Komi-san and everybody’s crossdressing best friend

Komi san wa komyushou desu / Miss Komi has a communication disorder
by Oda Tomohito. Comedy, Romance, School Life, Shonen.
7 Volumes; Shonen Sunday. Magazine, 2015 – ongoing.
https://myanimelist.net/manga/99007/Komi-san_wa_Comyushou_desu
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/KomiSanWaKomyushouDesu

Mild spoilers ensue:

On the first day of high school Hitohito Tadano (his name a pun of “just another guy”) is smitten by the class beauty Shouko Komi. Still reeling after a clumsy introduction, his sixth sense kicks in and he realises that the school’s cool, aloof beauty is a girl of few words only because she suffers from crippling social anxiety. Tadano-kun rashly introduces himself to Shouko Komi and promises her that he will help her overcome her social anxiety and make 100 friends

Komi-san wa komyushou desu (Miss Komi has a communication disorder) is a cute, chaste high school slice-of-life shonen manga by Oda Tomohito. With over a hundred chapters and seven collected volumes it is well-liked, even if some readers have grumbled about the stock characters and the overdone situation setups. Itan Private High School is chock full of trope characters; the big guy mistaken for a thug – he has his own anxiety issues, the chuuni girl (there’s a chunni ninja guy too), an over-enthusiastic sports girl, a low self-esteem glasses girl, a yandere lesbian and the first friend after himself that Tadano-kun tries to get Komi-san to meet: Najimi Osana (長名 なじみ, おさな なじみ) a mysterious person of an unknown gender who is also a phenomenal networker with an ability to get close to anybody after just a few minutes of interaction.

Osana-san is literally “everybody’s best friend” (1) (most of the chara names are puns). As far as the reader (and most of the school’s teachers and students who care) can puzzle out, she is a female-presenting non-binary person with a DMAB body; in simpler terms, a crossdressing guy who may well have “the heart of a girl”, even though she will at times still identify as a guy. Or she might be a gender-fluid person with a DFAB body who used to present as male. Osana-san aint telling. The mangaka obviously heard of the X-gender phenom and decided to work along similar lines.

Welcome to another installment of Mudakun’s “why are we making up queer characters with tiny super-powers for our straight stories?” Osana-san could have been a cisgendered (heterosexual) girl, except that as childhood friend, she would then be in an immediate set-up as a rival for Tadano-san’s affections. Osana-san has no romantic interests whatsoever that they have let slip (beyond some initial teasing of Tadano when they meet on the first day of classes); they are far too busy keeping up their social calendar and making new friends. They never forget anyone they meet and they can listen to seven conversations at once. They seem to enjoy introducing people, promoting new groupings with entertaining dynamics and occasionally stirring things up.

Osana-san’s parents moved around a lot due to work so they seem to have gone to most of the nearby schools that feed into the private high school’s catchment area. They used to present as male but now, given the relative freedom of an elite school seem happier with girl-mode. The school we later learn, accommodates her, with a gender-neutral bathroom and changing facilities. During the onsen trip, Osana-san will bathe first, although she will bunk with the girls.

Otherwise, she is always within earshot. She is the school’s or at least the first year students’ social organizer, the assistant class rep who knows everybody and gets along with everybody.

Osana-san isn’t superhuman; she is sometimes exhausted and often selfish. Komi-san initially was a personal source of trauma to her because when younger, they had never clued into Komi’s problem and had agonised over their inability to befriend her. Komi-san also has an overpowering eye-contact stare when she is trying to nerve up to say hello. Osana was bedridden with shock for a week after this first friending failure. Komi-san makes amends by staring down a pest who was mashing on Osana and thereafter Osana-san is %110 on board with the 100 friends project. As well, she soon begins to prod our two leads towards noticing each other.

In her role as an all-purpose story advancer, she is ubiquitous.

Although gender-nonconforming and/or genderqueer and asexual, Osana-san is never an object of ridicule. She is deployed as a subtype of gender diffuse character; the magic-pixy social secretary and relationship expert. She gets to be a younger genderfluid version of Auntie Mame. Beyond teasing Tadano-kun on the first day, she has never displayed any romantic interest in anyone and therefore is an exemplary “queer” character for a chaste heterosexual setting. Non-normative, over-the-top desire instead comes from Ren Yamai’s overdone girl-crush; which is physical, psychotically jealous and prone to inappropriate, even violent actions. As such, she is treated as a ridiculous, sometimes dangerous joke. Ren Yamai is a junior psycho lesbian and a creep. After her Valentines Day antics, she is a pitiful panty-hose swiping creep.

Given that there is very little youthful sexuality and desire deployed in this story, the role of most characters must necessarily balance between friendly sociability and transactional utility. This is about making 100 friends, not resolving a harem or a love triangle. Cycle through the stock events of a high school year and steadily introduce new quirky characters. Sports day, Onsen trip, Kyoto trip, School Festival, Valentines Day. There is something soothing about a relatively conflict-free progression through the rites of high school education, although it is jarring how Tadano-kun suffers one class clique attack and one psycho lesbian drugging and kidnapping.

Narcissist guy may be confusing as well but he is too self-absorbed to show interest in anyone but himself. He is however up for spontaneously organising a he-manly (or burning male youth) topless muscle-posing photo session during an onsen visit. Near as I can make out the story was he was sharing exhibitionism tips: Try it; all guys should be exhibitionists every so often.

Huh? That was odd.

A closer reading of this work must focus on what the manga leaves out. There is minimal conventional fanservice and also very little in the way of trifles tossed at the rotten gaze (manly topless posing aside). Instead it is mostly Shouko Komi, the tall, shy, demure and beautiful Yamato Nadeshiko over and over and over again; considered from Tadano-kun’s vantage point. Questions of desire and sexuality are uncomfortable distractions, even intrusions into school life – at this time. Anything that carries the slightest vibe of such worrisome feelings and urges is going to be used to set up a situation built on a base of this discomfort; that is how high school rom-coms work. The kids are new at these feelings, therefore they will make a mess out of them.

Osana-san got mashed on by a delinquent from a nearby school. Tadano-kun is avoiding his feelings for Komi-san by pursuing an overly ambitious project for her. Why shouldn’t the mangaka take an old chestnut like a high school yuri crush and make it ridiculous and extreme?

Uhhh…

Because it is a throwback to a nastier time, a cheap shot and lazy writing. And because it is so, it risks the good will of the reader and the suspension of disbelief needed to keep the story on track. The wires are showing and they ain’t pretty. And the mangaka keeps going back to them by recycling the same gag. If the mangaka cannot figure this out – or worse has, but brushed it aside because they needed a fresh gag for the next few chapters….

It is disappointing.

Just Stop it.

 

1) Her name おさな なじみ, Osananajimi means childhood friend is the same word for the verb なじむ, Najimu means to be acquainted or adapt.
http://komisan-wa-komyushou-desu.wikia.com/wiki/Osana_Najimi

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