The feeling of having the inability to speak in public places or even in private can be quite the conundrum to deal with. I’ve personally experienced this in my life, with some social skills lacking to this very date. Perhaps it’s this level of struggles that has lead me to relate greatly to the titular character in Tomohito Oda’s Komi Can’t Communicate. What starts as a goofy story of a misunderstood class beauty evolves into a heartfelt tale of overcoming the odds to make a few friends.

Right at the get-go, Komi is seen as the class beauty, with classmates going so far as to label her a god. She seems stoic, barely speaks a word, and has a stare that many would deem cold and ruthless. However, fellow classmate Tadano finds the courage to speak to Komi, who finally puts two & two together and discovers Komi’s true nature: a kind soul with the worst kind of social anxiety. That’s when Komi reveals her goal: to make 100 friends.

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COMI-SAN WA, COMYUSHO DESU. © 2016 Tomohito ODA/SHOGAKUKAN

Things get more challenging as Komi’s popularity rises in the classroom, despite her inability to even speak on her behalf. Thankfully with the aid of Tadano’s gender-neutral friend Najimi, she aims to find the courage to speak with her fellow classmates and make her list of buddies grow. They try games, tasks, and simple advice here and there. But as her fame within the school walls continues to rise, so does her anxiety.

What Komi Can’t Communicate gets right is its overall tone. Never once does this story laugh at Komi’s poor social skills, in ways that other series such as WATAMOTE or Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu have done so in the past. Instead, it delivers a very understandable means of how she feels and acts in the world around her. This is greatly demonstrated when Komi and Tadano have a full-on conversation using the school blackboard, with every reveal and nod of friendship delivered in a very caring way.

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COMI-SAN WA, COMYUSHO DESU. © 2016 Tomohito ODA/SHOGAKUKAN

How Komi begins making friends is also presented in a very kind manner. While there are loads of misunderstandings between her and the likes of Najimi and even Agari, the truth behind Komi’s personality is slowly revealed one step at a time. Rarely does Oda go for a poorly-timed laugh or gag at the expense of our main character; rather, it’s the rest of the class that’s the victim of being the butt of the joke. Tadano especially feels the brunt of this, with his first go-around trying to help Komi make friends resulting in him being looked at like a cockroach by his fellow students.

It’s also very obvious that Komi Can’t Communicate is setting Komi & Tadano up as a romantic pairing. How they reach that path is up in the air at the moment, but nonetheless it’s easy to spot such a trope happening down the line. With that being said, Oda’s means of setting these characters up thus far is presented in a very cute light. A shining example of this is when Komi gets her first cellphone and accidentally dials Tadano up. Their conversation may be very minimal, but it breaks many social barriers that Komi has had walled up. (How Tadano reacts to her voice is also delightful, in a way that hints at how much he likes her more than just a friend.)

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COMI-SAN WA, COMYUSHO DESU. © 2016 Tomohito ODA/SHOGAKUKAN

Visually, Oda’s style isn’t exactly stand-outish. The characters can look a little generic when presented normally, with facial appearances and like being average at best. It’s when they take a more comedic turn when a splash of originality is demonstrated. How Komi looks like a lost kitten whenever she gets flustered is a sight that goes beyond the adorable scale, with her nervousness reaching peak levels of cuteness every time. (It’s no wonder her looks have already become a popular meme, even way before VIZ Media licensed this series.)

Komi Can’t Communicate’s first volume showcases a great deal of care and consideration, all the while having a good hearty laugh with its main characters. Its setup delivers a strong premise, all the while giving way to a noble and thoughtful means of presenting social anxiety in a relatable light. Whether or not Komi reaches her goal remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: you’d have to be a fool not to root for her success in the long run!

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Erik Jansen of MediaLab PR

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