Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! ?
Here's the thing about romantic comedies: As (usually) quick and breezy movie affairs, a good deal of them indulge in the same basic dynamic that Uzaki-chan is dealing in, where at first the protagonists might find their soon-to-be lovers annoying or even downright offensive, and then they eventually learn to adore each other (one of my all time favorite spoofs of this cliché comes from the movie They Came Together, which has its characters going through this entire arc in a single scene). The problem I've had with Uzaki-chan has been twofold: The first is that the annoyance and aggression was entirely one-sided — it just wasn't clear at first that Shinichi had any reason to put up with Uzaki's extra-ness — and usually, when the jokes are all about how one character is supposed to be obnoxious towards another, it's difficult to also actively root for any kind of romantic connection between them.
Also, as an episodic TV show, it was impossible to know whether Uzaki-chan was playing up the friction between the characters as part of the traditional rom-com narrative arc, or if that bit was the show. Movies are much better at getting away with the flip-flopping of affection both because it's generally mutual, and because it only lasts for a short while before the mushy-gushy stuff takes center stage. Imagine if You Got Mail was just hours of Meg Ryan being pissed at Tom Hanks, and then the credits rolled. For a while, I wondered if “Uzaki is annoying, Shinichi is annoyed, and everyone jokes about how they probably will end up dating” was going to be the only thing that Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! had going for it, but these most recent episodes have really surprised me with how much they're willing to commit to the “romance” part of “romantic comedy”, which is exactly what I'm looking for in a show like this.
"I Want to Watch Fireworks Together!" picks up right where "I Want to Hang Out at a Cat Café and a Pub!", with Shinichi being completely put off by Uzaki's awkward and shy demeanor in the days following their first drunken night out on what was basically a date. Not only is the opening bit where Uzaki desperately tries to pay Shinichi back for “soiling his futon” after “her first time” a genuinely funny example of the sexy-misunderstanding humor that the show has fumbled in the past, it demonstrates honest to god consequences. Not as in the “punishing bad behavior” type of consequences, but in how Uzaki and Shinichi's relationship is growing and developing based on the stuff that they've experienced together in past episodes. In spite of how it seemed at first, this isn't just an episodic slice-of-life where the pair basically repeat the same routine day-in and day-out until the sun explodes and consumes the Earth.
This is never more apparent than the titular fireworks festival trip that Shinichi takes Uzaki on at the behest of Ami, who is so concerned about the uncomfortable rift growing between the pair that she and her father break their policy of non-intervention to help right their lab rats' romantic ship. There's an extended flashback that we get to when Shinichi and Uzaki met in high-school that colors in some of the reasons for why Uzaki has been so smitten with Shinichi in the first place, which is fine, but nowhere near as interesting to me as the scene where, after continuing to awkwardly stumble around each other's words, Shinichi demonstrates how much he's come to both understand and care for Uzaki by tossing embarrassment to the wind and exuberantly stroking the lass' ego. She might be a lot to deal with when she's all fired up, but Shinichi has come to honestly appreciate her presence in his life, and he wants her back to her “normal” self, even if that means enduring, well, her normal self.
I'm not going to pretend that this upswing represents some kind of Uzaki-chan Renaissance or anything. This is still a very basic, no-frills anime that mostly trades in clichés and imitations of other, better shows that have come before it. Even characters whose gimmick is actually kind of funny, like Ami and her pop, are nothing more than that one gimmick, and our central duo has only just risen to the level of being marginally interesting romantic leads. Still, when Shinichi found himself resting in Uzaki's lap, openly reminiscing about how he's really come to love having a friend like her, I found myself feeling very happy for the two of them. The world's a crazy place at the best of times, and there's a certain undeniable pleasure that comes from seeing the two well-meaning kids in a Japanese cartoon be able to find happiness in each others' company. Plus, the sight gag of Shinichi not being able to make direct eye-contact with Uzaki because of her massive chest marks the very first time this show has made a halfway decent boob joke, and that alone proves that Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! might just be worth sticking around for, after all.
Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is currently streaming on Funimation.
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