Komi Can’t Communicate – Episode 1

By: Meru Clewis October 21, 20210 Comments
Komi attempts to thank Tadano for picking up her eraser, only to freeze up in the moment.

What’s it about? Tadano Hitohito is ready to kick off his high school life as an absolutely normal student when he meets Komi Shouko, the most popular–and pretty–girl at Itan Private High School… and, finds out that despite her cool exterior, Komi is living with a severe anxiety disorder. That doesn’t keep Tadano from helping her achieve her dream of making one hundred friends, starting with being her first and promising to help her find the other ninety-nine.

Ah, finally: some good food y’all! Or… okay, so good food with some problems that I’ll get into later on. But still: good food, well seasoned and all, which is honestly what I expected from Komi Can’t Communicate. It’s one of the best premieres this season, despite coming very, very late compared to Japan.

Full transparency: I have read most of the manga and am a very big fan of Komi Can’t Communicate. In fact, it’s one of my top slice of life series with one of my favorite m/f pairings in 2010s manga. I’m definitely working with a bias, but… well, you’ll see some of my criticism later on.

That all said, it’s about time we swan dive into this late October premiere, starting with episode 1, “It’s just, I wish I could speak.”

Tadano tries to speak to his new classmate Komi Shouko, only to find that she's a bit anxious....

Episode 1 starts off almost silently, save for some background noise. It’s a really effective way to introduce Komi Shouko, who looks like your classic Yamato Nadeshiko but actually, struggles with communication and is definitely living with a severe anxiety disorder; and Tadano Hitohito, who is very obviously her romantic interest, whether or not you’ve read the manga. Oh, and he’s also like the biggest chuuni in existence, only that’s part of his very dark past, please do not talk about that. (Also, more on this later.)

Still, Tadano’s determined to live out a normal high school life… that is, until he meets Komi, greets her, and watches our beautiful lead freeze up and rush off. Thus, we have the comedic foundation for our show: formerly edgelord boy meets Incredibly Anxious girl in a series that honestly, has a lot of heart packed into this first episode.

Tadano meets Komi where she is by writing messages with her back and forth on the classroom chalkboard.

In terms of animation, Komi Can’t Communicate looks good, which honestly, like… yeah, this series absolutely deserves to look pretty. OLM Studio has captured the exact style of the manga, making for a really solid show with stellar character design that’s incredibly enjoyable, especially for fans. There’s a few awkward moments, but by and large, this is a very nice show. The music is… well, it’s music: I didn’t notice anything particularly of note, though the sound design is solid enough. There’s lots of moments where the music drops out, leaving Komi and Tadano in a more realistic, environmental soundscape versus scenes with piano melodies that twine together into nice background music.

That said, in terms of localization, well… that’s where my praise takes a pause, because there’s one scene that just kind of made me make the Metal Gear Solid “!!!” sound. There’s two scenes of note: a scene which introduces Tadano, and a more emotional, engaging sequence where he and Komi are exchanging notes that is not subbed until we get up close to the notes, which leaves huge blocks of texts in Japanese with no context.

And here’s the thing. (Also: take this with a grain of salt because I’m not expert.)

As a localization Editor–and as a J-E localization Editor specifically–I’m not going to lay the blame at the feet of the person who worked on this. I say person because so often, it really is just one person hustling on the translation subtitles, with a few other people doing editing and QA. Where I’m going to lay the blame for the copious amount of untranslated text–which yes, definitely does leave out context–is at Netflix’s feet for not paying folks well enough to do comprehensive work.

Protagonist Tadano Hitohito details his dark past as an edgy middle school student.

This circles back to a point I made earlier: context about Tadano, who, for all intents and purposes, seems like a normal kid but is actually a former chuunibyou which you’ll know if you A) read the manga or B) can read the untranslated Japanese text. Mostly likely, you can’t, which is why it’s such a shame Netflix has decided to let the image above slide. You’re missing a hell of a lot of context by not getting something to tell you about Tadano’s history as an absolute edgelord. You get a taste of it (i.e. Tadano’s painful introduction) but you still, by and large, don’t get the full picture as an anime-only viewer. It’s the same for the sequence where they’re trading notes on a blackboard: no context, though if you’ve read the manga, you know what’s up.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often: it’s really just these two scenes, but I do wonder why? Other things get translated in the subtitles: why not this? I don’t know, but I really do encourage you not to blame the folks who worked on this show outside of Japan. Like I said, I’m definitely not blaming it on the localizers: Netflix the billion dollar company, with total assets numbering 39.28 billion as of 2020, is absolutely the one to blame here.

Tadano decides to help Komi communicate one step at a time.

At base, Komi Can’t Communicate is a solid way to enjoy one of the best titles coming out of Shogakukan’s lineup and Viz’s English manga library. It’s a solid premiere that’s not without issues, though I sense that a lot of folks who try out Komi Can’t Communicate on Netflix will also then go out and buy the manga either physically or digitally. It’s certainly enough of a premiere to get you into the manga, which I do recommend picking up, though know it’s current 23 volumes in Japan, so you’re in for the long haul. Still, Viz publishes it on a bimonthly (as in every two months) basis, so there’s that.

I really liked Komi Can’t Communicate, but I kinda knew I would. That said, comedy is subjective, and a series that’s roundabout poking fun at the awkwardness that results from a young woman’s genuine communication disorder (and her anxiety) may not sit well with others. What I would say is that a lot of the series doesn’t lean on Komi’s struggles with communication: rather, it leans on the  genuine nature of her desire to make friends and learn how to cope with her disorder. It’s very YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) though because this premise definitely could be off-putting. I think that’s fair: as nice as it can be to see yourself reflect in series, it can also be incredibly jarring and frustrating when it’s used as part of the “comedy” of a series.

I’m in for the long haul with Komi Can’t Communicate, not just because I like the manga, but because I do think the anime has the potential to be just as sincere as its source material. Definitely give this a try: it’s one of Fall 2021’s strongest series, and is sure to surprise and satisfy viewers interested in a genuinely sweet show that genuinely wants to root for its protagonists.

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