Slowly, and aided by her new friends (especially Tadano, the first one she made), school “goddess” Komi is starting to overcome her anxiety at talking to others and is headed toward her goal of making 100 friends. But one’s fears don’t disappear so easily; it’s still not easy for Komi to speak up, so how will she handle giving her order at a ramen shop, getting her hair done at beauty parlor, trying out clothes at the mall, and perhaps most challenging of all, inviting friends to see her room?
If the summary above sounds like a sitcom, that’s because volume two of Komi Can’t Communicate reads just like one. It’s very much structured toward “Let’s throw Komi into a new situation and see what happens.” And so each chapter either introduces a new locale—the ramen shop is the best of them—or a new character, or both. The format isn’t necessarily bad and even makes some sense because it’s through experiences that Tadano and Osana are trying their best to help Komi grow, but the chapters are too short to let situations develop at an enjoyable and realistic pace. They’re all arranged this way: introduce new element, provide laughs having to do with Komi’s beauty and lack of communication skills, and let her grow a tiny bit. This setup, though the execution is admittedly a little subtler than my explanation, grows tiresome. And when there’s deviation, it’s not done well—the longest story in this collection allows time for growth, but too prominently features yandere stalker Yamai, who comes across as too demented to be accepted as a legitimate “friend.”
A bigger issue, though, is that Oda seems less sure of where to go in volume two than he did in the introductory collection. Is this story about making 100 friends? Or is it less frenetic than that, focused more on steady character growth? He seems to be trying for both, but isn’t reaching either. It’s a shame, because there is potential here. Although most of the characters are forgettable, the main ones are interesting, particularly Osana, who readers in the west might interpret as transgender, though it’s hard to tell at this point if that’s the case or if this character is on the page purely for rudimentary laughs. More impressive is the relationship between Komi and Tadano—these are the two most compelling characters and the heart of the story. Chapters dealing with the growth of their bond are the best in the volume and make me wish that this manga was more of a straight-up love story than a comedy, because it is at points fairly romantic, while it’s seldom funny.
I gave a lukewarm review of volume one, but that’s not an indictment of the series. Some manga are involving right from the start, while others take some time to find their way. But by volume two, Komi should be hitting its stride. Instead, it’s parked at a weird spot; although the elements are all here for something special—characters that are imbued with heart, the possibility for touching content, and an art style that deserves more humorous and original scripting—the manga is stuck with a messy storyline, tired laughs, and predictable situations. We’ll soon dig into volume three to see if the quality of Komi Can’t Communicate progresses, with a hope that with all this potential, the mangaka can communicate with laughs, romance, and character development that turn a convoluted story into a treasured one.