First Love Monster, Vol. 1

By Akira Hiyoshimaru. Released in Japan as “Hatsukoi Monster” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Aria. Released in North America by Yen Press.

First off, this is another one of those titles where, no matter how good the execution is, recommending it to friends is just going to be problematic. “See, the twist is that the male lead is really 11 years old… STOP CALLING THE COPS, DAMMIT!” Manga and anime romance has skewed young pretty much since inception, but 13-14 used to be the low end, with most of it taking place in high school. Lately, though, we’re seeing more and more series with younger and younger characters, and even if they aren’t getting in relationships they’re sexualized in some way (hi, No Game No Life). And of course this is written for Aria, which has increasingly become Kodansha’s ‘eccentric’ shoujo magazine. Come into this knowing that the premise is questionable.

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The good news is that the author and the cast also know the premise is questionable, and call it out throughout the entire volume. Our heroine is caught up in the flush of first love based both on looks and the fact that he saved her life in a cool manner, but is aware this is deeply wrong. Everything Kanade does emphasizes that he’s not ‘mature for his age’ in anything but appearance – he’s still playing in sandboxes. If this were a case where she were in college and he was in high school, it would be like any other shoujo romance out there, but the fact that he’s 11 adds a frisson of wrongness that just doesn’t go away. It drives the entire title.

Honestly, I kept expecting this to be creepy and make me stop reading, but it never did. It has so many elements that could have gone badly. If the 11-year-old hero had also been mentally/emotionally mature… if the heroine had not been sheltered and naive herself, as well as starved for affection… even the appearance of the characters, which the author says in a note her editor had her change, as the original was a normal-sized girl with a short guy (she liked the huge difference between then, so when told to make the girl tiny, made him huge to contrast), ends up massively improving the product.

There’s also lots of humor – this doesn’t take itself seriously, and I laughed out loud at the introduction of Kanade’s equally huge classmates, as well as their Detective Conan-eaque leader. The one thing I really disliked was Taga, the college age guy who attempts to sexually assault Kaho because… well, because that’s what happens in these sorts of titles to provide conflict, and I wish it didn’t. Naturally, he gets away with a busted lip and nothing else, and is free to emotionally abuse the heroine later. Luckily, the rest of her roommates are more supporting, but that guy needs to go away.

As with so many titles I’ve reviewed lately, if the premise squicks you, don’t get First Love Monster. But the author actually respects and treats the leads sympathetically, without setting up the heroine for comedic humiliation faces. That means I’m intrigued, and will get the next volume to see where it goes.

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