Since Robico is getting another work licensed here (albeit digitally), it's a good time to look back at her previous shoujo series.
MY LITTLE MONSTER (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun), by Robico. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2014.
Shizuku Mizutani is a girl with a mission. She is determined to study her way towards a high-paying career and regards anything outside of that goal as a distraction. Her homeroom teacher bribes her with the promise of study guides if she will take some back assignments to Haru Yoshida, whom everyone believes is a terrible, violent monster of a boy who doesn't come to school. Haru falls for Shizuku almost immediately. Meanwhile, she's just annoyed that she has to deal with this weirdo and all the other weirdos he seems to attract. She just wants to study - she doesn't have time for things like "friendship" or "love"!
We've all seen this sort of story done a million times before. A socially awkward girl meets some dark or dangerous guy in her class and the two inevitably fall in love. I will give My Little Monster some credit, though, by making both the leads kind of messed up and not taking the whole thing all that seriously. The only thing that really holds it back are some tone problems near the beginning.
I understand that Haru is supposed to be this undersocialized and strange from the start, but Robico goes just a little too far establishing that early on. His moods can shift so suddenly and starkly that it comes off as bipolar and he's so socially maladjusted that he barely seems to understand how to behave in public. The only reason he seems to like Shizuku is that she talks plainly to him, but once he decides upon that he goes too far and forces kisses on her against her will. I suspect that Robico got bad feedback on this direction from her editors, her audience, or both because Haru becomes a lot less strange and off-putting in the second half. Still, there's no hint as to why Haru acts this way. Is he mentally ill? Did he have a bad home life? Was he raised by a pack of wild dogs? Some hint towards an explanation would have gone a long way towards explaining his strangeness and building some audience sympathy for him.
Still, I'm glad that she didn't make Shizuku some paragon of virtue or just another innocent ingenue. Her focus on academics is clearly unhealthy, but she is able to function in the real world (unlike Haru) and she opens up to others in a gradual way that feels believable for someone as shut-off from the world as Shizuku. Yes, she has the inevitable moments of 'why is my heart beating so fast,' and moments of denial but it's written in a way that doesn't sound out-of-character for Shizuku. It certainly helps that Robico mines a lot of comedy from Shizuku's reactions, which brings a lot of levity to an otherwise predictable tale. Much like Shizuku herself, once Robico loosen things up and gets past the awkwardness of the initial chapters, My Little Monster starts to get enjoyable and simply let its maladjusted leads start to fall for one another properly.
Much like her story, Robico's art style isn't the usual brand of sparkly, happy shoujo art. Her characters are decidely plain for the genre and she puts more effort into having make goofy faces than making them cute. There's also far less screentone usage than you usually see in these sorts of stories, although the backgrounds are nothing to scream about either. It's a little odd to find a shoujo series that looks so plain, but honestly it's a perfect match for such an off-kilter sort of story.
My Little Monster definitely has some issues early on, but after that point it turns into an amusing and somewhat unconventional shoujo romance. I can only hope that it continues in this same vein.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 13 volumes available. All 13 have been published and are currently in print. This series is also available digitally through Kodansha