Winter 2017 has been nonstop surprises on the comedy and slice of life front. Studio Doga Kobo, who we have to thank for Himouto! Umaru-chan are back with another adorable trash heap that is as new as it is nostalgic in Gabriel DropOut. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid may just be the most visually impressive anime this season in addition to being over-the-top in every sense of the phrase. The most interesting among the comedy arrivals, however, has been Interviews with Monster Girls, taking a comedy sub genre famous for fanservice and cheap laughs and taking an approach as thoughtful as it is genuinely funny. Hidden within the high school gags surrounding the demi girls are an allegory for physical disability and chronic health conditions which, in a society which caters to a exclusively to the strict physical and dietary parameters of the modern, able-bodied human, can pose struggles that are invisible to the rest of us. Implicit in Takahashi’s investigation of demi’s girls is his growing understanding of their unique challenges that carry a powerful message regarding mindfulness and compassion.
Hikari’s interview with Takahashi showed that sometimes misconceptions about a condition can cause even more difficulties than the condition itself. Although it has yet to come up in Interviews, Takahashi’s questions alone show the potential for a variety of faux paux that might result from misguided consideration for Hikari’s condition. We can all sympathize with the plight of someone invited to a dinner party where the host incorrectly believes they are allergic to garlic. Although Hikari can pass for normal, this puts her in a position where she has to choose to remain silent about her problems or admit to what she is and expose herself to judgement based on those misconceptions, whether her condition is contagious and whether she actually has an uncontrollable urge to drink blood. That component of self-denial may have contributed to her excitement at hearing that Takahashi thought demi’s were interesting and wanted to meet one.
The genuineness and respect with which Takahashi approached Hikari about an interview was likely a key component to her participation. Early on Takahashi-sensei expresses regret over the fact that he has been unable to speak with any demis despite their being the subject of his research, it seemed, due to the fact that none of them were willing to meet with him. It unsurprisingly that they wouldn’t want to be studied under a microscope, especially when their kind has been the subject of a great deal of historic misunderstanding. Past that hurdle, Hikari having the freedom to speak, or even joke, about her unique daily troubles to someone who showed genuine interest became an opportunity to express herself and the gesture benefited them both, helping Takahashi’s research and leading to Hikari recommending Machi speak with him as well.
Machi’s obstacles are much more obvious, being a Dullahan affecting just about every aspect of her daily life, every simple action we take for granted is complicated by accommodating her detached head. Behaviors we take for granted like eating, bathing, and even sleeping require special restraints, shelves, and cubbies. To Machi, these hardships are just an accepted part of her daily life, but one that she is unable to share with her classmates. Though her situation is undeniable, her peers avoid potentially awkward conversations by avoiding the subject. It was Hikari’s candidness regarding Machi’s unique problems and her willingness to discuss her own problems being a vampire that acted as the foundation for their friendship. Hikari had already internalized the advice that Takahashi eventually gave to Machi, to be brave enough to take initiative and bring up her problems or make a joke about them to signal to others that the subject isn’t taboo.
Most importantly, Interviews showed us how easy it can be to make a difference if we take the time to understand another person’s struggles. During the course of their experiment, Takahashi is forced to walk a mile in Machi’s shoes by seeing just how restrictive being forced to carry around a human head can be. He thoughtlessly carries her close to his chest and Machi ends up with motion sickness because he hadn’t considered how she might be compensating for the movement of her body with her arms just like most individuals do with their necks. He also discovers how burdensome it can be to hold an object all the time, something we as the audience witnessed when Machi was forced to stop walking and put down her bag to answer a call on her cell phone. Using the experience as a lesson, Takahashi approaches the principal about granting Machi an exception to use a backpack rather than the school’s regulation bags so she can keep both hands free.
The simplicity of the metaphor as well as the ease with which humor is combined with its commentary is a tremendous strength of Interviews. Where other premieres this season have their own unique senses of humor, none feel as if they have the same sense of purpose. Possessing a message without weighing down a comedy is a balancing act, especially in a story with such a light-hearted tone. Takahashi has at least two interviews left to perform and it’s nice to not only look forward to more jokes, but also what discoveries Interviews has to deliver about living life as a Succubus or a Snow Maiden.