「ヒロイン女子とモブ男子」 (Hiroin Joshi to Mobu Dansh)
“Heroine and Background Character”
One thing that will never change: extroverts trying to “fix” introverts. Whether we actually need fixing is rather an interesting topic for discussion, but maybe not this one. Another thing that will never change is me looking at animanga that seem kinda messed up and trying to figure out if they actually are, or are making a point. In this case the key question, still unanswered – is the mangaka an extrovert or introvert herself? That’s a lot of baggage to load onto what appears to be a cute little romcom, but hey – that’s what I do.
That of course brings us to Kubo-san wa Mob wo Yurusanai. It was actually one of my more anticipated shows of the season (though this season that’s not a terribly high bar). That’s partly because the manga seems pretty well-liked by people who should know, and partly because Pine Jam is a studio that always piques my interest. Even when doing material that bores me (see: Do It Yourself) the presentation is always interesting. They seem to have worked through their growing pains and are now fairly stable as a production house.
That’s the simplest part of the equation here. I like what Pine Jam did with this production (turning LINE into PINE was very cute) – even under a relative no-name director, the signature retro look for the studio is always pleasing. From there it gets more complicated, for a number of reasons. Not least that Kubo-san is flirting with cliche to a ridiculous degree. This broad theme is one of the go-to hooks for romcom manga and it’s already started to get stale. Hell, even casting KanaHana as the female lead plays into that.
Above and beyond that, this series tacks awfully close to the wind where Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is concerned. Call it what you will – homage, influenced, bald-faced imitation – the similarities are profound and undeniable. The details are different enough in terms of the dynamic but on the surface it’s frankly too close for comfort. And among those similarities are the fundamental question (among others) that the story asks – is the heroine mean-spirited, or is she being kind?
As with Takagi-san (which, crucially unlike this one, I was reading before the anime premiered) I started off feeling it was pretty dodgy in that respect. I will admit, though, that even through one episode my attitude had evolved a fair bit by the end. That stuff with Kubo Nagisa (Kana Hanazawa, natch) forcing protagonist Shiraishi Junta (Kawanishi Kengo) to stand on his chair and answer a question rubbed me the wrong way. Hard. If you’re an introvert you understand what a violation that is – if you aren’t, you don’t even if you think you do. That’s pretty straightforward.
Here’s where we loop back to that original point. In Nagisa’s eyes (in addition to the fact that she’s totally into Junta, as Takagi is with Nishikata), she’s “helping” him. And maybe Junta needs a push here and there – there are ample signs he’s not satisfied with his invisible existence (at least not all the time). So I don’t hate on her for that, but I do think it’s a bit presumptuous and she does do it strictly for shiggles at times, too. This is why Yofukashi no Uta is such an interesting take on introversion – Kou is basically happy with who he is as a person. He doesn’t see a need to change to fit the world – he wants to change his world to fit him.
This segues into another challenge I have with Kubo-san wa Mob wo Yurusanai, and it’s one I have with many series which follow this template. The whole conceit with Shiraishi-kun being “invisible” is silly. No one in real life is like that. It’s a narrative crutch to hold up the gag. One of the appealing things about Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is that the NishiKagi dynamic is basically natural – he’s a normal goofy middle-school boy and she- well, she’s an alien, I admit. But their relationship as it evolves is very relatable. It doesn’t rely on her teasing or her eerie ability to read his mind – it’s just a girl and a boy figuring out how to be a couple.
As such, I think it would be quite unfair for me to judge Kubo-san (series or character) after one episode. The fact is, I was feeling very uneasy at first but by the end of the episode, things were much more hopeful. I was entertained, I got the sense there is some thought going into this dynamic, and it’s clear that Kubo-san genuinely does like Junta-kun. I have even less idea how a show will work than I usually do after one ep, but there’s enough here that intrigues me to keep me hooked for a while at least.