Komi Can’t Communicate, Vol. 1

By Tomohito Oda. Originally released in Japan as “Komi-san wa Komyushou Desu” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by John Werry.

When you get a basic description of this series, it sort of sounds like a few other “aloof beautiful girl at school is really just super shy” titles. But Komi is a bit more complicated than that. The Japanese title can translate as “Komi Has a Communication Disorder”, and we certainly see that here, as she finds it nearly impossible to speak in front of others, let alone interact with them. And that’s a shame, as she really wants to have friends – 100 friends, in fact, like the Japanese children’s song. Fortunately, she has some help when starting high school. Tadano is an average, nondescript guy – in fact, that’s what he’s aiming for – but he’s seated next to Komi, not only earning him the hatred of all the other guys in the room, but also meaning he’s able to notice that she’s trying hard but not succeeding. And so he vows to be her first friend – and help her make more.

It’s not easy. Not only is Komi unable to properly communicate beyond writing on chalkboards, talking over the phone and the occasional babbling attempt to speak, but the school that they’re in is deliberately filled with “characters”, priding itself on individuality. This means even other introverts have a few eccentricities here and there. I’ll admit sometimes this works and sometimes this doesn’t. I liked Agari, who is a normal shy wallflower type, whose difficulties in talking to the class pale in comparison to Komi’s, but could have done without the “I’ll be your pet” gag ending to her storyline. Likewise one of the minor characters in this book, Yamai, reads like a worryingly stereotypical psycho lesbian, and I really hope it doesn’t go down that road.

There is also, however, Tadano’s childhood friend Najimi Osana. The most obvious of the pun-based names the cast all have, they are Tadano’s childhood friend. They are also non-binary. Najimi wore a man’s uniform and acted like a guy in middle school, is wearing a girls’ uniform and acting girly in high school, and is perfectly okay with this – and so is the rest of the cast so far, though Tadano has a few tsukkomi reactions to the whole thing. I’ve seen this sort of character in manga and anime before, but usually we the reader know what they gender assignment at birth is – not in this case. And that’s fine, as Najimi’s real role here is to be the super popular one with piles and piles of friends. This eventually includes Komi, though they get off on the wrong foot as Najimi finds Komi’s intense stare a bit terrifying.

In the end, though, this manga is about Komi. She’s moved a little further forward by the end of the first volume, but only a little – speaking to someone in person is still beyond her. I also love the way the art changes her face when she’s distressed or shy – she’s normally the gorgeous beauty, but her face turns wide and superdeformed when overwhelmed – which is nearly all the time. This was a fun series, and I look forward to following Komi’s growth.

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