Komi Can’t Communicate

Komi Shōko is attractive and intelligent, and wildly popular with her fellow high schoolers – but she suffers from acute social anxiety that renders her incapable of talking to her peers. Tadano Hitohito considers himself to be a very average student and a mediocre person – yet he has won a place at the prestigious Itan Private High School, where he intends to survive by staying inconspicuously in the background. However, when Tadano finds himself not only in the same class as Komi but seated next to her, he becomes both the centre of the other students’ jealous attention as well as her unwitting conduit to the rest of the world. As Tadano and Komi get to know one another and work out a means of communication using blackboards, notes, and text messages, he begins to realise both the severity of her anxiety and the depth of her longing for human contact. Tadano resolves to help Komi make 100 friends, beginning with his childhood friend, the cross-dressing Najimi Osana, who claims to be “friends with everyone”.  Gradually, Tadano is able to help Komi participate more fully in school and social life, and even deal with situations involving other people, despite the fact that her social anxiety remains severe. At the same time, she also accumulates a growing cohort of friends and admirers – even if some of them are distinctly odd in their obsession with Komi and their attitude to her relationship with Tadano. Life remains difficult for Komi; but in the unassuming Tadano, she has a true friend she knows she can trust…

Based on the long-running manga by Tomohito Oda and animated by studio OLM, “Komi Can’t Communicate” originally aired on Japanese television from September to December 2021, while appearing on the Netflix streaming service as a “Netflix Original” over a slightly later time period. Animated in a distinctly cartoonish manner with all the over-the-top reaction tropes and character designs this implies (what the hell is the star-shaped thing at the back of Tadamo’s head meant to be?), this series adopts a distinctly light-hearted approach to its subject matter, wherein humour (usually at Tadano’s expense) leavens what might otherwise have been an overly earnest treatment of a significant socio-behavioural disorder. Consequently, response to the series has been mixed, with some reviewers accusing “Komi Can’t Communicate” of making Najimi the butt of tasteless transphobic humour, while others have praised it for not reducing Komi to a socially incompetent “weirdo” stereotype. Certainly, “Komi” doesn’t attempt to make any grand statements or offer any original insights about social anxiety disorders or, for example, their relationship with and difference from various species of introverted personality typology; on the other hand, however, beneath the anarchic humour and situational mishaps, there is the at times touching story of two people trapped respectively within the shells of social anxiety and low self-esteem who nonetheless find a way to communicate with one another. Netflix has already announced that a second season will premiere in April 2022.   

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.