Medium Matters: Komi Can’t Communicate

If you read back in this blog – oh screw it, here’s a link – I was really unthrilled with the manga version of Komi Can’t Communicate.

Y’see, our gal Komi is a gal with some severe psychological problems. She has what we in the communication business call “speech apprehension” (you might call it “stage fright”) so severe that she is literally pathological: She will be unable to function in society unless she learns to overcome or compensate for it.

But instead of therapy, what she gets is a buddy in Tadano who uses his advanced degree in psychology (that was sarcasm) to decide what she REALLY needs is a hundred friends, and so he sets out to make them for her. That really made the Komi story into the Tadano story in which he is the protagonist and she is a Look At Me girl.

Pee yew, what a stinker!

So I was delighted to see that the anime reconstructs the same basic story but focuses more on Komi and the comic potential of her character.

Y’see, what the anime’s director (Ayumu Watanabe. Any relation to Shinichiro?) realized is that Komi is a GREAT silent film character. Not a film character who is silent; a character from a silent film. And what THAT does is it opens up a whole series of sight gags that transforms a BS story into a really funny, and somewhat happy, one.

Yes, Komi CAN communicate. She just can’t speak.

For instance, Komi’s extreme shyness makes her do things like hurry away from people who try to engage her in conversation. In the manga that’s handled – it has to be handled – in still images. So she is drawn with swoosh marks indicating action and the written “da da da da” sound effect of her feet tapping on the ground … but it’s still a still image.

In the anime they not only show her departing, they show it in fast motion, so she literally zips away. It’s unexpected and funny, and also does a better job of portraying her extreme agitation.

Similarly, the anime can use cinematic techniques to focus on her at key moments. There’s that lovely moment in the school athletic games where Komi finds it in herself to cheer – it’s almost silent but she actually does it – for Tadano. The camera zooms all the way in on her and you hear her whispered cheer, and then the camera swoops out again, “carrying” her words to Tadano. You can draw those as two still images, but they don’t have the dynamic action or the emotional impact of the camera move in the anime.

Another important difference is that once they understood that that Komi could be treated like a character from a silent film, they could refocus the action onto Komi. They use classic sight gags like jump cuts to show her frantic desire to make herself understood even though she can’t speak, or the extreme introversion she feels. One second she’s drawing a few kanji on the blackboard; jump cut and the board is a third filled; jump again and the whole board is covered with the thoughts she is trying to put across to Tadano. And those jump cuts give her ENERGY; you can imagine her scribbling away ninety miles an hour!

One more time: anime is an action medium. Manga is deeper and more thoughtful. But the nature of Komi as a character is that she can’t express her thoughts. She’s a character ill-suited to manga, which is why in the manga Tadano takes over. In the manga HE articulates his thoughts and HE becomes the central character.

But Komi’s perfect for anime because she has to ACT OUT everything she’s trying to say. In the manga they need Tadano to tell the story because in manga someone has to tell us what’s going on, right? But in the anime they can SHOW us what Komi’s doing, and that means they can center the story back on her. Because showing is something anime can do well.

Now, to be frank, the anime has the same fundamental problem as the manga: Komi is not a girl who needs a hundred friends, Komi is a girl who needs a hundred hours of therapy. But it’s much easier to overlook that in the anime because in the anime Komi is ACTIVE.

Oh, and just for the record, Komi can communicate just fine. She has excellent handwriting and that wonderfully expressive face. Now, when her teachers call on her to read aloud in class she can’t do it, but when she needs to make herself understood she’s quite capable of writing clearly and eloquently about it. Komi can COMMUNICATE; Komi can’t SPEAK.

And brother, she can act, too! She’s a wonderful anime character, and that changes the emotional nature of her story when it shifts from manga to anime.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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