Good characters need flaws. It's what keeps them from becoming non-relatable, as evident by last year's poorly executed Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto. A great hero has their kryptonite, an iconic singer has their range of performance, and a sports legend has their Achille's heel. In the case of the title character of this season's Clean Freak! Aoyama kun, the top sports star in school has a flaw that'd normally keep him off the field: Mysophobia.
Adapted from Taku Sakamoto's manga, Clean Freak! Aoyama kun puts its focus on Fujimi High School's soccer team. First-year Aoyama (Ryotaro Okiayu) enters the team and steals the hearts of every woman and man who watches him play. However due to his hatred for dirt, Aoyama often finds himself spending hours cleaning the field, the changing room, and sometimes the school itself, much to the chagrin of his team and classmates. When the time calls though, Aoyama springs into action and showcases why his skills with the soccer ball are unmatched, even if he avoids a well-deserved high-five or tackle hug from his fellow players.
At first this anime does take a route that'd make the viewer rolls their eyes. You have this amazing player who seems flawless at around every bend, bringing forth the game-winning goals to the loud and enthusiastic crowd. This is something that is very much akin to the sports anime sub-genre, a give-in for those who watch these sorts of series passionately. It's when the flaw peers its dust-free head when the goofiness of such a character starts to go full throttle, even if he takes his cleanliness seriously.
It also helps that the rest of his class has its share of flaws. Shion (Hirofumi Nojima) is also a clean freak, but doesn't make it as well known as Aoyama. Jin (Daisuke Sakaguchi) has a bullied past, which he hides by entertaining the players by bouncing a soccer ball perfectly on his butt. Kaoru (Tomokazu Seki) is a poor kicker, but makes up for his lack of foot skills by literally using his head. There's even the school idol Mio (Mai Nakahara), whose good looks can't hide the fact that she's awful playing basketball. Just about everyone in this series has an issue, which is something that people in the real world can somehow relate to.
However people shouldn't watch Clean Freak! Aoyama kun for its means of showing off the issues of these characters; they should tune in for the laughs. Watching how Aoyama often keeps himself spotless during a game brings about some snicker-inducing observations. It's when the team need that extra push when the time calls for him to literally get down and dirty for the sake of victory. The show even knows how to reach Cromartie High School levels of absurd hilarity, especially when the entire school fawns over how clean his favorite towel is or when you see his online gaming persona acting the complete opposite of his real self.
One of the show's best episodes involves classmate Atsumu (Showtaro Morikubo), who writes a popular manga series under a pen name. He creates a villain based off of Aoyama, whose popularity skyrockets even higher than the hero of his story. The more terrible the character becomes, the more fans clamor over him; when he realizes what he's doing and tries to make him more likable, the character and his comic loses its readership fast. It's how his classmates react to his manga that adds to the overall humor of the episode.
While the writing shines thanks to Midori Gotou's adaptation skills, the same can't really be said about Studio Hibari's animation. It's not bad by any means, but it lacks a certain uniqueness that makes it stand out from any of this year's more generic animation. Although there are a couple shining moments during a fast-paced soccer game, the look and style of this anime doesn't really have much to write home to in the long run. (I'll admit though that the more chibi-based visuals that appear here and there do aid in boosting some of the show's more funnier moments, although not by much.)
Okiayu does a fine job with the more deadpan aspect of Aoyama, keeping his true excited self behind the mask of the online gaming world for some huge laughs. As his love interest Moka, Anzu Haruno pushes the cutesy mentality to true heights, especially when she has to protect her beloved by means of a baseball bat that's as adorable as it is deadly. Seki plays the straight man quite well as Kaoru, resulting in some surprisingly satisfying punchlines that pop up near an episode's end. Nakahara, who recently was added to the show's roster as Mio, brings a candy-coated can-do attitude that somehow aids Aoyama out of his germ-free bubble, much to even his confusion.
Hiroaki Tsutsumi (Monster Musume, Orange) & Tomotaka Ohsumi (Dagashi Kashi) team up for the anime score, which does have its moments during the show's more comedic aspects. However it does lower down to generic levels when it comes time for the soccer games to start playing, which causes the bigger plays of the game to lose a bit of its luster. Opening theme "White" by Bentham is your run-of-the-mill emo-rock melody, but one cannot deny it has both a good drum and guitar riff. Performed by the main cast of the show, end theme "Taiyō ga Kureta Kisetsu" is a clever and hilarious throwback to the classic anime sports themes of the 1980s. (Seeing as Studio Hibari helped to animate the iconic Captain Tsubasa back in the day, it seems fitting that such a theme song was commissioned for this anime.)
Clean Freak! Aoyama kun isn't the perfect show, but damn it all if it doesn't get me laughing. Thanks to some equally-flawed characters, clever writing, and some memorable punchlines, what could've easily been a one-trick pony anime wound up making it one of the more fun sports anime around. Even when it's not on its A-game Clean Freak! Aoyama kun can still manage to deliver a win in the humor department, especially when the game clock is winding down to the last few minutes. Just don't expect a pat on the back from Fujimi High's top athlete, unless he's wearing sanitary gloves.
Final Grade (not an average):
Background Noise: Sacred Hearts Club by Foster The People - When you need to show off some fancy foot skills on and off the soccer field, this Los Angeles foursome knows how to truly kick it. Their third album pushes the dream pop onto the dance floor, from its opening door-kicker "Pay the Man" and the cheerful "I Love My Friends" to the heavy beat-filled "Loyal Like Sid & Nancy" and slow-yet-breezy closer "III." It's the kind of record that'll get anyone dirty dancing, to the point where Aoyama will come at you from behind with Windex and Febreeze in-hand.