Komi Can’t Communicate hits all the checkpoints: A new anime series on Netflix? Check. Based on a popular manga series. Check. It was first launched in Japan and is now available worldwide. Check. Hyperbolic? Check. Is that any good? Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? New episodes will debut weekly, so let’s see if the first one leaves enough of an impression to keep us coming back.
Opening Shot: Cherry blossom petals dance through the azure skies. It’s a beautiful day.
The Gist: Tadano (voices of Gakuto Kujwara) narrates. He’s an average guy at Itan Private High School. It’s the first day of school. He just wants to blend in. Do not make waves. Never be noticed. “Tadano is a coward,” butts in a female voice, like it’s the narrator of the narrator. Where’d that come from? Who knows? But maybe that’s helpful info? The new girl suddenly walks past. Every head turns. She’s striking. A stunner. Tall. Graceful. A true beauty. Mute. Aloof. Her shoe locker is right next to Tadano’s. He’s struck: the screen turns red and he’s frozen in a silent scream, the irises of his eyes nowhere to be found — hormonal hyperbole in action.
Tadano’s internal monologue continues as he and his classmates take their seats. More jaws drop when the new girl enters. Students take the initiative to introduce themselves. She stands and everyone turns to her. We hear her voice as a soft squeak but eventually we learn her name: Komi (Aoi Koga). Name of a goddess light, probably.
After class, she is joined by Tadano. He sweats a hundred times more. He tries to speak to her. She fails and runs out of the room. But Tadano shouts at her just as she gets to Tadano’s door. “Are you not good at talking to people?”She freezes. Terrified, Tadano vibrates with a high frequency. But he’s right. Tomi has severe social anxiety. He asks her if she would like to write on the board. She grabs some chalk, and she writes and writes until the words come out of her. She confesses — scratch scratch scratch goes the chalk on the board, dust slowly falling to their feet — that her goal is to make 100 friends. And Tadano says he’ll be the first, and will help her make 99 more.
Photo by Netflix
What TV Shows Will It Remind you Of? I dunno, I just sat through Broadway-to-film floparoo Dear Evan Hansen, and it features a far more cartoonish portrayal of teen mental illness than a loony anime like Komi Can’t Communicate.
Our Take: Funny how Komi sprinkles a few tender poetic moments — cherry blossoms, chalk dust floating to the floor — amidst all the full metal exaggeration, which renders comic fodder from extreme teenage micro-melodrama. Time moves slowly when you’re trying to make a good first impression and then get the hell outta there, and being flush hair-to-toenails with hormones doesn’t make anything easier. When you’re in high school, insecurities are amplified. It’s 11. Broadcast on blast. Or so it seems. And there’s something touching in the way Komi and Tadano make a connection, how sometimes they’re animated to look like the almost-adults they are, and sometimes to look like wide-eyed children vulnerable to everything around them.
This episode is funny, silly, and a little poignant. It also has the potential to portray a teenager with social anxiety. Visually, it’s defined by its surreal flourishes, from proliferations of on-screen text (illustrating how teens often feel bombarded with stimulation) to how cat ears occasionally and inexplicably pop from Komi’s head. Structurally, this pilot is odd, backloading a pile of exposition about Itan Private School culture — it’s a prestigious institution populated by eccentrics and weirdos, so Komi’s 100-friend goal won’t be easily met. It also ends with a post credits “bonus scene” that inspires the episode’s biggest laugh.
Sex and Skin: None (it’s rated TV-G).
Parting Shot: An extreme closeup of Komi’s tiny little mouth wraps the main narrative; I’m not sure if the “bonus scene”Counts?
Sleeper Star: We don’t know who exactly who the narrator’s narrator is yet, and maybe we never will.
Most Pilot-y Line: Tadano: “This is how my abnormal high school life began.”
Our Call: STREAM ITS. Komi Can’t Communicate’s base premise isn’t anything new, although it has an opportunity to put teen-angst issues in a fresh, modern light — and its crazy, overwhelming visual approach is very stereotypically “anime.” But tonally, it’s oddly endearing, and that goes a long way.
John Serba, a freelance writer and film critic, is based in Grand Rapids (Michigan). You can read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com, or follow him on Twitter @johnserba.
Stream Komi Can’t Communicate on Netflix