I will quickly brush over the sheer genre-centric unexpectedness that Demi-chan has for its runtime thus far, and move on to reject this relationship that the audience supposedly has with the show as its main pull. Because it’s not what’s unexpected of the ecchi/monster girl ‘genre’ or their ‘typical production aesthetics’ that brings forth the metaphorical goodwill that Demi-chan exemplifies. Rather, the inorganic realism that the show flaunts almost ironically in regards to ‘cross-species’ human and societal relationships, is the main ingredient that elevates the experience to a higher plane of optimistic warmth.
Let us hypothesise: will such a mundane 21st century world accept vampires and a headless girl into their ranks with such open; albeit still slightly reluctant and guarded; embrace? Anime and manga (sigh* FINE and light novels too I guess…)’s explorations of ‘abnormal’ human enigmas, creatures that adopt similar sentient self-awareness as humans but are of differing species, often get adopted into stories as allegories for racism, cultural gate-keeping and the pathetic human tendency for discrimination-based violence and hatred. Of course, through such…dare I say ‘edgy’…approaches to ‘realistic’ storytelling, themes of harmonic acceptance can still amount to being part of the narrative’s commemorative message.
Demi-chan swiftly bypasses this U-turn contrast in its own tales of acceptance by…simply not have discrimination as the focal point of its narrative. Instead, elements of misunderstanding and division acts as simply a facet of daily life for these demi-humans. No ill-willed deliberacy could be detected in the world in which Demi-chan presents to the audience, as it instead deals with a post-integration period, where monsters such as vampires and dullahans are already largely accepted into regular society. So the trials and tribulations for the series’ characters form a much more resonant rhythm with contemporary sensibilities.
Hikari’s question “Do you hate demi-humans?” may be a conventional drama initiator if the sensei-in-question was indeed such a man with questionable morals and fears. But the real reason why I decided to feature this particular screenshot; along with the dialogue, was to perhaps serve as a frank example of what I EXPECTED the conflict to be about, considering what I read from the premise. But as if acting as a testament to how wrong I was, this throwaway line was literally just that: a throwaway, a honest question that was given a honest answer, dousing the flames before the match was even lit: “Oh no. I actually love demi-humans.”
Demi-chan is playing an obvious advocate for Mutual Understanding with a capital ‘M’ and ‘U ‘: the nuances of such a concept and how people of contemporary society perceives it in their daily lives is what essentially drives the series’ exploration of what true relational harmony really means. You see, Takahashi-sensei is a biology teacher who’s fascinated by demi-humans, and would like to interact and interview them, in order to gather a more organic understanding of their lives. Having such a mindset being the protagonist, essentially sets up a tonal consistency that champions understanding above all else.
Context & Scope: Biological Creativity
The interview sequences that Takahashi has with Hikari and Machi in subsequent episodes, are what drives the entire contextual scope that the series strives to internalise in its viewers: this is a collection of biographies stuffed in the format of a mockumentary-style comedy. In terms of inventive subversion, Demi-chan is no less charming than other similar high-tier shows of its ilk: dealing with supernatural beings and the fantastical through the lens of contemporary society (closest cousin I can think of? The Devil is a Part-timer.) In a swift series of encounters, the incomplete interactions Takahashi had with a succubus teacher demonstrated her as a creature of compromise: to perhaps fight off her biological tendencies, Sakie’s plain fashion were deliberately chosen to ward off physical contact that may arouse the male students and teachers around her. Hikari as a vampire gave her a particular distaste for sunlight and heat: nothing fatal per-say, but through the added ‘scientific’ details, the grounded concept of vampires living amongst humans is one such treatment that no doubt future encounters with demi-humans like Sakie will continue exercising.
So, yes. Hikari the vampire is sensitive to sunlight, preferring the coolness of Takahashi’s classroom for her lunchtime chilling. She likes garlic and think of crosses as last decade’s fashion. Coupling that with her name’s meaning and her nature, Hikari is a walking ball of charming energy and contradictions formed from preconceptions. It is through her that we start to take our first glance into the demis’ world from an innocent high school girl. Starting with the…admittedly adorable as kittens term ‘demi’ that Hikari pushed onto Takahashi.
As for the ever-present issue of vampires’ need for blood, the series’ post-integration setting quickly ran over the welfare programs that supplies them with a pack of blood per month, along with Hikari’s own weighing on vampires that live without any human blood at all (their version of a vegan). All these tiny incidental detail did much to strengthen the show’s authentic environment. Hikari’s interview even went so far as to interestingly allude to the very much in-genre fantastication of biting another human’s neck as a vampire’s method of sexual expression (hey don’t ask me. I may not be an expert on Gothic vampire literature, but my high school English teacher insisted that this act of the vampire biting a virgin is a metaphor for sexual intercourse. This view certainly seemed valid when 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula musically scored the scene of Mina’s ‘turning’ with a toxically romantic tone).
If Hikari’s hyperactive character animation, an abundance of meme-ready expressions and lovable scheming nature isn’t enough to moefy you, Machi’s characterisation sure won me over. Granted, I was already on board when Hikari blushed like a beetroot, but Machi’s on a whole another level.
Alright, the usual: what is Moe? An internal reaction towards a fictional character that invokes a loving need to protect said character. Cookie-cutter definition. Machi is a high school girl who’s keen to fit in, loves to cuddle since her detached head gives her a naturalised fear of being left alone, and is evidently a person who’s eager to make herself part of the conversation. Oh, and she wants to leave you laughing your heads off with her jokes. This dullahan-chan has my heart in her fingertips.
Machi’s shy nature is cleverly connected to her ‘biological’ tendency as a dullahan as well. However, instead of sticking to this comfortable realm alone, Demi-chan’s organic development saw fit to further ground Machi in a world that is confusing acceptance through uniformity with acceptance through…well…accepting disuniformity. Which brings this essay to the final topic at hand: how does Demi-chan teach a lesson of acceptance without guilt-tripping the audience through the depiction of consequential conflict?
Forgetting Differences Vs. Loving Differences
I just want to quickly shine a spotlight on the nature of Hikari’s friendship with Machi, and both their relationships with Takahashi.
Machi’s muted disappointment at her classmates’ unwillingness to kid around her inconveniences as a dullahan alludes to a commonplace, self-imposed filter that prevents people from making assumed judgements, in which to avoid conflict. Machi sees her jokes that references her own nature as a way to humanise herself, a way of self-expression. All she needed was empathy. The end of episode 1’s climax follows Hikari’s organic but indirect expressions of personal connection and sympathy: opening up about her own biological inconveniences had established a sense of comradeship with Machi. Cuts of Hikari’s self-pointing finger and an expressive open palm effectively frames the series’ message of acceptance.
So perhaps…upon closer inspection, Demi-chan is also a show about kindness. Each subsequent interview sequence opened up our understanding of the demis’ struggles in their daily lives, as uncomfortable as a vampire’s being in direct sunlight and heat, as…ahem…hilarious as a dullahan’s head and body being accidentally separated as far as Tokyo and Okayama. And through understanding, we learn to live with them, laugh about them. Small moments of understanding can go a long way.
Kindness is a quick tap on your understanding teacher’s shoulder, telling him about your dullahan friend being inconvenienced (and endangered) by the regulation shoulder bag, suggesting that she be allowed to bring a backpack instead.
Author’s note: seriously though…’demi’ is such an under-the-radar adorable name. Hikari, you precious thing.