There’s been a fair amount of discussion about Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun over the past few days. And, since it’s already established that I’m not averse to joining bandwagons regardless of how smart it is to do so, I’m going to give my two cents on the matter. To get it out of the way now, I’m treading unfamiliar ground here. Most of my writing about anime is in regard to how certain elements fit into the overall picture, and very few of them involve offhand rape threats in what’s supposed to be a comedy, so finding that I actually have something serious to say on the matter is pretty damn new.
I cheated and read some a few other posts before I actually watched the first episode. To say that the response is mixed to negative would be like saying that the sky is very often blue, or that the sun will rise in some part of the world in a few hours. “Rape culture” is a phrase thrown around quite a bit in response, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t (unfortunately) apt. However, a part of me isn’t convinced that it’s all unintentional; Haru is depicted in such an overdone way as both an inexcusable creep and a world-class genius that I have trouble believing that at least one person onboard didn’t think “Is this trying to poke holes in the kind of culture that promotes this kind of relationship as being totes adorbs?” Or, if their grammar hasn’t been shot, “How could there be a more unhealthy relationship than this?”
What we have here is the formula for every “Grr, I’m a no-nonsense female and he’s a diamond in the rough with a penchant for face-breaking and forcing himself on me, but I will eventually set him straight because my personality is often described as icy, like that one time when I was in elementary school and the rabbit died and I didn’t give a shit” story cranked to the logical extreme, where the diamond in the rough is a borderline psychopath, and the girl somehow feels compelled to spend every waking moment around him in spite of near-constant physical harm and verbal abuse coming her way. I hesitate to call it comical, but it’s difficult to think it’s not operating without at least a cursory sense of self-awareness at how clichéd and creepy the premise and Haru are.
Haru is so damn overdone as a character that I had trouble finding him believable as anything but a cold, calculated amalgamation of every single negative trait of male love interests in the mainstream media. In a sense, and it could actually happen later without me being surprised, he goes off and mangles the closest living thing one minute, and frolics with their unidentifiable corpse pulp the next. There’s no way I would want a guy like this roaming the streets where I lived, imprinting himself on the first person to give him any sort of positive attention and following them like a strangely loyal rabid dog that only occasionally mauls innocent bystanders. That may be the intention, for all I know, as an indictment on how many forms of media think this kind of person is desirable because they’re good at heart, and thus “fixable”.
But if that’s the case, would the inexcusability of Haru’s other actions even warrant the necessity of threatening rape in the context of storytelling? Before that, it had been established that Haru is troubled, both a lack of impulse control and social grace creating a volatile mixture, ready to erupt at any moment. And no, unless that line had some kind of ulterior motive for being there elaborated upon later, it was entirely unneeded and left any sympathy for Haru bleeding by the roadside. Again, it’s been established that Haru’s troubled, it doesn’t need him spewing reprehensible shit to confirm that. Yes, it does put his mindset and any further actions into context, but not any more than him repeatedly saying something akin to “It’s the school’s fault for suspending me, not mine! Also, you’re a spy for the school.”
I mentioned that an ulterior motive for that particular, blunt phrasing would be the only reason I could see for it even being mentioned instead of something that didn’t threaten such a heinous act. And while I stand by that statement, I can’t think of it in any way that tied into the rest of the episode. It could have had Shizuku try to call the police or explain to a teacher that her classmate threatened to rape her, but with her unable to get them involved. Hell, it could have just had her freak the fuck out over it rather than seemingly forget that it happened. Or it could have had Haru express regret for saying such a terrible thing, his vehement apology leading to an undercurrent of mistrust in their burgeoning relationship that keeps Shizuku at a distance, but still in contact for a short while. Both of those sure as hell wouldn’t work well with the lighthearted tone, or likely at all, but they would’ve been better than dismissing his threat altogether merely as a joke cementing his lack of social grace. If there was any self-awareness intended, it sure as hell doesn’t show.
It’s amazing how just one simple phrase can change the entire tone of a piece, often against what the director or writer intended. A weighty statement like “don’t say a word or I’ll rape you” isn’t something to be tossed aside like it was as merely the quirky statement of an unstable character without any follow-up, even if the point is to illustrate just how creepy the situation is. It’s a phrase that says a lot about both the character and how the writer handles it, and it sure wasn’t handled with grace here. It hangs over the rest of the show like a dark cloud, a counterpoint to the otherwise fine romantic comedy content. If it was to make a point, which is what I hoped for, there would have been follow-through of some sort from Shizuku, even just her internally monologuing as such. The end result is an uncomfortable watch, but not in any kind of intentional, meaningful way. Even if Haru’s supposed to be depicted as a contemptible individual, it goes way too far in that direction for anybody’s taste.
For better-written, more timely, significantly more exposed explanations as to this particular issue, check out Day’s already well-known rundown on how problematic it is as a work of fiction, E Minor’s similar thought to mines on whether this unease was the show’s intention, and 8C’s post debunking any debate that Haru didn’t actually threaten rape by offhandedly threatening rape. Enjoy.