Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! ?
Based on the week's title alone, I went into “I Want to Meddle In My Friend's Business!” with guarded expectations. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was, then, when this turned out to be the best episode of Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! yet. Not only did I actually laugh at some of the jokes, but against all odds presented by even the most up-to-date scientific models, Uzaki herself came out of this episode as an almost likeable character. It's unfortunate that all of the good stuff comes from the very last scene, since everything that leads up to it is as middle-of-the-road as usual, but I'm not foolish enough to expect Uzaki-chan to go ahead and turn in a complete winner of an episode only five weeks into the season. The kid's gotta learn to crawl before it can run.
The first third of the episode is basically pointless, as it devotes itself to a not-at-all-funny bit about Shinichi and Uzaki going to a very conveniently timed lecture on interpreting dreams right after Uzaki was making fun of Shinichi for falling asleep in a different class and waking up all startled from a dream where he fell off of a skyscraper whilst trying to pet a cat. There is nothing particularly endearing about Uzaki teasing Shinichi over something that just doesn't strike me as very amusing, and the closest the scene gets to a real joke is when it ends with Shinichi holding Uzaki over a tall flight of stairs Michael Jackson-style, taunting her with the possibility of developing a phobia of falling downstairs because….I don't know, dreams and phobias are things that have been covered by what was presumably that psychology class? It is dumb, and there's nothing else to say about it, so we're moving on.
The second major development of the episode at least does us the courtesy of introducing a new character, Itsuhito Sakaki, who is the popular ladies'-man foil to Shinichi's whatever-he-is. Itsuhito is exactly the kind of stock comedy character you'd expect Uzaki-chan to whip out and introduce as Shinichi's other only friend, and I'm already tired of the show spending even more time on having the side-characters smile knowingly as Uzaki and Shinichi bicker. They're being set up as a romantic pair, and it's incredibly obvious; Shinichi knows it, the Café Boss knows it, Ami knows it; we all know it, but Uzaki and Shinichi's dynamic is rarely charming enough for predictability to play as cute.
The only saving grace of the prolonged pre-courtship phase of Uzaki and Shinichi's inevitable relationship is how over-the-top Ami and Itsuhito have decided to take their investment in getting the two oblivious idiots together; it turns out that Itsuhito, not Uzaki, is the titular meddler. Ami takes major issues with how blunt and speedy Itsuhito is with the process (he literally pulls a Tommy Wiseau and asks the pair how their sex life is), so now the two friends basically exist as embodiments of “shipper” ideology. Ami wants to observe from a distance and let nature take its course in due time; Itsuhito wants Uzaki and Shinichi to get to the ugly bumping, ASAP.
Like I said before, though, I don't care about any of that, since the pièce de résistance of “I Want to Meddle in My Friend's Business!” is the glorious outburst of culinary proselytizing that spews forth from Uzaki's irate lips when Shinichi dares to compare mint chocolate, a flavor combination that has had a notoriously hard time gaining ground in Japan, to eating a tube of toothpaste. Here, for the first time, Uzaki's insane capacity for inhumanly petty irritation is weaponized as a force for good, as she delivers a proud and defiant speech to all those who would listen about the unjust oppression of those brave souls who rightly stand by mint chocolate as being an objectively delicious flavor. Her righteous cause is so innately powerful that she gets an honest-to-God slow-clap ovation from passersby, and she even shames Shinichi some more for dunking on mint chocolate without ever having eaten it, since he was apparently traumatized by toothpaste and chewing gum as a poor lad.
Outside of spreading the Gospel of Mint Chocolate, this scene works because it is legitimately funny for once. Having a character commit to an unreasonably aggressive stance over a completely trivial non-issue is one of the oldest tricks in the joke book, but it's a damned effective one. This shouldn't have to be explained to anyone that isn't a literal child, but “being a nuisance” isn't funny on its own, and Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! finally seems to be discovering the secret about obnoxious comedy mascots that the survivors of the Great Sitcom Wars of the 80s learned the hard way: If you're going to force upon your audience a character that has intentionally been designed to be an annoying little gremlin, you have to give them something else to do, too. Make them likeable, and at least have them vaguely resemble a human being that we wouldn't immediately want to bury in a hole somewhere out in the desert. I'm no Uzaki stan, and the show isn't exactly “good” yet, but we're grading on a curve here, people! “Slightly Less Mediocre Than Before” is improvement enough for this little show to earn itself an extra star…for now.
Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is currently streaming on Funimation.
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