My Little Monster
となりの怪物くん (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)
Shoujo – Romance, comedy, drama, slice-of-life
13 Volumes (complete)
Kodansha Comics USA
Shizuku just wants to spend her days concentrating on school. At least she doesn’t have to worry about the boy who is supposed to sit next to her bothering her, as he got suspended. When Shizuku is asked to deliver some printouts to the boy, Haru, she witnesses his much-rumored temper! Then Haru suddenly declares he’s friends with Shizuku…
Before I dive into the real review, I’d like to discuss the release of My Little Monster.
In Japan, My Little Monster had a fanbook released. Kodansha Comics decided to translate parts of it (about 60 pages) and include these sections in Volume 13. The extra pages means Volume 13 retails for $12.99, up from Kodansha Comics’ normal price of $10.99 a volume. It’s nice My Little Monster was a success and the company gathered about a third of the bonus volume’s content for essentially $2 more… considering how horrible the binding is for most of the series. Seriously, you cannot read every word or see every panel without stretching your book open so wide to the point you’re afraid the binding is just going to come loose. I pay to read all of a book, not 80, 90, 95% of it. If I hold a volume in my usual way, this is what I see (from volume four, page 130): “‘m ry, was alled or.” In the bottom panel on the same page, Natsume’s half of her face beyond the nose completely gone. Stretch it out, and you see Natsume’s right eye and her full statement: “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.” I mean, I can figure out the dialogue from context clues, but I should not have to handle my books roughly or uncomfortably to fully read them and enjoy the art. I imagine this was a cost-cutting measure, but geez! It’s a huge ding against this series, and I wonder if digital is actually the better option for My Little Monster. In addition, I don’t know if I got a bad copy or if all the books are like this, but my last volume has a printing error where all the pages are cut off at the top and have a line of whitespace at the bottom. It gets bigger toward the middle of the volume and then goes down a bit. The error is still only a few millimeters at max width, but it’s enough to throw the pages off. It’s most noticeable in Yuzan’s chapter where parts of the text are sometimes cut off at the top.
OK, back to the actual manga review.
I like My Little Monster. I really do. At the same time, I felt like there was something holding me back from absolutely falling in love with this series. This manga features many aspects that should make me love it: a smart and hardworking heroine, a flawed male lead who actually wants to be close to others, a lack of annoying enemies/fangirls, boy-girl friendships without romantic jealousy, and a good comedy-drama blend. Really, what more do I want? It wasn’t until Volume 13 that I fully realized what the problem was: several of the main characters get the shaft in character development.
Let’s take a step back and discuss the main couple.
Shizuku is a serious girl who just wants to eventually earn a stable, solid income. She doesn’t have any real hobbies or friends outside of her textbooks, but she doesn’t mind. Well, Shizuku gets mixed up with rumored school delinquent Haru, and then he tells her he likes her romantically. The two loners bond with each other along with other people.
Even though Shizuku confesses to Haru by the end of the first volume, the two don’t become an official couple until near the end. However, for once, the main issues keeping the two from being together are their own problems, not other people interfering. Here’s how I describe Haru and Shizuku’s relationship: the pair start at opposite ends of a board game, Haru at “in love” and Shizuku at “just be friends”. They then spend much of the series landing on opposing spaces. When Shizuku lands on “ready to start a relationship”, Haru has just arrived at “non-romantic love”. One of them then goes to “expand horizons” while the other is at “look only at me”, one at “what I want to do” versus “what the other wants to do”. Surprisingly, this relationship chaos is not too annoying. Shizuku and Haru are both loners who are just beginning to learn about human connections; plus, they’re still only in high school. Of course, the two encounter some of the usual shoujo manga relationship problems: misunderstandings, romantic rivals, and family dysfunction. My Little Monster, however, is more about how the pair’s individual growth just tends to keep them out-of-sync with each other rather than Sudden Storm #5 brewing.
My Little Monster, like many shoujo romance manga, covers Shizuku and Haru’s three years of high school. However, in an unusual move, the third year is covered in one almost-dialogue-free chapter. Their story is pretty much complete in the twelfth volume, as Volume 13 is full of side stories. (It’s still billed as Volume 13 even in Japan.) Many bonus volumes are often produced just to gain extra sales, but Volume 13 is strongly recommended. The final book adds a lot of characterization to the people that star in it. (More on this later.)
Anyways, the whole series blends comedy and drama well without overloading on either. For every page where Shizuku dwells on her feelings is a page where she’s her no-nonsense but food-loving self and the object of Asako’s platonic desire. Haru’s strength is also not portrayed as something to aspire to, as his violence and short-temper causes many problems for himself and the people he cares about. More positives for My Little Monster are the facts that characters don’t spend a lot of time on looks or focus on jumping into the physical part of the relationship.
Unlike many manga, the cast of My Little Monster is established pretty early. Only a few characters are introduced after the opening volumes, and the few named ones are pretty unimportant. Haru and Shizuku gain close friends in Sohei (nicknamed Sasayan) and Asako, have romantic rivals in quiet girl Chizuru and Kenji (nicknamed Yamaken) who have their own friends, and Haru’s and Shizuku’s family members also play a part in the series. The students don’t all go to the same school, which, again, is pretty rare.
But here’s where the series’ biggest weakness that I alluded to before lies: while most of the characters are around from the start, there were several whom I never really got to understand. Romantic interests Chizuru and Yamaken receive a good amount of attention, spending almost whole chapters dedicated to their crushes on Haru and Shizuku. Asako’s interest in Haru’s cousin is also a significant part of the storyline. All three struggle with their first loves while dealing with the fact the objects of their affections just aren’t looking their way. They know they can’t turn off their feelings like a faucet, but they also can’t easily avoid their love interests. Even though their loves are never requited, they also grow: Chizuru starts making friends, Yamaken realizes his flaws, and Asako tries to stop dismissing an entire gender.
However, not everyone gets this level of development. Take Sasayan for instance. While neither Shizuku nor Haru (or even Chizuru or Yamaken) are great at communication, we as readers get the benefit of viewing their thoughts. As outgoing as Sasayan is, he doesn’t really share his thoughts much either. It isn’t until his side story in the final volume that author Robico explores his feelings for a certain someone. His chapter adds short scenes from throughout the manga that really help answer whether he knew his feelings and was hiding them for her sake, was unconsciously hiding them, or if he really fell in love along the way. I wasn’t sure which one it was while reading through the manga. His story is a great way to start the bonus volume, but I feel like My Little Monster would have been stronger if these types of explorations had been naturally built in to the main 12 volumes.
He’s not the only one who could have had more characterization. Haru’s brother Yuzan is a complex character, and I would have liked to see more of the Haru-Yuzan comparisons and contrasts directly in the main story. Yamaken’s friends are regular characters as well, but they really don’t have any more personality than the Baka Trio from Maid-sama! The story could have easily cut one, two, or even all three of them out without losing much. Volume 13’s fanbook content provides more information on them than the other volumes put together, and a couple of the extra stories (particularly the last one, which made me laugh out loud) made me wish Robico had made better use of them.
It’s really too bad, as it’s a great testament to a manga when I like just about everybody. There’s no evil exes in My Little Monster, and the few unlikable people who appear mostly stay off-screen. In particular, Asako deserves special mention for being a) a close friend who was neither a childhood friend or a former enemy and b) a popular girl who didn’t actually have any friends. She tends to be biased against guys and can be incredibly stubborn, but she also wants friendship more than love. Shizuku herself is an unusual protagonist, but Asako also doesn’t fall into the normal best friend tropes. I also loved Shizuku’s brother Takaya, and I wish he had made more appearances early in the story. His bonus chapter was also very good, blending scenes from both Mizutani siblings’ relationships.
Another thing that really bothered me was how much side conversations there were. At times it felt like every panel has some sort of background conversation going on. Most of these aren’t really important, like laughing at a joke or discussing what to eat. If Robico had cut down on some of these random asides, she could have put some of those character development scenes instead. I understand hindsight is 50/50 and that Robico didn’t expect My Little Monster to go on for so long. Still, though, I think another editor might have told her readers don’t need full conversations for unimportant scenes. She doesn’t seem to rely on them so much in the later volumes, and I think this shows how much she grew as an author over the course of the series.
Robico’s art is rather straightforward. While many shoujo artists put special care into designing faces and eyes, Robico’s art is simpler. Shizuku’s and the others’ eyes are pretty much black splotches. Only when the characters are really moved do we get to see more of the shoujo-style detailed eyes. Combined with the normal hairstyles (pigtails, wavy curls) and outfits (one-pieces, T-shirts), the manga actually looks and feels realistic. SD faces are mostly limited to characters’ shock at one another’s behavior, so, again, the manga feels like real adventures at a local high school. I’m surprised this series hasn’t been made into a live-action movie or drama; the cast certainly wouldn’t need to wear wigs, and there is little need to play up the comedy parts. Fanservice — whether you like it or not — is minimal, and the characters don’t dress up very often either. With all the side conversations, panels are often filled. Screentones are rarely used, so the pages are clean but sometimes feel flat. I just wish there was more “color” at times. The panels art easy to follow. I don’t think Robico is going to win any awards for most beautiful manga, but I love how readers can easily imagine themselves in Shizuku and the others’ shoes. All of this makes me think My Little Monster might be a good title for new readers who are unfamiliar with manga and aren’t used to reading a book “backwards”.
Long ago, manga translation and/or adaptation was usually handed off to whoever was free at the moment. Nowadays, whoever works on a series usually stays on for the course of the series. Well, My Little Monster is an exception. Volume 4 features a change in translators. In addition, while the same person does the lettering for the entire series, the font used for the dialogue is changed about halfway. (It was previously only used for internal thoughts.)
Honorifics are used, but terms like “Sis” and “Dear Brother” are used for the siblings. Iyo’s habit of speaking in the first person is kept. Translation notes are included to explain music references, food, and jokes. I am a big fan of the second translators, but I didn’t really have a problem with the first translator’s way of handling things. However, the early volumes suffer from typos. For example:
“On my over I found a stray.”
“Though I only heard the humors later.”
Lines like “Haven’t had cotton candy in forever!” are debatable since they aren’t grammatically correct nor off from the Japanese (which, in this case, could either be “I haven’t” or “We haven’t”), but the examples above are clearly mistakes.
The number of errors clearly dropped in Volumes 4+, so I don’t know if the pair of second translators are better at editing their works (there’s two, so that helps), the first translator moved on to another project (he has only done a few manga volumes), or if he didn’t have an editor. The change in font is just plain puzzling.
Despite my gripes, it’s easy to see why My Little Monster was one of the most requested shoujo manga titles for Kodansha Comics. With its sincere love story and atypical characters, romance manga fans should pick up this series if they haven’t already, probably in digital format.
Crunchyroll has the anime available for streaming, and NIS America released the series on Blu-ray/DVD.