Warning: Contains spoilers!!
When you hear the word “monster,” what do you think of? Something scary, otherworldly like a vampire? Or maybe a harmless stuffed animal, fuzzy and blue and many-eyed? A “monster” may also describe a human with a horrifying personality, alluding that an entity like that surely cannot—does not have the right to—belong in the world. If they must exist, they must be avoided. At the very least, they are not human.
Such black-and-white thinking and its implications have been explored many times. Tales of dragons slain because they stole a man’s treasure, or children lacking sleep because of “monsters under the bed” depict the abhorrent nature of monsters with one-dimensional, evil intentions. On the other side of the spectrum, the game Undertale contrasted the magnanimity of many monsters against a human who could, depending on how you played, be much more monstrous than the monsters themselves.
Even if monsters have been depicted as non-monstrous (i.e., friendly, compassionate, and overall good), this didn’t change the fact that, physically speaking, humans were always humans, and monsters were always monsters. Even half human-half monster hybrids were simply born that way. Boiled down to its core, the “human versus monster” trope might, depending on the story, simply be a matter of stereotyping and discrimination from both sides. They’re phrases that ultimately and ironically humanize the monsters.
And that humanizing and stereotyping of monsters are what underlie Interviews with Monster Girls episode 1. The human world has finally begun to accept demi-humans, “demis” for short. These demi-humans aren’t full-blown monsters, but rather humans with special abilities. Succubi, vampires, dullahan—the human-like motifs from myths and fairy tales, and perhaps other types, too, as the show progresses—have been persecuted in the past, but the discrimination towards them has lessened such that they’re able to live almost normally in society. As reactions from the students show, it’s still quite difficult to not be afraid when they see things like a girl who walks around carrying her head in her arms, but at least they try to be polite.
Episode 1 takes the humanization one step further, makes it concrete by introducing a set of twin girls. One is human, the other demi. Demi-girls thus appear to be genetically similar to humans, and become demi-human not because one of their parents was a monster, but because of a mutation in their genome. It’s a mutation that could happen to anyone, it seems, but it’s of a gravity far stronger than those that cause you to attain a different hair or eye color. Instead of a color change, the demi-girls’ mutations transform them into a mythical being. Compounded with the perils of youth and high school life, these demi-girls certainly have a challenge to overcome.
Indeed, the girls have so many varied reactions, both to their environment and in suppressing their inner natures. The yuki onna (Snow Woman) girl collapses because she’s not in a cold environment. The dullahan feels lonely because she’s the only one who carries a head. The monsters may even take advantage of each other’s special attributes, like the vampire who cools off by snuggling the yuki onna because she can’t stand heat or sunlight.
At the helm of this show is a teacher who wants to understand all he can from the demi, trying to see things from their point of view for the purpose of writing a college thesis. It’s an exercise that’s anthropological in nature, leading him to ask inquisitive questions, but this does not detract from his role as their teacher. He manages to communicate with the demi, no judgments, while still giving advice on life.
Based on the title, I was fully expecting the interviews to be like those in documentaries, staged and formal and educational. While revealing, the interviews weren’t like that at all. The candid way the teacher simply asks some questions while completely accepting what they have to say, however, is a much better way of showing how he’s not just interested in academics. He is understanding, relaxed, and supportive. He doesn’t push for too much information. Finally, it’s really great that he didn’t seem to have a hint of perversion in this episode.
All in all, the strongest points of this episode for me were the message it focused on, its tiny breakthrough moments when the demi and human students get along, and the way the teacher empathizes with the demi-girls so easily. These aspects transform a cute anime into a cute series with serious subtext. By this token, its female characters are mostly (and, I stress) currently defined by their “monster-ness” and how their personalities affect how they deal with society, making the viewer pause and reflect.
On the other hand, the anime’s emphasis on its overall message may ultimately detract from the memorableness of the characters as themselves. For example, the vampire girl’s cheeriness in all situations is admirable, but not very different from chipper anime heroines in general.
I hope that this series continues the tone and cuteness set by this first episode.