A Conversation About Interviews with Monster Girls

A story about a high school teacher whose life changes when demi-humans with supernatural abilities come to his school, Interviews with Monster Girls was a surprise hit this past Winter 2017 season. I sat down with Taykobon author Dil to discuss our thoughts on the series. 

Michael: So, before we really start I think it’s worth introducing the series a little bit.

Dil: Okey dokey.

Michael: So, Interviews with Monster Girls is kind of how the English title sounds. It’s about a high school biology teacher named Tetsuo Takahashi who is suddenly put into direct contact with several “demi-humans”, three of which are new students and one who is the school’s new teacher.

Dil: Compared to a lot of other works, being a demi-human (or, as the high schoolers like to be referred to as, “Demi’s”) isn’t some freakish occurrence and is actually mostly accepted in society as normal. Things like being a vampire aren’t particularly an issue thanks to government involvement. Really logical that civilized people would react to something like demi-humans with an equal opportunity mindset.

Michael: This actually I think brings me to an important point that caused me to watch the show.

Dil: Oh really?

Michael: Well I’m not really much of an ecchi series fan, and many other “monster girls” kind of shows are basically ecchi series. So it’s worth mentioning that Interviews isn’t ecchi, I probably wouldn’t be watching it if it was.

Dil: I can echo that opinion on ecchi series. I’m usually really disappointed when a show pops some of that genre in with the rest of the content, so I was checking both ways before jumping through with this one. Relieved it wasn’t like the exact example of a “monster girl” show you already covered, because I would have passed on it without a doubt.

Michael: So in that regard, the series is already kind of unique. It’s a high school slice-of-life comedy series about “monster girls” where the focus isn’t on ecchi. In fact, thematically the show focuses more on how society handles demi-humans with these unique abilities.

Dil: I’ve been tricked so many times into thinking a show would be something really heartwarming or tame just to be a mess of ecchi cliches that it honestly took me a few episodes before I was at peace with the fact that the show wouldn’t pull a fast one like that. The themes with the abilities really does stand out- you have pretty straight forward things like vampires and the legend of the Dullahan all the way to snow women and succubi. It is really fun to listen to Takahashi debunk myths within the various lores behind these abilities.

Michael: It is nice that the series periodically explores the natures of demi-humans more in-depth, I think it’s a good world building-esque addition to the show and also adds some depth to the characters that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Dil: Could you imagine how dry the premise of a show we’d have if it was just about Takashi doing case studies on demi-humans using videos and textbooks? The character development coupled in as a result of his studies makes working through the questions really satisfying and rewarding.

Michael: I’m sure that’s where the English title got its name too, since a lot of the show could be viewed from the perspective of “interviews” in a way. Although after the first few episodes, the “interviews” are less actual interviews and more Takahashi interacting with the demi-humans.

Dil: I found that second act of the season to be a big divide in the audience, with a few of my friends watching it going as far as calling it “boring”.  Personally, I found it delightful to see the fruits of the research pay off with the relationships being built and the cast being used to their fullest. So while some would call it boring, but a lot of those “interviews” lead to exceptional high notes later on.

Michael: So this is interesting because for me what bothered me about the second half of the season was the way the show handled emotional buildup.

Dil: Really? How so?

Michael: Well you mentioned that the interviews helped develop the characters early on to lead to pay-off later, which is true. But I’ve heard people say that the show is “extremely optimistic”, which isn’t exactly what I’m going for but has a similar sentiment. A lot of it feels to me like “feels for the sake of feels” in that it didn’t feel like the story built up to those emotional moments properly. So when characters go through a development or make an observation people think it “optimistic” because it isn’t really something justified by the context of the show.

Dil: While I can see the feeling that some bits can come off a little half-baked, the things people might call “optimistic” are a bit more in the “organic development” department to me. It wouldn’t feel right if the answers were concrete and over with. As big of steps as these demis make in their lives, it shouldn’t feel like all of their problems are going to vanish. I get what you’re saying.

Michael: Well so as an example in episode 11, the non-demi students all get together to talk about how they can get to know the demi students better. Two of the participating students are the girls who were bullying Yuki the snow woman earlier in the series who haven’t been seen since. They make very empathetic observations and seem to have done complete 180s on their established personalities. It’s not that it was necessarily “I don’t believe it”, but it seems a bit odd that established bullies not only completely change their tune but also start making incredibly astute observations about demi-humans. That’s where the “optimistic” element comes in. Having that part in the show feels like it’s reaching a bit for the sake of a feel-good moment.

Dil: It’s almost like any of the characters not directly interacting with Takahashi change gears on their own by a random conversation or, like you said, sudden 180. While I was talking more with the pay-off in the Demis (Saki in particular was a pretty big surprise for me with how much they pushed her storyline), I really tried to ignore the others. It is also kind of hilarious it took around ten or eleven episodes for someone to see Takahashi putting so much time in with literally only three students to say something along the lines of “Hey, this isn’t right.” How flakey was that vice principal, too? He was almost as bad as those bad-mouthing girls with how fast he changed his tone.

Michael: Exactly, that’s another example of what I’m going for here. The vice principal’s whole antagonistic arc felt rushed and created entirely for the purpose of making a “feels” moment. The transition from dissatisfied with Takahashi’s focus on the demi-humans to being totally okay with it didn’t feel justified by the show and cheapened the whole arc for me.

Dil: As silly and awkward as it gets, it is hard to argue the results weren’t remotely enjoyable though. Yeah, it probably isn’t the best to have a guy decide he doesn’t question his biology teacher’s time spent simply overseeing a rooftop of high schoolers suddenly talking. Call it sudden, call it forced, but something like the video from the Demis and Takahashi breaking down with his face in his knees on the beach was terrific. Chalk it as “feels for being feels”, but that was a beautiful shot of a beach and the rock of the show having a compromised moment. If only it had a little more polish to get there, though. I’ll agree with that much.

Michael: For sure. I’m definitely not arguing that it was BAD, but this was definitely a reason why I was more mixed on the show overall. It’s an issue that consistently crops up and it was problematic for me.

Dil: You kind of get the feeling that doubling down on drama is not a strong suit for the narrative one bit. When there are “conflicts” throughout most of the series, they usually end up like Himari thinking that her sister can’t see her reflection in the mirror only for things to be fine and just a big laugh to be had. Anything past a quick joke or development doesn’t hit well enough to hit all of the marks.

Michael: Kind of tying into this point, I also wanted to bring up the way that the series examines demi-humans and their roles in society as a sort of “others” classification.

Dil: Oh? Go on.

Michael: Well, part of the characterizations of the demi-human characters in their interactions with Takahashi and others focuses a lot on how demi-humans’ different quirks were dealt with by “normal” society and how each character viewed themselves in relation to that.

Dil: I see. You had people like Machi who knew there were only three Dullahans in that universe or Yuki, who knew the legends of snow women always had people tragically frozen weighing on her mind.

Michael: Yeah, and especially with examples such as when Yuki was afraid of revealing to her classmates that she was a snow woman at first. I think that that particular character dynamic was effective, although I wouldn’t really make the claim that the show is some sort of deep societal commentary. There are definitely times where it takes a bit of a leap similar to how we were discussing earlier.

Dil: You also had people like Saki who wore a tracksuit and had to take the last train home because she didn’t want to risk affecting anyone with her abilities. While demi-humans like Hikari were as easy as giving regulated blood packs to, Saki had to have a detective following her around most of her adult life to ensure she didn’t use her abilities. You really get to see how that affects her social life.

Michael: Yeah, the difference between each character in both situation and their handling of it made the entire concept more effective. So what would you say is the kind of moment where the series’ writing shines most for you?

Dil: Somewhere Takahashi can mull over a detail in one of the abilities or how it affects daily life for a demi-human, a quick test, and then the results. That formula sticks through consistently throughout the whole time, but it evolves into different ways. While early on those kind of things are for the student’s insecurities over their situations, it is nice to see bigger reflections. One that sticks out is when Machi gets inspired to become a scientist from the trip Takahashi took her on to discover big questions behind her being a Dullahan. If that isn’t enough, you get hit by Takahashi reflecting on how life might be for his student without needing to carry around her head. It is a multi-layer moment that is far more effective than those aforementioned “optimistic” ones you covered earlier.

Michael: So in a nutshell, Takahashi’s interactions/relationship with the demi-humans?

Dil: Absolutely. That guy brings out the best in the series in a way that a single character hasn’t in a show of the same genre before (or as far as I have seen).

Michael: I would agree. The show is at its best in those “interview” moments, be it the literal ones or the more figurative ones. On a slightly related note, how do you feel about the comedy aspect of the series?

Dil: My gut wants to say “hit or miss”, but it might be more fitting to say “low risk, high reward”. They don’t spend long periods of time building a lot of the comedy, so you either laugh or just tolerate it until the next gag comes along. Things flow well enough through the episodes that you don’t stop and wait for a joke, really. It is the comfortable atmosphere you want in a comedy series- enough wiggle room to work with.

Michael: I think that’s a fair assessment. I also think that some of the comedy can be hit or miss, but the show really doesn’t lean on any particular bit heavily enough for it to matter much if the joke doesn’t work out for me.

Dil: I’m really happy that the comedy genre in anime has evolved in just the past decade. Back in 2007, you either liked a series as a whole from the first few episodes or you just wouldn’t at all. Speaking of anime evolving and lasting, how much success do you think this could have as a continuous franchise?

Michael: Well, it’s hard to say because I don’t know the numbers on the anime blu-ray sales, but I will say that the manga seems to be doing alright and the volumes have been consistent releases. I actually reviewed the first volume of the manga a few months ago, but my first exposure to the series was the Japanese version. The bookstores seemed to have them on prime display, and this was a solid half a year before the anime adaptation. If the manga sales are boosted enough from the anime, I bet you that A-1 Pictures will bring the anime back. Anything beyond that speculation would just be guessing on my part though.

Dil: It is difficult to get a good pulse on how long a series will stick around unless it's an absolute slam dunk, huh? As much as I loved watching it this season, I’m actually going to say I feel like there shouldn't be a second season. Obviously I want it to be successful and will welcome more content since the characters (namely Takahashi) are a delight, however I can’t shake the feeling there might not be a whole lot more that can be done. Unless you bring in new characters for Takahashi to “interview”, you’re really risking it just becoming that “feels for feeling” situation multiple times in a season since there won’t be that element of discovery. I’d hate to have to say “Oh yeah, I loved that series…...first season.”

Michael: Yeah Interviews being the slice-of-life kind of show that it is, it really didn’t have the sort of overarching plot that would be irritating with an “our fight continues” type of ending. So in that regard, I’m satisfied with one season. As for your concerns about what a second season would be, I will say that I think it would probably be fine. I mentioned that I read the manga earlier, and the main reason I mentioned that (outside of shameless plugging) was because I wanted to say that at least with the first volume the anime felt like an improvement over the manga. The writers knew what they were doing and remained faithful while also rearranging events to make the whole thing flow even better in anime form. Because of that, I assume that if we DID get a second season, it would probably have a similar level of quality.

Dil: I feel far more confident in this team adapting the series than most that I’m following right now, that’s for sure. So all things considered, what would you say was the biggest takeaway you had from watching Interviews With Monster Girls? For me, it is easily that something as scientific as studying things logically can lead to light hearted comedy and character development. On paper, that sounded like a major snooze-fest for me at first. Glad I was wrong.

Michael: My overall impressions of the series was that it was a good adaptation of a decent manga. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly blown away with it, and there were some developments and themes that felt a bit half-baked. That being said, it’s a good slice-of-life show.

Dil: Also, I need to know Takahashi’s workout plan. That man is on JoJo levels of ripped.

Interviews with Monster Girls is based on a manga series of the same name written by Petos and published in English by Kodansha Comics USA. The anime adaptation aired from January to March of 2017 and can be found on Crunchyroll