Hey all! Happy New Year! --I am aware it's March. It's been busy for Sunday and me. So much so that I've had to turn to other talented writers to provide content for the blog. You've had the stylings of Jecka with her Conan review and now I'd like to introduce you to Marion who will take over from your busy blogger to boast a Komi bounty! For more of their writing take a looksee here!
Komi Can't Communicate is a charming series. The eponymous Komi herself exudes nothing but the most powerful anxiety known to mankind, yet everyone around her mistakes it for stoicism and coolness. It's that kind of gap moe that incites fans, and our secondary protagonist, Tadano, to continue rooting for her as she inches ever closer to her goal of making 100 friends in high school. Volumes 3 through 5 provide an ample taste of just how her steady efforts translate into a unique charisma that reward her with the fruit of friendship and camaraderie.
The fact that Tadano is Komi's first friend, and through that, has the most experience talking with her, is a simple to accept reason for them having the best chemistry, but it never feels unnatural for them to share a sweet moment together. This is because at the most basic level, Komi Can't Communicate is at its core one of my favorite kinds of stories: a tale about empathy. We know from his introduction back in Volume 1 that Tadano had a "dark" past. His transformation into our "everyman" happened only once he went through his own phase of cringe and growing up like every other kid, and it's because he knows the pain of not being able to share in events or conversations with others that he is able to feel out how Komi's inner turmoil appears in her actions. That said, Volume 3 on the whole focuses on Summer vacation for the kids at Itan High, and even with the more rote and standard fare like the pool episode, Oda manages to squeeze in some genuinely tender moments.
Tadano's sense of empathy and compassion is what leads to him pointing out to Komi how her friends are doing the most to show her they're having fun at the pool, after she feels she may have brought the mood down when she slipped and got injured. Or when they are able to sit down for a breather and even though Tadano laments that they didn't spend as much time with everyone else, Komi remarks to herself that she was happy just to spend time with him. Komi has a very particular kind of self-esteem issue where she consistently blames herself for every bad thing that happens to her or those around her, and Tadano, as someone who also hated himself, knows better than to feed into that. There have been multiple times now when Komi has straight up admitted to Tadano that she hates or dislikes herself, or that she wishes she could be different. It's this willingness to show vulnerability that allows Komi not only to grow, but to gradually accept herself. Tadano, having experienced similar bitterness and solitude, knows that part of getting out of that mindset is putting on that brave face. His "Everyone will be sad if you look gloomy," can easily be misinterpreted to be a form of guilting, but it's also the same kind of attitude that Komi herself takes when observing groups, so it's the line that implicitly tells her what she should be doing, and allows herself to try to have fun again.
|Don't dislike yourself, Komi. Your friends care more for your safety than their own fun.|
My favorite story in Volume 3 is when Komi goes out for shaved ice with her father. We learn that her father's side is where she gets her lack of communication skills, but where there is a lack of words, we see an abundance of care. Both Komi and her dad are sensitive to the others' actions, and it leads to a very moving scene. Komi jokes about not having a good time at school but quickly teases her dad that she was kidding. He ruffles her hair and takes a bite out of the shaved ice and gets a brainfreeze. There was barely any dialogue but the body language and neat separation of each page into (usually) only 4 panels lead to quick and punchy execution. Later on, at her grandmother's residence, we see a similar beat when it comes to her grandmother asking the same thing. The most important thing to take away from these scenes is that regardless of the fact that Komi is heavily overwhelmed by social anxiety and conventions, she has the foundation to overcome that--a loving and reaffirming environment by grace of her family. She is never berated for being quiet; her whole father's side of the family is similarly stoic and have difficulty expressing emotion. She's allowed to grow at her own pace and that's what will allow her to build the motivation to take steps on her own.
|Makes you wonder if Komi and her father can pilot a Jaeger from Pacific Rim together...|
Besides that, I was also a fan of Komi agonizing over inviting Tadano to hang out. Tadano literally predicted exactly how she would be in that exact position with his 200 social IQ but when Komi finally calls, the line is busy and she doesn't get to speak to him. Instead, she gets a call from Najimi shortly afterward and they get to hang out the next day anyway, at the pool. It's incredibly simple storytelling but because it never betrays the characterization established, it makes the progression of events that much more satisfying.
|Komi--the world's most relatable character.|
In Volume 4, Summer wraps up and we go back to school. This book overall feels slightly more disjointed because of the transition back to the school setting, but it also does a good job of establishing some progress with Komi's rapport between her friends (and fans). Nakanaka is the first girl whose home Komi gets to visit, and we get a cute Smash Brothers reference. Besides that, the next major mini arc we get is the Sports Festival, and as short as it is, we did get a lot of payoff! It turns out that all those people Komi got to hang and play with over the summer were around, and during a relay race in which Komi was her class's anchor, she ends up tripping and dropping the baton. Every one of her friends, and the rest of her class cheer for her, and we get a very palpable sense of drive from Komi. It's already been established that she never really participated in group events, and that she pines for a sense of belonging with others. Having the page where her classmates shout to cheer her on specifically have folks seen in the background like Yamai's popular girls, the three no-named boys who were judging swimsuits, alongside the other named characters like Agari, Nakanaka, and Najimi--it felt like a triumph, that everything Komi did up to this point to change herself in high school has led up to this moment. Seeing her ever-so slightly exasperated countenance with flushed cheeks was the perfect kind of ambiguity that sold the moment as her being frustrated but equally grateful she had her friends behind her back.
|Real friends have your back no matter what!|
|Purikura, not to be confused with Pretty Cure!|
As for the most recent Volume 5, this was definitely the strongest installment both storywise and character wise. We got a handful of new folks like Onemine, the big-sister type, and Otori, who is slow and ditzy. Onemine is a great character because, like many great characters, she is emotionally intelligent and a busybody, but not the kind to gossip. I actually really enjoy how she is introduced as someone Komi feels jealous towards, but not only does Komi quell those feelings, Onemine herself becomes aware of it and befriends her so that she can try playing cupid. It's sweet and pleasantly surprising to see a side character invest themselves into others like that while not really doing it for themselves.
The bulk of this book revolves around the upcoming culture festival, which gets much more buildup than the sports festival from Volume 4. Class 1-1 decides on a maid cafe and we get plenty of scenes of Komi trying to level up her communication skills and failing spectacularly. Something slightly personally off-putting for me but perfectly understandable in the context of the story is the deification of Komi as a figure in the class above everyone else. It's something that feels akin to arbitrary obstacles meant to be broken down in battle shonen, but obviously has meaning and purpose when it comes to how the narrative evolves. It made me feel really hard for Komi when she admits to Otori how she wanted very badly to participate and help out even in minor roles for the class, because she wasn't able to do so throughout her school career before this. Seeing everyone else unknowingly shrug off Komi while thinking they're doing a favor to the class idol is something that stings. It paints a clear picture to the reader that even folks who don't suffer from a communication disorder can easily misinterpret and inadvertently harm others with what they assume to be an act of goodwill.
A quick aside, my favorite gag was actually in the buildup to the festival, where Najimi, Tadano, and Komi were handing out fliers and we see the mother and baby from the library who showed up in Volume 3, and Komi cheered the baby up by smiling. She had a crazy dark intimidating aura in the panels before it and visually it was just very succinctly executed.
|And here we see the wild Komi taming a mere infant using the mastery of her aura.|
Once the festival gets rolling, however, it's back to antics and generally feel good stuff. A highlight is Tadano crossdressing and Komi totally being a fan about it. Najimi scheming to profit the most out of every other class is amusing, and I was also impressed at the fact that Komi even went along with Najimi's plan to advertise the class's cafe at the rooftop. The sheer idea of facing the entire student body and strangers visiting the venue to give them a message is something I could have never pictured Komi doing back in Volume 1. But her motivation has shot up immensely and she's already made more friends than she can count on one hand. Overall I think it was mostly good stuff all around. Tadano crossdressing was good because after the obligatory jokes pointing out that yes, this is happening, he really just spends the rest of the festival like that and it's normal. The book ends with Komi wanting to dance with him at the afterparty and they end up doing so, even if Najimi's meddling turned it into a throuple's affair.
|Turns out the real Communication was the friends we made along the way.|