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Himouto! Umaru-chan

On the famous anime suffering chart, one of the most conspicuous placements, for suffers least, but deserves the greatest suffering, goes to our present lead, Umaru Doma. Is Umaru-chan really that terrible? Finding out is a great part of what moved me to watch Himouto! Umaru-chan. Initially 12 episodes, the 2015 first season has companion 2-minute shorts paired with each episode, plus a 2-episode OVA; a second season (Himouto! Umaru-chan R) lasted another 12 episodes. The series is none too lengthy, and actually gets to feeling all too short given how entertaining it is, but I would be hard pressed to imagine anyone’s excitement really came from shaking a fist at Umaru across the 24+ cour.

You live in Japan. You still live in the same city where you went to high school, and work a white collar office job alongside many of your former classmates. On top of that, you’ve got a charming blonde (?) little sister who’s highly popular, and repeating your own stellar academic performance at your old high school. What’s not to like? Well, when she returns home, on donning an orange hamster hoodie not only her behavior changes, her physical form changes too: from a young woman 160cm tall, to an infantile chibi a mere 45cm in height (see the second opening) absorbed in gaming, anime, manga, and pigging out on snacks, childishly reliant upon you for everything, a bon vivant of the NEET lifestyle despite still being in school.

Such is life for plain-faced Taihei Doma, onii-chan to Umaru Doma, and he often chafes in frustration at Umaru’s inability to prepare any food, reluctance to clean up after herself, and habit of spending money meant for clothing on more games. Taihei wishes Umaru’s studying habits were better, but as she always earns top grades that isn’t as much of a concern as her indolence; it is hard to imagine Umaru shifting for herself should he ever be unable to provide for her. Even with her academic achievements, it is hard to picture Umaru applying herself. The series title comes from a playful term Taihei invents for her, and usually repeats to himself, a conjunction of “himono onna” (dried fish lady, one who only makes any effort when others are looking) and “imouto”, little sister. Umaru is very self-conscious, and hides her at-home behavior while in public, though sometimes the veneer frays. Much of the humor comes from the absurd contrast between her presentable and munchkin Umaru.

Another concern is Umaru’s lack of close friends. Despite her popularity, she heads right home after school and cocoons up in TV, internet, and comic magazines. That begins to change as flamboyant, blue-haired Sylphynford Tachibana declares her her personal rival! Invariably coming in 2nd in publicly posted exam results, Sylphynford never loses heart and keeps renewing the challenge. She comes to rival a disguised Umaru in hobbies, too, when the pair face off at a major gaming tournament, which Umaru competes in under the arcade ranking initials UMR. Sylphynford doesn’t recognize incognito Umaru, and strikes up a friendship with UMR. Sylphynford is a major contrast to Umaru: though also ladylike in public, she is not ashamed of her leisure interests, and never thinks twice about sharing them with others.

Meanwhile, the large-chest, low self-confidence space is filled by the Domas’ ground floor neighbor Nana Ebina. An Akita transplant with a rustic accent she often fails to conceal, as both girl next door and classmate Ebina befriends both Taihei (on whom she develops an obvious crush) and Umaru (public persona). Oppositely, when petite classmate Kirie Motoba catches Umaru in chibi appearance, Umaru fibs that she’s actually her (fictitious) sister Komaru! Kirie immediately venerates “Komaru” as the “Master” of laid-back, otaku living, and like Sylphynford begins growing closer to Umaru assuming she’s two different people. As the group of friends grows more tight-knit and hangs out more frequently, much of the viewer interest is in seeing how well they get to know Umaru as she really is, and if the companionship helps her to live a more honest, less fragmented life.

This is one of those fun shows only a real crabapple will find annoying. The only thing that I didn’t like are the weird, identical faces Umaru’s pet hamsters and every animal other than humans in the anime has. Might it be a pain watching after such a consummate case of indolence? Yes, but sometimes nothing gives a kind-hearted man more consolations than caring for someone. As Umaru admits in the first opening, ”Making him spoil me to bits is the backhanded way I show my love.”

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