Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out

In high school, Shinichi Sakurai was a swimming champion, a popular though daunting figure among his fellow students. In university, however, he is a reclusive and lethargic loner, a gaming otaku who, when not working shifts at a local coffee house, would rather spend his downtime blasting on-screen aliens. In his second year, he meets Hana Uzaki: his junior by one year, Hana was also a member of Shinichi’s high school swim team. Hana is delighted to renew their acquaintance; but disturbed by Shinichi’s isolated existence, she decides to drag him into the world of human relationships. Thus begins her effective stalking of Shinichi: utilising her brash, outgoing personality, she badgers Shinichi into hanging out with her, even though she constantly embarrasses him in public and disrupts his desire to be alone. Matters are not helped by the fact that, although short of stature (which makes other people constantly question whether Hana is actually a university student) she is otherwise overly well-endowed – which in turn results in the serious-minded and naïve Shinichi finding himself in more than one compromising situation or confusing mix-up. When Shinichi’s only real friend Itsuhito, and his fellow-student and coffee house colleague Ami, decide that Shinichi and Hana would make the perfect couple, the inevitable result is a match-making conspiracy whose outcomes no-one can predict…

Based on the hugely popular manga by Take, and produced by Studio ENGl, “Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out” aired on Japanese television between July and September 2020.  Animated in a classically mangaesque style, “Uzaki-chan” is about as unsubtle as it gets when it comes to sexual innuendo and fetish tropes, as illustrated by the fact that Hana’s favourite t-shirt is emblazoned with a slogan – sugoi dekai – that, stretched across her ample breasts, literally means “so big” (although, in conversational Japanese, the expression means something like “great” or “amazing”). Ironically, and despite the double-entendre themed mishaps that litter their interactions, the relationship between Shinichi and Hana is utterly asexual: Shinichi is haplessly naïve and unable to read social cues, while Hana’s enthusiastic nature makes her oblivious to her impact on others. And it is through this irony that “Uzaki-chan” suddenly elevates itself to another level: through their ham-fisted interactions, we learn about Shinichi and Hana’s previous connection in high school, and the unexpectedly kind heart that lurks beneath his sullen aloofness; and we discover, too, the vein of loneliness that runs through Hana’s existence, belying the upbeat façade of her public persona. It is this dynamic and its revelations that turns “Uzaki-chan” from a creepy and puerile stalking/fetish piece into a nicely ironic comedy that makes telling observations about the desire to meddle in others people’s lives, all the while charting the richness two lonely and socially isolated individuals might suddenly and unexpectedly find in one another. While at first glance unappealing in the extreme, “Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out” evolves into a sweetly-natured and even moving slice-of-life comedy that, unsurprisingly, has been commissioned for a second season.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.