“Love requires more than one person.”
– Mitsuyoshi Misawa
Although we all seek the tranquility of solitude or empty space every now and then, few times do we ever pursue feelings of loneliness. While we may choose to isolate ourselves every now and then for some peace and quiet, loneliness itself is truly a beast of its own. Unlike solitude, which is strictly the lack of contact with others (although that can often lead to this), loneliness is really a feeling describing our want for social interaction and even those constantly surrounded by other people can feel the empty, hollow feeling of being alone. In truth, few things feel worse than the sinking, empty feeling being alone. No matter how you put it, humans are very social creatures; we have an innate desire to interact with others. And yet, loneliness is ultimately the essence of being human; coming to understand that we are a truly lonely individuals, accepting it, and living out our existence in a graceful, meaningful manner with that knowledge in hand is the final sum of the human condition.
Underneath the upbeat and vibrant color palette of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun lies a series of socially awkward, lonely high schoolers. Much like the show itself, the teenagers in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun often put up a colorful front in order to avoid others reaching out to them and to push their feelings of loneliness and looming sadness deep down inside. Each member of the main group of characters, bar one, is struggling to escape the empty void of solitude. What makes the character dynamic so fascinating to me is that each of the characters are ultimately the same: whether they’re outcasts, model students, or popular with other teenagers, they all have this desperate need to belong. Ultimately, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun isn’t just a story about love between two people, but also about finding meaning in the our relationships.
More often than nought, loneliness manifests itself as a desire to avoid the pain which can stem from social interaction. In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, a fox, who befriends the titular Prince, tells the boy, “You are forever responsible for what you have tamed.” With every friendship comes good times and bad times, and each relationship made carries a risk of being hurt. In this vein, the two leads of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun have an allergic reaction to being hurt and because of this, fear the responsibility and inevitable bitterness which come with relationships. Both Shizuku and Haru have experienced the pain of being abandonment and the disappointment of being left alone as a child. Having experienced the bitter side of love and familial relationships, they forgot about the warmth of togetherness and fear intimacy with their friends and with their family. The same can be said with Natsume: as her friend Shizuku continues to ignore her, Natsume grows more needy and afraid that she’ll be abandoned by her first female friend. However, a heavy part of relationships is acknowledging the possibility of pain, and putting it that fear aside for the sake of something purposeful. The characters of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun fret abandonment and guard themselves with closed hearts so that they do not need to face these risks.
In order to cope with their drowning feelings of loneliness and to keep out the sorrow which can come with meaningful relationships, the people often build walls around themselves and create certain defense mechanisms to keep others out. In Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, several characters exude a defensive aura to prevent others from people from reaching out. The obvious one, Shizuku, is a classic example of using cynicism out fears of intimacy. Instead of allowing others to interact with her when given the chance, she tends to leave the group citing studying as an excuse and puts on a cold air to prevent friends from approaching. However, this is not exclusive to her. Haru first puts up a violent, callous front, and refuses to go to school. Ooshima makes incredibly pessimistic assumptions and has resigned herself to being lonely. Natsume puts on a bubbly persona at school and firmly believes that Shizuku thinks little of her. And finally, Yamaguchi places himself above his group of friends, thinking of them as no more than entertainment. Although these “bluffs” are certainly self-assuring, they promote feelings of loneliness in the others around them, forming a cycle of solitude and pent-up depression.
Furthermore, the characters of Tonari attempt to divert their loneliness and fears of abandonment into physical objects or activities on which they pride themselves. While Shizuku has studying to confide in, Natsume has her internet community; while Haru has his animals, Ooshima has her role as class representative. However, in channeling their troubles into these activities, they forget that the most basic cure to loneliness to seek out other people. They use their hobbies to reject other people, and it is not until their delusions are shattered that they begin to open up. The cynicism and callousness brought forth by fear of abandonment begins to fade and their shriveled egos allow others into their life.
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is an uphill battle against cynicism and admitting that people are social creatures who thrive when in a community. Each time a character rejects the hand of another out of fear, that other person sinks a bit further into isolation and depression. While the characters are afraid of proximity and growing close to other characters, they are at their most vibrant when they are surrounded by family and friends. At the core, Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is a simple story about making friends and learning to enjoy those around them. It’s about defeating your fears of rejection and overcoming shyness to make meaningful relationships with one another.
The characters of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun are the orphans, the loners of their world. Of the Hero’s Journey heroic archetypes, the characters of Tonari no Kaibutsu dabble into the Orphan hero category, and each represents a certain aspect of the Orphan’s characterization. While they do share a fall from grace, unlike the Innocent Hero, the Orphan is marked by a biting, depressing loneliness and a longing for love which follow them throughout their journey. However, the Orphan’s journey is not one of destroying loneliness but coming to understand the pain of isolation and learning to push it aside for something more. In the end, although their journey is one where they come to understand that in life we are truly alone (after all, can anyone besides you truly experience all that you’ve experienced?), it is also a journey about learning to admit that the joy of living is best shared with others and to acknowledge that interdependence is far from personal weakness, that powerlessness is a part of life, and that company makes the world all the more sweeter.
** On a more personal note, I don’t find myself very cynical, and when I do, it’s a very rare occasion. I see that it’s best to just enjoy life as it is, with all of its paradoxes and dilemmas.
*** Although the show certainly isn’t one I look forward to the most this week as I had predicted, it’s certainly entertaining, and I’ve really come to enjoy it.