Director: Ayamu Watanabe
Streaming on: Netflix
Without us noticing, the anime community has enjoyed a renaissance of a genre that doesn’t quite have a name. It’s hard to classify, because every anime I’m referring to belongs to an existing genre, romantic comedies. They’re based on manga, they’re quirky, and the most significant overlap is that their titles use the female lead’s name with an honorific. See how I said this is hard to put a label on?
Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Don’t Toy With Me, Nagatoro-san, the list goes on, but I’m talking about Komi-san Can’t Communicate. If you want to be technical, Horimiya could fit in this category because its full title is Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, but the manga is significantly older than these three, and the male lead’s name is also in the title. So let’s just go with these three.
For no particular reason, we’ve gotten three impressive adaptations of legendary manga with a significant overlap in audiences. And goodness, they are really good. I’m still working on seeing Nagatoro, but I trust all the people who say they want her to step on them. I’m almost certain that’s a good thing. Almost.
Komi is good, but even as I try to compare it to other anime I’d say are similar, it doesn’t fit. It has its own particular sense of humor that you could compare to others, but they’re not exactly birds of a feather. So if Komi can’t, I’ll communicate to you just how good this anime is, and why.
Otaku aren’t well known for their social skills. The word otaku literally means your house, as in referring to people who are so obsessed with their hobbies that they don’t leave the house. It’s an apropos albeit sharp jab at both my hobbies and the name of this blog, but it means most people watching Komi Can’t Communicate should be able to sympathize with the titular character, who suffers from such debilitating social anxiety that she can’t speak to people.
That’s not for lack of trying, either. Komi wants friends like any other high schooler, if not more, but she’s cursed with crippling neuroses and stunning looks. She looks like an imperious angel gazing down at mere mortals, so most people get the vibe that if they try and talk to her, she’s angelically smite them. The way her classmates and peers put her on this platform only further isolates her.
Enter Tadano, an exceedingly unremarkable boy who would like to keep it that way. After suffering in middle school by rocking the boat, his only goal in his high school career is to avoid making waves, but that gets hard when he’s sat next to Komi. Now, every one of her adoring fans seeks to punish the boy who was given such a privilege and isn’t even grateful for it. Despite their interference, Tadano manages to discover Komi’s secret, and through a chalkboard conversation, learns that she wants to make 100 friends.
Easier said than done; the students of this high school are granted admission purely on the qualities of their quirky and strange personalities, and winning them over will prove to be a challenge.
You’ll soon realize that Komi Can’t Communicate is an incredibly sweet story, so much so that you’ll have to floss in between episodes. Even while Komi struggles to make herself known, and juggles the challenge of making and keeping friends, most episodes have a delightfully wholesome conclusion. It’s dopamine the anime, with a lot of excellent jokes and cat ears.
And while the writing often pokes gentle fun at Komi’s condition, it never feels like they make fun of her or her disability. This is a severe affliction that makes her life extremely difficult, and taking cheap shots at that fact would give me a bitter taste. Komi’s inability to speak may take center stage as the catalyst for these jokes, but they’re not mean-spirited.
The story is an honest attempt to explore social anxiety, and a side effect of that is that it’s a comedy. As upsetting as it can be, being unable to talk to classmates and make friends, anyone who’s experienced anxiety can say it makes you act in strange and funny ways. While the world sees her as this otherworldly princess, the audience is clued into Komi’s true feelings by the wide eyes and cat ears that signal the deer-in-headlights sensation she’s feeling.
The premise also allows the writer to explore the nuances of the high school social system, and how making friends is actually a daunting task. Some anime like Bunny Girl Senpai and Oregairu elaborate on the negative consequences of that system and how they lead to ostracization, but Komi offers a positive glimpse into the thrill of making friends when it was as simple as going up to someone and asking. Everyone in school has a special skill, and Tadano’s is his keen observation and empathy.
That’s not much of an anime superpower, but it’s up there with the best of them in the terms of this story. He immediately picks up on Komi’s troubles, while everyone is busy elevating her. The writing emphasizes the importance of reading the room, much like how Bunny Girl Senpai denounces a society that forces people to be so conscious of the atmosphere that it kills them. Here, though, Tadano’s ability is one that came from his capacity to relate to his classmates.
Komi Can’t Communicate is an intelligent, compassionate look into the struggles of communication disorders and social anxiety, while also being a thoroughly entertaining showcase of character comedy.
I picked up the first volume of the manga in preparation for the anime, and I really fell in love with the art style. I have to tip my hat to OLM, who have taken a break from pumping out Pokémon movies and…Berserk 1997. Oh, what an interesting resume. They’ve captured not just the the aesthetic of these characters and this art style, but the spirit of these unique designs.
And I’ll offer just as much credit to director Ayamu Watanabe, who has lent his talents to more Doraemon movies than I knew existed. He doesn’t just settle for how funny these jokes were on the page in black and white, but brings them to life with an impeccable eye for the color palette and how these scenes would play out in motion. The sequences of Komi intimidating ignorant people with menacing katakana sound effects put most JoJo villains to shame, and Watanabe’s direction only elevates the experience.
Adapting a manga is already a difficult process that takes years of experience and a deft hand. Some studios, like Bones and MAPPA, routinely recreate iconic manga art styles for their anime, but many others fall short. I adore the Kaguya anime, but A-1 Pictures has a nasty habit of ironing out the quirks and charm of their source material until you’re left with a generic anime art style.
No such problem here. Komi is even more vibrant off the page than on, and I cannot understate the importance of that aesthetic. Komi’s look is as integral to its success as its jokes, especially in its heroine’s tendency to jump between supermodel and cat-eared Loony Toon. Tadano, Komi, and all her soon-to-be friends are personalities defined by their looks, and it simply wouldn’t work if the production hadn’t faithfully recreated those manga designs.
Komi Can’t Communicate is brilliantly composed, thoroughly empathic, and an overall treat. It’s genuinely interested in exploring its titular character’s condition, and the unique aspects of its settings. If either of those qualifiers weren’t true, Komi would fail after a single episode. A premise or gimmick can hook your interest, but it can’t carry you much further.
It doesn’t hurt that the series is spectacularly funny, including strong character animation that complements its physical comedy. I mean, half of the time when I’m laughing, no one’s said a word. The quality production from an accomplished studio and director has unleashed a polished product I can’t wait for more of.
And I didn’t talk about it here because I mentioned it in my Blue Period review, but Netflix is doing weekly releases again! I don’t know what happened, or if they just have that much faith in their new shows, but I’m excited. Waiting seven months for Beastars put a terrible strain on my heart, and Komi’s too good to wait for.
Despite not being able to speak up in its defense, Komi Can’t Communicate picks up a rating of Fantastic Boring, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. In case you’re unaware, the boring refers to how much action, suspense, or intrigue a series contains. And with that, we’ve wrapped up reviews for another season, so pay attention in January when I come back to the shows I reviewed in order to figure out whether or not I was right.
If you want to be notified when that happens, you can follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku where I talk about all the anime I’m currently watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.
|Pleasing||Takt Op. Destiny|
|Fantastic||Komi Can’t Communicate||86 – Eighty-Six|