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Friday, August 11, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Demi-chan wa Kataritai

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Demi-chan wa Kataritai. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

For centuries, tales of monsters have struck fear in the hearts of humans. In reality, these stories were the results of gross misunderstandings and stereotypes. Something people have at last begun to understand. Now demi-humans, better known as demis, have started to become accepted in society.

Tetsuo Takahashi (voiced by Junichi Suwabe) is a teacher with a strong fascination towards demis. He wants to learn more about them to distinguish the facts from the fiction. At the start of the new school year, he gets the opportunity he has been waiting for.

Three demis enroll at Tetsuo’s school. Hikari Takanashi (voiced by Kaede Hondo) is energetic and a trouble-making vampire. Kyoko Machi (voiced by Minami Shinoda) is an intelligent and friendly dullahan. And Yuki Kusakabe (voiced by Shiina Natsukawa) is a shy and soft-spoken snow woman.

With Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki’s help, Tensuo begins to unravel the misconceptions behind demi-humans. As he spends more time with the girls, they become three precious aspects of his life. In turn, the trio grows to rely on their teacher and the lengths he is willing to go for them.

Series Positives

How I decide what anime to watch is random and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even to me. How a series gets on my radar, though, is much more straightforward. As well as super simplistic.

Often it comes down to me scrolling through my different social media sites. Something as basic as an interesting still image can be enough to throw a show onto my “To Watch” list. Yet living in Japan does come with a distinct opportunity.

I get to see actual advertisements for anime on the streets and in stores. One thing I love doing is walking into a bookstore and browsing through the manga section. As you’d expect, the volumes that have had recent or airing adaptations are front and center. During one of these visits, I saw Demi-chan wa Kataritai.

The character designs and artwork were what caught my eye. After a bit of research on the general premise, I was on board. Now we’re here.

Given this process of mine, there’s no guarantee of anything. There have been series which have turned out fine. Series which have been terrible. And then there have been series, like Demi-chan, which have ended up being fantastic.

This one was great.

The Characters

The cast was brilliant. A bad character did not exist.

To start, Tetsuo was one of the best teacher characters I’ve ever seen. Not only that, he was a true standout. I’m not referring to this series alone. He was unique for a protagonist in this type of show.

Think about it. What do you imagine when you hear a teacher is going to be the lead? I know my answers would be young and inexperienced. That wasn’t Tetsuo in the slightest. He wasn’t new at his job. If I had to guess, he had a few years under his belt. These are traits you’d see in a supporting role, not the main character.

Except here it made so much sense. Anything else would’ve been problematic. Although a rookie could’ve done what he did, the challenges would’ve been overwhelming. So much so, it would’ve taken away the show’s power.

There’s also a third characteristic I’d expect a protagonist teacher to have. Passion. A true, genuine passion for teaching. Something Tetsuo had plenty of. It was clear that he gave a damn. He cared about the well-being of his students. Going the extra mile was what he did without thinking. His lessons and support weren’t confined to the classroom. Whenever the girls needed help or advice, he was there.

Plus, Tetsuo was always a mentor. Nothing else. I cannot stress how relieved I was when Tetsuo’s relationship with Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki never went beyond teacher and pupil. Is it bad that my instinct is to assume something else? Yeah, it is. This not being the case goes into why Tetsuo and this series were so special.

Then there was Sakie Sato (voiced by Yoko Hikasa). Here was the young, inexperienced, and passionate teacher I expected. Yet like Tetsuo, she was perfect for her role. She was key in supporting the girls in ways Tetsuo couldn’t. Being a demi herself, a succubus, as well as a woman, she knew what the trio was going through.

What made Sakie even better was her dealing with her own struggles. She was always conscious of what her powers did to people. As a succubus, men couldn't help but be attracted to her. An ability she didn’t want since it made it difficult to judge when a guy’s feelings were genuine. That was why when she developed a crush on Tetsuo, Sakie wanted him to like her for her.  

This was one of many extra layers that made Sakie and everyone else all the more interesting. And nowhere was this more evident than with Hikari, Kyoko, and Yukie.

These three were amazing. They all had personalities that were unique to them. They weren’t simple rehashes of characters we’ve seen hundreds of times. Whenever they were on screen, their different quirks came out. Whenever the show dedicated an episode to one we learned quite a bit about them. Whenever they were together, it made Demi-chan what it was.

Hikari worked with everyone. She had a talent for getting close to people. While her energy caused plenty of exhaustion, it was never tiring. She was never too much. This made her so much fun. The extremes she went to made her both unpredictable and entertaining.

There was a moment when Tetsuo did something that had no harm behind it. Except he knew if taken out of context, it could result in a misunderstanding. That was why he was thankful a certain blabby vampire didn't see it and of course, she was standing right there. Hikari didn’t even pretend like she was going to keep it a secret. Nor was she going to be subtle. She turned around and proclaimed it to the world at the top of her voice.

At the end of the day, though, Hikari had a good heart. While she may have liked to play and tease, it was never at the cost of hurting someone. When a person needed help, she went out of her way to make things right. That said when a conflict was ever resolved she was the first to revert back to her usual self.

Kyoko was adorable. She was so cute. I loved her to death. Besides her being a sweetheart, intelligent, and compassionate she was resourceful. Seeing how she adapted her surroundings to live a normal life gave the show perspective. The girls being demis wasn’t a gimmick for the sake of the show. It was something they always had to keep in mind.

The relationship Kyoko had with her head and her body was a mind trip. Being separate, it was easy to assume they were two different characters. Except they weren’t. They weren't two representing one. They were one. They were she. She was Kyoko. Yet this allowed Kyoko to become the most expressive character of the bunch. Often her head and body separated. When it was only Kyoko’s body, the animation had to show what she was thinking. It couldn't say it.

But my favorite aspect of Kyoko was her acceptance of who she was. She wasn’t ashamed of her being a demi. Although she knew the whole detached head thing was a bit awkward for people. Dullahans were rare, so people didn’t know if it was okay to bring it up. Even though for her, it wasn’t off limits. It was something she wanted to talk about. She wanted people to ask questions and be curious. I don’t if I’ve ever seen a character take this angle.

I could keep going, but I’ll finish off with Yuki. Her entire development as a character was great. Unlike Hikari and Kyoko, Yuki wasn’t comfortable with her demi nature. She wasn’t sure how far reaching her powers went. Thus, she distanced herself from her classmates. This, in turn, cased a different set of problems.

Through the help of Tetsuo and her friends, Yuki learned to understand who she was. Little by little she opened up. We began to see a young woman with many different aspects of her personality. One of the big ones was finding out what she was a nerd for. And yes, there was something she nerd-ed out hard over. It was hilarious.

Having all these different characters come together made Demi-chan a blast to watch. Through them, the show dealt with ideas and topics I didn’t expect. This made this series move past being an above average high school anime.

The Premise

As a standalone comedy, this was hysterical. But Demi-chan was more than that. You shouldn’t write this off as another “high school life” story. While that was what this series was at its heart, it went much deeper. I would even dare say, “insightful.”

For one, this show didn’t ignore the centuries of legends behind each of these characters. It instead embraced them and gave a more logical meaning to them. Why would a vampire dislike garlic? How can a dullahan function with its head separate? Why do snow women tales tend to be tragedies? What aspects of these stories are true? What qualities have arisen from misinterpretations? And what has come about due to humans fearing what they don’t understand?

It was a fascinating take on the whole monster girl troupe. This showed that are explanations for things. Not knowing something isn’t an excuse to make excuses. How is it fair to judge something when you’re not willing to see the whole picture? Or to be blunt, how is it okay?

Am I reading too much into this? I wouldn’t say so. Whether intentional or not, this series hit upon something. And I’m willing to bet the storytellers knew what they were doing. This was just one of several good messages that came out of this show.

The one that struck me the most dealt with how to see other people for who they are. The world of Demi-chan involved the growing acceptance of demi-humans in society. At no time were Hikari, Kyoko, or Yuki singled out for being a demi. The rest of the school treated them as they would any other human.

On the surface that sounds wonderful. But is it? No one saw the girls as different. And the series did an outstanding job at illustrating an important point. Treating someone as not different isn’t an automatic good. In fact, this can be as harmful as pure discrimination. More than that, it is an offshoot of discrimination.

Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki were teenagers. They deserved every opportunity given to any other teenager. Yet that didn’t change them being demi-humans. This meant they had problems and difficulties unique to them. For a human to treat these three as any other human would ignore key aspects that made them, them.

There’s a difference between seeing someone as different and seeing someone as inferior. Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki’s classmates may never truly understand what it means to be a demi-human. The reverse is true too. Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki may never get what it means to be truly human. The most any of them can do is accept that differences exist and go from there. Just demonstrating a genuine effort goes a long way.

Demi-chan did a much better job of articulating its point that I did explaining it.

Now, if you think this is all well and good in the confines of the show, I want you to try something. Replace human and demi-human with examples found in our world. See what kind of conclusions you come up with then.

A story can be funny and joke around a bunch. But like any other tool, if you know how to use them, you can make something quite special.

Kyoko, Hikari, Yuki

Series Negatives

I would’ve liked to see the characters spread out more. It would’ve been nice to a few more Hikari only episodes. As well as more Kyoko and Yuki centric plots. Then it also would’ve been great to have all three together more. Not only the trio alone but with Tetsuo and Sakie. While we’re at it, having more time with Tetsuo and Sakie together wouldn’t have hurt.

What I’m saying is, this show wasn’t long enough. I don’t feel we even scratched the surface of what could’ve happened. There were elements that felt rushed and underdeveloped. Though that meant attention went to other aspects to make them better.

Of problems to have, this is not a bad one. I hope Demi-chan becomes successful enough to warrant another season. It needs one.

That aside, there were a few things I thought were weird.

As I said earlier, this series tried to explain fairy tales with science. The concept worked and was a lot of fun. Although, there were times when it got a bit too sciencey. Characters were saying things that, I guess, made sense. Could I retell all the explanations given? No, not at all. Please don’t ask me how Kyoko's alternate dimension neck worked.

Finally, there was the ending. This show had two endings. This show had two really good endings. Both were separate, yet well-done caps to the series. That's fine and everything, but the better of the two came first. Actually, the second couldn’t have happened without the first. Except the first was more poignant. That and the first was group based. The second was more a Hikari ending. Though the second still wasn’t bad. And do you see the problem?

By the way, there was a thirteenth episode that aired a few months after the conclusion. It would’ve been a nice addition on its own. Or at least that would be the case if it didn’t one hundred percent hint at a second season. So, going back to what I said at the beginning of this section, there needs to be a second season.

Other than those things, I’ve got nothing else to say here.

Final Thoughts

At the start, I mentioned how I learned of this series at a bookstore. At the time, I didn’t pick it up. I’m going to now.

This show was great. The characters made this one of the funniest high school anime I’ve seen. They also helped tell a good message. There's so much more to this one than meets the eyes.

There’s a lot that can be done. I want to learn more about Hikari, Kyoko, and Yuki. I want to see how much stronger Tetsuo becomes as their mentor. I don’t want this to be over.

Without a doubt, Demi-chan wa Kataritai is worth checking out.

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