If I could write this review in a whisper, it would be very appropriate. Imagine, the text being so quiet that you have to get really close to the screen to read it. So close in fact that both you and the electronic device become uncomfortable with the proximity. Hilarious no?

This of course is exactly the primary source of humor in Aharen-san wa Hakarenai, or Aharen is Indecipherable. This and a handful of other repeated schticks make up the entire body of humor in this show. Yet despite this limited set of gags, this show is really funny, and a lot of fun to watch.

This anime falls squarely in a lesser-known category called iyashikei, a genre that’s meant to be calming or pleasing to watch. Aharen-san certainly is that. While slightly repetitive, this show was really fun to watch week to week in the Spring 2022 season. I look forward to the next season coming up in the near future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 7

Reina Aharen is short, quiet, shy—and indecipherable. For whatever reason, she barely speaks above a whisper, and is therefore all but inaudible to people who aren’t accustomed to her tiny voice. Or perhaps she inaudible just to people she’s not accustomed to speaking to, to whom she speaks to in an even quieter voice. 

First off, this is hilarious. To be so simple and for all that follows from it to follow so obviously, it still made me laugh myself around in my chair whenever this particular gag would arise in an episode. What follows from it you ask? If Aharen-san doesn’t know someone well but wants to speak to them, she has to get right up in their faces. Literally.

Which bring us to the second funniest part of Aharen-san: because of her size and her shyness and quiet voice, she’s lost nearly all awareness of proximity to people and things. Usually this manifests in her staring at Raidou (more on him in a moment) a centimeter away from his face, but also in cases like shooting corks at prizes or feeding a friend with chopsticks. The result is a great deal of the viewer staring at the screen in complete, hilarious confusion. I loved it.

Aharen-san, when audible, is voiced by the prolific Inori Minase (Rem, Re:Zero; Itsuki Nakano, The Quintessential Quintuplets; Jeanne, The Case Study of Vanitas; Hestia, DanMachi). Aharen-san was a very popular manga before it became anime, so it’s not surprising the producers would go for a big name for Aharen-san’s VA. But this is yet another instance of a major VA playing a nearly silent character, something we’ve seen a lot of in recent years; a notable example is Aoi Koga as Komi in Komi Can’t Communicate. But what I love about this is, interestingly but sort of unsurprisingly, the voices for these very quiet characters are actually hugely important. Komi in her series and Aharen in this one don’t speak much at all, but when they do, everybody tunes in and listens hard. The voice that speaks at that moment better do that moment justice. And let’s not forget all those little sounds that quiet characters make in place of words that are so full of expression yet so fleetingly quiet. So it’s great that the best VAs out there take on these roles. Gotta be easy work for them too, right?

Aharen-san?

Most of Aharen’s vocal and distance gauging difficulties are focused on Raidou-kun. Raidou Matsuboshi is also not very communicative and is very low-key. He finds himself seated next to the tiny Aharen-san in their class, and the two’s curious personalities and height differences naturally push them together. Naturally? Well, naturally in the anime-author-wants-it-that-way sense. A lot of things in this show are extremely contrived, but I actually kind of like that here (more on that later). Raidou and Aharen falling into friendship (and more!) is definitely one of these contrived story elements, but also the most understandable, given we don’t have a tale for these two at all if this doesn’t happen. Rom-coms and how the characters meet and all that. Blah blah blah…anyway.

Raidou is funny too. His schtick is that he’s very reticent but very imaginative. In Raidou’s case, this makes for a very fertile imagination regarding Aharen-san’s indecipherable behavior. Raidou regularly misinterprets these outward signals and behaviors and extrapolates them out into crazy scenarios in his mind, imagining Aharen pursuing crazy or unbelievable goals when really something much more mundane is actually happening. Raidou always quickly discovers his mistake, no harm is done, and he returns to his extraordinarily calm self.

He never gets un-calm really. His wild imagination comes through to the viewer only, as we hear his uninterrupted stream of consciousness, but his face never changes. I like both of these features. The stream of consciousness is fun because it’s one of those traits that we know is going to reappear, and it’s always funny when it does. More on that aspect of this show later. But the impassive face is a great touch to go with it. I really don’t think his expression ever changes. Put this face next to Aharen’s face, which also never changes, and you have two characters staring blankly at each other, usually from a very close distance. It is hilarious.

The famous frame.

In this very lightweight show, characters are not very developed. Instead, this show very ably uses traits for each character that recur continually. For Aharen this is of course her defining feature, her inaudible voice and trouble with distances, and for Raidou it’s his fantastical runaway misinterpretations. But every character has these aspects, and they’re all hilarious. Aharen’s clumsy and doting friend Mitsuki Ooshiro follows her around everywhere, often hiding in odd places just to watch her and Raidou when they’re together; places like lockers and ceiling panels. Aharen’s siblings are similar, though this similarity is that they’re similar: both siblings look like Reina, but one’s a little boy and the other a much more vocal sister.

Ishikawa is voiced by Tetsuya Kakihara, Natsu Dragneel’s (Fairy Tail) VA. Enough said. Impress your friends. You’re welcome.

Then there’s my favorite character in this series: Toubaru-sensei. As well as these defining character traits are used in Aharen and Raidou and the like, this method shines with Toubaru. She’s one of the teachers for Aharen and Raidou’s class, and she seems rather strict at first. When she sees Aharen and Raidou and their antics, initially she thinks they’re just messing around in the middle of class and goofing off. Eventually she comes to recognize that they’re actually doing these things to better enable Aharen to see the blackboard or to share notes with Raidou, etc., she changes her opinion and thinks well of them. So well, in fact, that she also begins to make assumptions about what she’s seeing, similar to Raidou, but she bottles it up in what is translated as her saying “displays of esteem.” I have no idea what Japanese word she’s saying that’s translating to “esteem,” despite listening for this several times, but this obsession with “esteem” causes Toubaru-sensei to experience violent physical reactions. When she gets overwhelmed with these “displays of esteem” from Raidou and Aharen, she gets terrible nosebleeds and usually faints. I’m telling you, the last time this happened in the S1—and you’ll recall that the repetitive nature of these schticks made this very predictable at that point—I just about lost it laughing.

This is a really nice, limited set of characters. They all do pretty much the same thing each episode, just in different scenarios, but it doesn’t get old. At least through one season. We’ll see how this is handled going forward. For now, I really enjoyed seeing these guys and girls interact. It was a good laugh every episode.

Artwork

Rating: 6

This is one of those shows that makes good use of its source material. The Aharen-san manga was very popular, and accordingly the anime followed its path carefully. The art style and particular characteristics of facial expressions, etc., all follow the manga pretty exactly. I like this here. Manga and subsequent anime are usually similar of course, but this varies by degree. It felt appropriate that this anime was so very similar to the manga.

Of course coloring, lighting effects, and motion make an anime unique from its manga. None of that is spectacular here, but is well done in support of the show itself. Even though it’s a comedy, it’s very lightweight—you’re not supposed to launch off the couch and roll around on the floor laughing watching this show, although Toubaru-sensei did try to make me eventually. But as such, the artwork is not so garish. It has the same kind of subtle energy to it that the humor of the show has: lightly intense coloring with soft lighting and lots of curved edges in the face, eyes, and most everywhere else. It’s very easy on the eyes.

So it does its job, but isn’t anything to get excited about. The artists had a lot to go on from the manga, and they used it effectively. I liked it.

Story

Rating: 7

Each character has their particular trait, and usually this results in repetitive gags—lightweight gags mind you, but certainly gags. Most of what happens in this show is totally ridiculous, putting it squarely in the gag category. I know most people associate “gags” with more edgy humor, or at least more intense humor, so this is kind of an interesting combination here in this show, which is neither edgy nor intense, but intentionally the opposite.

I like the repetitiveness here. The downside of repetitiveness of any kind is that it becomes predictable and can bore audiences after a while. But used effectively, repetitiveness can be a good thing. In this anime, I believe it’s a positive. Raidou and Aharen have their thing with distance and sound, and Ooshiro follows them around everywhere and they discover her in odd places, but I really like how this effect works for Toubaru-sensei the best. After a while I knew that every time we saw her she was going to see Raidou and Aharen doing something bizarre together, she was going to misinterpret what was going on all while urging herself to control herself, and then in the end she was going to get a bad nosebleed and faint. There were little variations within this, like the time she ended up hanging on her fellow teacher when they were together once on the streets, and the other teacher misinterprets Toubaru’s actions as expressions of love, or the time she bled horribly all over herself, but usually the gag followed a very simple and predictable route. 

I loved this. I’d start to get worked up the moment I saw Toubaru-sensei. “Here we go!” I’d think. She’d get all worked up about “esteem” and the blood would launch from her nose. I laughed more each time this happened, and I’m at the point where I’m looking forward to seeing more of this same routine in a new season of this show. All the individual character gags are like that: you pretty much know it’s coming and yet it’s still funny, almost funnier, every time, and you find yourself looking forward to more of it.

Toubaru-sensei faints once again.

The quality of the gags themselves is really good too. Gags usually are edgier, aforementioned, often involving sexual overtones or compromising, easily misunderstood situations. In this show they’re all simply ridiculous and impossible. Like Aharen standing an inch from Raidou’s face. People don’t do that. Or Ooshiro following those two around everywhere. I guess some people do do that, but they tend to call that stalking, and such is generally frowned upon. Once when these three are eating together, Ooshiro is hesitant to sit closer, but also wants to be fed by Aharen, who has been feeding Raidou some of her lunch. So Aharen does feed her: with chopsticks that suddenly grew to three feet long. It’s unbelievable, and unbelievably funny.

Coupled with these impossible gags is the fact that so much of this is contrived. Of course chopsticks don’t grow! Ooshiro simply couldn’t follow Aharen and Raidou everywhere and not be seen, especially in getting to the places she hides in, let alone the stalking aspect. No one would sit on somebody else’s shoulders in class. The rap communication thing was terrifying. Raidou and Aharen’s encounters with that crazed elementary school girl are ridiculous. Even for comedy this all seems a little too contrived for a show that’s basically about normal life otherwise. But I think this also effectively adds to the humor. Comedy usually has such creative license carte blanche, but it’s not often as obvious or as extensively used as it is in this anime. But even the expectation that something crazy was about to result made whatever happened that much funnier. It’s an effective use of this kind of comedic license.

But also embedded in this fairly random story is a sweet continuous thread. Most of this show is spent in that familiar sit-com or vignette style format, with little scenes and scenarios for the characters to perform the aforementioned gags in. But as the first season of this anime drew nearer to its close, we learned that there was an ongoing, blooming romance between Aharen and Raidou. I thought this was a nice bit. It certainly provides an answer to the accusations that this show is repetitive. We’ll see where this goes in S2. We got a big dose of it at the end of S1!

Overall: 7

I bet most anime fans don’t even know the term “iyashikei.” I know I didn’t until more recently. I have come to recognize over time that anime has several genres that seem unique to the medium. I’ve never seen any other kind of media that presents its material in such an intentionally mild manner, for example. Then I learned that this actually has a name in anime, and that name is iyashikei, a genre that’s intentionally meant to be soothing or “healing” (apparently the word itself is rooted in the word for “healing”). 

Knowing that, of course the first thing I started doing was what a lot of you are probably doing right now: trying to think of anime that fell in this category. The first one I thought of was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, because I always definitely felt like that show was just sweet and pretty and fun, and it would prod my emotions gently, not powerfully. And up til now, I would have said Kobayashi epitomized this genre. Actually i still think that, but I also think Aharen-san makes a good case for taking that title for itself. This show is so low-key it’s almost distracting. If something can wildly scream that it’s low-key, it’s this anime. Regardless of how anybody feels about that, this show definitely succeeds in fitting itself in this genre. I personally like it for that.

Season 2? I pretty much assume that’s guaranteed. S1 was very popular. It had some “memeable” moments too, which almost always ensures a show’s popularity. Most people had seen the meatball being pressed against Raidou’s cheek well before the anime premiered. The main story thread is kind of tied off, but it doesn’t have to be either. And I presume there’s more manga material out there (manga readers shizukani).

I hope there is another season. Just as I say of Kobayashi, this is a great show to mix in with other, heavier shows, in order to lessen the weight of those heavier shows. If you’re slogging through Tokyo Ghoul, To Your Eternity, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Berserk, or the enraging Tartaros arc of Fairy Tail, this is a nice show to pull out and break up the pain of those series. Variety is the spice of life, or some such nonsense, someone once said. But it’s definitely true in this case. Aharen-san is a perfect mood equalizer: sweet, pretty, harmless, calm, beautiful. We all could use more of that in our lives. Let’s hope there’s more to come from Aharen-san wa Hakarenai.

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