First Love Monster
初恋モンスター (Hatsukoi Monster)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance, shotacon
4 Volumes (ongoing)
Rich girl Kaho wants to change herself, and moving out is her fist step on her journey. When a handsome stranger saves her from being hit by a truck, Kaho is smitten. When she finds out the boy is her landlord’s son, Kaho believes it’s destiny and confesses to him. Kanade tells her he’ll only go out with her if she can accept him for who he really is…
Ever play a game like Taboo? Or know the gameshow Password? Where you have to describe something without using certain words? Well, if I was under pressure and trying to get you to name this series without using its title or certain key phrases, I would probably blurt out, “A less pervy, shoujo version of Kodomo no Jikan!” This description wouldn’t exactly be accurate, but it’s not inaccurate either.
So let me tell you how I discovered First Love Monster.
A while back, well before Yen Press licensed this series, I was browsing some Japanese sites, looking for new manga. I discovered a video ad for a manga for something called 初恋モンスター. “Oh, Hatsukoi Monster. Sounds like a shoujo to me!” So I played the video, and I immediately recognized the voice of Sakurai (Cloud in Final Fantasy VII, Yamato in Say I Love You., and a whole bunch more). Then I learned there was a drama CD also featuring Sugita, Morikubo, and several other awesome seiyuu. “What a cast!! This sounds awesome!! Main guy is wearing a shirt with 5-2 on it. He’s in elementary school?! Must be a romance set in elementary school starring a mismatched couple.”
Well, the couple is mismatched alright. Mismatched as in “fifth grader with high school student”. Somehow, I became the otaku version of Kaho. She fell in love with Kanade because of his appearance and kindness, and I fell in love with a series based on its cast. And neither one of us can back out now.
(Except we both could.)
Let me be clear: high schoolers should not date elementary students. Generally, high school students shouldn’t date middle schoolers either, but there’s always going to be eighth and ninth graders dating, etc. Overall, though, unless both people are already adults, more than a couple years apart is certainly impractical to downright immoral. I do not advocate this kind of relationship.
That’s not to say I don’t read age gap manga. One of my favorite manga of all time has a nine year age difference between the main couple. (However, the lead has the mind of an adult — literally.) Popular magical girl series Cardcaptor Sakura has a side couple between an elementary student and her teacher. I don’t support that, but I don’t think a lot of people do. But I don’t think a lot of people completely disregard the series for its…nonstandard couple.
So let’s get back to the First Love Monster / Kodomo no Jikan comparisons. Both series star love interests in elementary school, a much older, easily frazzled protagonist, and the kid’s friends are pretty similar to the lead. The two series also have some suggestive imagery.
OK, I’ve wasted enough time. Is First Love Monster — assuming you are okay with fictional elementary students dating high school students — a waste of money or not? Is this series nothing but an excuse to parade around nice-looking boys in school uniforms?
Well, here’s the thing: my problem with First Love Monster is very similar to the issue I have with Gakuen Prince. Both have some very disturbing main narratives, but the two series feature some comedy gold.
Had Hiyoshimaru just made this in the style of Nijiro Days, about the lives of four male friends, this would be a very good series. Three elementary students who keep getting confused for high school kids and their normal size (and mentally mature) friend? Hilarity ensues. She could have even included a lot of the plotlines from the current version of First Love Monster. Nothing like confessing to a stranger and finding out he’s younger — waaaaay younger — than you thought. Or the hilariousness when a interclass volleyball tournament is rejected due to, as Kazuo says, certain class members having unusual growth spurts. First Love Monster has quite a few bonus stories starring Kanade and his friends, and these funny stories are among the best parts of the manga.
But, unfortunately, the author decided to make this a romance. Even worse, she decides to add a cheerleader or two for the couple plus an incredible jerk. (“Jerk” is far too tame a term I want to use.) Plus there’s some suggestive imagery like Kanade hovering over Kaho in her bed. It would be one thing if this manga had been done as a pure comedy like Hanamaru Kindergarten, but the love story is played straight. It features many of the usual shoujo dramas: love rivals, misunderstandings, the “does he really love me?” wonderings. Kaho truly wants to be in a mutual love with Kanade. Her reservations are balanced out by her own feelings, the encouragement of a friend, and Kanade’s charm.
Ummm, really, what else can I say? So far, this is who we have in the story:
- A kid who believes in aliens
- A wanna-be yankee with a large family
- A man who loves lady boys
- An idiot
- A sadist
- A pervert
- An eavesdropper
- A rich boy who happens to fall in love with a girl who has a secret
- A voodoo fan
And that’s not even including the main couple. Add a boy who still plays make-believe and cares for his dead mother and a pessimistic, self-loathing rich princess who wants people to stop walking around her in eggshells and you have First Love Monster. Even if you don’t mind Kanade and Kaho dating, one of the major characters is an absolute horror. He goes around insulting the female lead. She’s pathetic, but we don’t need to see him mentally abuse her. Not to mention one of the side stories features another way potential perverts can reach out to kids. (Note to parents: teach your kids not to call numbers for a kid’s advice line. Too suspicious.)
Again, it’s the romance that really brings down this series. Hiyoshimaru mentions she gets embarrassed whenever she does the romance scenes, and she probably should have just jumped to another magazine or make a more acceptable odd couple love story. Love Com is a fun take on the genre. A fifth grader kissing a classmate? Cute and fluffy. That same boy kissing a high school student? Not so cute and fluffy anymore. It’s too bad, as Kanade is actually a better love interest than many other shoujo heroes. He knows not to give his name to a stranger, but he also doesn’t think twice about saving one. His young age also means we don’t have to suffer from a guy pressuring his new girlfriend to take their relationship to the next level.
The manga has its moments though. Unfortunately, there’s hidden between less palatable scenes. Kaho first meeting Kanade’s friends made me laugh out loud, and Kaho’s brother’s occult interests make some fun antics later in the manga. Even some of the Kanade x Kaho scenes are pretty funny. (Nothing like a first date in a sandbox.) Again, this would be even more hilarious if the story was flipped, that Kanade has a crush on an older neighbor girl while she’s just thinking she’s hanging out with him as a younger brother. That’s a First Love Monster I can get behind.
As for the art, the good news is that Kanade is certainly attractive. The bad news is that he’s not a good looking teenager but a good looking little kid. Hiyoshimaru’s style is a bit shaky in the opening volumes, which is most notable in Kaho. She reminds me of Chibi-Usa in the second season of Sailor Moon Crystal. They both have forced angles in their eyelids, and I don’t like them for either character. Hiyoshimaru got her start drawing boys’ love stories, and I can definitely tell that’s where her focus goes. All the guys are either sharp-eyed hunks or fresh-faced girly boys. Her style reminds me a bit of Junko’s of Kiss Him, Not Me, which is not surprising as they’re both boys’ love artists now working for Kodansha. But while Kiss Him, Not Me‘s art is bright and cheerful because it’s primarily a comedy, First Love Monster has much more screentones and shading to emphasize the drama. Hiyoshimaru does an excellent job of showing the darker emotions Kaho and Atsushi feel. The paneling is also impressive at times. Ignoring the squeamish age difference, artistically, some of the Kaho x Kanade are touching. In the first volume, there’s a two page montage with only one word as they share their first kiss. It’s certainly eye-catching. For those interested, Hiyoshimaru also throws in some fan service with Kanade in his underwear, swimsuit, and even a skirt. All in all, the art is probably the least objectionable part of this series. (Well, minus the implications of fanservice. I mean from a technical standpoint.)
There were a couple of times I wish it would have had a more literal translation, like Kanade saying, “You wanna die?!” instead of, “You have a death wish?!” I don’t think I’ve heard the game where one person is the commander and is held up by the others as a “shoulder war” before. I’ve mostly seen it translated as like cavalry battle, chicken fight, horse, etc. Each volume includes translation notes, but the first volume’s notes are strangely written on the inside of the back cover. The adaptation keeps some terms and finds replacements for others. Some are a bit of a stretch (how does a fifth grader mishear “rounding to the nearest hundred” as “abounding breasted haunted”?!), but they work.
It’s not necessarily the elements of First Love Monster that are a problem; it’s the fact they’re tied together by a serious romance. If you were turned off by the description, nothing here is going to change your mind. If you were hesitant, then I wouldn’t jump onboard. The few hilarious parts don’t outweigh the negatives for most people. But, dang it, for anime and drama CD fans, what a cast!
FUNimation has licensed the anime and is currently streaming it.
I do want to add that I have seen most of the first episode of the First Love Monster anime. I can’t speak for the other volumes, but so far, there have been no instances of the boys fixing their underwear. They do talk about poop, one likes boobs, and upskirting is mentioned, but nothing like what the anime did in the first episode. Good or bad, take that for what you will.
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