Komi Can’t Communicate is a comedy manga with a somewhat cliché premise. I was initially a bit on the fence about picking it up, but after reading a number to positive reviews, I decided to give it a go and see if it was as hilarious as everyone said.
Tadano is a completely average high school boy who’s one ambition is to blend in at school and not make waves. Unluckily for him, his dreams of a peaceful high school life are torpedoed when he finds himself seated next to Komi, the most beautiful girl in class. Komi is regal and aloof and completely adored by everyone, so being seated next to her means that Tadano has instantly earned the jealousy and ire of all his classmates.
However, Komi isn’t the person everyone thinks she is, and Tadano starts to notice some odd behaviours and reactions. Eventually, he realizes that instead of being reserved, Komi actually has such severe social anxiety that it’s extremely difficult for her to speak to people, to the point that, when Tadano asks her about it, she is only able to communicate with him through writing. Seeing how much Komi is struggling, Tadano vows to help her and together they start working towards Komi’s goal: to make 100 friends!
At this point, the “cool and serious character that is actually shy and misunderstood” has been done enough times that it can be considered an architype, so there is nothing that I would consider ground-breaking here. Still, Komi Can’t Communicate mines the set-up well. There are plenty of good gags centered around the differences between how most people perceive Komi and her actual inner thoughts. Her quiet freak-outs and crazy intense expressions when she is trying to work up the courage to speak had me chuckling away as I read. Even so, if that was all this manga had going for it then I could see things getting dry pretty quickly, but there’s more to this story than a series of jokes at the expense of the titular Komi’s mental illness. I’d say that Komi Can’t Communicate has three key factors that help make it feel fresh:
1. Tadano’s Dilemma. Pretty early on Tadano realizes that, as a direct result of his efforts to help Komi make friends, he has wound up with basically no friends himself. Everyone in class can’t stand that he is seemingly getting closer to the gorgeous Komi and they all hate him! I always start laughing every time Tadano tries to interact with any of his classmates and is met with pure disgust, and I think this subplot is funnier than a lot of the jokes centered around Komi. It also makes Tadano very endearing as, despite all this, he doesn’t give up on trying to help Komi. What a good guy!
2. A Quirky Cast of Side Characters. The high school that Tadano and Komi attend bases its acceptance on interviews rather than test scores and seems to favour accepting individuals with a lot of personality. Which means that their school is chock-full of weirdos. One of the background characters in their class is a straight up ninja who hurls a pointy, math compass at Tadano at one point! This allows Komi and Tadano to play off of a lot of colourful personalities. One of the standout characters in this volume is Najimi, a non-binary classmate whom Tadano recruits to help Komi because they are outgoing and possess a seemingly preternatural ability to form and maintain friendships. Seems like the perfect person to help Komi, right? Well, unfortunately, making friends comes so naturally to them that Najimi can’t seem to grasp just how debilitating Komi’s communication disorder actually is. Najimi sends Komi to a café to buy a drink and later drags her into a game with a group of other classmates. Both schemes make sense in theory, interacting with a cashier at a café is a low stakes social interaction and playing a game doesn’t require a lot of talking, so these could potentially have been good ways for Komi to gain experience speaking to others. In practice, Komi is quickly overwhelmed by the unfamiliar café and is too nervous to properly play the games and Tadano has to cover for her. In both instances Najimi is completely perplexed by how things turn out. It’s like watching a mermaid repeatedly push a toddler into the deep end of a swimming pool and then be surprised when they start drowning.
3. Moments of Genuine Sincerity. In the scene where Komi first opens up to Tadano about her troubles communicating, she writes a series of stream-of-consciousness lines on the black board detailing all of her fears: “What if they reject me?” “What if I can’t smile right?” “What if they think I’m weird?” And perhaps most heart breaking: “What if I’m like this my whole life?” Here it’s made clear that Komi’s inability to communicate isn’t some personality quirk, it’s a painful disorder. While the manga might have some laughs at Komi’s expense, it also has many moments of empathy for her and there are some tender scenes as she starts to make progress that are quite heartwarming. There is a great wordless sequence later in the story that shows Komi at home. She eats breakfast with her family in complete silence (they apparently also have trouble communicating), practices smiling in the mirror and then, just as she is leaving, her father approaches and hands her a present without saying anything. Komi looks excited and her father gives her a thumbs up. We later learn that the gift is Komi’s first cell phone. She hadn’t needed one before but now she does, because she finally has some friends. That gets me right in the feels!
Komi Can’t Communicate delvers plenty of laughs along with some genuinely touching moments. I’m rooting for Komi to keep making new friends and am interested in seeing what crazy characters will join the cast next. I had a lot of fun with this one and I’m glad I gave it a shot.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information on Komi Can’t Communicate visit Viz Media’s website: https://www.viz.com/read/manga/komi-cant-communicate-volume-1/product/5931/paperback
What did you think about this manga? Who’s your favourite side-character? Let me know in the comments.