Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” In a sense, it looks like Boku wa Tomodachi is going to put that credo to the test.
OP: “Friends Making Group ★★☆” (残念系隣人部★★☆) by Marina Inoue, Kanae Itou, Nozomi Yamamoto, Misato Fukuen, Kana Hanazawa, and Yuka Iguchi
Without question this was once of the most anticipated shows of the fall season. Between character designs by red-hot artist Buriki (Denpa Onna) and a source material of hugely popular light novels by Hirasaka Yomi, this one has generated a ton of buzz. The project has been placed in the hands of AIC Build – hot off the success of Oreimo – and director Saito Hisashi. He’s more of a draft horse than a thoroughbred but he’s shown some skill with comedy and school life, so he seems like a decent fit.
Based on the PV that was released a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised by how low-key this premiere was. I was expecting something very edgy, quite dark and frankly pretty mean-spirited – but really, this opening ep was none of those things. The protagonist of the story is Hasegawa Kodaka (a suddenly very busy Kimura Ryohei), a 2nd-year high school student at Catholic St. Chronica’s Academy. Due to his gaijin looks – he’s blonde and half-British – and the fact that he ran to school on his first day as a transfer student and arrived breathless and stumbling, he’s been branded as a delinquent and shunned by his peers. Also shunned is pretty but dour Mikazuki Yozora (Inoue Marina) whom Kodaka stumbles upon while talking to her imaginary friend in an empty classroom.
Here’s where the central conceit of the story comes in, and it’s a pretty clever one. While Yozora has no convenient excuse as Kodaka does, she’s equally incompetent in the making friends department, which makes the two of them sort of kindred spirits (or at least uneasy allies). She hits upon the idea of forming a “Make Friends Club” for their fellow social outcasts. Now, that’s something any introverted person can certainly identify with, and I think there’s potential here. But again, I was surprised by how relaxed the tone and pacing of the premiere was. Yozora is sharp-tongued, but it was all fairly nice really – a little sad, if anything. Things did heat up at the end with the arrival of Kashiwazaki Sena (Ito Kanae, also a hot commodity lately) the blonde bombshell that wants to join the club. The dynamic appears to be that she and Yozora are going to be arch-enemies – they certainly went at it with the boob jokes pretty hard in the final act.
It was Sena’s presence that interested me the most. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the show did illustrate an interesting gender bias at play here: Kodaka is shunned because he’s a blonde, but Sena has the boys swarming around her because she is. But it also shrewdly calls out the problem Sena faces – those boys aren’t friends, they’re just a pack of dogs after one thing, and as Kodaka guesses she has trouble making girl friends because of jealousy. So she needs the club as much as its founding members do, though the tension between the girls is likely to stay pretty intense. Is there a love triangle in the future as well? It certainly seems possible.
I’m interested in all that, and the look of the series is as engaging as you’d expect. The characters are all Buriki, though the overall art style isn’t as lush as SHAFT’s Denpa Onna. There’s obviously a star-studded cast as a draw as well, and that’s not even counting the still to be introduced Kana Hanazawa character. I don’t doubt that this series will be much discussed and very popular, but I’m still a bit on the fence. There was a touch of blandness about the premiere – the last thing I would have predicted – and none of the characters really leapt off the screen. Kodaka has an interesting look, with his slightly European features and rolled-up pant legs, but his personality didn’t reveal much. As it was with Sena’s arrival that the episode became more interesting for me, I’m going to say she’s the breakout character so far – not that she’s done anything to especially make her likeable. There’s obviously a full cast of club members still to be introduced, so we’ll see where all this goes from here.
ED: “My Feelings” (私のキ・モ・チ) by Marina Inoue