When we think of monsters, visions of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff quickly enter our minds. However, as of late, the anime realm has taken steps to rid the more frightening aspects of these mythical creatures. A couple years back we had both Actually, I am... and Monster Musume, and while they were leaning harder on the laughs, it did a great job with presenting something that was once scary and change it into something either cute or beautiful. This winter season, A-1 Pictures' Interviews with Monster Girls takes it one step further, as it pushes the humanity into these sort of characters.
Interviews with Monster Girls focuses on Tetsuo Takahashi (Junichi Suwabe/Cris George), a biology teacher who is keen on studying half-human/half-monster people known as demis. It's not until he starts his new teaching job when he comes across not one, but four demis in his line of work: three students and a fellow staff member. The students -- the vampire Hikari (Kaeda Hondo/Bryn Apprill), dullahan Kyōko (Minami Shinoda/Terry Doti), and snow woman Yuki (Shiina Natsukawa/Sarah Wiedenheft) -- do their best to get along with their fellow students, while the succubus math teacher Sakie Satō (Yoko Hikasa/Morgan Garrett) attempts to avoid much human contact in fear of accidentally seducing them. As he enters their lives, Takahashi-sensei becomes a guide of sorts for both these students and teacher in order to find a link between the human and monster part of their well-beings.
Takahashi-sensei acts not just as a counselor for these demis, but also as an inquisitive individual looking for answers most people don't know about them. Why do vampires suck blood? How can a headless woman function normally? How does a snow woman control the temperature around herself and from within? Do succubi have the capacity to experience true love? All of these sorts of questions about monsters and fantastical creatures that have been around for centuries are answered in surprisingly scientific and well-thought out means.
Interviews with Monster Girls balances the thoughtfulness of the demis with some solid humor. Hikari often finds herself acting hyper, jumping to bad conclusions and creating some misunderstandings. Kyōko's mentality pushes towards some cutesy and silly banter and situations with Takahashi-sensei. (A practice date with him with just her head showcases the troublemaker aspect Hikari can have, as what she does to her separated body builds up towards some huge laughs.) Sakie's means of avoidance also diverges to some great humor when she accidentally touches another person and they instantly start falling in love with her. However, these funny bits lead towards a better understanding of the human nature of demis, bringing forth realizations that can be pretty educational.
Perhaps why Interviews with Monster Girls works so fantastically is because it serves as an analogy for treating people different from the norm with love & respect. Throughout the series Takahashi-sensei learns more about Hikari, Kyōko, Yuki, and Sakie, but it's a conversation with Hikari's twin human sister Himari (Lynn/Jamie Marchi) that opens the door to what he's trying to do. In reality, the biology teacher is using his research to humanize the demis, taking their monster side and labeling them as either a character trait or a mere quirk. Once this comes to light, the show quickly becomes a lesson on acceptance.
You can easily compare the monster girls on the show to people of different races, religions, and especially physical & mental disabilities. While we learn about how the vampire, dullahan, and snow girl conduct their more magical means of existence, we also quickly see how they function normally in regular society. Yes, there are some bumps in the road here and there for these girls that are highlighted here, just as there are with people who are not exactly as average as the rest of their surrounding individuals. And yet, it's when they show the world that every other part of them is the same as any regular being when the walls of intolerance are swiftly knocked down. For Interviews with Monster Girls to accomplish something like this, it's both magnificent and eye-opening.
Studio A-1 Pictures wonderfully captures Petos's original manga with great beauty and detail. From the way Kyōko's flame flows through her neck to even smaller tidbits like Yuki crying or sweating ice fragments is presented with such detail. The show also knows how to be adorable with the characters' facial expressions, from Hikari's mischievous smile to the way Sakie freaks out when she is close to human contact. Even a sight of both Kyōko & Hikari stubbing themselves on a table are showcased with a mixture of hilarity and extreme cuteness.
What I like most about the show is how each cast member supports one another, with no one outshining the rest. Suwabe's Takahashi-sensei is calm, understanding, and filled with a little bit of whimsical bewilderment as he's found himself befriending so many demis in such a short amount of time. Shinoda's Kyōko has a shy persona, but has a massive amount of willingness to get out and embrace the world around her. Hondo's Hikari is the right level of spunky, bringing out a huge dose of adorableness that makes it easy to smile when she appears on-screen. Meanwhile, Natsukawa's Yuki is a good blend of timidness and concerning, with her persona evolving more positively as the series progresses. Last, Hikasa's Sakie is straight-up funny, with her holding back her emotions to the point where her internal monologues make it seem like she wishes to explode with all her love.
Funimation's English dub is also nearly just as good, with George's Takahashi sounding both clam & intrigued by every little new thing he learns about demis. Apprill's Hikari has a valley girl twang, although it certainly gels with her more troublemaking mentality. Doti's Kyōko has a bit of a geeky vibe to her tone, but it fits with her attitude. Garrett's Sakie plays more serious than Hikasa's take, but it manages to hone in on the succubi jokes just as well. Surprisingly, Wiedenheft's Yuki is a lot more cuter than Natsukawa's, which helps to hone in on her more coy persona.
Composer Masaru Yokoyama (Arakawa Under the Bridge, WWW.WAGNARIA!!, The Rolling Girls) is no stranger to writing music for quirky characters, with his contributions fitting well with many of the scenes on hand. The simple guitar strumming and folksy tone helps to keep things light-hearted, even during the more dramatic and heartfelt moments. Opening theme "Original." by TrySail is a lovely pop tune with beautiful vocals, string accompaniment, and even minor dubstep beats that surprisingly don't feel out of place. Closer "Fairy Tale" by Sangatsu no Phantasia is a calming song containing a childlike piano melody and a vibe of positivity.
It's hard not to fall in love with Interviews with Monster Girls. With its insightful take on humanizing these characters, the series acts as a highly entertaining lesson on how to treat others that are different from the average person. While there may not actually be vampires, dullahans, snow women, nor succubi, the morals and values this anime pushes on its viewers no doubt can be used as a strong teaching tool on the subject of acceptance. A show like Interviews with Monster Girls doesn't come around quite often, so you better give it all the attention it rightfully deserves.
Besides, how can you say no to a face like this?
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)/ (English dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
Interviews with Monster Girls can be viewed on Crunchyroll & Funimation, and has been licensed by Funimation. Episodes 1-7 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.