[Review] Interviews with Monster Girls – episode 1

Tetsuo Takahashi is a biology teacher with a professional interest and personal fascination with demi-humans, like vampires, succubi or head-carrying dullahan. Having never met a single one, he ends up meeting four at once as three demi-human freshman students and one new teacher show up at the high school he works in.

Finally. An actual recommendation. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy watching this one, it also has feminist merit! (Enjoy the feeling while it lasts, this may be it for a few months.)

SPOILERS: General discussion of the entire episode (best to watch the episode then come back to this review!)

Satou-sensei sits on a stool in her gym clothes, pinning a sign to the wall. Subtitle: "Now, being a demi-human is seen as just another aspect of one's identity."

The show establishes demi-human status as an allegory for disability early on, giving a glimpse into government support systems set up for those disadvantaged by their particular demi-human qualities.

Throughout the show we see the kinds of disadvantages they mean. The new teacher, Satou-sensei, is late to work because she ended up in a crowded carriage and other passengers presumably caused problems responding to her succubus nature. Outgoing vampire Hikari suffers in direct sunlight, but doesn’t want to cause problems for her classmates by asking that the curtains be drawn, so simply retreats to darker, cooler places during breaks. Dullahan Machi, who carries her head in her arms, must walk a long way to school because using public transport is too dangerous for her.

High angle view of a classroom, Hikari speaking to Machi at her desk by the window, their classmates listening from the other side of the room.

The show also addresses the less obvious social challenges these women face. Machi is talking with two classmates when she casually mentions that it’s impossible for her to use crowded public transport during commuter hours. “You know, with the way I’m built and all.” One of her classmates instantly looks awkward and turns desperately to the other classmate, who changes the subject to a funny video. Neither knows how to respond to Machi’s disadvantages being directly brought into conversation, even by Machi herself, even on a completely practical and relevant topic.

However, later on Hikari asks her if it isn’t inconvenient to carry her head around, shocking their listening classmates with her directness. Machi looks surprised, but smiles and says she’s used to it. Hikari springboards into a conversation about the disadvantages she faces and says she completely understands Machi’s situation – not precisely true, but she understands enough to know that Machi isn’t offended by her questions. While her classmates had just sat with her at her desk, Hikari takes her around the school and suggests they go out to a cafe together.

Machi's classmate looks awkwardly down at her, an expression of discomfort on her face. Subtitle: "Uh..."

Personal note: I have definitely been that classmate only bringing up conversation topics about things I know we have in common and glossing over suggestions that the marginalised person I’m speaking to is different in any way. It comes from a place of good intentions, the wish to connect on an equal footing, and this anime doesn’t present it as anything different. However, this tendency is as misguided as ‘colour-blindness‘ is in discussions around race, and as Machi accepts the change in conversation with a strained laugh we understand that she is a little saddened by her classmates’ response.

I would still never ask questions out of nowhere myself, marginalised people are under no obligation to educate others. But if a marginalised person brings up their own specific struggles in conversation, denying them the space to continue discussing it is tantamount to silencing. For a cute anime about high school monster girls to address this in episode one is impressive.

Close-up of Satou-sensei's face, with black hair tied back and red glasses, as she speaks firmly. Subtitle: "I'm a succubus."

On a similar note from a different perspective, new teacher Satou-sensei stands in front of her new colleagues and immediately outs herself as a demi-human. This is presumably to save coming up with an excuse to wear tracksuits despite being a maths teacher and to avoid touching or getting too close to people. Hopefully we will get some insight in future episodes about what she’s gone through to reach this point; she could probably ‘pass’ as human and attribute her demi-human qualities to another cause, but chooses not to.

Passing is something I hope they do bring up at some point; it’s sweet of Hikari to tell Machi that she completely understands her situation, but not true. Takahashi-sensei doesn’t pick up on Hikari being a vampire until she tells him, but can’t stop himself looking shocked or crying out when he sees Machi’s body with blue flame shooting out of the neck. As with ‘disabled’, ‘demi-human’ is a big category covering many different types of people with very different needs. Those who are not visibly different have a very different experience to those who couldn’t hide it even if they tried.

One character they could have explored this with is the ‘yuki-onna’ (snow woman), as yet not introduced but shown briefly after she has collapsed from heat exhaustion. She mumbles, “I’m a yuki-onna, I’ll be okay,” and Hikari later talks about how much she likes to be close to her because her cold body feels good. Her identity is never a secret. It’s a shame they didn’t use her character to talk about how being able to hide her demi-human nature changes her experience.

A blue-haired girl with swirly eyes and a flushed face lies on a stretcher in red shorts and a white T-shirt. Subtitle: "I'll be okay once I cool down."

Personal note: as a mixed race POC this is a topic particularly close to my heart. I don’t pass as white, but some of my friends and relatives with the same ethnic background do. Some recognise the privilege this brings them, and some resent it, feeling that a valuable part of their identity has been robbed. It puts them into awkward conversations with people expressing racist views or making racist jokes, and means they question their place in anti-racist activism.

I’m not criticising Interviews with Monster Girls for not including this discussion, but given how skilfully they’ve handled the topic of marginalisation in just a single episode, I’m a little sad that it seems they’ve cut themselves off from exploring as rich a concept as passing in the future.

Satou-sensei looks panicked and holds up a box out in front of her, keeping Takahashi-sensei at a distance. Subtitle: "That's why I dress and act to avoid evoking sexual thoughts"

It’s going to be particularly interesting to see how Satou-sensei develops, as she articulates internalised victim blaming statements in episode one. Her succubus nature is a Chekhov’s gun, and how they handle it going off will be make or break for this series. Will the message be that she should have done more than wear baggy clothes and discourage physical closeness with people around her? Or will it be that whoever is affected should have done more to respect the boundaries she put up? Based on this first episode I’m optimistic that she won’t be blamed for other people’s actions outside her control, but time will tell.

Elsewhere, Hikari articulates statements about assault representing entirely the opposite viewpoint. Takahashi-sensei asks if she’s ever tempted to bite anyone, and she says yes without hesitation. We see in her imagination her eyes red with blood lust as she pulls back a girl’s shirt and leans in to bite her – finishing with a matter-of-fact “I don’t do it, though, since she’d hate me.”

In Hikari's imagination we see her creeping around behind the blue-haired girl, eyes red and fangs out as she grins. Subtitle: "I think, 'Ah, her body is cold, but I bet her blood is warm'" Hikari's imagination continued, Hikari pulling the collar of the blue-haired girl's shirt apart to expose her collarbone. Subtitle: "and 'I bet that contrast would feel great if I sucked her blood'" Hikari's imagination continued as she looks with malicious pleasure at the exposed neck of the blue-haired girl, whose worried face we see for the first time. Subtitle: "and 'I'd love to see how she struggles and the pain showing on her face.'" Back in Takahashi's office, Hikari shrugs and smiles. Subtitle: "I don't do it, though, since she'd hate me."

I was actually overwhelmed at this point. Did this cute high school monster girl anime really just address sexual assault from a feminist perspective in such a simple, down-to-earth way? Yes, yes it did. And so, after a terrible season of anti-feminist scenes, characters and premises, my faith in anime returned.

Takahashi looks at Hikari in surprise as they both sit in his office. Subtitle: "Huh... That seems a bit erotic."

By far the most problematic thing about this show is Takahashi. However, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming (for now) that he’s supposed to be.

First off, his interest in demi-humans raises all sorts of red flags for me. As someone who has spent years being called “exotic”, being fetishised by complete strangers and told that I should be grateful for such ‘positive’ interest in my background, his “I actually love demi-humans” despite never having met demi-humans before, and his intention to write a thesis about demi-humans just so he could interview them, rings all sorts of alarm bells. I don’t doubt that disabled people are fetishised in a similar way to brown people, and I would be very interested to know if disabled viewers had the same response I did.

Secondly, telling Hikari that he thinks her private thoughts sound “erotic” is completely unacceptable. It’s also bad interviewing; by all means ask questions like “Do you ever want to suck the blood of the opposite sex?” which she seems perfectly comfortable answering, but he should have kept his conclusions about her sexuality to himself. Instead, an uncomfortable 15-year-old is alone is her male teacher’s office explaining that she has sadistic thoughts she doesn’t want to act on.

Takahashi speaks to Hikari in his office. Subtitle: So fantasizing about sucking girls' blood could pass for a joke,"Hikari looks embarrassed as Takahashi speaks to her. Subtitle: "but you still have some reservations about doing it with boys, huh?"

Vampirism has always been a metaphor for sexuality, and people figuring out their sexuality is always an interesting topic. Hikari’s thoughts on this are somewhat muddled and vague because there’s so much she hasn’t experienced yet, but when Takahashi makes that connection she doesn’t object to it. Before Hikari returns to class, her eyes turn red as she looks at Takahashi’s neck.

There are allusions to queerness and potential attraction to her teacher, plausible angles from which to approach a teenage character’s development. There is a chance that this show could really explore sexuality in a meaningful way through this metaphor. However, Takahashi should not have been the one to make that connection out loud while alone with his student.

Takahashi sits at his desk rubbing his neck while Hikari speaks to him from a few steps behind him. Subtitle: "Hey! That was kind erotic!"

What saves that scene is a) that he remembers she’s at “that age” and apologises for asking her insensitive things, and b) that Hikari shifts the power dynamic back so she feels more in control and throws his “That seems a bit erotic” line back at him before she leaves. Hikari is a fantastic character, cheerful and assertive, and it’s unpleasant to see her embarrassed by Takahashi asking such personal questions. I was pleased when she rebalanced the power dynamic by the end of the scene.

The literal translation of the show’s title is “Demi-chan wants to talk” – this show understands that even though Takahashi is often the point-of-view character, the demi-human women’s wishes and experiences must be centred. Takahashi wants to talk to them, but that’s not as important as the fact that they want to talk about their experiences.

Satou-sensei speaks to Takahashi-sensei with a concerned expression. Subtitle: "It's troublesome if you approach me purely out of curiosity."

Takahashi seems like a stand-in for every well-meaning-but-problematic guy a marginalised person will have encountered. One scene early on shows Hikari correcting his “outdated” terminology and tells him that younger demi-human girls have claimed their own term, the cuter “demi” (a blessing for anyone who has seen the distinctly less cute Ajin). In another scene, he tries to speak to Satou-sensei only for her to tell him that she’s put up personal boundaries for a reason and he’s causing her problems by trying to overstep them.

Perhaps the most significant plot development to me so far is that he doesn’t get to talk to Satou-sensei. Not this episode. She tells him that he’s causing her problems, he backs off, that’s the end of it. The only demi-human he approaches for an interview is Hikari, and he does so after they’ve spoken a few times and with plenty of assurances that it’s completely her decision to talk to him or not. It seems like a small thing, but just complying with the wishes of a female coworker is rare enough that it earns Takahashi benefit of the doubt.

Machi and Hikari sit together on a bench on the school roof, Machi's head in her lap and blue flame at her neck, Hikari leaning over with enthusiasm to read the letter Machi holds in her hands. Subtitle: "What does it say?"

He’s going to need it – Machi sending him a note at the end of the episode is framed in the way sending a love letter would be framed, and his touch makes her blush. There’s potential for that to be a troubling subplot, but crushes on teachers happen. Marginalised people having crushes on those who acknowledge their marginalisation and continue to treat them well is something that happens. As long as he doesn’t reciprocate any of this treatment it will be fine.

Personal note: Again, relating to this through race, but something about Hikari’s delight when Takahashi confirms he is happy to have met her really struck a chord in me. Like many, I’ve internalised white beauty ideals, and on one occasion a guy I liked saying he wasn’t into that ideal was enough to reduce me to tears of relief. That’ll sound ridiculous to some of you, relatable to others.

It’s a very conflicted response, especially for a feminist, but as a POC this has been something of a constant struggle in my personal life. You don’t want to fetishise yourself, but you do want people who say they like you to be interested in your differences, not just tolerant of them. It’s an extremely challenging line to walk, especially when you’re young, and it’s very easy to confuse someone else’s fascination with romantic interest. There’s the potential for that kind of dynamic here, in both Machi and Hikari’s responses to Takahashi, and I just hope the writers handle with care.

Machi sits at her desk, Hikari crouching at the same level, speaking to a female classmate who has come up to ask what they're talking about. Subtitle: "The injustices of this world."

I’m relating to this through race, but Interviews with Monster Girls has set up multiple angles for viewers from different backgrounds to identify with. Different aspects will resonate with different people, and I look forward to input from people who have been able to relate to this show in a different way.

Even if you ignore everything I’ve said above about merit and marginalisation though, it’s still a well-told story with well-rounded female characters who are not sexualised. I can enthusiastically recommend this show with only minor caveats, especially in what has been a soul-destroying season for me so far. Watch this show! (And if you’re a disabled, queer or otherwise marginalised person who finds this show speaking to you, please keep watching and pitch me when you have something to share!)

Read the ANN Preview Guide review

 

Let us know what you thought of the show in comments below! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

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  • GreyLurker

    After the last week of reviews I kind of figured you’d like this one. I’ve read a fair bit of the manga series and I just loved it. It’s a warm friendly series, that is great to relax with. Thank you for giving a more direct translation of the title, it’s something that really dose set the tone of the series. These girls all have issues that they are afraid to talk about and Hikari is kind of an initiator bringing each of them to Takahashi who helps them talk through a lot of stuff.

    On the flip side though he can be a bit clueless at time and there are several things he flat out doesn’t notice.

    I think you will probably like how things develop with Satou-sensei. Her problems are actually very difficult and more a danger to herself than what the other girls have to deal with. They are also a considerable mental strain on her I think. The show handles it quite well but if this was a darker series (and luckily it’s not) I would be afraid for her.

  • AntonyShepherd

    I read the first volume of the manga, and I quite liked that, so I quite liked this first episode too. There is that horrible thought in the back of my mind that it might turn bad, but hopefully Takahashi’s role will stay that of a mentor, confidante or counsellor – AND NOTHING ELSE.
    Or at least if there’s any relationship issues it’ll be with Satou, who has a hard time just to stop her abilities causing problems for other people.
    Fingers very much crossed that it doesn’t turn bad, but so far so good.

    • GreyLurker

      I’ve read a bit farther along than you and while the girls do have varrying levels of affection for Takahashi, it’s mostly high school crush sort of thing. Satou sensei is definately being built up as teh romance route though. It’s slow and tricky cause of the whole succubus thing but it’s also really kind of sweet how it’s progressing, and it’s mostly Satou sensei preparing to make the first move. For his part Takahashi remains respectful of the boundries (although he still has a tendancy to blurt out thoughtless comments)

  • Rory More

    PRAISE BE A RECOMENDATION!

    Oh man I’d already given up this season and was settling in to other hobbies to occupy my free time but then a diamond in the rough! Frankly I’m a little worried I’m going to be too soft on it because of what it’s surrounded by. Urara Meichoro had me wanting to set my computer on fire just having loaded your review. Bloody dodged a bullet there (that cat bus looked so cool too 🙁 )

    I’m so glad to be a patron, frankly feels almost unfair that I only give so little for such an in depth reasoning and review of most everything that emerges. Thanks for all you do and please keep up the astounding work!

  • smashman42

    I got the ‘passing’ vibe from Hikari too, though due to my own situation through the lens of disability. Not sure what it is like for PoC who can pass, but for those of us with ‘invisible’ disabilities it is a hell of a double edged sword sometimes. I’ll be blown away if they have a scene where a teacher or other authority figure doesn’t believe she’s a vampire and forces her to sit in the sun or something horrible like that, because that would be something like what people like me have to deal with.

    Takahashi did seem to be playing the role of a well meaning person bound to screw up because of their cluelessness. His interest in demis does seems weird without a personal connection and did give me that creepy fetish vibe. I hope there is some plausible explanation for why he is doing this other than curiosity.

    This is my favourite show of the season so far, so I hope it doesn’t end up being a let down.

  • Shi

    Hi Amelia! First of all, thanks for your review. I liked this anime too, and I hope we both have a fun time finding out how the story develops.

    Also, I know this is an anime blog, but since you mentioned in here how you’d like a story about monster girls dealing with their differences and subjects like disability and human-passing, I think you’d like Monster Pop! by Maya Kern (if you aren’t already reading it). It’s heavily inspired on shojo manga and the like, but she approaches romance and race from a feminist perspective. And sometimes there’s songs, too. http://www.monsterpop.mayakern.com/

  • Belaam

    Second episode wasn’t bad, but confused the heck out of me as to world building. Are they every going to discuss why some people are monsters (and is it only girls?). The whole “Oh, you’re a Dullahan; there’s only three Dullahans in the world” was particularly odd.

  • Peter

    While the specifics of Sato’s condition do make the context of her thoughts more complex, Interviews is walking a fine line on many fronts. In the latest episode it could be said that it failed in keeping the series focused on the girls and became simply another harem show, which is sad because it definitely did have some excellent commentary.

    I don’t agree that you can simply write it off for being a harem because 1) harem anime are problematic on their own and 2) this one is more so due to the age difference and power dynamic of his relationship with them as their teacher.

    In regards to Sato it’s true that her presence does have a supernatural effect on men but they are still responsible for their own actions. The series in no way indicated that her powers override their own will. While she is worried about inconveniencing others and the genuineness of her personal interactions her blaming herself for anything that anyone else does is not a good message.

  • So, what did you think of the seventh episode?