribe from a teacher make her deliver assignments to a classmate whose been out since the beginning of the school year, Haru Yosida, who turns out to be an odder bird than she is. Friendless not by choice but naivety he seems to attach himself to Shizuka's gruff and honest character and she starts to realize that you know, having a few friends might not be so bad after all.

I feel as if I have been ragging on current day shojo a lot and part of that is because a lot of the stories are just so similar it's irksome to see the same tired ideas over and over. Which is why I was hesitant about this story when I first heard of the anime, only a few people swearing it was good and the name Brains Base (which sadly has meant a lot less in these intervening two years) made me try it and it's now easily my favorite of the "girl and guy start out at odds but become closer" shojo stories. Of course it helps that Shizuka and Haru don't stay mad at each other for long, or rather they get mad a number of times at each other but it's not one, long, on-going feud, it's the normal bickering between friends. Plus the story quickly introduces a few prominent side characters who develop similar relationships with the characters which really helps keep the story from getting into a rut. Couple that with Shizuka being the one to realize that yes she does seem to have this odd crush on Haru early on and Haru saying that he's not sure after all (acknowledging that he has no clue how to deal with people at all) and the story really does avoid a lot of the things that generally turn me off from this kind of shojo in general.

Enough comparisons, what does MLM do completely on it's own that's good? To start with, it's hard to make a fairly anti-social, brusque character that the audience will like from the start but I feel like Robico really succeeded here with Shizutani. Her motivations and thoughts are laid out so clearly from the beginning and plus her deadpan reactions to everything around her (not only does Haru have next to no idea how to interact with people but he seems to bring the crazy along with him) just combine perfectly. The story isn't exactly a rom-com but it has plenty of comedy in it, the weirdness of all the characters really reminds me of how my friends and I were back in high school in a good way and the story perfectly balances when something awkward in the story is supposed to be funny and when it's supposed to be a sign that something is wrong. And as a quick note, for those who remember the anime, Haru had a questionable line in the first episode which is thankfully translated here (I'm told the anime translation was the literal one but since I've seen so many people turned off by that one, a bit out of character, line I'm happy Kodansha didn't go with it).

I do have one quibble with the story however and it's not actually the manga's fault, it's the printing. Specifically, there are several instances in the book where to read a speech bubble on the inside edge you have to crack the book open as far as it will go, there's absolutely no bleed on the pages which goes against everything you're taught about printing. On a whim I compared it to some other manga I had on hand* and checked that yes the book isn't any smaller than other US releases of manga, it might even be a tiny bit taller, and that still doesn't explain the lack of bleed and trim room. I wonder if it's because of the original art because there are a lot of pages where not all of the panels go evenly out to the outside edge and they didn't want to make those margins larger but I would much rather have a few margins that look overly large than not being able to read bits at all and hope that this problem is corrected in future books/editions.


*CMX's Two Flowers for the Dragon if it matters

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