Some people you can trust to take a secret to their graves. Some you know will spread gossip as naturally as breathing. And some poor unfortunates wish they could be the former but end up being the latter despite themselves. But even then, some things are just too important, or outlandish, to be given away without a struggle. And there is always something stranger under the Sun. Or, indeed, the Moon, or the stars.

Kuromine Asahi has a secret. A monstrous secret that he has been hiding for months now. A secret that might change his entire world should it come to light… Unfortunately, Asahi cannot keep a secret to save his life, and anyone who cares already knows he has a crush on his classmate. Everyone apart from the girl in question, that is: the “cool beauty” Shiragame Youko, who, as it turns out, has her own concerns. So when Asahi comes to see her in the classroom after school hours, only to find her with something of a different appearance than he’s used to, the man who cannot keep a secret ends up having to protect one he’d never have imagined. And so begins an increasingly crazy story about the intersection of multiple different insanities in the world(s) and the too-honest guy who comes to be at the center of them.

My Monster Secret, or “Actually, I am…” from the translation of the Japanese title, is best considered as niche humour. The jokes rely on an appreciation of the absurd to work, combined with a dryness which perhaps harkens to the binary of such shows as Monty Python: you’ll either find it riotously hilarious or just not get much from it at all. The entryway to the entire story, Asahi’s inability to keep a secret, actually becomes much less pertinent as the story progresses and the cast expands with existences who all undermine common sense in their own distinct ways. The art is also particular to the series, with facial expressions frequently being as over-the-top as the ludicrous situations being encountered. Those who appreciate a dedication to the absurd should appreciate this manga, but don’t expect much in the way of drama and never forget that things can always get more ridiculous.

There’s a famous film which gave the world an especially famous quote, which had a basic premise of treating something deliberately silly with a seriousness that makes it incredibly funny when acknowledging that it’s silly would destroy the humour. My Monster Secret could definitely be said to “go to eleven.”

As mentioned above, the beginning of the story suggests the focus is going to be around Asahi trying to protect Youko’s true nature so that she gets to enjoy her school life (if it becomes public knowledge she’ll have to leave school) and he gets to enjoy school life with her. And the first few chapters support this premise: Youko gets used to having a friend (having always isolated herself to protect her secret) and Asahi learns about Youko (far from being a mysterious reserved beauty, she’s a total Valley Girl).

It doesn’t take long, however, for them to come to the attention of Asahi’s childhood friend, Akemi Mikan: member of the Newspaper Club and self-proclaimed villain, prone to chewing the scenery as she tries to find out whatever secret Asahi is desperately trying to keep this time.

Primarily just to torment him, and typically self-destructing with an overdose of Ham, especially when Asahi’s other friends give him a hand.

The story swerves in a different direction though, when it comes time to introduce the third main girl to the mix: the overly-straight-laced Class Representative Aizawa Nagisa. Who, as it turns out, has her own sizable issue. Previously, we’d known her as the girl who managed to preemptively destroy turn Asahi down the year before, without even giving him the chance to confess in the first place. Her introductory chapter replays that event from her perspective, showing her motivations as... somewhat different to how they may have come across, as well as escalating the crazy-stakes of the setting: Her main body is a robot, and she herself a teeny-tiny alien on a mission to infiltrate and investigate Earth.

The chapter following Nagisa’s perspective is quite multi-faceted: it introduces a new character’s traits without repeating the same joke twice, about walking in on someone mid-reveal. And it shows that, although Asahi is central to the all the events that might occur, it’s not just his story. My Monster Secret is very much an ensemble cast affair, with the notable appearance on the opening page of someone who doesn’t actually appear in this volume, but whom you can expect to play a principal role in future chapters.

Then again, the following chapter is also a defining moment for the series’s humour, as having avoided repeating that same joke about a character reveal once, it then proceeds to play it entirely straight: a prank of Mikan’s resulting in Nagisa walking in on Asahi and Youko with Youko once again showing the full span of her personality.

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This series revels in portraying itself as stupid and ludicrous, only to occasionally prove it’s quite able to avoid being cliché and predictable. When it wants to. It just doesn’t want to. It will double-down on repeating the same joke within a chapter and across chapters, and still manage to introduce new material to repeat jokes about in the future. All whilst being quite apparent that it’s doing so intentionally.

The final chapter rounds off the first volume of this series in spectacular fashion though, it must be said. The repetition of the starting joke is built upon by Nagisa leaping forth from her outer-body’s head with her little toy-looking rifle and demanding to know what planet Youko is from, handily blowing her own cover just after the reader has been shown that she has something to hide.

Followed by Youko of course being her idiotically charmingly-honest self and denying that she’s an alien by casually dropping her own truth; that thing she can’t have discovered lest she have to leave school…

Asahi makes the same promise to Nagisa as he has with Youko, if for less personal reasons, but Nagisa instead requests that she erase his memories of the event entirely. Not an unreasonable request, given his well-acknowledged issues with confidentiality (regardless of his own wishes), and she is an alien with highly advanced technology why is she holding a hammer..?

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Understandably suddenly nervous, while Nagisa extends the offer of erasing Youko’s secret from Asahi’s memory as well, the man himself takes off running for his life. A farcical chase ensues with Nagisa succeeding in making ever-worse cases for her desired course of action, until she mentions protecting Youko from Asahi’s inevitable slip-up whereupon he pauses. Asahi’s desire to keep Youko’s secret is so strong he’s willing to allow himself to risk the effects of Nagisa’s hammer memory-erasing device rather than have her be found out. Thing is, neither of them had actually considered Youko herself.

As it turns out, she’s rather against the idea of losing her friend, regardless of the reasons. And seeing the loyalty these two have for each other, Nagisa decides to take a chance on trusting Asahi as well, having “lost” to Youko’s “determination” and “character” (not in Asahi’s affection for either of them, or bodily endowment or such things. No. Nooo.) And then the final punch of the volume comes with Youko whispering in a clearly audible way (unintentionally) that she reckons Asahi has a chance with Nagisa, because didn’t he used to have a crush on her and she’s really rooting for the two of them and she’s observant about this sort of thing!

[facepalm]

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And so Asahi has another secret to keep. With the person in question again being practically inept at keeping it herself. And has an uphill struggle to not reveal what he’s been entrusted with, and yet try to get someone in particular to see the distinctly obvious.

Fundamentally, My Monster Secret is a series about idiots (in a variety of flavours) being idiots in idiotic situations. And sometimes commenting on the idiocy of others whilst being ever-increasingly worse themselves. But it’s also a series about the bonds between friends that can keep people together regards of personal circumstances, no matter how different they might be or how crazy the world they live in is. Speaking personally, the humour worked for me and had me laughing both at and with the manga, but never at the character’s expense. It remained fun seeing them get tossed about by the ride right the way along, and I can look forward to future outings with a very too-wide grin.

What do our scores mean?

My Monster Secret began serializing in Akita Shoten’s Weekly Shounen Champion in 2013 and currently has fifteen volumes. The series received an anime adaptation called Jitsu wa Watashi wa (Actually, I am...’ in the West) that was produced by TMS Entertainment and aired for 13 episodes in the Summer 2015 anime season. The manga series is licensed for release in English by Seven Seas Entertainment, and the first volume came out on January 12th, 2016, with the second planned for an April 19th release.

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