Himōto! Umaru-chan R
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Himōto! Umaru-chan R ?
With the supporting cast getting so much time to shine this season, the only one left without much to do has been Kirie, which isn't all that surprising given her self-admitted ability to fade into the background. Sylphyn has had many opportunities to steal the show this fall, (some of them even in this episode!) Nana has that whole “estranged brother” plotline lingering in the background, and even Alex and Takeshi have had their moments. Outside of a couple vignettes that focused more on Alex and Umaru though, Kirie has been a more passive agent than most of her friends. This week, Kirie finally get some much-deserved time in the spotlight, no matter how much she might not want it. Not only are the results as adorable as one might expect from Himouto! Umaru-chan R, they're downright hilarious.
Kirie's obsession with Umaru-as-Komaru's cuteness has always been a one-note gag, but the bit gets some overdue context in this episode, as we finally learn more about Kirie's personal life and what might motivate her to spend so much time with a person who she believes to be her crush's younger sister. (The show has never been explicit about this, but let's be real: Kirie is ridiculously gay for Umaru.) Not only is Kirie an accomplished swimmer, but she harbors a secret dream to become a professional storybook author, with Komaru as her central hero and muse. Kirie's desire to hide her secret from everyone around her results in some pretty funny visual and verbal gags, and the digressions into her storybook world offer a refreshing aesthetic changeup from the show's usual style. The crayon-colored picture book scenes are appropriately limited in animation, but quite charming nonetheless; plus, knowing that Kirie's obsession with Komaru might lead to some actual artistic productivity gives their relationship a much-needed new dimension, since only so much comedy can be gained from having Kirie squee endlessly over Komaru.
It does result in one especially excellent gag, however, when Kirie expends so much energy focusing on Komaru's adorable moeblob form that she actually sees the real Umaru sleeping under her hamster hoodie. This whole bit is worth it just to see Kirie's shocked reaction, as if she'd broken out of the matrix to catch a glimpse of some unutterable reality. I know that Umaru's inexplicable ability to transform her body and cloud her friends' perceptions is just a surreal running joke that doesn't need to make sense, but I still like to amuse myself by thinking Umaru is versed in some especially weird black magic, so to break through her spell is to invite a psyche-scarring madness that only poor Taihei has ever been fully exposed to. It's anime's very own Call of Cute-thulu.
Of the other vignettes, the weakest was probably the brief epilogue that follows up on Kirie's main story, where Taihei and Nana go on a trip to the shopping mall. Of all this season's running threads, Taihei needlessly prolonging telling Nana about her brother is already my least favorite, and its only been around for two episodes. While I appreciated Taihei catching on to both Kirie's secret hobby and Nana's general empathy for other people as they all conversed with one another, this segment was simply lacking in both pathos and comedy compared to the others this episode had to offer.
The other segments all deliver on the heartwarming cuteness, thankfully. Sylphyn's segment does an especially excellent job reinforcing the bonds that have developed between Umaru's group of friends. These are girls that spend all of their time together now, so of course Sylphyn would be jealous that Umaru, Kirie, and Nana all went out to try on cute clothes without her. Her earnest desire to participate in traditional Japanese celebrations was almost unbearably endearing, and her generally hyper-enthusiastic personality made even more sense once her surprisingly-young and not-so-surprisingly-competitive mother showed up to help the girls give Sylphyn her own kimono dress-up party.
This energetic opening story was contrasted nicely by the gentle and more relaxed tone of the closing scene, where Taihei and Umaru cool down their apartment and stargaze together. It also shows Himouto! Umaru-chan's mastery of the understated punchline—of course a mosquito would sneak in during Umaru and Taihei's bonding time, because that's exactly the kind of fun-ruining mischief those little pests spread. What makes Himouto! Umaru-chan R such a surprising success when compared to the original series isn't just that it's funnier, sweeter, and more compulsively watchable; it's that this season understands that it's not enough to get the big loud jokes about Umaru's selfishness right. Getting little believable moments right, like late night mosquitos or wanting to make your weirdo friend from out of town feel like one of the gang, is just as important. Umaru-chan's first iteration had jokes aplenty, but Umaru-chan R has heart, and even a little bit of heart goes a very long way.
Himōto! Umaru-chan R is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
James Beckett is a teacher and freelance writer, and he won't rest until Umaru finally tells Kirie the truth (and maybe takes her out on a cute date or two). You can find him championing #JusticeForKirie on his Twitter.
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