This is kind of a two-fer. I’ve seen some reviews or ads for Komi Can’t Communicate, so when I saw the first two volumes at a library, I felt I had to try them. The premise is actually a little interesting, which strikes me as a little unusual for a manga about high school kids in a non-fantasy setting. Tadano wants to get through high school without drawing attention. Komi is the school beauty queen. One would expect for them to connect because that’s just how this kind of story goes, and they do, but it’s not for the normally predicted reasons. Komi, in spite of being widely considered the class Ms Perfect genuinely has social anxiety, so it’s not that she’s aloof; she’s actually desperate to make friends but she’s terrified to speak to anyone and can hardly speak at all in public. Tadano may be a little awkward and unpopular, but he is actually pretty empathetic and notices Komi’s real issue. Together they embark on a quest to get Komi 100 friends. Hilarity ensues.
In addition to a really relatable Komi and Tadano, the art and storyboarding is really effective. This kind of story could get dull and predictable fast but does not (so far). First, each episode/friendship adventure is short. There’s 19 in the first volume and 14 in the second. Second, the faces are generic but the expression is all in the eyes. Komi’s expressions are adorable and also real. By the end of volume 1, Komi has 2 potential friends in addition to Tadano, and Tadano has started to get more involved with his school life which is probably as good for him as for Komi. By the end of volume 2, some further potential friends are made and Komi is starting to get slightly more social, as in she has gotten herself a phone and made a brief call, and made a request to go out to her friends, and also gone out in public to go clothes shopping with her friends. She’s got a long ways to go in terms of learning how to deal with her social fears, which thankfully are treated pretty seriously and not made a major point of most of the comedy, and there are many friends to be made to get to 100. Tadano seems to be developing bit by bit as well as he’s forced to get more social himself in order to help Komi. The one thing that bugs me a little is that the other 2 confirmed friends are a little too stereotypical as characters and neither of them really seem to understand Komi or her issue; at one point, Najimi actually tells Tadano they need him to come “translate” Komi. This is rather unfortunate, since otherwise the series does pretty well taking social anxiety and awkwardness seriously and treating it at least somewhat realistically.