Boy, that escalated quickly. Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush. Some of us are going to point to this episode — and especially the scene from which I took the screencap above — and argue that Haru succeeds in winning the girl’s heart by being less than scrupulous. I don’t agree; I think that to advance this position, you would have to overlook the entire body of the second episode. You would definitely have to disregard Shizuku’s own words and actions. We should work our way backwards.
“Haru, I’m glad we met. Before, I only cared about studying, but I’m going to start enjoying myself.” — Shizuku
One might feel naturally inclined to interpret Shizuku’s words cynically, but I think that would be equally mistaken and presumptuous. Will Shizuku’s grades suddenly start slipping? I think that’s the one question we need to address before making any sort of judgment on her words. I just don’t see it. As I pointed out a week ago, I’ll concede that it’s annoying how Haru just comes off as naturally gifted when it comes to academic matters (whether or not he’s actually smarter than Shizuku, however, is a trickier question). To re-iterate, it’s definitely a silly and perhaps somewhat concerning trope in shoujo narratives that the male love interest is often magically superior when it comes to earning good grades. But other than this particular quibble, do any of us really think Shizuku will somehow dumb herself down just by hanging out with Haru and Natsume? Enjoying yourself doesn’t mean you suddenly stop studying. Likewise, de-emphasizing the importance of studying doesn’t mean you will stop caring about it completely.
“My world is growing. What I once considered background noise is now comforting. It feels so good.” — Shizuku
People will want to point to all those instances of Shizuku blushing when she keeps remembering the kiss as evidence that the anime condones pushy jerks, but look, it’s gross simplification to assume this is the one reason why she thinks she’s in love with Haru. This entire episode isn’t just about Haru making friends; it’s also about Shizuku making friends. And none of this would’ve been possible without Haru. Granted, Haru was pushy and borderline creepy in the previous episode — and to some, there was nothing borderline about it — but the guy has definitely toned his antics down dramatically in the second episode. It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t changed. I think it’s important to acknowledge that Haru isn’t a static character. He’s still weird and bizarre, but has he crossed any lines this week? Shizuku isn’t a stupid girl, and it’s more than likely that she noticed these changes in Haru’s behavior. As a result, I don’t think you can convincingly argue that she falls in love with him because he was a jerk. Rather, Haru served as a catalyst for Shizuku’s own personal growth, and at the same time, he’s grown a little himself.
Of course, many girls wouldn’t have even given Haru a chance from the very start, long before that tasteless rape line even entered the picture. That’s understandable and wise. It is perhaps naive to think that any girl — much less Shizuku — could just tolerate a pushy guy long enough for him to reveal a heart of gold. Nevertheless, we run the danger of only looking at things from a macro level. Look, there’s nothing wrong with approaching things from a top-down level. It’s important to spot trends, and it’s important to question why every shoujo seems to pair a girl up with a pushy, inconsiderate jerk. At the same time, however, there is the micro level in which every imperfect situation is unique in its own way.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Tolstoy
Here’s how every perfect romance would go: well-adjusted girl meets well-adjusted boy. They share some common interests, but they have just enough differences between them to keep things interesting. They get along, they date, they fall in love, they get married, they have kids, they die. That’s how it is. Your healthy romance is neither interesting nor unique, and that’s why nobody’s writing about your love life. It’s not because nobody likes you, but it’s because we love stories. Unfortunately, stories need strife. It’s easy to take the piss out of genre shows — hell, I do it all the time — but there’s a reason why a story usually ends as soon as the boy and the girl become a couple: there’s no strife left. The couple’s just going to be happy and get married. Sure, they will have their problems; every couple fights every now and then. But these instances are too mundane to make a story.
So anyway, what am I getting at? From the macro level, we spot trends. We see how another pushy guy seems to win the girl, and it troubles us. I don’t deny that this is a valid approach to analyzing our stories. At the same time, however, we shouldn’t ignore how these stories develop from the ground level. More importantly, correlation is not causation. Yes, Haru started out pushy, but does that mean he wins Shizuku’s love because of it? From the ground level, we can see Shizuku telling Haru off when he doesn’t give her the space she requires. Barring the kiss, Haru has toned his antics down dramatically as a result. He’s just a socially awkward person who desperately wants to make friends. Still, he’s learned to care for Shizuku without irritating her anymore, and she’s learned to enjoy life a little more. Was the rape line from the previous episode offensive? No doubt. But is this why Shizuku falls for Haru? Of course not. From the micro level, the evidence doesn’t bare out.
Rape is a powerful word; its utterance alone conjures up such horrible ideas and images. As such, we need to keep the word ‘rape’ powerful, and not in the tasteless sense, but in that the subject matter needs to be treated seriously so that no one should ever make the mistake of condoning it for even the briefest of moments. Do I agree with all those arguments decrying Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun? No, and I’ve explained why. Do I wish those arguments had not existed though? Again, no. It was important to have the discussion — to understand where others are coming from — even if I don’t end up agreeing with other people’s conclusions. Why? Because whether or not I agree that the anime is attempted to advance or condone rape culture, the subject itself is that important. Having said that, I think I’ve exhausted everything that I can possibly say on this particular subject.
I won’t lie. I’m enjoying Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. I think it’s funny. To a certain extent, I’m writing on its behalf because I think others should enjoy it. We often forget, however, that it’s okay to disagree. If you think I’m wrong, that’s okay too.
I don’t have much in the way of notes because I forgot to take any during the initial viewing of the episode, and I don’t feel like rewatching it just to capture my inane observations. As a result, this is all you’re getting.
• I like that chicken. I hope that chicken sticks around for the duration of the series. Still, you don’t make fried chicken out of a rooster. Its meat would be too tough for that. You gotta braise a rooster. For example, coq au vin.
• Monja is very similar to okonomiyaki, but it’s a little gooier. I like texture in my food, so no thanks.
• I laughed at Haru’s attempt to tutor Natsume. I think we’ve all been there before. It doesn’t have to be an academic thing. I’ve tried to get my friends into tennis, but like most people, they just see it as Pong for rich people.
• I wish Natsume and Sasahara had been introduced earlier. I think it would’ve helped the audience to see Haru interact with someone other than just Shizuku.