The Let's Play Archive

Katawa Shoujo

by Falconier111

Part 142: "Tetsuo Takahashi Wants an Interview" (Pt. 1)

The vote’s still on, but

Interviews with Monster Girls, Episode 1: "Tetsuo Takahashi Wants an Interview" (Pt. 1)

Once upon a time, there was a series of porn comics that was turned into a proper manga, then an anime. Known as Everyday Life with Monster Girls, it took the world by storm, its mixture of likable characters and borderline softcore pornography making it one of the most profitable anime of its time.

This is not that anime’s story.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai (literally “Demi wants to talk”) was a completely unrelated manga released about the same time. It, too, focused on women who were also legendary supernatural creatures, but instead of a raucous sex comedy featuring members of human subspecies moving in on some guy’s house, it was cheerful, squeaky-clean, and focused on teenagers who just had traits of said creatures dealing with ordinary life. So when it came time to import it to the west, the translators looked at it, went “let’s capitalize on this completely unrelated work’s popularity”, and dubbed it Interviews with Monster Girls. The anime made a modest impact, getting positive reviews and nominations for a couple awards it lost out on, but it hit never hit big time. It still has a small but respectable fan base.

None of whom seem to realize it’s a thinly veiled examination of what it’s like to live as a disabled teenager.

So let’s fix that.

This will be a livereview of the anime. I’ll be taking screenshots and describing the action while inserting commentary and drawing connections in the text; If you’ve ever seen someone liveblog or liveread something, this is basically that with a slightly different format. Please let me know what does and doesn’t work; I’m new to this and I can definitely improve.

We open a young woman humming to herself just outside a building at night.

A passerby on the sidewalk turns at the sound.

We see her face…

… And so does he.

She turns to face him…

… And we get the opening. I’ll go over it at a strategic point a few episodes ahead, but it’s basically an extended character introduction and I think it’s best we let the anime introduce them at its own pace. Also, the OP is aggressively anime and I don’t want to listen to it any longer than I have to.

Back to the standoff.

Or not, we jump to the same building – a school – in the middle of the day. Apparently there’s a new teacher on the way, but she’s late on her first day. Whoever speaking (the principal?) starts sniping at her for that to the silent disinterest to the rest of the room.

The guy on the right is Takahashi Tetsuo (I’m using Japanese naming conventions, surname first), a high school biology teacher and our male protagonist. As the first guy drones on in the background, a generic coworker rolls his chair up next to him and asks him about “demi-humans”; apparently, Takahashi wanted to make them the topic of his college thesis, but his application got denied because he was just looking to be a biology teacher. The subject was too delicate and the people involved are too rare. He’s never even met one. Why’re you so interested, the other guy asks?

He says he wants to interview them, while making this face and cooing. Not a good start there, champ.

At that moment, a flustered young woman stumbles into the room and tries to apologize.

She’s a bit ranty. Apparently, the train she was going to take was too crowded, and that’s why she’s late. The guy who was insulting her behind her back completely changes his tune when he hears this, to Takahashi’s confusion. The other teacher explains that it makes sense as she introduces herself…

… Because Satou Sakie, a new math teacher, is also a demi-human, specifically a succubus. Gotta admit, I winced when I saw this. I winced because announcing that you’re disabled to a room full of new coworkers is almost never a good idea in the real world. Ableism is just too widespread; at best you’re asking to be pigeonholed and at worst you just got yourself fired. Many employers can and will get rid of you if they find that out, and the fact that firing someone for having a disability is illegal in most places doesn’t even factor in. Many people straight up don’t know that, or they know that the enforcement mechanisms in place are slow, inconsistent, and often expensive. And that’s not counting what coworkers might do, anything from gallantly protecting you from responsibilities to hazing you out of the office. I’ve seen it. It’s happened to me. But we’re dealing with a fluffy idealistic slice of life anime right now, and it appears, in this fictional world, that may not apply.

Kinda stings, though.

Takahashi’s like :aaa:

Infodump time! Apparently, some people possess traits or abilities that line up with depictions of mythological creatures. These “demi-humans” have been persecuted up until recently, but discriminations been on the decline for a while, with the help of an entire government office specifically for demi-human welfare. They offer support to demi-humans “who live with any sort of disadvantage” and help them live normal lives.

Goddamnit, you can tell I was taking screenshots on my phone :negative:. I only noticed this while editing the update, so it’s too late to fix it. This won’t happen again, I promise.

“Now, being a demi-human is seen as just another aspect of one’s identity.” So, folks whose bodies but them at a disadvantage in society are offered support and now simply embrace those differences as part of their identity? Yeah, sounds a lot like the end goal of many disability activist organizations. Hopefully the writers’ll follow through on that they deliberately examine it later.

The whole school’s busy preparing for some festival, a lot like in KS at the end of Act 1 (it’s a Japanese thing). Satou’s pondering her handiwork when Takahashi walks up behind her to ask her a question…

… And she gasps and slithers her way over to a wall. The animation is a lot better than you expect in a slice of life anime, but the facial expressions especially are reaction image-grade – and Satou provides at least 30% of the best ones. Takahashi introduces himself, offers her a handshake…

… And she’s so eager to make her escape she knocks over a stepladder, then picks it up to hold him off. She frantically starts to explain that she’s a succubus and that means he can’t come close to her…

…And he just apologizes, steps back, and resumes normal conversation while respecting her boundaries. That, kids, is how you deal with someone asking you to respect their needs and accommodations. A lot of people’s first instinct is to frantically apologize when they make this kind of mistake, and that just makes an awkward roadblock of a situation even more awkward; other people get offended and dig in, and of course that makes everything even worse. But no. Takahashi seamlessly accepts the role he played in the mixup, apologizes for it, and moves along. Either he’s just that nice a guy, or he’s literally done his homework on demi-humans.

As for why she needs those accommodations, we’ll get into that later. But seriously, if someone asks you to respect reasonable accommodations like that, just do it. A lot of people will be like “but why should I do x” and that is rude at best, just assume a person minding their own business isn’t trying to punk you or screw you over for no reason and go about your day.

Also worth noting: Satou’s seiyuu is superb. She could have played this scene pitiable or confrontational, but instead she went for over-the-top slapstick intensity – and it worked, it took something that could have been uncomfortable in any number of ways and made it silly enough not to cut too deep while not diminishing her character or weakening the scene’s impact.

It turns out that Satou’s noticed Takahashi watching her from a distance and is understandably nervous that he’s there to gawk at the succubus – something which a lot of people with visible disabilities are unpleasantly familiar with. He tries to defend himself but just digs himself in deeper, and she slides away making a :byodood: face.

After a “a few days later” title card…

He runs into her again at the sink outside the bathrooms (…why?), tries to apologize again, and she beat a hasty retreat again, dodging around another guy as he walks in the door. He’s kind of like :sigh: until…

… The girl from the other day runs up behind him.

Apparently, that was the night before school started and she was basically scoping the place out before marching in the next day; when she saw him, she understandably bugged out. Now, though, she’s a lot friendlier…

… And more excitable…

… Very self-confident…

… And most of all, extremely expressive. This is Takanashi Hikari, the primary female protagonist and source of another 30% of the anime’s potential reaction images. She’s here to get help for a classmate. He tags along without question, asserting he “can judge a student’s health with one look at her face.”

Too bad that doesn’t apply. Hikari identifies her as a Dullahan, which Takahashi identifies as a demi-human whose head and body are naturally separate. Hikari already carried her head to the nurse’s office, but for her body, she needed somebody way bigger.

Takahashi immediately asks if he can touch her flame. Well, at least he ASKS, and when Hikari is kind of :shrug:, he decides not to. Respect her bodily autonomy, dude. Takahashi marvels that there are two demi-humans in school this year…

… And in the most contrived incident in the anime, a THIRD demi-human rolls by at that exact moment: a yuki-onna who apparently overheated in gym class. The classmates carrying her stretcher roar straight by them to the nurse’s office, and Hikari’s like “oh, a snow woman too, neato”. When Takahashi asks her why she’s being so blasé about this, she responds…

… That she’s a vampire.

Timeskip! Hikari comes out of the nurse’s office to tell Takahashi both the dullahan and yuki-onna have only minor health issues and will be okay. He confesses he’s surprised to meet so many demi-humans all at once.

Every piece of media about minority issues has to have this moment, the moment where any main characters who aren’t members of that minority make their starting position clear. Judging by Hikari’s reaction here (and notice how similar her facial expression is to Satou’s earlier in the episode), paean to increasing tolerance or not, she’s faced enough discrimination in the past to become familiar with the quiet, dismayed disappointment so many people feel when they discover someone they got along with is still prejudiced against them.

He quickly acts to counter that perception, making it clear he’s been interested in meeting demi-humans for years and is just kind of startled so many stumbled into his life like that.

She accepts this and expresses her relief in a suitably anime fashion. They go their separate ways, but before she leaves, she has one last thing to say.

“Demi-human”, while not actually offensive, is apparently out of date and unpopular with people her age; it’s too clinical and “not cute”.

Instead, they just use “demi”. And that’s where the “demi” in the title comes from.

All right, we’re 10 minutes into the episode and we have six pages of text and 45 images already, so we should probably reel this one in for now. But now that we’ve hit a natural stopping point, let’s see what we’ve already run into in the first half of the first episode:
Somebody did their homework here. They didn’t beat it into our heads, but if you have any familiarity at all with how disability works on a practical level, it’s kind of obvious just how much of that they worked into the anime. And yet this went over so many people’s heads. Like, google “interviews with monster girls” and you’ll get thousands of results, all of them unambiguously talking about the anime. Add “disability” to the search, or any other version of the word, and you get three blog posts, one article in a small magazine, and a Reddit thread about one of the blog posts (where a third of the comments try to angrily debunk it) before the search dissolves into results about the anime more generally and then Sesame Street for some reason. I’ve talked before about how disability rights barely register on most people’s radars, and here’s how that looks in practice.

That was a lot more fun to do than I expected. I plan on continuing this review once in a while, when I have the time and energy, but I’d appreciate it if you had any input on length, picture size, picture density, whatever. Make the next round easier on me, that’s a lot of images to cut into a post.