The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Wave, Listen To Me!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Wave, Listen to Me! ?
Community score: 3.3
What is this?
26-year-old waitress Minare Kudo is a young woman whose love life is a mess. One night she drunkenly rambles on to a much older man in a bar, and is shocked the next day to hear her ramblings being replayed on a daytime talk radio show. Upon investigating, she discovers that the man she had spoken to is the manager of the radio station, and he is willing to put her on the air to continue her rant. This eventually leads to her getting her own overnight radio talk show.
How was the first episode?
Wave, Listen to Me! seemed like it'd be one of the more unique properties coming into the spring season, based on its radio broadcast premise and fully adult cast. Having watched this premiere, I can confirm the show is certainly one of a kind, for more reasons than one. I'm guessing this show will have a somewhat niche appeal, but for those it resonates with, Wave, Listen to Me! offers strong aesthetics and dynamic energy in equal measure.
The first half of this episode feels almost wasteful in how much beautifully choreographed and sumptuously drawn animation it dedicates to precisely one extended gag. We're introduced to heroine Minare Koda, radio broadcaster extraordinaire, through a broadcast themed around her getting mauled by a bear. That bear fight is genuinely the most impressively animated sequence of the season so far, and it's accompanied by character acting so fluid it almost feels like Koda is over-articulating everything she says. It's a technically impressive feat, all in service of one specific gag of incongruity. And to be honest, I just didn't find the joke all that funny.
That was essentially my experience throughout this episode: strong animation and energetic voice acting, all doing their best to support jokes that just aren't that funny. Wave, Listen to Me! clearly lives or dies by a given audience member's appreciation for Minare's breathless broadcast style, wherein she rambles about her love life and tells basically everyone to read her favorite wrestling blog for actual advice. There are some effective comedy beats in that mixture (“I'm in the middle of being glared at by a bear right now, so I'll be direct”), as well as genuine moments of stark self-reflection (“would he have loved me more if I were more of the destructive type?”). But on the whole, though I found Minare herself to be a compelling character, I mostly found her broadcasts repetitive and fatiguing, not insightful or entertaining.
That said, this is one hundred percent a situation where your mileage will vary depending on your own fondness for this sort of radio content. In terms of visual design and character writing, Wave, Listen to Me! is one of the season's strongest productions so far. This show won't be for everyone, but I suggest everyone at least give it a try - if it clicks for you, there's a lot to appreciate here.
You will likely know whether Wave, Listen to Me! is for you before the opening credits roll. With absolutely no prior context to establish what we are seeing, we are introduced to a fiery and very opinionated woman named Minare, who has found herself trapped in the middle of the woods, at night, staring right into the eyes of an angry brown bear. She also has a script in her hands, and she's doling out her acerbic responses to a bunch of “Dear Abby” style life-advice write-ins with a single-minded fury, even as she declares her imminent death by bear mauling. It doesn't take too long to piece together that Minare is a radio host, and this elaborate bear encounter is some kind of weird framing device that she is both picturing in her head and describing to her listeners while she responds to her letters for the day. The show lets the confusion settle in just long enough to be disarming though, and to establish that Wave, Listen to Me! is just as idiosyncratic, lively, and relatable weird as Minare herself. Just a couple of minutes later, Minare gets into a shockingly well-produced fight with this bear, and straight up kicks its ass for a minute, at least until she is unceremoniously tossed like a ragdoll into the woods.
If the five star rating up there didn't make it obvious, I was knocked flat by Wave, Listen to Me!, which uses some incredible character animation and editing to put us right into the head and heart of Minare Koda, who is exactly the kind of protagonist we need to see more of in anime. By this I mean she is a perfectly believable thirtysomething woman who's just trying to navigate the rough waters of a recent breakup, wallowing in self-pity by gorging herself on breakfast cereal and cheesy horror movies, dealing with work in the restaurant industry, and getting so blackout drunk that she unwittingly gets invited on to a radio show where she spills her guts about all of the above, and then some. That last part might make for the setup of this unique adult comedy, but it's all of the other stuff that makes Minare such a delightful character. She's just going through a lot right now, okay, and she's having a hard time figuring out whether the problem lies in herself, or in all of the dumbasses in the world around her, and she's walking the fine line between finding her calling as a boisterous radio personality and oversharing all of her worst insecurities for all of Japan to hear. If that isn't a perfect mood for the entire last decade, I don't know what is.
The best premieres are the ones that give me exactly what I never knew I needed. I'm always calling for more mature, adult anime to get more love and attention, but that usually winds up in us getting overwritten psychodramas that fall flat on their faces (I'm still bitter about Babylon, and I probably always will be). Wave, Listen to Me! represents everything I want in a “mature” anime: A story about real adults dealing with relatable issues in a genuinely interesting fashion, all complemented by polished visuals and willingness to take risks. This is one series I won't be missing a single minute of this season, and neither should you.
So I could be wrong about this, but I highly suspect that whatever other fantastic credentials he has, Hiroaki Samura has never been in radio. Mostly I say this because I grew up with a father in radio broadcasting (having company over sounded like an NPR broadcast), and if he'd pulled any of the stunts on an over-the-air FM broadcast, he'd have gotten at least a hefty fine if not more. That might be less true today, or perhaps in Japan, but given that the station in the show appears to be a plain old FM radio station rather than an internet-based one, I had a bit of trouble suspending my disbelief.
Assuming you did not grow up in a radio house, however, the questionable ethics and live-broadcast choices of Mr. Mato of MRS won't be the primary deterrent to enjoying this episode based on Samura's manga of the same title. (Which is currently available in English, for the interested.) Instead the fact that protagonist Minare Koda is exceptionally abrasive might do it. Not that she doesn't have every right to be that way – her life, by her own measure, seems to be, if not falling apart, then definitely not going the way she wants it to. She's trying to get over a loser ex-boyfriend who played her like the proverbial fiddle, she's worried she can't seem to cry like a normal human being, and her boss is reaching the end of his rope with her at a job that it doesn't look like she enjoys at all anyway. Then, adding insult to injury, it turns out that the man she met at a bar recorded her complaining rant and decided, without her permission, to air it on the radio station he runs. Seriously, I can't think of many people who are more deserving of being pissed off than she is.
But as justified in her anger as Minare is, the fact of the matter is that we're basically listening to her yell for a half-hour, and that gets old really fast. The gimmick that Mato sets up for her – that she's broadcasting from the woods while being chased by a bear – definitely feels more like a morning show kind of set up than a late-night one, but it isn't without its humor value. The issue is that Minare's rage starts to feel like the only thing the episode really has to offer over the course of its run, and if listening to someone be angry at the world isn't your thing, this probably isn't going to work for you. While she's not a shock jock precisely, there's still something very one-note and abrasive about Minare's schtick, which perhaps is the point of it. Again, it's hard to fault her (or Samura, for trying to make a point about her legitimate anger), but it also isn't all that entertaining for all viewers.
On the other hand, this is far and away one of the more unique first episodes I've seen. It's entirely focused on Minare and most of it is centered in the broadcast studio, so there's not much in the way of animation, which actually really works for what's going on. It means that we depend on her facial expressions and arm movements for most of the context visuals, and that's pretty neat. There's something off-putting about the blue-gray shadows in her eyes that kept creeping me out, but it's hard to deny that Wave, Listen to Me! is trying to do something different – and it's working. It's also not something I necessarily want to see more of, but if nothing else, I'm seriously thinking of picking up the manga now, so the anime's doing at least part of its job.
Ever had a time in your life where you had such pent-up rage and frustration that you just had to let it out in a torrent of words? That's the headspace that Minare is stuck in right now; in fact, she has a talent for it, and a savvy radio producer has noticed it and thinks there could be entertainment value in just letting her spew a mile a minute. That's the basic premise behind this very different series. Based on the first episode alone, I can see it either engrossing viewers (including some who may not be traditional anime fans) or irritating the hell out of them. Either way, it's going to make an impression.
Regardless of which reaction you ultimately have, the key to that reaction is Minare, who is a far departure from any standard anime archetype. She is a young woman of deep, unrestrained, unrelenting passion, the kind for whom getting over a busted relationship requires crying, even if she has to force the issue. (Her mistaken choice for which movie to watch to instigate that is a joke unto itself; that and other bits suggest that small doses of humor will be a norm.) When she projects, there's a raw, undeniable force of personality at work; a lot of credit goes to relative newcomer Riho Sugiyama for pulling this performance off, as it couldn't have been easy to record, and I have to wonder how much of it might have been ad-libbing. Minare unwittingly catching the attention of the radio station manager is no stretch at all, as even without the gimmickry involving the bear attack (which takes up the first few minutes of the episode), hers is the kind of stream-of-consciousness rambling that can reach out to troubled souls, even if the trouble is of that person's own making. “This is someone who is on the same wavelength with "how messed up I am?” would, I expect, be a common reaction to her show.
Given all of this, I was completely stunned to discover that the original manga-ka is Hiroaki Samura, who is vastly more well-known for a little work titled Blade of the Immortal. His artistry has been beautifully brought to life here by studio Sunrise; between the great character designs, restrained but still sharp use of color, and high animation quality, this could easily wind up being one of the best-looking titles of the season. The direction by Tatsuma Minamikawa, who is getting his first shot at directing TV series animation, also shows promise.
The closer suggests that other young women will eventually get involved and perhaps tell their stories, so this won't be just a one-woman show, but for now Minare should do just fine carrying it on her own. If you're looking for something very different this season and/or something much more mature than the typical high school-based fare, this should fit the bill quite well.
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