The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Clean Freak! Aoyama kun
How would you rate episode 1 of
Clean Freak! Aoyama kun ?
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How was the first episode?
In case you couldn't tell by the show name, Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun's is helpfully titled “Aoyama Is a Clean Freak!” There shall be no ambiguity on the matter of Aoyama's cleanliness-related proclivities. Aoyama likes things clean.
Based on that extremely insistent pair of titles, I initially expected Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun to be one of those fairly common one-joke comedies, where Aoyama's cleanliness obsession is somehow parlayed into full episodes of jokes. And Aoyama-kun certainly does have a fair amount of that, from copious chibi gags of Aoyama cleaning stuff to dramatic commentary by his classmates on the power of his cleaning. These jokes feel played out almost as soon as they're introduced, and Aoyama-kun relies heavily on stuff like “we switched Aoyama into a chibi version of himself and had someone yell at him, are you laughing yet” and similar structures. As a comedy, Aoyama-kun is a clunker.
Fortunately, Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun also seems to be a legitimately dedicated soccer drama. This first episode places us in the perspective of Aoyama's resentful teammate Zaizen, and we get to see a full narrative of emerging friendship across the course of this episode's big match. Aoyama's germaphobic tendencies even play into his soccer passion in a pretty compelling way. His desire to avoid being touched makes him incredibly nimble, but his fear of getting dirty means he's also often useless. The show does a pretty solid job of making “germaphobe jokes plus soccer drama” feel like a reasonably cohesive combination.
Unfortunately, Aoyama-kun lacks the animation or general visual inspiration to really succeed as a sports drama. Its numerous still frames and reaction faces work fine for its mediocre gag comedy aspirations, but this episode can't really sell the excitement of its soccer battles. The one aesthetic bright spot here is the soundtrack, which is full of propulsive rock tracks that do their best to carry the action.
Overall, Aoyama-kun isn't a terrible show, but it doesn't feel successful enough as either a comedy or sports drama to inspire much interest. If both those priorities seem intriguing, you might want to give it a look. Otherwise I'd call this one a skip.
This episode didn't really catch me until the last five-odd minutes, and I suspect that may have been intentional. Aoyama-kun's germaphobia isn't something that his brash teammate Zaizen can understand, and, like many people who espouse the “it's all in your head” theory of phobias and mental illness from the bad old days, is positive that the fact that Aoyama won't touch the ball with his bare skin means that he's not really serious about soccer. This is the theme of most of the episode, and honestly, it irritated me. But at the end of the episode, when a rival school comes to challenge Fujimi High (with the goal of stealing Aoyama away), Zaizen sees Aoyama prove his worth by explaining that he's okay with getting dirty in the last few minutes of the game (presumably because he can shower soon thereafter), he suddenly truly gets it. That moment made the episode for me and convinced me that I'd like to give it another couple of weeks.
As far as comedy goes, this was a bit more miss than hit for me. Apart from an overreliance on chibis to indicate “this is silly!”, the main source of the humor is the fact that Aoyama is a manic clean-freak whom girls love and that Zaizen doesn't get it. The shrieking hordes of girls who follow Aoyama around because he cleans is funny in concept, and to be fair it probably works better in the manga when it isn't accompanied by actual shrieks. Watching Aoyama dodge his teammates and rivals is entertaining because despite the fact that he does it every single day, no one seems to see it coming, especially Zaizen. Zaizen himself can be amusing, especially when he realizes that he's the more pampered player with his rich daddy, er, father, but mostly he comes off as a bit of a meathead who doesn't like to listen to other people. What really didn't work for me, however, was the more physical humor, like the guy who likes to hit the ball exclusively with his butt and the rival player who keeps hiking up his shirt and undulating his abs. I suspect it's just me, but that grossed me out rather than made me chuckle.
Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun does remind me in a vague way of Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, which took a bit of time to really get going. That's a good sign, and it may turn out that like that show, this one just needs an episode to hit its stride. The ending has promise, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, even though this episode didn't quite resonate with me.
Sports anime are normally a big turn-off for me, so they have to do something extraordinary to grab my interest in even a mild fashion. This one doesn't even come close to accomplishing that with its first episode.
The production side of things is definitely not the problem. Rather than just being a pure bishonen fest, this series actually deigns to show at least some of the athletes as actually looking athletic, and that's without even getting into the one guy's not-as-funny-as-it's-supposed-to-be narcissistic obsession with his own six-pack abs. That results in a good mix of clean, handsome male character designs. Only a couple of female characters get any attention, but of the two that do both look credible and attractive for their ages and roles. The animation isn't especially more robust than the norm for a sports series, and contains a typical collection of perspective and action shots, but it isn't a slouch, either. In fact, overall the series actually looks pretty good.
The angle taken by the story also isn't the problem. Soccer seems antithetical to someone who is such an obsessive-compulsive germophobe as Aoyama is, so seeing the adaptations he's undertaken to both his routine and style of play to compensate for that is actually a little interesting: he manages in the games by becoming very elusive and strictly using his feet and chest on the ball. Initially all of the fetishes inherent in his behavior come across just as cute gimmicks meant to help define a character who speaks very little despite being the title character, but as the episode enters its later stages how much of a limiting factor Aoyama's compulsion is gradually becomes more apparent. While it may all look cute and cool (to the point that an annoying gaggle of girls is always swooning over him), the writing makes at least some effort to portray it as also being a cage that restrains him, and Kaoru seems to be getting some sense of that by the end of the episode. I could see the series getting a lot of mileage out of Kaoru gradually coming to understand and work with Aoyama and his quirks.
The first episode also tries very hard to be funny, and that's the aspect where I found it to fall shortest on if viewed from a neutral perspective. If the running joke about Aoyama nimbly dodging any attempt to hug him doesn't work for you then almost none of the rest of the humor will, either. Overall, the series should be fine for anyone who normally tolerates sports anime but has little draw for those that don't.
The first thing you have to do with Clean Freak! Aoyama kun is wrangle with its premise. It is admittedly absurd that someone as obsessed with cleanliness as the titular Aoyama kun would also be a star soccer player, since the sport isn't necessarily known for its tidiness. It's also really easy to look at Aoyama's over the top need to avoid germs as indicative of some kind of underlying issues that aren't necessarily easy to laugh at. When I was a teenager I could have easily shrugged this sort of thing off, but having gotten to know a few people that have been diagnosed OCD, this kind of unhealthy preoccupation with almost ritualistic levels of cleaning can easily take a turn to the more serious.
The good news is that Clean Freak! Is entertaining enough, and sympathetic enough to its main character, that all of those quibbles are easy to look past. I still don't know if someone like Aoyama would be so popular because he compulsively washes his hands all the time, but for now the show is on the right side of the line of tastefulness. If this first episode is anything to go by, Clean Freak! Aoyoama kun will be very similar to shows like Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto and Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, which are two other shows that revolve around characters with personality “quirks” that have them feeling a bit larger than life. As is also the case in shows like this, the main personality usually ends up more as a force for other characters to play against, and in Clean Freak! It does seem like the side characters will be the more relatable and interesting of the cast members. Zaizen plays the part of friendly foil to Aoyama well, and Moka seems like a prototypically cute love interest. Her meekness isn't anything new to behold, but it works well given the context of her character.
The one thing that Clean Freak! might be lacking is the laughter quotient. The comparison to Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun might be a bit unfair, since that's one of the all-time great anime comedies as far as I'm concerned, but Clean Freak! Aoyama kun falls squarely into the category of being more affably pleasant than straight up funny. Comedy is the most subjective of genres, though, and I could easily see this series' easy-going charm winning over a lot of people. This is, overall, a decent start to a series that has some potential to grow more comfortably into its own shoes. As long as the supporting cast continues to play off of their perpetual straight man, I see this show as being a fun and appropriately breezy addition to the summer season.
Clean Freak Aoyama-kun reminds me a lot of Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto and Handa-kun. Like both of those comedies, it features a protagonist who's more like a humorous force of nature than a normal main character. Much like Sakamoto's impossible coolness and Handa's paranoia, Aoyama's fear of germs guides everything he does and makes him into a living legend at his school. This series modifies the formula a little by placing Aoyama on the school soccer team, which adds some half-serious sports action to the mix. It's a premise that works reasonably well in practice, and this first episode provides enough laughs to get the series off to a promising start.
While the episode is immediately entertaining, it does take a little while for Aoyama to settle in as the main character. The challenge here is the obvious question of why someone so afraid of germs would voluntarily play a sport like soccer. The first half of the episode is largely dedicated to dealing with that question, and the answer it comes up with is relatively satisfying despite its simplicity: Aoyama likes playing soccer more than he hates getting dirty. It doesn't make for a hilarious punch line, but the way it's presented actually lends the show some emotional appeal. Once we understand that Aoyama's putting up with something he hates in order to do something he loves, he suddenly seems a little more human. When he takes a dive into the mud to help win the game at the end of the episode, it creates a meaningful moment of understanding between him and Zaizen.
On the comedic front, most of the laughs come from the outlandish personalities of Aoyama and the supporting cast. Zaizen is an amusing foil for Aoyama, and they develop some good chemistry over the course of the episode. Rival team captain Takechi's obsession with his own abs is also reasonably funny, and it helps to set a precedent of everyone around Aoyama being at least a little weird. If every joke in the series were simply a variation on “Aoyama is a clean freak,” it'd likely get old fast. By surrounding Aoyama with other outlandish characters, the show allows him to play the straight man as often as he plays the goofball, which adds variety and avoids giving the impression that the writing is just ridiculing a single character.
Clean Freak Aoyama-kun may not be quite as hilarious in the early going as some of its contemporaries, but it feels like it's on the right track. If the series can surround Aoyama with a consistently funny group of supporting characters, then it should be able to play the “everyone's a little bit crazy” angle to good effect. I'm curious to see how it will balance its comedy with the more emotional sports elements, but there's no reason these two halves can't work well together.
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