It's new anime season time at last, and there's no shortage of goodies to choose from this autumn. My first pick for the season is a little bit of shoujo, courtesy of Brain's Base's adaptation of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, or My Little Monster if you prefer Crunchyroll's title.
Our protagonist for this series is Shizuku Mizutani, a serious girl (to the point of being nicknamed Dry Ice) with only one thing on her mind - studying and studying hard to achieve whatever life goals she has mapped out for herself. This is in stark contrast with the occupant of the seat in class next to her - or at least it would be if they ever turned up, something which Haru Yoshida hasn't done since picking a fight on his opening day. These two chalk and cheese characters are forced together when Shizuku is bribed into taking some class notes to Haru - next thing she knows, Haru is kidnapping her at every opportunity while referring to her as his friend, a concept of which he seems to have a rather confused idea.
When Shizuku stands up for Haru against some of his other supposed "friends", it seems that she steals his heart in the process - after confessing his love to her, one month later we find Haru back at school and following Shizuku around at every turn. Given his rather... "wacky" way of thinking about and handling things, this causes nothing but trouble for our protagonist, and between one thing and another she tells Haru to get lost. This is exactly what she needs to return to her studies and claim her place at the top of the class in her mid-term exams... this isn't enough to make up for what she quickly realises is missing from her everyday life - in short, she misses Haru, and things only become even more complicated from there.
If you're used to slow-paced, slow-burning romance-led series like Toradora or Kimi ni Todoke, then be prepared to fasten your seatbelt for My Little Monster's opener, because a lot happens. A ridiculous amount, in fact. Although this leaves us with a first instalment that feels rushed and compressed to the point where it could almost be a single episode one-shot OVA, it's also rather refreshing to watch a shoujo series that isn't incredibly ponderous and shy about its romantic angle - by the end of this episode we're left in no doubt as to everyone's feelings, and we have a male lead who is more than forward enough to avoid the whole "will he or won't he" rigmarole that has become the norm in this genre. That aside, I also hugely enjoyed both of the show's main characters throughout this episode - Shizuku is well-balanced between self-centred and focused student and genuinely nice girl who has never had a chance to shine, while Haru's lunacy is broadly endearing even though his character archetype has been done to death and no male lead is ever going to get bonus points for threatening to rape someone in my book.
With so much covered in one episode, the only real question is "where do we go from here"? I genuinely hope that the show's plot doesn't stagnate at this point and continues to keep at least a respectable pace, but provided it can accomplish that I get the feeling that this series could be a whole lot of fun with a bit of heart to boot.