Middle school romance is never easy.
The anime fan’s emotions are never more conflicted than at times like these.
It’s no secret that I love Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru, both for what it represents and for what it is. I think I’ve made that pretty clear over at LiA in last twelve posts, especially the last several when the series has really come into its own as a standout certain to reappear in those pages right before New Year’s. Every season is better with a show (or two) like Konobi – needs a show like Konobi, really. But this isn’t just a show like Konobi – it’s a truly distinct and extraordinarily well-executed anime romantic comedy. It’s not just a filler of a very important role on the schedule – it’s one of the better examples of it you’ll see.
While I can point back to series like Minami-ke (the last season of which shares a director with this show), Majimoji Rurumo, Dagashi Kashi and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, all of which share a broad kind of audience connection and feeling with Konobi, like the best of its breed this series’ charms are unique to itself. And “charms” they are, because this is one of the most charming anime comedies for a good while. The balance between sweetness and acidity is just right, the cast is preposterously winning and while there’s plenty of humor that’s broadly at the expense of the cast, it’s never, ever mean-spirited. There’s a clever play on anime tropes, but never a sense of being limited by them – more of a knowing wink at cliche than anything else.
Indeed, the only bad thing about a wonderful finale like this is that it just reminds you how much you’re going to miss the show now that it’s over. Series like this one almost never get sequels (Minami-ke is a very rare exception), so these one-cour adaptations are ultimately teasers – both for the manga and generally speaking. I wouldn’t trade the experience of watching an anime like Konobi or Tanaka-kun for anything, but these series review posts are not the most fun to write. There’s a particular pleasure you get with this class of series, a sense that you’re getting together with friends every week to laugh and feel good, and that’s a tough thing to let go of no matter how many times one repeats the experience.
I’m very happy with the finale – to the point where I don’t think I would have changed a thing. I know some fans will have wanted a formal declaration of romantic commitment between Subaru and Mizuki, but to me that wouldn’t have been true to the series. Not only because the manga is ongoing, but because this is such a canny take on middle-school romance – that time of eternal frustration, shyness and unsatisfied yearning. We got something real here, something genuine – Usami and Uchimaki did move forward, as they inevitably have after every one of their chapters together. And it was really funny to boot, which since this is a comedy is a nice bonus.
One aspect of Konobi that really works is the way it smartly plays with the familiar elements of anime romcoms without becoming enslaved to them. There’s no cliche more precious than the shared umbrella routine, of course, and this was a great take on it. There was some solid comedy (that “dual wielder” bit was a winner, and then we got yet another Arslan Senki in-joke). But it was important stuff for the main couple too, and I knew Kaori’s gambit as soon as it was revealed that she’d “borrowed” Mizuki’s umbrella. And I hope you took a good look at that umbrella, because it would have spared you some disappointment in the chapter that followed.
I never really bought into the idea that we were to take Subaru literally when he told Imari that he’d “fallen” for Usami, but she certainly did. The scene where the two of them are “alone” in the clubroom after Mizuki has eavesdropped on the aforementioned conversation is a great one on so many levels. There’s more really clever humor here (did you notice Colette hiding in the locker again?), and the interplay between Mizuki and Uchimaki-kun is beautifully written. Her internal monologue about “taking control” and “teasing” never had a chance (I mean, come on) and then the reveal, with Usami’s facial expressions… It was perfect. So was the fact that at this of all times Mizuki still didn’t revert to tsundere cliche and get violent – just frustrated, as any girl would be in her slippers.
As for Subaru’s request to call her by her first name, well – there’s another huge Japanese adolescent relationship watershed right there. I get why she said no, given the circumstances – but Kaori was right, it is kind of a good opportunity to let go to waste. In the aftermath we get a definite nod to the more absurd aspects of the whole waifu subculture – Subaru “dumps” Usamimi because the “sly fox” has dared to have a boyfriend “When she already has me!”). But I think there’s a more important subtext here, which is that in addition to having her pose for him, Subaru has now fallen in (and out of, but…) love with a 2D waifu who’s almost literally a representation of Mizuki – same name, usagi hair ornament, quick temper, panties… There are those who feel that every waifu Subaru draws is basically a twist on Mizuki, and I’ve come to kind of believe it. I think he’s just a 13 year-old boy for whom fantasy romance is much less scary than real-life romance, and he’s not ready to confront the attraction he feels towards Mizuki. So he uses the waifu routine as a safe and familiar outlet – for now.
With that, we’ll have to leave it open-ended (though some of the manga is out there in English, and translation efforts do seem to be active). These kinds of goodbyes just don’t get any easier no matter how many times one goes through them, but it’s the toll anime fans pay for getting involved with shows like Kono Bijutsubu. Apart from the fact that it’s ending the experience has been totally positive for me – I’ve come to love this show, all the more so since it was my top sleeper pick of the season despite the fact that I’d never read the manga. Maybe when you watch anime for as long as I have, you get a certain sense of what’s your type just from first impressions – it’s hard to explain it any other way, but I somehow knew this series and I were going to get along famously. Thanks for all the wonderful moments this season, Konobi – both the laughs and the feels. See you this New Year’s.