Interviews with Monster Girls is one of those series where I got engaged with the manga first (they were on sale or something) and then watched the anime. There’s probably an essay on how the manga and the anime took the same characters and the same story and told them both differently, using the strengths of each medium. I like them both, and I like them both in different ways, and I think that’s a good thing.
But I wanted to talk about the nature of character here. So I’m going to talk about the nature of character here.
There are five primary characters in Interviews. Four of them are monster girls, or Demis, as they prefer to be called:
Three high school girls:
Hikari, who is a vampire.
Machi, who is a dullahan, an Irish creature whose head is detached from their body, and
Yuki, who is a Snow Woman.
One high school teacher:
Sato, who is a succubus.
From left: Sato (succubus), Machi (dullahan), Hikari (vampire), Yuki (snow woman)
The final character is Takahashi, another teacher, the only male in the gang, and a person who is interested in monster girls, or Demis, as you prefer, from an academic standpoint. (He is the one conducting the Interviews with Monster Girls.) As an undergraduate he wanted to research on Demis but his request was denied. Now he’s in the middle of a whole bunch of them, and so he is the center the show revolves around.
Let’s take a closer look at the high school girls.
Hikari is manic. She’s loud, she butts in, she’s energetic. She runs everywhere. She does badly in her classes because she’s bored. She gets yelled at for doodling in her books.
Machi is pretty and has a crush on her teacher. Not only is she pretty but she’s built like a brick outhouse, and both Hikari and Takahashi take specific note of the size of her breasts. She wears a sweater even in the summer because perspiration makes her blouse translucent and people would be able to see her bra.
Yuki is teased by the other girls in their class as being snobby and stand-offish. When she is, she goes off by herself to cry. Being a snow woman, her tears are ice.
Do you see it? It’s as plain as the nose on my face. (I said my face and I mean it. I have a schnoz. You may have a teeny tiny hooter, but my nose is pretty damned plain.) The kids aren’t monsters…they’re high school stereotypes.
Hikari? She’s the kid with ADHD, hyperactive, unable to focus.
Machi? She’s the kid who gets her boobs first. Some poor girl has to be first, and it’s her.
Yuki? She’s the shy kid, the one who seems snobbish because she doesn’t talk to anyone.
Did you have these kids in your high school? I had them in mine. In fact, maybe one reason I’m so attracted to this is that I was Hikari. If I went to school today, I’d be on Ritalin. In my class, Adrienne Cici was Machi. There were a couple Yukis. Cathy Cella comes to mind.
So what they’ve done is take high school stereotypes and disguise them as monster girls. Because they are monster girls, they aren’t really you or me (even though I’m really Hikari), so they aren’t threatening. At the same time, the whole point of the series is that, despite being monster girls, the three of them are high schoolers just like their classmates, with the specific exceptions of the features specific to their monster identities (Hikari has difficulty in bright sunlight; Machi can’t use the usual book bag because her hands are full carrying her head; Yuki overheats in warm weather).
The whole thing, in one sense, is so very Breakfast Club it’s hard not to laugh.
It’s not an accident, I think, that this series gets awards from school groups and such. It says no matter how odd you are, you’re still normal. That’s exactly what the school would like you to think…for your own good.
It’s easy to like these kids. Hikari especially is so endearing that she could probably carry a series by herself, if it was just a slice-of-lifer. She’s like a less mature Haruhi Suzumiya. On the other hand, the teacher, Takahashi, is a little hands-y by US standards. If he spent as much time hugging and touching his fourteen year old students here, he’d be fired. Still, he’s a pretty good guy, trying simultaneously to understand what they are at an intellectual level and also trying to give them the emotional support they need.
Once we get past the kids, Sato is interesting in part because her monsterness is explored at a more psychological level, which I think makes sense as she is explicitly an adult (24 years old). As a succubus, she lives almost in fear of unnaturally arousing the people around her; she wears shapeless tracksuits and puts her hair up in an unflattering way; she lives alone and isolated from other people (lest she infest their dreams), she takes the earliest train to work and the latest train home (because there are fewer people on them); at home after work she partakes of a brewski or twosky to unwind, and might be headed toward alcoholism.
Sato is also more self-conscious of her nature, again, possibly because she’s older. There’s a strong amount of tension in her because she’ll never be sure that any man she’s with is attracted to HER, Sato, or to her succubus nature. At the same time she’s so desperately lonely that she considers using her powers to seduce Takahashi and has to force herself not to. Unlike the girls, she doesn’t trust herself to run up to Takahashi and ask him for a hug. In short, unlike the girls, who are generally doing okay, she doesn’t have a support structure. It might be interesting to see where she ends up.
Narratively, Sato is so invested in suppressing her nature that she disappears from the story at times – I mean, her picture is there but she’s not engaged in the plot – and her being a succubus is used as fan service in others – shower scenes, bouncing boobies, you know, fan service; I’d like for her to hook up with Takahashi, but it didn’t happen in the anime (at least, not in season one) or manga (I’m through volume five). Also, the authors may have noticed my point about her not having a support system, and threw in a new character, Ukari, a detective keeping his eye on Sato, that she can sometimes vent to.
For the record, the anime does a better job of integrating them with their classmates than the manga. It’s not a big difference, though. That makes sense to me: manga, is a hot, intense medium, suitable for exploring psychology. Anime is animated – it demands action. So: more friends = more characters on screen = more action.
So: how to make a character? Take a familiar existing character trope and twist it until it’s something new. That’s pretty clever. You have the sense of novelty, while you have familiarity and power of the trope. Remember: tropes get to be tropes because they work! Good writing job.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.