Himōto! Umaru-chan R Episodes 1-2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Himōto! Umaru-chan R ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Himōto! Umaru-chan R ?
My feelings on the first season of Himouto! Umaru-chan were decidedly mixed, so I was as surprised as anyone when I ended up really enjoying the second season's premiere. In the first season, Umaru's Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation from adored paragon of high school virtue to obnoxious little junk-food gremlin was basically the series' only joke, and it leaned on that joke hard. For much of its original run, I found Umaru's attitude more toxic than amusing, and the way she treated her brother seemed more like low-key abuse than the “lovable sitcom relationship” it was aiming for. Himouto! Umaru-chan was a comedy based entirely on embracing its main character's deficiencies and laughing with her as she got away with whatever she wanted, and I just couldn't get on board that train. Only in the final handful of episodes did Umaru seem like she was even considering making any changes for the better.
Enter Himouto! Umaru-chan R, a second season that retains the same premise and core staff as the original, but may as well be an entirely new series. I'm not sure if it's a matter of the source material improving or a change of philosophy behind the scenes, but Himouto 2.0 is a better and more enjoyable series across the board. The first episode demonstrates this shift immediately, giving us an Umaru that's still a lazy and entitled brat, but who's also more aware of her faults and doesn't behave in quite so extreme a manner. In the first season, the supporting cast existed primarily to show off the different sides of Umaru's personality, but in these new episodes, Umaru is actively engaging with the people in her life as friends and people worthy of respect. Whether she's acting as Komaru, the elusive gamer known as UMR, or plain old Umaru, our heroine feels less like a walking gag premise and more like a real girl who simply has her own set of vices and virtues.
This is a small shift in theory, but it's seismic in practice. To my own shock, I spent much of these first two episodes simply marveling at how gosh-darned cute everything was. Umaru and her brother have a healthier rapport, and Umaru is making the effort to interact with her friends not just as Komaru and Umaru but her true self as well. In Season 1, the gag was always based on how Umaru would only put on a good face while remaining selfish and manipulative on the inside, but now she's trying to show Nana, Sylphyn, and Kirie a better side of herself. Even simple vignettes like watching the girls walk home together or seeing the different ways they all tackle going to the movies are more pleasant and heartwarming than anything we got out of season one. Umaru's friends might still be in the dark about her alternate lives, but progress is progress all the same.
Speaking of Umaru's friends, if any character has become the surprise standout of the season, it is definitely Sylphyn. She honestly didn't make much of an impression in the first season, but this year the show is going out of its way to give her the cutest moments and the best lines. Her soccer rivalry with UMR produced the best segment yet in episode one, and episode two finally made good on the “double-life” gag by having Sylphyn recruit UMR to help her study for finals and finally outscore Umaru. What's great is that this isn't necessarily setting up for some contrived drama down the line, because Sylphyn and Umaru are already friends; it's just a funny bit that bolsters Umaru's bonds with her friends instead of trivializing them.
If there's one vignette that highlights why I'm much more enthusiastic about this series now, it would be where Umaru joins Taihei for an apartment cleaning session. In Season 1, the jokes would have squared on how funny it is that Umaru is such a slob, and how beleaguered Taihei is cleaning up after her. But this time, the audience laughs at Taihei's flustered commitment to a self-help guide and how he really does end up feeling bored when Umaru actually listens and cleans up after herself. The show is laughing with all the characters, not joining Umaru in laughing at everyone else around her. It's a gentler and more empathetic show that didn't have to sacrifice its main character's personality to get there. This is a version of Himouto! Umaru-chan I can really get behind, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.
Himōto! Umaru-chan R is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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