Himōto! Umaru-chan R
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Himōto! Umaru-chan R ?
Himōto! Umaru-chan R has proven to be at its best when focusing on the core experiences of just a few castmates at a time. All the girls (and occasionally their brothers) get a little bit to do most weeks, but this season's episodes have usually had a specific relationship serve as their through line, with Sylphyn, Kirie, and Taihei all having personal arcs and evolving dynamics with Umaru that string all the gags and cute scenes together. But every now and then, we get an episode like this one, “Umaru and Memories”, that focuses more on a general theme, with each of the vignettes being otherwise independent from one another. This is by no means a bad thing, seeing as this is a slice-of-life comedy and all, but episodes like this one do tend to feel more uneven compared to the stories that have a more clearly defined emotional core.
The first story of the week focuses on memories in a familial sense, with Taihei and Umaru messing around with Bomba's hand-me-down camera. It's a cute scene, and there are a couple funny gags that lampshade the surreal grey area of Umaru's shapeshifting ability. The biggest takeaway from the segment has less to do with Taihei and Umaru's relationship and more to do with Bomba and Kirie's; forgotten photos show a younger Kirie that was probably just as feisty, but also apparently much closer to her brother if his drunken ramblings are to be believed. There's a subtle melancholy to Kirie and Bomba's comically antagonistic relationship that the show doesn't often touch on, so it's nice to see Bomba's nostalgia for the good old days when Kirie didn't avoid and berate him whenever she could. While I could never see Umaru going so far as to completely shut Taihei out of her life, the season has made a point of showing how Taihei is just as much of a paternal figure to Umaru as a brother, and now Taihei must accept that someday Umaru is bound to shrug off her hamster hoodie and make a life of her own. No matter how difficult his sister might be, Bomba's gift is a reminder of how their memories of this time in their lives ought to be preserved.
The next segment is another take on the passing of time and how people's memories are often the last reminders of the disappeared places that once defined their lives. Sylphyn and UMR need to find a new hangout spot when their arcade is temporarily closed, and they end up finding their entertainment in an old run-down department store. Umaru is happy to enjoy the charm of a nearly deserted relic from a bygone era, but Sylphyn is aware that their time there is limited. This vignette emphasizes just how close these four girls have grown this season, and Sylhpyn knows that their lives won't always be so close-knit, so she resolves to make the best memories with them that she can. By the time the department store is torn down, Umaru is saddened, but Sylphyn reminds all of her friends that it isn't the place that matters, but the way it impacted their lives. It's an unexpectedly moving story that perfectly touches on the ways that this season of the show has improved by allowing Umaru to grow and mature alongside her friends.
If all that sounds a little heavy for you, then don't worry, because the rest of the episode's segments are strictly about the laughs, with varying degrees of success. The best of these is Ebina's comically awkward attempt to do some cooking for Taihei, as Umaru's attempt to seem useful in the kitchen manages to literally push her brother and her friend into each other's arms while simultaneously threatening to burn their apartment down. Hikari also shows up again for another combative meal with Umaru, and that segment is perfectly okay. I still find Hikari to be largely underwhelming, but her pancake cook-off with Umaru is worth a chuckle or two, and it features a pretty funny Evangelion reference, which makes the segment worth it all by itself.
The final segment of the episode is the strangest by far, as it shows Umaru delight in playing with her hamsters until Taihei tells her not to—and then she actually listens to him. Ultimately, this shift in behavior doesn't last long when Taihei walks in to find Umaru playing with her pets once again and reacts with his usual agitation. It's not a terrible scene, but it felt three times longer than it needed to be, since the punchline essentially amounts to “But her hamsters want to play!”, which isn't much of a joke at all. That's how it is with these more loosely structured episodes, though. Some of the stories will make you laugh, others might make you tear up a little, and a few of them whiz by without making an impression at all. At the very least, Himōto! Umaru-chan R has developed its cast with such skill and care that even doing nothing much with them turns out to be a pretty good time in the end.
Himōto! Umaru-chan R is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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