Interviews With Monster Girls (Short Review)

Excellent

Interviews With Monster Girls is a very sweet and endearing show about monster girls in a very down-to-earth school setting.  While that may sound rather plain and uninspired, the show utilized a more thoughtful approach in how they presented the characters, both human and non-human.  The main character follows (quite refreshingly) in the theme of Gate – a mature character that is more of a good guy, rather than a nice guy.  Instead of relying on dim-witted naivete, the main character takes an active role in shaping the dynamics of the group and outcomes of a variety of situations.  This isn’t to say he’s an all-powerful superman, but his stable and empowering character ends up being a catalyst for positive change in other characters.  Because of the grounded tone of the anime, it ends up having a very real feel, lending credibility to all of the interactions.  With that setting, they end up addressing some very deep issues, such as how individual differences can affect a group as well as the struggle a teacher faces in trying to guide their students.  Not to say the anime’s necessarily all lofty and high-brow – there’s lots of fun and cute moments.  While there aren’t any crazy harem antics like other shows of a similar type, Interviews With Monster Girls ends up serving as a very low-key counterpoint to others in the genre.   A surprisingly simple, yet very satisfying anime to watch.

Purpose: Excellent
Characters: Excellent
World: Very Good
Plot: Good
Storytelling: Excellent
Pace: Very Good

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Inu x Boku Secret Service

Very Good

This series was initially a random throwaway pick that ended up being surprisingly good (funny how that happens).   The series itself is rather uncomplicated at face value, but does contain a surprising amount of depth.  Inu x Boku SS is a fun blend of comedy and sweetness, alongside an ever-present, darker undertone.  It’s also rather sarcastic and somewhat irreverent, which adds to its playful tone.  All told, it’s a pretty strong anime.

Purpose:  Very Good.  This is an extremely hard anime to classify.  Comedy predominates but it leaves plenty of room for darker character drama.  There’s also a dash of supernatural, for flavor.  But the anime is also caught between a pretty straightforward romance and character drama – Inu x Boku SS is focused internally almost as much as it is externally.  There really are a lot of different forces pulling it in different directions.  However, it works out quite well.  The tension between these distinctly different types of stories actually works to complement the stories being told.

As an aside, the supernatural doesn’t really play a significant role in the anime at all.  While it isn’t deeply explored, it does set the stage to allow for the characters to have a darker backstory without it being horrible.  The anime could certainly have done without those elements, but it would necessarily have been a much darker story.  When the supernatural isn’t part of the backstory, those elements are used to add levity, inserting some amusing situation for the characters to find themselves in.

Characters: Very Good.  There are two classes of characters here – those with depth and those without depth.  The main few characters end up becoming quite interesting and complicated, although it takes a while to get there.  The focal point for the anime’s character depth is the main heroine.  The cast pretty much revolves around her – her actions tend to shape the contours of many of the character interactions.

The rest of the cast is made up of a bunch of really crazy oddballs.  They were distinctive enough characters that they actually didn’t need too much depth.  Lots of the comedy in the anime involved these crazy personalities bouncing off each other.  This is where the playing with expectation really comes out.  Many characters end up reacting in pretty consistent ways, although sometimes they do things that are very surprising or unexpected, which is often funny.

World: Good.  All told, it does its job, although it’s pretty limited in scope.  All the action happens in a handful of settings, so it doesn’t do too much.  For the most part, the settings are fairly straightforward and “normal” in nature.  It’s a little disappointing that they really don’t explore too much of the supernatural, because there is some really interesting potential there.  But that, too, ends up being part of the periphery.

Plot: Good.  The plot is remarkably straightforward and uncomplicated, with very little distance to cover.  It’s back and forth in-between slice-of-life type gags and little bits of character plotline.  Then again, this is the kind of anime where it’s not how far you go, it’s all in the journey – all the meandering loops.  The interesting thing is that the character plots are always inching forward, not exactly repeating the same material.  Often in anime, they will really drag out the plots by repeating the exact same plot point, with the exact same result.  In this anime, even when the same kind of plot point came up, it was slightly different each time.  That’s what actually made the plot worthwhile – the result was affected by who was present.

Storytelling: Very Good.   What is quite impressive is how they manage to tie the disparate elements together in ways that support each other.  Many times, anime will include so many elements that they end up conflicting, which dilutes the impact of each.  Trying to pin it down, it seems to work in this case because of the overall tone they created as well as their treatment of transitions from comedy to serious end up supporting that tone.  The interesting thing about the storytelling is that it doesn’t really take itself seriously, but that ends up strengthening the impact of the serious scenes.   Even where silly ends up intruding on a serious moment, it’s done as part of the flow, rather than killing the mood.  That takes a great deal of delicacy.  Another part of it is that this anime likes playing with expectations and anti-climaxes, but uses them in ways that make the scenes more genuine.  Really, one of the best ways to describe the storytelling is straightforward and sincere.  The real standout in this anime is the last 3 episodes which build on everything that came before to add a fairly solid finish.

Pace:  Very Good.  How you see the pace will depend on how you classify the anime.    Since it has fast-paced banter-type comedy alongside slowly evolving characters and an even slower romance, it has very different needs at different times.  It seems to manage the pacing changes rather fluidly without too many problems.  That being the case, it’s really interesting to note that the transitions really aren’t too jerky or disjointed, as would be expected.   Very impressive to say the least.

Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.

Very Good

I did enjoy this anime a lot more than I thought I would.  To be honest, it was a fairly random pick to kill time, but ended up being quite good.

Purpose: Very Good.  In all, a “quiet” anime without flashiness or heavy drama.  It was a story about consequences within a middle school drama framework.  Thus, the lessons were more foundational – going from being just a child to being an adolescent.  At first blush, it appeared to be a simple love story, however the romance was actually a smaller part of the overall purpose.  In all, this was the story of two characters learning and growing up.

Characters: Very Good.  The characters had a very practical, more real feel.  They weren’t over the top and weren’t caricatures of personality traits you often see.  However, they were unique and distinctive enough that they complemented each other.  Through their concerns and fears, we saw a good deal of growth to the characters – learning practical lessons.  As these characters interacted, we saw a great deal of human genuineness that present throughout.

World: Very Good.  The world provided an interesting backdrop to the story.  It added extra supernatural elements that were a vehicle for character growth.  It was an important part of the plot itself and helped weave the storylines together.  It’s always interesting to see different interpretations and takes on Japanese folklore – sometimes they would give a different take from what was expected and other times they would keep it a little more traditional.  In both cases, it seemed consistent with what the world became.

As an aside, the foxes that were present in the anime were Zenko (善狐), servants of the goddess Inari.  The Zenko are generally guardians and serve to ward off evil.  Though not present in this anime, the Zenko are contrasted with Yako (野狐), foxes that aren’t servants of Inari.  In folklore, the Yako tend to be more mischievous and can even be malicious.

Plot: Very Good.  What is really interesting here was that the divine powers weren’t used as a “get out of jail free” card.  Rather, it was the source of more trouble, misunderstandings, and insight.  The insight was both into the characters and into the world.  The powers were a good plot device for the characters to learn the lessons they needed for growth and were an important driving force towards the ultimate resolution.  These were good examples of solid plot points because they marked noticeable differences in the characters’ overall trajectory – they served to provide good situations to learn from.

Storytelling: Excellent.  They handled the two separate stories quite well, using them to work off each other.  There were a handful of really memorable scenes.  The storytelling used the quieter aspect of the anime to convey very sweet, very genuine moments.  Of particular note is the presentation and maintenance of emotion in the stronger scenes.  As a counterpoint, humor was used to both highlight the drama and give some more awkward, human moments.  This resulted in storytelling that was never done in such a way as to be too serious, but presented so that it didn’t detract from what was going on.  Often, the humor would be a bit of a “rest-break” between some dramatic parts, serving, in some cases, as a dose of reality.

Pace:  Good.  The pace was a bit mixed.  In the beginning, they didn’t dwell too long on plot points that other anime usually get bogged down in.  This provided a good, solid pace for what was happening early.  The middle of the anime slowed a bit, but was still relatively solid in how everything was presented.  The last two episodes were a little bit of a pace “hiccup” – it felt that there wasn’t quite enough content for two episodes, so it was stretched out.  Consequently, a bit of the drama lost its impact at the end.