Once more I’m going to start this review with a few opening remarks: wishing all of you guys a Happy New Year, and that good tidings and Heavenly blessings may fall upon you, my readers, in this coming year. I hope you can find solace and comfort during these times through the members of the Holy Family: Jesus Christ Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose assistance ranks powerful when invoked, and St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church.
The first Anime Review of this new year concerns a series that, like the past few, I have waited to write about, and just so happened to have meticulously scheduled on this date. It’s an anime series that is wildly loved and meme’d about in several places of the anime community. Featuring the zany life of a girl with a skill for gaming like a South Korean eSports player, a personality as double-minded as Pope Paul VI, and a motif exclusively centered around hamsters, it comes with three words, two seasons and one nickname: UMR. Behold, I present to you my take on the popular series Himouto! Umaru-Chan.
Originating as a manga series publicized by Tokyo-based distributer Shueisha, it entered serialization exactly one day after Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis, remaining active for eight years and two weeks after that. Soon after, Doga Kobo, a studio best known for making stories about everyday life like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, New Game!, and Gabriel Dropout picked up this manga and in their infinite wisdom decided to take this story and present it as anime in two parts, each containing two seasons: the first released in 2015, and followed up by a more-or-less identical sequel series two years after.
Since its initial airing, the anime has seen a high level of popularity for its silly premise and eccentric main character, especially with how they easily switch faces from situation to situation. You’d be hard-pressed to not find at least one Umaru cosplayer at an anime convention, which was how I first learned about this series. If anything, I would even not hesitate to mention that Himouto! Umaru-Chan is one of the defining anime of the decade thanks to its over-arching influence alongside Attack On Titan, Boku No Hero Academia, and Sword Art Online amongst a few others.
Meet Umaru Doma: a 16-year old high school prodigy admired by many for her impermeably kind nature, strong academic results and her ability to do anything with charm and perfection. On the outside, she seems to be your typical hard-working student, who shuns popular culture, shows lots of discipline and has a bright future ahead of her in society. She lives with her older brother Taihei, a data analyst (I presume) who works at a company with two other buddies from high school, and as soon as the two enter the same frame at home, that’s when her above persona is exposed as nothing more than a pious fraud. In reality, she’s a lazy, carefree girl with the figure of a child who consumes anime, video games, popular culture without limit and leeches off Taihei so that he can get all the things she needs to live her comfortable life, much to his annoyance and frustration. On the rare occasions she does go outside, she dons a disguise as the feared gamer UMR, winning droves of prizes from the local arcade.
Despite her constant brooding and preference for staying at home to surf the Internet or getting her hands on technology and random arcade prizes, the first season shows that she is capable of maintaining a decent social life, even if she has to resort to invoking the power of cartoon multiple-personality-disorder skills to do such. Her best friend is Nana Ebina, an extremely well-endowed country girl with social anxiety; her self-proclaimed rival is the blue-haired Sylphynford Tachibana who constantly attempts to stroke her ego by challenging her to various feats of competition, be it in tests or tennis matches, and her indoor side manages to break the ice with Kirie Motoba, who like Ebina has social anxiety and struggles to reach out to others as well as her older brother and Taihei’s best friend plus co-worker, Takeshi, whom she hates, and Hikari Kongou, a fellow genius at her school who she hates because of the latter’s brooding over Taihei.
Over the course of 24 episodes, we are taken to explore Umaru’s life as she tries to balance being the greatest schoolgirl ever in existence, while avoiding being exposed for the snobbish side of hers. Whether it’s haranguing her brother to get the latest Shonen Jump magazine or Coca-Cola bottles, bankrupting claw games of their prizes with her and Sylphynford’s leet skills, teaching Kirie her ways to an easy life while imagining the beachside, showing Ebina what city life is all about, or clashing with fellow sloth Hikari Kongo for Taihei’s affections, it’s the quintessential definition of a slice-of-life: no plot, no heavy amount of overthinking, and plenty of quirky tales abound.
WHAT I LIKED
- First of all, there’s the goofiness surrounding the character of Umaru and her extravagant handling of daily life. Often times they involve her trolling Taihei through various freak-outs or banters, be it for lost pudding or more food, on top of relatable scenarios like when her Internet goes down; but it doesn’t denigrate public-view Umaru who also gets her own shine in the spotlight through her adventures with Sylphynford or Ebina. But what’s more, it’s clean humor for the most part and never seems to cross any moral threshold.
- Umaru and Taihei’s multiple friendships as well as the things they do together were a well-managed side of the anime to have that didn’t compromise the show’s variability. It was refreshing to see, for example, Taihei and Takeshi working long hours, their responses to it and how their supervisor treats them differently (affection .vs. scorn respectively), as well as Umaru going shopping with Kirie or Ebina for new clothes and, in the former’s case, games and snacks. All in all, these segments laid out a firm message on the importance of cultivating human relationships, and our inherent need for them – something that many militant Branch Covidians want to stamp out these trying days.
- Being a show that is geared towards individuals that are like-minded to Umaru, expect to see more than one references to bits of popular culture, from real-world things like Twitter, Youtube animal videos or the Playstation 3 console, and to Japanese parts such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Mario Kart, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Hatsune Miku. Makes for a fun side quest of “Spot the reference!” if you’re into that kind of thing, as well as a chuckle if you successfully understood it.
- Everything matches up visually for the show’s atmosphere: bright, colourful and lively. It also helps that each of the characters have their own colour motifs that blend in with their corresponding personalities: orange for the energetic Umaru, pink for the sweet-hearted Ebina, and blue for the cool-minded Sylphynford and purple for the introverted Kirie.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- One thing that’s on my mind concerns the inconsistency of the Umaru switcheroo: how dense do Takeshi, Kirie and Sylphynford have to be to realize that the alternate personalities of Umaru (called Tanukichi, Komaru, and UMR respectively) they see are not different persons, but rather one and the same? I can give a pass for the first two because of the reduced size and vastly different look, but for the latter, IT’S LITERALLY IN THE NAME, and for crying out loud for someone who’s supposed to be equally as intelligent as Umaru, HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS NOT OBVIOUS? Reality aside, she’s lucky no one’s managed to call her out for these obvious gaps in planning.
- Another thing I find odd is that Umaru is very rarely seen studying, being in extracurricular clubs or practicing whatever she’s good at; only once do we see this and that was in episode 2 when she invites Ebina to study, the latter gaining her brother’s respect for taming the normally-inept Umaru. One has to wonder how she still manages to pull off 100% on tests or display gracefulness when swimming, for example, despite keeping herself occupied with video games or manga literally every second of her post-school life.
- I also felt it was whack with how episodes 3 and 8 of the first season, rolled the credits before the episode even ended. I don’t understand the need for this trick; I thought the whole point of the credits was to let them know that “show’s over”? Even though nothing important will be missed, there’s still no excusable reason why the need to put the ending montage in this very order.
Due to the enormously slice-of-life nature of this show, character development is non-existent, so I won’t be exploring that implementation in this show anytime soon. What can be said about this component can only come from what’s been depicted on-screen. For Umaru, as her regular self, her personality suffers from a weakness of being extremely basic, while her infallible expertise in anything she does makes absolutely no sense in context; her gaming alter-ego UMR, acts as a buffer between her perfectionist and crazy sides but to its credit she makes some progress with connecting with reality thanks to Sylphynford’s efforts, but only a minor push to making her seem interesting. The most famous of them all is her minified version: a bombastic, no-bars-held version whose mix of an easygoing nature, optimistic attitude and spontaneous outbursts are the only part that’s worth a mention and view. It’s basically the opposite to Taihei, a diligent, no-nonsense individual who acts as the man of the house, a voice of reason, and wields a hidden penchant for gaming tricks too, no wonder.
But there’s other characters that appear alongside our beloved yet schizophrenic hamster-hoodie girl alongside her “pet” brother; and their interactions constitute the joy of an episode’s content. These include her schoolmates Ebina, Kirie, Sylphynford, and Hikari, whose differing characteristics make for a wide range of friendly encounters ranging from submissive to sidekick; as well Takeshi and Alex, who can be viewed as an adult-ified version of Umaru of the swapped gender. What’s great is, as mentioned before, not their heavy involvement with Umaru’s life; but more than that, we also learn some valuable backstories about them, which also lead to some surprising revelations where some of their friends also are siblings to one another, like in the case of Takeshi and Kirie or Alex and Sylphynford, almost as if the world revolves solely around these circle of characters. Of these Ebina was my favourite and the cutest to watch; but Sylphynford was my least in large part due to her obnoxious “fight me 1v1” quips that made her look like a wannabe major league gamer.
The opening songs have a way with their titles and lyrics being relevant to the premise, but beneath those words where Umaru brags about how much she enjoys her hedonistic lifestyle, glories in pestering Taihei, and the importance of keeping her lifestyle secret lie some sick beats to them. It helps also that the music is accompanied by some montages of multiple versions of Umaru partying hard. The endings hit differently: the first one has a pop-style ballad that doesn’t even make sense given the content, and is, not to mention, bland and entirely skippable; the second, on the other hand, is more to my liking especially with its accompanying dance routine involving a chibi-fied Umaru and friends. It remains my favourite song from this series, a rediscovered staple for working late nights or after a Saturday night out.
The background music is also a decent addition, with its light-hearted, synthetic melodies to match the situation. The only complaint I can register towards it is that sometimes, it sounds a little on the generic side with a slight flavour: in some places, the music has me thinking of a Looney Tunes segment with its xylophonic noises, while for others it seems way too akin to other OSTs from similar slice-of-life comedies like Hinamatsuri.
Favourite character: This isn’t even a contest; Umaru takes this spot. Her laid-back ways plus the cutesy “Umarun~” sound byte that plays when she’s introduced was hard for me to say “No” to. What’s more, just look at this gif to understand how adorable and extremely gangsta her character is.
Favourite moment: It’s incredibly soothing to watch Taihei deliver unto Umaru relief from her ear irritancies through an ear pick (I beg of you, do not try this at home by yourself), and equally as jokes is to watch her lose her patience in public when Taihei uses a chance encounter with Ebina at the mall to hold off his rambunctious little sister from making him buy a new video game. To this day, I can still hear mini-Umaru passionately chanting “Game! Game! Game!” in my head. This stuff stays with you, man. It’s a unique experience that can never be removed from your senses once you’ve been exposed to it.
Favourite quote: Alex, Sylphynford’s older brother, bonds unsurprisingly quickly with Umaru due to their shared love of anime and how they are awkwardly viewed by the other sibling. In episode 7 of season 2, we learn about his past as a hikikomori in Germany and the lessons he learned after moving to Japan – which provides her and Kirie with valuable insights for the shut-in personality that lies within their very being.
Uh… me? Well, I hate to admit it but back then… I couldn’t bring myself to go to school, so I stayed in my room all day online, watching anime. Once you’ve shut yourself indoors, it’s hard to tell yourself to go back outside isn’t it? That was me – I convinced myself that human interaction wasn’t necessary for someone like me. Suddenly, someone suggested to me: “Why don’t you move to Japan and go to high school there?” My life changed after that. I met lots of great people after joining your brother’s company, alongside you and Tsuntoge Girl (Kirie)! It finally dawned on me my true purpose in life: to help others!Alex shares his testimony from becoming a hikikomori to a “carpe diem” type of guy
Himouto! Umaru-Chan has at its core an original premise about a young girl’s struggle to balance what society expects of her with her own self-serving needs, and what comes out of it is a bunch of sketches detailing how she navigates through that, in a manner which goes beyond all realistic expectations. The real meat of the show is watching her relationships blossom with several persons in her different forms, and the positive impact she has on their lives, which is at least a nice message to leave behind the viewer with, not to mention the enjoyment that comes with Umaru’s various household shenanigans. Overall, it’s not necessarily an awful show from a critical perspective, but the humour and consistency in plot elements could have been worked on more. It’s definitely something you might find enjoyable, and possibly even a tad relatable! But be sure to come prepared with strong resistance towards becoming like Umaru’s petulent side, lest you want to take life by the hard road and end up becoming a hikikomori.