It’s really nice when a show you have targeted as a sleeper really pans out – in a way, it’s even more satisfying that when one of the top picks lives up to expectations. There it can be a sense of relief as much as anything, but with a show like Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru (6 votes in the preview poll. 6!!) there’s that sense of discovery, a certain pride of ownership. I’d like to think my overall track record with sleeper picks is a pretty good one, but if you get one or two home runs like Konobi every season you’re exceedingly lucky.
The success of Konobi seems pretty straightforward to me. This show is an explosion of charm every week – which sounds pretty simple, except that “charm” is a devilishly nebulous concept (not least when it comes to comedy). And one viewer’s charm may be insufferable to another (see Amaama to Inazuma). So all I can say for sure is that I find Kono Bijutsubu incredibly charming, because it balances its disparate elements so perfectly. The cooking analogy really fits here, because balance of flavors is so critical to a recipe. It’s why I struggle so much with Satou Junichi – there’s generally no balance to his work. One flavor drowns out all others, and after a bite or two I can’t take any more.
This week we see the introduction of the megane girl from the OP/ED. She’s Tachibana Yumeko (Mizuki Nana, who sings the OP), and she’s actually a teacher – though I have almost as hard a time believing that as Collette does when she rolls up to the club room after school and Tachibana-sensei makes her claim. Koyama-sensei (who it turns out is Moeka’s grandfather – a lot of “small world” with this show) has bequeathed the art club to the new teacher and moved on to the newspaper club (where as I recall Mizuki’s batshit friend Kaori is a member), but he’s arranged a surprise for the painfully timid Tachibana-sensei.
This is actually a rather sweet chapter – not just Subaru and Mizuki drawing the new teacher, but Kaichou keeping her riveted with small talk while they do so. I find it interesting that Subaru-kun has “Star” on his school clothes, too – how does that work, exactly? In any event we quickly move into Collette’s walk home from (or is it to?) school, which is about as classic a slice-of-life sequence as you’re likely to see. Collette is one of those kawaii characters that could easily lapse from charming into insufferable, but she doesn’t – again, it’s not entirely easy to say why, but I think her likeable weirdness has a lot to do with it.
Not atypically for a show of this sort of narrative style, Konobi seems to like to place its meatiest and most heartfelt chapters last in an episode. And here that’s often going to involve Mizuki’s Quixotic crush on Subaru. She gets a call from him one evening after taking a bath, and the embarrassment starts early when Subaru overhears her mother (Suzuki Mariko) making note of the fact that Mizuki has fallen asleep. There are a lot of golden moments here, starting with Mom’s head-bob as she sits on the bed (“Don’t mind me!”) watching her daughter struggle through the phone call.
This last sequence really exemplifies why Konobi is successful, how it understands balance. It flows so naturally, and it doesn’t obsess over any one element of what’s happening – Mizuki’s embarrassment, her mother’s prying, Subaru’s amiable cluelessness. It’s just charming – cute and funny and a little romantic in a very innocent way (though I do wonder if Subaru is as innocent as he lets on). And it gives Mizuki a happy ending for once, as she actually manages to swap cell phone info with Subaru (in Japanese adolescent courtship, a huge step). These characters are all so likeable, the main cast and the side players too – they’re all quirky and distinct but never freakishly so. It’s easy to root for a cast like that, and ultimately that as much as anything is an important reason why Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru is such a winning series.