The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
My Senpai Is Annoying
How would you rate episode 1 of
My Senpai Is Annoying ?
What is this?
Igarashi is a hardworking young office lady. Takeda, the senpai above her at work, annoys her constantly – and yet she finds herself growing closer to him. Every day is filled with comic mishaps and romantic moments as Igarashi tries to balance work, life, and love.
How was the first episode?
About a year ago, I reviewed the manga release of My Senpai Is Annoying. I criticized it for trying to get me invested in a couple when it showed all the heartwarming moments, but without any buildup or narrative connective tissue. You can't just show the climax of a story with romantic tension without spending any time introducing the characters or giving a sense of their relationship and how they got there! It's not satisfying that way! When they announced the manga would be adapted into an anime, I had a feeling that it would have a more linear narrative approach to fill the 25-minute episodes. Lo and behold, I was correct. However, I didn't like it much more than I did the manga, because it turns out that connective tissue is pretty boring, actually.
My Senpai Is Annoying has always been kind of low-key, because its goal was more to be soft and touching than actually funny. When you try to fill in the gaps between the soft and touching moments, there's not a lot of actual jokes, so it mostly feels like a couple of working adults going about their business at their sales jobs. The Office this ain't. Futaba and Takeda aren't dynamic or layered enough to carry the show on themselves, and the script fails to sparkle enough to make watching them a lot of fun.
They have some potential as characters, and to be honest the show does a good job of portraying their personalities through Doga Kobo's signature body language animation without relying on internal narration or too-obvious dialog. Takeda is an unpredictable mix of thoughtless and thoughtful, able to read the situation only inconsistently. He's too big and loud by half for the tiny Futaba, but also takes care of her as a senpai should their kohai. Futaba, who is so short she can't reach the handholds on the bus, loves cute things but feels like she has to pretend not to in order to be taken seriously as an adult because she already looks young. They could make a decent couple in the hands of a creative team that knows how to imbue them with some chemistry, but alas, that's not the reality we live in.
Doga Kobo has animated some of the best comedy series of the past few years including Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun and Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle. Their team of talented animators has proven themselves capable of bringing the strong level of physicality and split-second comic timing needed to elevate gag series. But for that to work, they need some actual jokes to work with, and they just didn't get that with My Senpai Is Annoying.
When it comes down to it, a lot of this episode is a lighthearted but personal look into all the mental hang-ups that come with looking younger and being shorter than everyone around you. Futaba's height means that her stride is likewise short, forcing her to jog to keep up with the normal walking pace of her taller coworkers. Yet, if they slow down for her, that means they are going out of their way to accommodate her—which she hates. Not helping matters is her childlike appearance, which lets other adults feel like it is okay to treat her as a kid despite being of similar age, patting her on the head and talking down to her.
Futaba just wants to be treated as a normal person regardless of her size, and this determination to be seen as an equal is the driving force in her life. Yet, the same determination also stems from a place of personal insecurity. In order to push back against what she thinks others think of her, she overcompensates—acting in ways that make her appear more like “an adult” to those around her. As a result, she does things she doesn't like (like drinking coffee) and refrains from doing things she does (buying a Happy Meal for the cute toy). She has enough pride and self-confidence to call people out when she's being treated like a kid, but not enough to do what she wants to do regardless of stereotypes and misconceptions.
These issues tie directly into Futaba's professional life as well. In her company, she wants to be seen as a real go-getter. After all, being serious about your career is about as adult as one can get. Yet, this need to prove herself makes her a bit overzealous. She wants so badly to stand on her own that she forgets why redundancies exist—i.e., the simple fact that we are all human and everyone makes mistakes.
Of course, through this mistake and the process of rectifying it, we are able to see why Futaba secretly likes her senpai, Takeda—despite him often tussling her hair. She likes both his hardworking spirit and his nonchalant kindness. However, that he seems to see her as more daughter than prospective wife clearly hits her right in the insecurities. Will her drunken confession help transform their relationship into something new? We'll just have to see next week.
While My Senpai Is Annoying was not as irritating as I, someone who is neither a fan of workplace comedies nor comedies about how two people don't get along, was afraid of, it did have a different issue: it was kind of dull. Given how much potential it had to be a veritable font of mean humor, this feels like a success regardless. Futaba, an employee in her second year at her company where she works in sales, is one of those anime adults who looks like an elementary school student. This clearly bothers her more than anyone else, though – her relative youth compared to some of her coworkers could easily account for them using the suffix “-chan” with her, and only one person seems to take advantage of her scant height at all.
That would, of course, be the eponymous senpai, Takeda. What's important to note, however, is that he doesn't seem to be doing it to make fun of the fact that she's short or childlike in appearance; he's just really tall himself and the sort of buff, easygoing guy who seems to treat most people as if they were golden retrievers. Or at least, that's how he tries very hard to come off, because it isn't hard to see how sensitive Futaba is about her capabilities and her age. She drinks coffee because “that's what adults drink in the morning” (I knew I was doing something wrong!) and stands on the train trying desperately to hold onto the overhead rings because she's a goddamn adult. She's overly touchy about things like Takeda adjusting his pace to match her shorter strides and insulted when she perceives someone as treating her like a kid, even when that may be entirely in her own head. About the only thing she isn't overly sensitive about is the fact that people are fully aware of her issues, and that's probably because she has no idea that she's not fooling anyone.
So rather than a story about a teasing older coworker, what we really have here is one about an insecure young lady who misinterprets everything as having to do with her short stature. That's still not one I'm all that interested in watching, but it also isn't nearly as mean-spirited as this could have been. Hopefully Futaba can learn that not everything is about how she looks, because she really is a very capable woman. I may give the manga a go now, because I think this may be less slow-paced if you can control the speed you consume it in. As an anime episode, it really drags, even if the scene where Takeda tosses a can of oshiruko to Futaba was a cut above the way the rest of the episode was animated.
I was literally just ranting about how much we need more romantic anime that focus on adults with adult lives and adult problems. Now, just a day later, here comes My Senpai Is Annoying to grant my wish…sort of. On the one hand, this show scratches a lot of itches I've been complaining about, and I will give it credit for that! I've never worked in an office, but I can still very much empathize with being a twentysomething that is still trying to figure out their place in the world, all while working hard to succeed at their first “adult” job. Futaba Igarashi is a likeable leading lady who has a lot of spunk and determination, though she isn't some perfect office queen, either. She screws up orders, has to make amends with clients to salvage important contracts, and has to put up with her dorky colleagues in the meantime. The titular “annoying senpai” is Harumi, a boisterous big boy with a hearty laugh and a fundamental misunderstanding of personal boundaries, though he seems to mean well, and you can see why Futaba would develop a crush on the guy.
So far so good, right? Well, yes and no, because all of these fun elements are undercut by the show's central gimmick, the unavoidable gag that frames literally every scene of the show: Futaba doesn't just have to deal with the usual bullshit that comes from being a Japanese woman in the workplace; she also happens to look and sound like a tiny child. Now, within the universe of the show, she's probably just meant to be one of those women that could still pass for a high-schooler even in her mid-to-late twenties, and I've known enough people in that position to be able to go along with the premise. In practice, though, Futaba is drawn and characterized like your typical feisty anime loli, a grown adult woman who somehow has the exact look and proportions of a fourth-grader.
This, in my opinion, is a mistake. In comic form, I can maybe imagine Futaba's character design working, because you could still handwave her appearance as being overly stylized, but when you combine the detail of animation with Tomori Kusunoki's cliché vocal performance, the effect is overwhelming, and a bit off-putting. The final scene, where Futaba realizes (and accidentally reveals) the crush she has on Harumi, is actually kind of sweet, and you could absolutely see why she would be frustrated when Harumi says that he does like her…because he likes to imagine that he might someday have a daughter as cute as her.
These characters aren't far apart in age, so there's no other way to read this scene as Harumi conceptualizing Futaba as a literal child, and given how she looks and sounds, you can't really blame him. This just makes their potential romance weird, though, and it didn't have to be this way! Make Futaba look just a little bit older, have the relationship between the two be more of a “big brother/little sister” thing, and I think you could get away with the romantic angle and still keep all of the jokes about Futaba being “adorable”, or whatever.
Am I overthinking a simple romantic comedy's premise? Maybe, but it could also be that I'm just frustrated to finally get another romantic comedy about adults where the female character just had to be drawn as a prepubescent girl for…reasons. My Senpai Is Annoying is a cute enough show, and I'll give it a few more episodes to win me over, but I can't help but pine for the anime that could have been.
Some shows can take a simple premise and build it into something phenomenally funny, turning an elevator-pitch gimmick into a creative and clever comedy that brings out the strongest aspects of that initial idea. Think Kaguya-sama: Love is War or Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle as examples. Others can't help but feel constrained by that gimmick, struggling to make something genuine while also having to fall back on a joke that wasn't all that funny to begin with, but is necessary to give the show any kind of identity at a glance. That's what we're dealing with here.
That's kind of inevitable when your romcom's entire premise is “he tol, she smol” and nothing else. That's a joke that works for a 4-panel gag comic that gets shared around on Twitter, but it cannot sustain even half an episode of television, and sticking within that stricture for that long proves to be an albatross around Senpai's neck. The first half of this episode moves by at a snail's pace as we watch increasingly tedious jokes about Futaba's height and how gosh, everyone sure does treat her like a kid, especially her super tall coworker who sure is loud! There's not really gags, outside of short (heh) bits like Futaba struggling to grip the handles on the subway, and even our titular annoying senpai isn't really annoying so much as he's condescending, treating Futaba like a child, as if this was a stealth Take Your Daughter to Work Day series instead.
There's a running theme about our heroine wanting to be taken seriously as an adult, but it seems like the universe at large is in conspiracy against her for it, including the artists drawing/animating her. Doga Kobo does a characteristically great job here, delivering tons of lively, weighty, expressive animation to the entire cast, but it can't help but feel mean that Futaba's animation characterizes her with the same energy and body language of the cutesy high school blobs of Three Leaves, Three Colors or the like. It makes for a strange dissonance as our lead desperately tries to be taken seriously and earn the same basic respect afforded to her more average-sized coworkers, but is constantly having it undercut because That's The Joke. And look, I appreciate a good height joke when I'm giving my shorter friends grief, but there's a way of making gags like this that don't feel like they're actively chipping away at our main character's dignity, y'know?
Things thankfully take a better turn in the second half, which largely drops all the gimmicky baggage and just tells a story of Futaba and Takeda having to scramble to fix a mistake at work. It's a simple conflict, but one that does a lot to flesh out these two as actual people, and allows them to be characterized outside of the comical height difference. Futaba's guilt and desperation to fix things is way more endearing than the previous segment, and it provides a chance for Takeda to show off his more admirable side in how he keeps trying to fix things on his own, to spare his kouhai the worry. The segment's nothing amazing, but it shows there's room to humanize these characters and their prospective relationship outside of lazy comedy. The whole bit about Takeda seeing Futaba as a daughter adds an uncomfortable wrinkle to it, but up until that point I liked it.
Unfortunately I think that's the deciding factor for me. There's some promise in this episode, but it's largely in spite of the self-imposed gimmicks surrounding it, and I just don't feel like doing that much mental leg work to enjoy a simple comedy. This senpai may not be all that annoying, but it's also not too engaging either.
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