Conceptualizing Monster Girls: Demi-chan wa Kataritai

If there’s any characteristic of Demi-chan that stands out within its first 5 episodes, it’s how thoughtful it is in regards to its cast. As it stands, Demi-chan partially revolves around the premise of exploring the everyday, school lives of its characters as their extraordinary qualities manifest in mundane and endearing ways. The most important element of this investigation is of course the characterization of the cast and their natural chemistry with one another. However, in that same vein, the way in which the characters are built into their world is a critical point of design for the show and one it has thus far approached with a lot of inspiration.

One of the first steps towards making these other races feel real is establishing what kind of world these characters live in. By providing context and background information, vampires, succubi, and the like no longer feel invented purely for the sake of the characters. There’s a sense of belonging attributed to the cast which is due largely in part to the tidbits of information Demi-chan provides early on. We learn that demi-humans were subject to mistreatment in the past though discrimination has become far less common over time. We also learn that demi-humans have a welfare system which is specifically geared towards helping them overcome whatever racial complications or disadvantages they might have, allowing them to integrate into society.

It’s a light piece of world building however these initial details set the tone for Demi-chan’s more varied atmosphere and method of handling its characters. One of the key points of the show is that, while vampires, dullahans, and succubi differ from regular humans, they do so in much the same way that anyone differs from anybody else. The crux of this perception is that the girls must then feel natural and organic to their environment and this is where the show’s excellent attention to detail becomes its greatest asset.

Demi-chan breathes life into its characters through several different means, chief among them being the dialogue the characters share as well as the expository insight we gain through Takahashi’s own curiosity. The show both utilizes conventional understandings of its various races as well as playful subversions which accent its own refreshing creativity. Though Demi-chan’s characters are by necessity archetypal, there’s a good deal of originality being brought to each them. Take Hikari for instance. She’s a vampire and so expectedly she has fanged teeth, an intrinsic need for blood, and an aversion to strong sunlight. How these qualities manifest however are relatively unconventional and creative.

Hikari doesn’t need to drink blood in order to stay alive however she suffers from something similar to anemia without it. Because of this dependency, the government issues all vampires one pack of blood each month in order to provide them with a dependable and safe resource. With that said, Hikari is uncertain of what she instinctually thinks in regards to sucking other people’s blood – whether it carries an explicitly sexual connotation for her or why she has the desire to do so in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, she enjoys garlic a lot and while the sun won’t kill her, she prefers to avoid harsh sunlight and finds comfort in cool, dimly lit rooms.

Not only does Hikari’s vampiric characterization offer a refreshing reimagining of vampires but it feels authentically implicit in her behavior. It makes sense why she likes hanging out in the dark biology room and why she enjoys drinking tomato juice. More than simply being a vampire for the sake of a gag or a cliche interaction, she acts like one within the context of the show. This touches upon one of the other key methods which Demi-chan uses to characterize its cast which is through their behavior. We actively learn plenty about demi-humans through the show’s dialogue however it’s what remains unspoken that is the show’s greatest source of creativity and innovation.

Because of her nature as a dullahan and due to her unconventional trait being the most physically apparent, Machi is far and away the best example of this inventiveness and attention to detail. Whereas a lot of what we know about Hikari is rooted in what she tells us about vampires, so much of Machi’s characterization and how her race alters her daily life is apparent just by looking at how she literally handles herself. When attending classes, she props her head up on a pillow atop the desk. When spoken to, she seamlessly uses her body’s hands to turn her head and face the different speakers in the conversation. Similarly, she moves her head with her hands to create expressions such as nodding and shaking.

When writing her message to Takahashi, Machi presses the butt of her pencil into her chin in contemplation, though her head rests directly in front of the paper. When startled, her head and body react simultaneously yet separately and sometimes her body reacts in a more extreme fashion – betraying some of the emotion and panic not fully expressed by her face. When settling in for bed, her body sleeps nearby while her head rests comfortably inside a small box. Upon realizing that she wants to write something down on her phone, her body must climb out of bed and maneuver itself awkwardly to bring the phone into her narrow field of view so that she can see what she is typing. Because she can only hold so many things at a time, she often cradles her head in her lap while eating or reading at school which causes Hikari to stoop low when talking to her face to face.

Machi’s behavior seems second nature to her which is why her many quirks and innovative mannerisms are my favorite example of Demi-chan‘s overarching verisimilitude. The show wordlessly litters each of her scenes with a lot of brief yet incredibly relevant details. There was a lot of genuine attention put into how a dullahan might go about everything Machi needs to do which makes for particularly strong execution. Something similar can be said of Satou who, as a succubus, must carefully avoid making contact with other people because her touch acts similarly to an aphrodisiac. Her avoidance of others doubles as her primary gag however is very evident in how she pays careful attention to the area around her. This leads to her taking the earliest and the latest trains to and from work in order to avoid crowds but more importantly, means that she must both sit and live alone.

With all of that said, the one other aspect of the casts’ characterization that I think is worth touching upon is also perhaps their most endearing. To speak of all of these various, racial traits is to say nothing of the character’s personalities themselves. Though each of the girls is clearly affected in some way by their race, it doesn’t define them. Demi-chan isn’t so naive as to have every other scene feature a bowling sequence with Machi’s head or Satou desperately attempting not to bumble into somebody. The girls often converse with Takahashi about their various complications but they also talk about things that aren’t related to their race. Demi-chan treats its cast like characters first and monster girls second. Their dialogue is fundamentally about who they are rather than what they are.

A majority of Demi-chan’s gags and comedic moments are structured around the way in which the characters’ personalities interact rather than solely around their apparent racial differences. This is really important to Demi-chan’s exploration of its characters and relates back to one of its primary interest lies in discerning how their unconventional disadvantages manifest as mundane complications in everyday life. The characters feel distinctly like themselves. I think its one of the things that sets Demi-chan apart because it could have so easily fallen into the formula where every joke and interaction emphasized what made the characters unique instead of what made them normal.

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18 thoughts on “Conceptualizing Monster Girls: Demi-chan wa Kataritai

  1. I’m yet to watch this (I don’t watch series before they finish anymore as trying to keep up with 10+ stories at a time is a bit stressful for me) but I can’t wait to watch this one. I’ve been fully converted to Monster Girls but I’ve been waiting for one that doesn’t treats its characters fetishistically. There’s not necessarily inherently wrong with that and I respect what Monster Musume for example does but when every show in the genre does the same thing it gets grating. This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for.

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    • This was actually my first explicitly Monster Girls show and up until now I had avoided the subgenre because of what you talk about. There’s certainly room for those shows but it’s never been something I was interested in and so Demi-chan caught me by surprise with how thoughtfully it constructed its characters. It’s definitely a different shade from the more standard, archetypal fetishization you see in several other shows. Thanks for reading and I hope you find it enjoyable once it finishes airing.

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  2. You’ve pinpointed the show’s strength very well. Details matter. For a while, I’ve been wondering about Hikari’s name. Doesn’t Hikari mean “light”? Isn’t that a rather… ironic name for a vampire? (This leads me to wonder when you find out that your child is a vampire. Before or after naming?)

    Slice-of-Life is the perfect genre for what the show’s doing, because the demi-nature of the girls puts an interesting spin on “doing ordinary things”; ordinary is relative to who know. The teacher’s academic interest serves as a formal bracket (“interviews”), and his job as a teacher establishes that the emotional and practical needs of the cast are also met. I’d characterise the show as a moe-show with a caretaker. Tonally, I’d say it reminds me of Ichigo Marshmallow (four girls in two age-brackets fooling around under the supervision of one of the girls’ older sister), while structurally it’s more Hanamaru Youchien (a show centred around a kindergarten teacher, with one of his wards having a crush on him, and with one colleague being the love interest). Since, in this case, the caretaker is male and the girls are coming of age, there are slight harem elements, and I’ve seen people being turned off by them. Personally, I don’t think it’s too intrusive most of the time, though there are occasionally elements that could be toned down.

    The comparison with Monster Musume isn’t helpful, if it’s about whether you’d enjoy the show. Monster Musume did have the same love for detail, but transposed onto the ecchi genre this means that they were pretty good at animating the movements of scales or talons or chitinous spider legs. I enjoyed Monster Musume as a self-aware spoof of the genre (the most prominent monster-girl harem being Rosario + Vampire, I think).

    There are other Monster Girls shows worth watching, most notably Peto Peto San, which is basically a rom-com/drama with some light social commentary. Also fresh in my memory is last season’s five-minute show Kitarou Shonen no Youkai Enikki, which I’d have loved to see as a full show – mostly for the art, though.

    I’ve heard they’ve announced an adaption of A Centaur’s LIfe. If this comes to be, I’m definitely going to watch it. For now, I’m quite happy with Demi Chan, which is the surprise hit of the season for me. [It’d be a rather weak season, though, without second cours or second seasons.]

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    • I had to go look up Hikari’s name after hearing you mention that but as far as I could tell, she doesn’t have any specific kanji linked to ひかり so I’m unsure if it’s intentional or not.

      I do like the format of the show and while I generally don’t put much interest towards moe SoL’s, Demi-chan is fairly engaging with its details. Using Takahashi’s interest in order to frame a lot of the show’s more blatant exposition is definitely a nice structure that doesn’t wear on the viewer as heavily as it might otherwise. It’s nice that there’s a mix between his asides with each of the girls and what they each say about themselves individually. It’s fairly good at pacing its information so that it still feels pretty cute and comedic despite its other endeavors.

      I’d have to agree that the harem elements aren’t terribly disruptive right now but they do make me worry about what is to come – if the show might put greater emphasis on that aspect of its presentation in the future. It does seem at least somewhat unnecessary.

      I remember reading about ‘A Centaur’s Life’ being greenlit. I don’t know much about it but the impression I got from reading discussions was that it was of a similar design. A kind of sociopolitical exploration of an alternative Earth and human history.

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  3. My only brush with monster girl shows so far has been Rosario Vampire and that didn’t hold my attention for long. I’ve heard of Monster Musume but it’s is part of a genre (Ecchi) I tend to avoid. And when Demi-chan first popped up, I had every intention of avoiding it as well because monster girls + slice of life didn’t seem like a great combination if only because cute girls being cute bores me.

    But early reviews of the show made me think that there was more to the series than what met the eye. And this post of yours pretty much put into words all those hints I saw in other blogs about what makes this show worthwhile despite the recent emergence of harem elements. I’m an avid fantasy lover as well so this take on the everyday life of monsters that treats them fully as people seems more and more like a good idea.

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    • Yeah, I’m in the same boat. Knocked it early because of the token SoL premise and the presence of Monster Girls which I had only really seen fetishized up until this point. Gave it a shot after the second episode came out and was pleasantly surprised. Looking forward to what other details the show will get into in the future.

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  5. What an excellent review. Now I’m genuinely interested in checking this show out, just for all these little details.

    A while back, I wrote a novel where the central character was mute. At the the time, I had intended it as a means to an end, but the more I developed the character, the more I had to think about all the ways being mute actually challenged her in her every day life. Just having a conversation with another character became something difficult.

    Dialogue is one of the quickest ways to express a characters personality in a non visual medium, and when you remove that, you really learn how hard it is to convey the character without it. It makes you think hard about who the character is, how they hold themselves, what their facial expressions say, and a ton of other little details that are part of who we are as people beyond just what we say. Reading this makes me think the creative team on this show really gets how important it is to put the character first, and build everything else, including their differences and obstacles, around them being a person first and foremost.

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    • Absolutely. The show overall is a bit of a token SoL / comedy but its the small details and creative efforts that push it to become something a little more engaging. As you say, though the characters might have rather distinct personalities, the show avoids treating them like archetypes and it genuinely feels like their own characterization comes before their more design-oriented traits.

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  6. Haven’t heard of this one and I’m now interested in checking it out. Love the slice-of-life genre and your comment that the environment is richly detailed encourages me to watch this. I’ve been to Japan and love anime that captures the beauty of its main streets, back lanes, houses, trains and general settings.

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  7. I recently finished this show, I loved every minute of it. I liked their approach of recognizing differences and still be accepting rather than treating everyone as same. Great article, keep it up!!

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  8. Pingback: Thoughts on Demi-chan wa Kataritai | Criticism and Thoughts

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