Winter 2017 First Impressions – Interviews With Monster Girls

Tetsuo Takahashi is a teacher working at Shibasaki High School and specializing in the physiological studies of demi-humans. His students include Akira Takanashi, a vampire and lover of tomato juice; Kyōko Machi, a dullahan; and Yuki Kusakabe, a yuki-onna. The school also employs math teacher Sakie Satō, a succubus.ANN

Streaming At: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: TBA

Source: Manga

Episode 1 Summary: The new school year is starting, and biology teacher Takahashi-sensei is starting to think about doing some work on his graduate thesis. He’s nurtured an interest in Demi-humans for a while now, and though they’re no longer a persecuted sub-section of humanity, they can be a little hard to find. Takahashi is resigned to the fact that he’ll have to do some legwork to find Demi-humans willing to sit with him and be interviewed. At least, that’s what he thinks until realizing in short order that he’s literally surrounded Demi-humans in school. The school’s new math teacher, Satou-sensei, is a succubus who doesn’t exhibit many of the stereotypical traits one might expect of such a sexually-focused being. There is also a vampire, a dullahan (an individual whose head is separate from their body), and a snow woman (a Japanese yokai) among the student body, and none of them keep completely hidden. After opening up a line of communication with outgoing Hikari, a goofy vampire with a taste for tomato juice, Takanashi-sensei starts to gain some insight into these people he has thus far only been observing from afar.

Impressions: Monster girls seem to be anime fandom’s current fetish-du-jour, and while I do somewhat share that affinity, I haven’t really been impressed by why anime has had to offer so far related to the topic. Specifically, I found Monster Musume, the de facto flagship monster girl title, to be uncomfortably weird and sexual without actually being sexy. It gave an in-universe reason why the main characters weren’t supposed to have sex, but then pushed it anyway, making everything feel very discordant and uncomfortable in the process. Interviews With Monster Girls takes a different angle and removes the vast majority of the sexual content in favor of focusing more on the day-to-day culture of monster girls in the process. For me, at least, this makes the resulting product a lot more pleasant and endearing.

I think it was the correct choice to focus on a character like Hikari first. I love how her straightforward and outgoing nature serves to lay everything out right away. There’s a deceptively simple scene partway through the episode where Machi, the dullahan, is talking with some friends in class, and they conspicuously avoid the topic of her detached head. I think this is something that many people are inclined to do, especially when they exist within the majority (racially, sexually, able-bodied, size-wise, etc.) – they feel safer and as if they’re being more polite if they just don’t call attention to the differences expressed by the people around them. “I don’t see color” is one of the phrases that comes to my mind, and represents the inability for the majority to acknowledge how differences affect those around them (especially negatively). Hikari comes back later on and blasts straight on through that veil of propriety, talking with Machi about keeping track of her head on the bus while also carrying her school bag, and other things that would likely affect someone with disconnected body parts. It’s not just an ice-breaking moment, it also seems to prompt at least one of Machi’s classmates to “get over it” and stop treating her with kid gloves.

Hikari’s first one-on-one with Takahashi-sensei is entertaining as well; when he suggests that her latent blood-sucking fascination that’s focused on Kusakabe (the snow woman – vampires get hot easily and a snow-woman’s body is nice and cold) could be interpreted as erotic, she reacts like many teenagers would when it’s suggested that they actually have some sort of budding sexual feeling – namely with embarrassed indignation. While I think that anime often goes in the wrong direction when specifically portraying women’s sexuality, depicting is as being comprised primarily of shame and humiliation (gross), I think this scene has the right combination of innocence, humor, and respect for Hikari as a character to steer it away from that particular cliff side. She seems to me very genuinely like a teenager just beginning to confront some of those complicated emotions while still being unable to truly define what they are; the fact that the scene comes across as humorous rather than disgusting gives me hope that the show will continue in the right direction.

It’s worth mentioning as well that, despite being a token male surrounded by young women, Takahashi-sensei doesn’t seem to be serving the role of harem lead, which is refreshing. His interests in Demi-Human culture seem to be without ulterior motive; even when prodding Hikari about her bloodlust I didn’t interpret him as behaving inappropriately. This is, of course, up to every viewer to construe in their own way and I suspect that, as usual, life experience and comfort level with the general topic will play a large role here. But speaking for myself, I felt that his character and interactions stayed well within the realm of appropriateness and scientific inquiry, which left me feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

I’m a bit less sure of this when it comes to Satou-sensei, the succubus. Succubi are beings explicitly defined by their sexual nature, so Satou’s avoidance of the subject all together via her choices to dress in shapeless clothing and avoid direct contact with other adults gives me the feeling that there actually is some sort of shame involved in how she feels about herself. It’s clear that this is all intended as a joke based around subverting expectations, and that Satou means to avoid the trouble of any misunderstandings or sticky situations (pun not intended) related to who she is, but I’m wary that this quest for a one-note gag will serve to define her character. I would much rather hear her talk about what it’s like to be a succubus than see her continually running out of the room to avoid conflict.

Aside from the other characters, who thus far haven’t received a lot of screen time or focus, the charm of this episode comes from the little bits and pieces we get to hear about how Demi-Humans or “Demis” exist within human society. I think this is more the type of material that I really wanted from Monster Musume, but which was hidden beneath all of the goofy sex stuff. I like to hear about the fictional cultural aspects of the different monsters, as well as some of the more boring bureaucratic drudgery that comes along with being a community within a broader culture, examined in such a way as to not be directly related to any real culture (hey, anime isn’t subtle entertainment; for various I don’t usually trust it to handle racism, sexism, or any other “ism” properly). For example, I’m by no means a vampire “fan,” but the logistics of vampirism are always a question that I have when vampires are part of the equation. Sometimes the logistics are resoundingly hopeless, as with the anime Shiki – the existence of vampires is ultimately unsustainable because humans are consumed and more vampires are created at a pace that outpaces human reproduction and replacement. In short, everyone ends up sad. In the case of this show’s universe, vampires are provided a blood stipend by the government each month (assumed to be sourced from donations) and can also exist on regular food. Hikari in particular likes tomato juice since drinking it roughly replicates the “feel” of ingesting blood. It’s little fact snippets like that which I think will maintain my interest even if the show sticks mainly to regular slice-of-life stuff.

I wasn’t expecting much from this, so color me pleasantly surprised that Interviews with Monster Girls was so charming and cute in its introductory moments. I’m happy that monster girls have become popular enough at this point that there are  shows revolving around them that don’t rely directly on fanservice and misguided in-your-face sexualization. I’m hopeful that this show will continue to be a fun slice-of-life outing with some creative cultural inventions and endearing characters (that just happen to live a slightly different existence than you or me).

Pros: The show nudges up to the topic of budding sexuality without being gross. There’s a moment that portrays the dominant culture’s discomfort with racial otherness in a surprisingly subtle and nuanced way. The characters are very cute and charming.

Cons: I question the portrayal of the succubus character, who seems to be afraid or ashamed of her sexuality (or others’ perception of it).

Grade: B

This article has 1 comment

  1. Monster Musume was a “bleached underpants” title–the creator had it as straight-up porn until he got enough fame to get a deal for mainstream distribution provided he took out the sex. Clearly he didn’t do a very good job of it.

    Reply

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