Interviews with Monster Girls Volume 1
With monster girls now a genre in of itself, several series have taken new approaches that explore the concept in unique ways. Petos’s Interviews with Monster Girls muses upon how monster girls could integrate into human society. Featuring three demi-human students, and one demi-human teacher, referred to in colloquial terms as “demis,” Petos uses the public school system as a way to distill the society of this world in a formative and universally relatable, multifaceted social setting. Here, the high school is not simply a trendy and familiar setting, but it’s also a place where Petos explores a diverse range of characters of different ages, with unique problems. Petos is very interested in the thought-experiment of how demis live their daily lives, and uses society to contradistinguishes them from Tetsuo. This first volume works well as a self-contained thesis on that very subject, contrasting how the four demis fight the culturally ingrained prejudices and preconceived notions society has about them.
The result is a down-to-earth and eminently relatable treatise on minorities trying to achieve social understanding in a homogenized culture. Japan’s minority population is low, and there have been many stories from foreigners who live there who faced daily prejudice based on their skin or hair color. Even in the U.S., for as much as social awareness expands in some circles stories of prejudice and racism still permeate from the island country. The succubus teacher Sato, for instance, wears plain clothing, take the first and last trains home, and live far away in the sticks, abiding by strict regulations as to how close she can live or even exist in proximity of normal human beings. It’s not hard to see the racial discrimination and segregation allegories here. Interviews’s look at how far the demis have to go to conform to a society that doesn’t making living easy for them is surprisingly perspicacious.
In a broader context, the series presents a variety of allusions to the real-world problems of people who can’t live normally. Takanashi the vampire’s dieting habits, relying on rations of government-sanctioned blood donations, supplementing it with alternatives like tomato juice, and needing to eat blood-stimulating foods like liver and onions, is allegorical of someone with celiac disease who needs a monitored diet of gluten-free meals. The series even shows how her family changes their eating habits to adapt to her condition, with even her fully-human sister eating the same meals as she does (and enjoying them!). Similarly, the snow woman Yuki’s problems with overheating and fainting when exposed to too much sunlight relates to someone with heat intolerance. Petos adeptly fuses minority issues with medical restrictions to create believable problems for the demis that a wide breadth of readers can relate to, which helps make the readers’ social empathy for the demis and understanding of the struggles of minority groups deepen in a more profound and emotionally connected context.
Beyond themes of discrimination and adaptation, the series also explores how the teenage demis deal with social prejudices, puberty, and coming of age. The biggest conflict of the volume finds Yuki being badmouthed by bullies for her social awkwardness, perceiving her shyness as haughtiness. This subplot resolves when the generally aloof Takanashi confronts the bullies herself and very honestly tells them that they’re wrong, going so far as to break down in tears by the end after laying herself emotionally bare. It’s a classic coming of age trope in young adult media for the heroine to confront the bullies spreading rumors about her, but rarely does it end with the heroine in tears, nor end with the bullies realizing that they’ve legitimately hurt the feelings of someone else and feel bad for what they’ve done, apologize, and everyone becomes more aware of each other’s feelings. Rather than proceeding like a YA coming of age trope, this feels like a genuine situation involving real people being caught up in their misunderstandings and prejudices, only realizing the error of their assumptions when confronted with the truth. The result of the incident prompts Tetsuo to form a support group for the demis, asserting that by spending time with one another they can help each other out of similar jams in the future. This is very much the kind of support group a high school might form for its LGBT students or just any at-risk minority group, another detail of realistic fallout and institutions in place to support minority groups in the series that helps make this world feel true to life. Moreover, this arc wears the themes at the heart of the manga on it’s sleeve by illustrating that no matter how matter how someone may be outwardly or in their lifestyle, we ultimately all have the same human emotions and capacity for empathy. It’s a good message for teens that plays well alongside the other themes confronting discrimination and normalizing alternative lifestyles in the book, really making this series a great recommendation for young adult readers who feel disenfranchised, alienated, or unsure of themselves as they transition into adulthood.
The series isn’t faultless, though. Part of the fun of most monster girl series are the crazy inventiveness of the character designs and providing a rational explanation of how mythical beings operate in a human world. The demis are a little too human-like; their character designs could easily be mistaken for normal high school girls in any average slice-of-life series. The only girl who is unmistakably a monster girl is the dullahan Machi, by virtue of her head being detached from her body at all times. There are some fun chapters that explore her peculiar circumstances, like how she left her body on the bus one time when someone else was holding her, but otherwise most of the girls’ problems are a little too grounded in reality and not as fantastical and bizarre as they could be. It works for exploring the themes Petos wants to, but as monster girls series go, Interviews is honestly one of the least creative in terms of it’s character designs and crafting unique scenarios.
Another issue is the blatant harem elements pervading the series. All four demis have a crush on the male protagonist by the end of this volume, with the last chapter being about them all wanting to give him a hug, ending on a boob joke when he reacts awkwardly to squeezing Machi’s breasts against his body. Tetsuo is an adult man and a teacher to these girls, so it’s a little squicky for the series to have high school girls form a harem around him. The presence of Sato, the adult demi, is at least somewhat comforting as she should by all rights be his default love interest. To his credit, Tetsuo also doesn’t reciprocate the girls’ interest with him and is pretty clueless about their crush on him. He also behaves responsibly as a teacher entrusted with helping them with their problems, never taking advantage of them emotionally during his interviews. Still, an entire chapter is devoted to Machi trying to go on a date with Tetsuo, and this is only the first volume. In general the rom-com elements of the manga aren’t particularly funny and are often uncomfortable, and I’m cautious about how they might escalate in future volumes.
Those unfortunate issues aside, there’s really a lot to like about Interviews with Monster Girls. It uses its premise for observant social commentary about minority rights and fuses it with relevant, positive messages of acceptance and empathy. It’s a series that could really resonate with young readers in particular and help them contextualize a lot of complicated and confusing issues they face in society both externally and internally. Based on the reception for the anime, it seems the series will end up focusing more on the harem aspects over the social commentary going forward, which is disappointing. Even so, this first volume works well as a stand alone treatise on tolerance and community, and explores these subjects so skillfully that it’s worth checking out regardless of whether you’re a fan of monster girl series.