It was John Gardner who said, “true art by its nature is moral.” By this, he did not mean that art should have religious morality, or even didactic in its telling. Rather he meant that art, indeed any form of art, should aspire to search and discover human values, and be true to it. Be it “good” such as the prevalent pacifist messages in Miyazaki’s films, or “bad” such as the abundant nihilism in Urobuchi’s works. Be true in the sense of not masquerading the morals, the emotions. Demi-chan ga Kataritai in the original Japanese was like watching a careful, but cheerful, inquiry of human nature.
In so many high school fantasy harem anime being made, many of the conflicts seem artificial, never emerging from the story craft. They didn’t show conflicting morals, relying instead on scores and flashy actions. Not to mention characters will be shown with moe elements designed to make them as cute as possible, because they incite excitement and sympathy. I recalled many such anime wasted the moe. Even the ones with good stories tend to fail to do justice to the beloved moe elements; making them feel like mere clichés to make the heroines only as cute as possible, but feels unrealistically distant.
In this regard, Demi-chan might offer too little conflict, but that little it offer is full of depth and delight. There are no flashy actions, nor it has a grand narrative of lofty goals that each protagonists are trying to achieve. It is instead focused on the everyday interactions between humans and demi-humans.
Indeed, to watch this series to me as a filmgoer and an otaku was encouraging. Because in the hands of people who know what a story is, know how to command their crafts, a moe anime could become a delightful piece. A passion that did not shy away even if simple fanservice and moe girls are enough to hook us otaku. Demi-chan is full of moe elements; from the big eyes, the baby-like face, fang-like tooth, the kuudere (cold but warm)-type character, to all of the heroines attracted to the protagonist. But they never bore, for Demi-chan manages to do them right. They were effective and impactful. It does so by focusing on the one element that resonates with viewers: human interaction.
The moe elements are there, but they are part of the heroines’ personalities that serve more than just to sugarcoat the show. They are at the heart of the conflict; there are reasons for those moe traits to be there. Hikari’s cheerful personality reflects her immaturity. Machi’s inclination for Takahashi to hug her head is due to the assurance and security that she sought. Yuki might be a kuudere type, but that’s because she was afraid to hurt other people.
This treatment even shows some restraints when the show is about to show some fanservice scene. Takahashi, understanding Hikari’s immature embarrassment as she talked about wanting to bite Yuki’s neck, decided not to pursue the matter further. In a later episode, he even showed restraint to Satou’s aphrodisiac to a comical effect. These treatments of fanservice actually added depth to the characters.
Here Demi-chan dared something that other fantasy high school anime generally didn’t. The elements can work as symbolism for some real life conditions: disability.
To be exact, though, being demi-humans, the heroines face challenges because of their peculiar traits. As a dullahan, Machi likes having her head being hugged because she sought security for her detached head. That’s why she was disappointed when her peers avoided talking about dullahan. Yuki was afraid that traits of her being a snow woman would hurt her classmates—and she was even bullied because of that. Satou was so aware of the effects of her succubus aphrodisiac to her surroundings that she lived alone remotely, went to work by the first train, and went home by the last train. While Hikari being a vampire did not bother herself so much, it bothered her sister, Himari.
One could replace the “demi” with a real-life person of disability. Consider that rather than a snow woman, Yuki was afraid to trouble her classmates because her legs were paralyzed. That is when it feels so real and close.
The conflict feels real as they are grounded on realistic, human emotions. It does not feel like it’s forcing despairing situations for the sake of being popular or edgy. The characters are believable; their emotions resonate with audience. This is a moe anime done right.
However, at the end of the series, it prompts me to ask. Demi-chan is able to highlight the emotional struggles and challenges of disabled persons by working them through cute and charming character types. Would it still be easy to sympathize with them if they were drawn with unattractive and unappealing traits like being fat or bald?
The Indonesian Anime Times | By Paksi Pradipta