When it comes to the genre combination of slice of life and comedy, no studio does it better than Doga Kobo. With great titles under their belt such as Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun and Yuru Yuri, their mastering of the comedy manga adaptation is some of the best in the business. So can they really mess up ‘Himouto! Umaru-chan’? No, it’s great.
As ‘Himouto! Umaru-chan’ is a slice of life comedy, it doesn’t have a plot so to speak, more of a slight premise. There is a teenage girl called Umaru Doma who lives in a one room apartment with her older brother Taihei. Umaru seems like the perfect human being out in public, getting perfect grades in school and masterfully performing on the piano. When she’s at home, her body hideously transforms into that of a pre-schooler who doesn’t care about anything but cola, anime and video games. Surprisingly, the brother doesn’t find this transformation strange at all (yes, the change is canon in the story, otherwise many of the things that happen during the runtime could not happen) and is just disappointed at her lazy attitude. The rest of the anime is based on Umaru interacting with the other members of the cast, with a kind of important plot thread of Umaru trying to become a normal member of society.
Of course the most important part of this show, and the person taking up 80% of the cover of the box, is Umaru “Komaru” Doma. Considering her loud and obnoxious personality can be thought of as a negative character trait, she still manages to feel tangible as a person. She reminds me a lot of Shin-chan, from the 90s anime of the same name, although Umaru’s facial expressions when doing pretty much anything are so expressive and cute that I would find it difficult to call it a direct comparison. On the Japanese audio track she is voiced by Aimi Tanaka, and even though her next most noted role is a gender swapped Saiki Kusuo, from Saiki Kusuo no ᴪnan, she has a really vibrant and unique voice that really adds to the roll. I personally enjoy having a variety of Voice Actors in the scene and being allowed to take the lead in shows, and I feel the risk Doga Kobo took on this has paid off. On the English side of things, the role of Miss Doma is performed by Emily Neves. Like most English VAs, she has played a staggering 79 different roles in her time, with the most notable being Rayneshia Corwen from Log Horizon and Chelsea from Akame Ga Kill. I have not been subject to her work before, but she seems to have done a competent job with this casting, and I have found myself mimicking her pronunciation of “pohtayto chips” and “COHLA!” more than I care to admit.
Next on the chopping block is the big onii-chan, Taihei Doma. A hard working office worker by day, and a kind-hearted homemaker at night, Taihei is the second half of the main comedy pair in this series, where he functions as the straight man to most of Umaru’s antics, as well as being the butt of the joke a lot as well. The two seem to have great chemistry together, and after watching the included commentary track I can see it’s very natural for the two Japanese seiyuus to play off one another. Adam Noble’s work in the English track is just at the line of what I’d call acceptable voice acting, but he managed to give his own perspective on the role, making him feel like a slightly differing character than that in the subbed version, unlike Umaru. I know he can do better work than he has done here though, as when he voiced Masayuki Hori in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun it felt a lot less stilted.
Also in the cast are Umaru’s ‘friends;’ Ebina, Kirie and Tachibana Sylphinford. All of them provide a different kind of moe for the audience to get attached to, with Ebina being the big boobed girl from the country, Kirie being the shy but sweet one and Sylphin being bat-shit-insane. They all provide a great variety to the show, and by all I mean “not Ebina”; she is the worst girl in the show all her parts could be given to other characters and the product would be better off for it. I almost fell in love with the voice acting for Kirie done by Jad Saxton (Sena from Haganai, Merry from Grimgar) , and is one of those few English voice actors that seem to surpass the original in terms of understanding the emotions trying to be portrayed.
I do have two minor nit-picks about the show I will mention. Firstly, they delve into the topic of eating food a lot. When I watched this weekly as a simulcast I didn’t take much note of it, but in one large batch it does come up a bit too frequently considering this is a show about character interactions, not pretty desserts. Secondly, the penultimate episode ends as if it should be the final one. I’ve started noticing this more and more with the greater number of ‘incomplete story’ anime I consume, but they seem to use the 11th episode to chill the mood and wrap up, then the 12th to jack it up to 11, and make you wish for another season. Luckily, Doga Kobo just recently announced a second cour of Himouto! Umaru-chan to air in the fall season, but this build-up of expectation for something that may never arrive leaves a sour taste in my mouth that I wish could be avoided.
Animation-wise, even though this show didn’t need that much to sell, they really did a lot with the little used, facial animations being the major part. I usually don’t notice as much variation within one character in just a single scene in other anime, but the animators treat the show more like a cartoon, stretching what could be thought of as ‘on model’, instead treating the faces like putty.
On the musical side of things, the opening song, ‘Kakushinteki☆Metamaruphose!’, sung by the lead’s VA is a wonderful upbeat song, that really pumps you up for the rest of the episode, with visuals packed full of gaming references tied into the rest of the show; for example there’s a monster hunter parody, where the dragon has a side character’s afro on. Even the tacky CGI used in the OP adds to the feel of it being fast paced and fun. Sadly, you can see they used up a lot of the budget for this half, as the ending ‘Himari Days’ is a very slow song, with generic beachwear visuals, with no animation bar a bit of hair waving and a zoom into one of the character’s mouths as they say thank you.
I really appreciate how both the opening and ending are sung by the main cast instead of some random extraneous idol, even if it gives me flashbacks to girlish number and the dumb stuff voice actors have to do today to remain in the business. I do have a gripe with the English dub when it comes to this part though, as they chose not to bother dubbing the songs with their Voice actors. I am aware a lot of people despise dubbed songs in anime, but I am of the belief that if it is a character song, the character that is playing the person should sing it, to make the show feel as one whole instead of seeming tacked on. Sadly, Manga’s release doesn’t include the soundtrack, unlike the American Collector’s Edition release, but the background music has this strange, otherworldly vibe to it to match the comedy of the show, that even on its own would be worth a listen to.
Also included in the set is ‘Himouto! Umaru-chanS’ a series of shorts where all the main girls have the ability to turn into a Himouto like Umaru does, and is based more on non-sequiturs and parodies. I was pleasantly surprised to find out Sentai dubbed these shorts, and even the voice acting that I didn’t enjoy in the main series, seemed to work better in this format, either due to these being recorded last so the VAs had gotten used to their roles, or the ADR director is better at his job on shorter pieces. The shorts in and of themselves seem to be aimed directly at the hardcore fans of the show, and feel a little fan-workish, missing the point of some of the girls; but they are an enjoyable experience none the less.
Included as bonus features are; Television, home video and song commercials, a round table with the main voice actors called ‘Banquet Mondays “Daranama”’, commentaries with the Japanese cast, with many interesting facts about the production of the show, and clean opening and ending visuals and trailers for other Sentai-licensed shows. The release is also packaged in an artbox, with plastic O-card, in a similar fashion to most of Manga’s recent releases.
All in all, Himouto! Umaru-chan is a great comedy, with fast paced jokes thrown at you left right and centre. If you are fan of Japanese culture, or just wacky zaniness, this show is a must buy. On the flip side, the show does little to establish a flow-through narrative, relying on the novelty of new pairs of characters interacting, which I for one don’t necessarily see as a negative, but could have run stale if the show was any longer.