Ecchi is harder to pull off than it looks. There's more to it than fluffy romance and absurd misunderstandings—the audience needs to like the characters enough to keep tuning in. How do you do raunchy two-dimensional comedy without making the cast...well, two-dimensional?
First things first: make your cast unlike anything else on the air. Monster Musume no Iru Nichijō (a k.a. Everyday Life with Monster Girls, or simply Monster Musume) does exactly that, pairing old tropes with new tricks for a supernaturally sexy and monstrously moe show! And it's not just the characters that will hook you; Monster Musume explores the legal and social challenges of a society struggling to integrate non-human citizens. The result is a seven-way love story (so far!) that isn't afraid to tackle racial and cultural tensions. It's comedy first, but in a more developed world than you might expect.
Monster Musume is written and illustrated by Okayado, a manga artist known for monster girl-oriented stories such as 12 Beast and Deadline Summoner. This is his first full-length series, and it's been running in Monthly Comic Ryū since 2012. Seven Seas Entertainment (Toradora!, Afro Samurai) publishes the English version, and every single volume has debuted at or near the top of the New York Times best-selling manga list. The anime began in early July, with the current season set to end this month. A PC game is also scheduled for release later this year—naturally, it will be a dating sim.
Also, there are 7-meter dakimakura, or body pillows, for the lamia character, but good luck finding one—the first run, which retailed at 100,000 yen each ($805) sold out already. Within an hour.
In a near-future Japan, the government decides to reveal the existence of demihumans, or "liminals": part-human, part-monster creatures that formerly only existed in myth. The Diet passes the Interspecies Cultural Exchange Act, which assigns demihumans to human host families in order to ease their integration into everyday life. Monster Musume picks up three years after this historic step, and while the country is taking it in stride, not everything is going smoothly. Many species have yet to be officially accounted for, prejudice against demihumans still simmers, and some of them view humans as inferior—or even food.
Enter Kimihito Kurusu, a college student who experiences firsthand the difficulty of adapting to a multi-species society. Thanks to a lazy social worker known only as Ms. Smith, Kimihito finds himself living with an increasingly unmanageable number of demihumans—all of whom happen to be cute monster girls. At first his only housemate is Miia, a 21-foot lamia (half snake) who is in love with him and prone to accidentally crushing her "Darling." Over the course of the series, several more girls (five so far) find their way to his doorstep, by accident or by government oversight. All of them have romantic designs on him, too...but not all are so thrilled about the prospect of sharing.
If you're familiar with ecchi and romantic comedy anime, Kimihito—almost always referred to by one of several pet names—is nothing new. He's a good-natured student who lives in his parents' spacious home (conveniently, they both work overseas) and is a decent cook and homemaker. He's generally overshadowed by the antics of the much more colorful harem that surrounds him. Miia is a loving but jealous girlfriend, as well as a horrible cook. Papi is an exuberant but absent-minded harpy; Cerea is a chivalrous but easily manipulated centaur; Suu is a curious, semi-sentient slime; Mero is a heartbreak-obsessed mermaid; and Rachnera is a terrifying half-spider with a penchant for bondage. The animation does an excellent job of making each species unique, whether in the grace of Rachnera's eight-legged movement, Suu's amorphous nature, or Cerea's...bounciness.
Monster Musume is ecchi, so inevitably the characters will accidentally (and accidentally-on-purpose) wander into sexual misadventures. Different species have different sensitive areas, which is fodder for several jokes, and everyone has at some point been inappropriately touched by a clueless Suu in search of moisture—she's a living liquid, after all. It's even a plot point that Kimihito isn't immediately turned off by Rachnera's enormous arachnid lower half. Naturally, Kimihito is a virgin, and naturally that's even more of a turn-on to certain characters.
But as the funny species interactions imply, much of the conflict comes from more unique areas, primarily the growing pains of a society that's dealing with monsters in its midst. The Interspecies Cultural Exchange Act, while hailed in the first episode as a civil rights milestone, is not without its holes. One can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that allows Ms. Smith to keep foisting girls onto Kimihito, particularly when she informs him that he will have to marry one of them as a test case. And since humans are prohibited by law from harming demihumans, the human police are effectively powerless to stop demihuman criminals, necessitating an all-monster special forces team.
What's a regular human to do? Kimihito spends the majority of each episode with a bewildered expression—blank white eyes and all—while the world changes around him. But he really shines when he steps up to defend his housemates from an often hostile society, whether in the form of racist mobs or predatory fetishists. It's heartwarming and downright funny, as these moments of standing up for interspecies understanding are the only times when he has a normal face—which, compared to his default look, is exactly as shining and gorgeous as the lovestruck monster girls perceive it. The resulting dynamic elevates what would otherwise be just another wacky harem to a proof of concept for true multiculturalism.
Is it an incisive satire on Japanese immigration law? Who knows? But it's fun, sexy, and at times surprisingly moving.
I recommend the following to fans of Monster Musume on the strength of their supernatural elements, whether magical or sci-fi. They're not all wacky comedies, but they're certainly good at putting strong characters through fantastical and sometimes romantic challenges.
Switch out the monsters for aliens and you have To LOVE-Ru. Rito Yuuki doesn't start off like the capable but overwhelmed Kimihito Kurusu—in fact, he can't even talk to girls at the beginning of this show. But accident and happenstance intertwine his fate with that of classmates, aliens, ghosts, and living weapons, giving Rito a trial by fire (and groping) on his way to becoming the next king of the galaxy. His fiancee Lala's frequently malfunctioning inventions cause more chaos than Monster Musume's harem could ever create, and that's without some assassin or suitor descending from the stars to threaten their relationship. The story becomes darker and deeper as it goes on, but fear not, ecchi fans: over four series and two OVAs, it starts smutty and gets smuttier...
...especially when Lala's sister decides to help Rito build his harem, whether he likes it or not.
Here's a bit of a curveball: unlike Monster Musume, Makoto Shinkai's The Place Promised in Our Early Days is quite sad. Not Grave of the Fireflies caliber, but worth a few tears and a half-pint of ice cream. But like Monster Musume, this film uses supernatural elements—in this case, parallel dimension theory—to explore the challenges that can test a relationship from outside. In a postwar Japan partitioned between the United States and the Soviet Union, best friends Hiroki and Takuya share two things: love for their friend Sayuri and unquenchable thirst for adventure. The boys' star-crossed dreams of traveling to Russian-occupied Hokkaido become complicated by Sayuri's sudden illness, and as they grow up they find their ambition and growing isolation at odds with their friendship.
So, okay, nobody gets smothered in centaur cleavage. But Early Days has just as much to say about distance as Monster Musume does about culture clash, if not more. Keep those tissues handy.
Like Kimihito Kurusu, Momonga finds himself surrounded by monsters that are unconditionally devoted to him. But unlike our frequently-smothered bachelor, the protagonist of Overlord is all-powerful in his world. His inhuman allies aren't quite as adorable as Kimihito's harem; where the girls of Monster Musume try to adapt to human society with hilarious results, the residents of the Great Tomb of Nazarick are perfectly at home in their own kingdom. But just as Kimihito's homemaking skills help keep the peace in a situation he never asked for, Momonga must use every tool at his disposal to solidify his power base in the video game he loves—and now lives. And yes, even as an undead, he's still quite popular with the ladies.
Although they're not in the show as much, pay attention and you'll notice some familiar creatures: Momonga's battle maids include a slime, a spider, and a dullahan.
Today's episode continues to follow the show's biggest and most dangerous mystery so far: who has been sending Kimihito threatening letters? Who is "D", and why do they not want him to marry? If the story so far is any indication, Kimihito will face this challenge with courage and understanding, with plenty of help from the monster women in his life. Who knows? He might actually pick one.