Shoko Komi is the class princess: everyone admires her poise and beauty and she is a source of admiration and rivalry. In actuality, Komi struggles to communicate and her so-called poise is sheer anxiety. She would like nothing more than to make one hundred friends. When she confesses her desire to her classmate Tadano, Tadano agrees to help Komi make one hundred friends.
Komi Can’t Communicate is far from the only manga or anime to play with misconceptions, but it sadly falls flat. Throughout the first two volumes, Komi, with Tadano’s help, meets a cast of eccentric characters. Among them are the highly sociable Najimi, the anxious Agari, and the mercurial Yamai. Over the course of the story, they have typical adventures like going shopping and going out for ramen. Most of the conflict that occurs is mostly for dramatic or comedic effect, like Yamai kidnapping Tadano to get close to Komi, or the constant misunderstandings surrounding Komi; these are quickly resolved, yet the story points do not consistently build upon each other, which prevents the story from having a clear arc.
Many of these situations certainly show Komi’s gradually expanding social circle, but there are some frustrating aspects to the story that make it difficult to enjoy. Most of the characters agree to be friends with Komi out of fear or hero worship, and there isn’t much effort to move beyond those dynamics. It’s possible that this issue may be explored in later volumes, although, at this time, it’s unclear if the creator will do so. Another source of frustration is how no one except Tadano seems to notice Komi’s social awkwardness. The assumptions about Komi that other characters make can be amusing, but there are situations—such as a thug assuming Komi will rip his arms out of his sockets—that fall flat because they are so far-fetched.
The difficulty with the comedic aspects are somewhat exacerbated by the artwork, which is a mixed bag. While there are cute character designs and the hallmark exaggerated anime expressions, there are points where the way something is portrayed does not work with the conclusions the characters draw. In comic form, the comedy doesn’t quite come through because there aren’t any additional informational cues (such as sound) working with the images.
The characterization further weakens the storytelling. Most of Komi’s new friends are fairly colorful, but there isn’t much else to them other than their quirks. While the main characters Tadano and Komi are decently developed, the reader may not find much to grab their interest. Komi is primarily defined by her communication difficulties and her appearance: she seems very sweet, but since she rarely takes initiative to introduce herself or make suggestions, she can come across as fairly passive. Although Tadano is thoughtful, his tendency to be deliberately bland makes him uninteresting, especially in comparison to the other characters.
Komi Can’t Communicate might interest established manga readers looking for a fluffy slice-of-life comedy, but its weak points make it difficult to recommend it for any collection. Readers seeking a romantic comedy that plays with misconceptions might find Toradora a more satisfying story due to its strong characterization and narrative arc. Viz has assigned a teen rating to Komi Can’t Communicate; in the first two volumes, there were a few suggestive comments and some sexualized poses, but is still in line with the usual level for manga.
Komi Can’t Communicate, vols. 1-2
By Tomohito Oda
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974707126
vol 2 ISBN: 9781974707133
Viz Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (age 13 and up)