ANIME REVIEW | "My Clueless First Friend" Delivers the Warmest Heart
Even when watching a sad film or TV series, I rarely ever cry. Yet there I was, with tears running down my cheek as I watched My Clueless First Friend, the latest series from Studio Signpost (formerly Pierrot Plus). Based on the manga by Taku Kawamura, the anime showcases a down-to-earth take on bullying, with one simple premise: what if the most bullied kid in school finally made a friend? The end result is something that’s not just magical, but also has the potential to be life-changing.
**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
The bullied kid is fifth grader Akane Nishimura (Konomi Kohara), who is teased for her goth-like looks. Every student there calls her “Grim Reaper”, and says that hanging out with her will give anyone a curse. That’s when transfer student Taiyou Takada (Shizuka Ishigami) enters her life. Not only is Taiyou not afraid to talk to Akane, but he thinks people calling her “Grim Reaper” is the coolest thing ever.
From there, Akane finds herself with her very first friend. Taiyou is in awe of Akane, with him constantly asking her questions about her “Grim Reaper” powers. Akane does her best to brush it off, but Taiyou manages to make the girl fluster with the level of positivity he spouts from his mouth. Even as other students like Kitagawa (Kohei Amasaki) and Kasahara (Waianae Maruoka) warn Taiyou that hanging with Akane will leave him cursed, Taiyou welcomes the chance to gain such curses, as it’ll bring him closer to Akane and her “coolness”.
Although it’s called My Clueless First Friend, Taiyou may actually be on the ball when it comes to Akane’s treatment by others. He often calls their bluff when they bully her, with a power that only a Reverse Uno card normally dishes out. From saying that he’ll gladly eat Kitagawa’s servings of the stew Akane helped make to twisting Kasahara’s words into making her cruelty sound more positive, Taiyou manages to find a way to keep Akane’s head held high during their time in class. There’s even a moment where he gets Kitagawa to admit that Akane’s a normal girl, to which Taiyou asks: “Well how come you’re treating her so differently?”
Moments like this are what make this anime truly special. It takes the hardships of being bullied, and it goes great lengths to show how to ricochet that negativity off of someone. Of course, as the show teaches, having a friend is the first step towards warding off even the roughest of bullies. And when one friend is made, many more can follow.
Joining Akane and Taiyou’s side next is Hino (Kento Kawanishi), who’s as happy to be a third wheel as he is about tank tops. Adachi (Reina Kondo) follows, as Akane helps her with a gift idea to Hino, her biggest crush. It actually reaches a point where Taiyou kind of gets jealous of Adachi getting closer to Akane, only to quickly realize that he’s had nothing to worry about in the first place. Even Kasahara slowly starts to see Akane as a person, first gawking over her new cat before reluctantly working together as class representatives.
However, it’s when Akane and Taiyou are together when the true magic of My Clueless First Friend is on full display. From taking pictures for a project to taking a small detour through an outdoor mall on a field trip, these two give each other plenty of reasons to smile every day. Taiyou may not even realize it, but him telling Akane how cute she looks in a bathing suit or that it’s hard not to smile when he’s with her is definitely melting that girl’s heart. Even Akane’s grandma, who just so happened to know Taiyou, knows that the boy is doing plenty of good for her granddaughter.
Which leads me to one of the show’s most powerful moments. Taiyou tags along with Akane to visit her mother’s grave, where she tells him the story about her birth and her mother’s passing. It’s a moment where Taiyou, who thought calling her “Grim Reaper” was a cool nickname, believes that he’s actually been hurting Akane. Filled with guilt, Taiyou begins to cry and apologize, with Akane this time being the one to comfort her friend. Thankfully, a small chat at a local shine gives Akane the chance to let Taiyou know the truth: he’s the only one allowed to call her “Grim Reaper”, as it’s his sign of affection to her.
But the part of the show that finally made me cry involves Akane’s Dad (Jun Fukuyama). He knows his daughter has had trouble making friends in school, even wishing that he could help in some way. But a picture Akane sends him of her eating lunch with Taiyou, Hino, and Adachi brings the father to tears. And at that moment, with tears in my eyes, I knew that no series this Spring 2023 season -- or perhaps this year -- would beat the magic of My Clueless First Friend.
This anime understands the power of friendship in a way that’s both real and relatable. Bullying is a big problem in school life, and it unfortunately won’t go away anytime soon. With that being said, what Taiyou is able to do for Akane shows how one single person can change a bullied kid’s outlook on life for the better. After all, being a nice person is far easier than being a jerk, even if it might be out of jealousy! (Looking at you, Kasahara! You ain’t stealing Taiyou away from Akane!)
It’s also thanks to how well the voice cast captures these characters personalities. Kohara, known more for her cuter roles, takes that voice of hers and transforms it into one filled with relatable shyness. Ishigami blossoms with positivity as Taiyou, whose “sun” name matches his personality to a T. Kawanishi’s Hino delivers the perfect kind of laid-back vibes, whereas Maruoka brings the right amount of brat to her Kasahara.
Toshio Masuda (Naruto, Kamisama Kiss) brings a good assortment of light melodies to the score, meshing well with the scenery and situations on hand. Adachi’s voice actress Kondo performs the terrific opener “Alcor to Polaris”, with the imagery of Taiyou saving Akane from a Hydra being a great analogy of taking on the never-ending problem of bullying. Kitri’s end theme “Kokorone” is not just a gorgeous song, but its visuals of Akane trying to escape from thorny mazes and looping halls is another terrific analogy of how hard it is to escape from bullying.
My one incredibly minor complaint with My Clueless First Friend is its animation quality. It’s visually cute, and it is appealing enough for it to grab any kid’s attention. However, it can feel a little rough compared to many of the other anime that are airing this season. With that being said, even with okay animation, the story this anime tells outshines any flaw it may have.
I cannot emphasize this enough: every child and parent needs to watch My Clueless First Friend. The lessons and morals it teaches about bullying and how to combat it are presented far better here than anything airing right now on Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, or even PBS. Very rarely has a show delivered a message that’s both sweet and empowering at once, yet My Clueless First Friend does so with bright, flying colors. This might be the best anime of the year, and it deserves as much love as Taiyou gives Akane every day at school.
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
My Clueless First Friend can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-8 were observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.