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I’ve got a confession: I’ve never dated anyone. The only thing I know about romance is from my beloved shōjo manga and from those risqué visual novels I used to translate for work (Fun fact: Translating steamy scenes is hilarious when you have no idea how they actually play out in real life).

So, when I started watching FIRST LOVE MONSTER (Hatsukoi Monster), I felt myself resonating with the character Kaho: a high school girl who has never dated anyone in her life. Surprisingly, however, I also felt myself sympathizing with her brand new boyfriend, fifth grade student Kanade. Why? Because of his innocent, childish views on love.

Despite being in two very different age groups, Kaho and Kanade have the same issue. They have no idea what to do as a couple now that they’re dating. Kaho has been sheltered from the world since she was a wee one and Kanade is still a wee one… in the mental sense only (I mean seriously, have you seen that guy?).

That’s why, when Kanade invites Kaho on a date, she waits outside his school for him, because that’s just what couples are supposed to do. It’s logic she has picked up through hearsay and not actual experience.

Kanade likewise does things because they’re couple-like, but despite his handsome appearance, he has no real idea of what couples are supposed to do. He treats each step of the date like a mission in a video game: Walk in the park? Check. Introducing girlfriend to buddies? Check. Walk girlfriend home after the date? Check. Heck, he even corrects Kaho when she kisses him on the cheek, showing her that kissing on the lips is what couples are really supposed to do.

He’s not flustered or lovey-dovey; he’s just following a process he learned from the other people and media that surround him because he has no idea what romance really is.

On the other hand, Kaho is exactly like me. She thinks romance should be (and possibly really believes it is) like a shōjo manga. When she is on a date with Kanade in the park, she imagines a corny, romantic scene in which she and her sweetheart are rowing a little boat on the lake and there are swans and hearts and everything. Although Kaho is depicted as a dreamy romantic in the manga as well, her daydreams and expectations for romance are conveyed beautifully in the anime–with her even wearing a crown of flowers as they kiss with the waterfront as the backdrop.

However, what the two learn is that there are going to be bumps on the road and that not everything is going to go according to plan. During their date, for example, Kanade takes a moment to stop and play with his friends, completely forgetting about his girlfriend. This is the moment when Kanade realizes that he can’t just think about himself and his own plans; he has to consider his girlfriend and her feelings. On the other hand, Kaho is faced with the realization that dating someone isn’t going to be like a chick flick. Her boyfriend is going to want to do childish things like building sandcastles and sometimes he’s going to be insensitive. He’s not a perfect prince, after all. However, despite this, Kaho finds out that loving someone as they are isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even it’s not the ideal picture she had in her head.

Love isn’t all sparkles and candy; in real life, there are plenty of dirty and gritty parts as well. There are going to be times when love feels like falling off the monkey bars, but couples with a love which is going to last a long time can learn to accept the cuts on their knees and climb back up those bars with all their might.

FIRST LOVE MONSTER is streaming in North America on publisher FUNimation‘s streaming service and on the Anime Digital Network and J-ONE in France and French-speaking nations. (A full list of streaming locations can be found on our FIRST LOVE MONSTER Anime Basics page.)

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