Review/discussion about: Himouto! Umaru-chan
Unlike Himouto! Umaru-chan, I do not have a younger sister. However, I do have a younger brother. Admittedly he is not-so-little anymore, but he is still my baby bro nonetheless. I always tried to be a “good older brother” – playing sports, earning high marks in education, and looking out for him when needed. Still, I do not think he ever looked up to me as an older brother; for much of his life he has made his own decisions, regardless of me or anyone else around him. Not that I hate him or vice versa (we love each other despite never saying the words), it is just we have been more like the best of friends rather than him viewing me as a role model of sorts. Whether that speaks more about him or myself, I cannot say.
This past week I met up with him, to discuss life, how he was doing, and what stories we had to share. We insulted each other, we poked fun at each other, and we belittled each other, but we were always laughing. The jokes, the melodramatic tales, and the unique scenarios we find ourselves in are separate, but we get each other. His laughter, mixed with my own, makes this known.
No matter what happens, he will always be my baby brother. I know that, and I know that he knows that, too. Despite the things we might do or the words we might say, my brotherly relationship to my goofball of a brother is something I will always cherish. As for Umaru of Himouto! Umaru-chan, that same mentality can be found somewhere within.
Himouto is a simple anime. As a comedy with intermittent, heartfelt moments, the show truthfully does not do much except stick to its regular self. This is not necessarily a negative but it does leave much to be desired.
“Desire” is an important concept since much of the comedy revolves around this notion. Umaru desires laziness, leaning on her brother’s generosity and indulging in her own fantasies. Ebina desires food and romance. Kirie desires friendship. Sylphinford desires winning. With these desires in mind, the anime often constructs its comedic events around them. One scene might have Umaru chatting with her inner-selves while making popular anime references while another scene might showcase Kirie’s daydreaming involving her, her “Master”, and the beach. Doing so allows the show to essentially “do what they want”, escaping the confines of reality in order to give the show a wider breadth of material to work with. That is to say, gratification stems from their (often unfulfilled) desires.
Of course, the show bends its own reality when it so chooses, most notably when Umaru goes from prim and proper to squat and squalor. The show makes a distinction between the two halves, meaning the audience (and the characters) can (or cannot) tell that the refined Umaru is different from the reduced Umaru. This, once again, opens up another branch of comedy. The show constantly uses this disparity between the regular and the hermit Umaru in order to create contrasting comedic courses. For example, one scene has her out to eat with her brother and Ebina so she has to act “correctly”, but since she wants to purchase a new video game, her “true” self starts to emerge. This mixture of both halves – this ultra-perfect girl whining, crying, and acting silly – creates a dichotomy that naturally invokes hilarity. This kind of contrast applies to each of the other girls as well: Kirie being excited and cute yet somewhat creepy, Ebina accidentally using her normal dialect when happy, and Sylphinford acting (playfully) high and mighty but getting embarrassed when her brother appears. This contrasting motif permeates the anime, both in its narrative and in its characters.
As for other, concrete themes, the narrative does not invest in anything too deep. Ideas such as “home sweet home” – when Umaru hangs out at a manga café that has everything she has ever wanted yet she heads home early – and the importance of family – when Umaru feels alone after separating the apartment into two halves – are sweet for the soul but remain unexplored. That is, they exist solely to add a bit of sentimentality to balance out the stream of comedy the show provides. In this way, the comedy avoids to an extent becoming stale since the show often relies on the same gags and adorableness. Therefore shifting the tone slightly time and again does not outright take away from the laughs. Instead the show makes those laughs, when they do come around again, stronger since they are jumping from a relatively mellow level of emotion to a level of pure happiness.
Himouto avoiding the exploration of difficult themes is not automatically a problem; the anime has no interest in going super-critical. The show simply wants to make comedy its first and foremost outlet. However there is a theme that Himouto, to some degree, expounds on: the sibling relationship. At most points throughout the anime, Umaru and Taihei’s bond is tested. There are the obvious instances, where Umaru feels bad for acting difficult around Taihei and Taihei thinking about his sister’s lunch so she grows up healthy. But it is not these kinder moments that portray their sibling status. Rather, Umaru’s teasing, Taihei’s lividness, and their ultimate reconciliations are what display the bond they share. Having a sibling – be it a brother or a sister – brings with it certain connotations. Understanding, respect, tolerance; “family comes first” is not said lightly. This cliché literally means that that guy or girl who shares the same blood is always at the forefront of the mind. While Himouto might not necessarily have Umaru and Taihei in dramatized situations, Umaru fretting over Taihei when he gets sick or Taihei working overtime to support Umaru’s future are moments that highlight the special relationship that not everyone gets to experience.
This theme of sibling relationships does not only apply to Umaru and Taihei. Sylphinford and her brother Alex as well as Kirie and her brother Bomber are relationships about the same idea. The former contains a bit of unnecessary distance whereas the latter is filled with miscommunication. In truth, these examples are likewise lacking intensive exploration, but these relationships at least expound on what a sibling relationship entails once again. Meaning Himouto, despite focusing so much on comedy, has at the minimum a noticeable thematic presence.
One of Himouto’s biggest strengths is the level of animation it employs. Mostly due to the simplistic art, the characters and their various actions – from Umaru’s transitions between normal and hermit to Ebina’s frantic disposition – are fluid. This also stems from the show’s laidback nature. The characters never do anything extremely extraneous, meaning resources can be relegated to hair, faces, and limb movements. As such, the show manages to remain dynamic, fitting the show’s equally dynamic comedy.
The designs for the characters are not as dynamic, however some of the characters are impressive. Umaru may have an argument in her favor for the fact that she is given two separate designs to coincide with her two separate personalities. Her cute side, having long hair, glinting eyes, and a model-esque smile, makes her blanket-wearing, height-missing, and doofy-grinning side a jarring spectacle. Most striking of all is Sylphinford. Her cat-like smile, light-blue, flowing hair, and fancy dresses make her stick out from everyone else in the series. Yet it is her eyes, with their cross-symbol pupils, that immediately draw the attention of the audience. There is no denying how different she looks from the other decidedly plain (read: normal) people, signifying her own need to rise above the rest. This “rest” being Kirie, Ebina, and Taihei, each of who are visually lackluster. Kirie’s purple ponytail, Ebina’s huge boobs and twin-tails, and Taihei’s glasses make them their own persons but nowhere near as creative as Umaru and Sylphinford.
As for the art, as was stated Himouto rarely ventures outside of its comfort zone. The art is simplistic, taking place primarily at or around Umaru’s abode. Parts of the school, the arcade, or a restaurant may be visited now and again but the majority of the action takes place in the regular apartment. The result is a tame offering of the same, tired area despite how detailed the recluse location is. Lighting also contributes to the sameness since the anime rarely deals in extravagant use of fixtures or bulbs. Still, the camera and its direction deserves some praise for its occasional execution. One scene in particular takes an aerial view of Umaru and the apartment’s entrance, then shifts into a first-person perspective of Umaru as she crawls along the floor and under a table to her favorite resting spot. A unique scenario – one of a select few instances where the camera does a lot of work – but worthy of attention regardless of its frequency.
Other nuances exist – such as the inclusion of text for certain conversations or actions, the visibility of a heat wave, and the literal tilting of the frame on-screen – that, however slightly, demonstrate the show’s attention to detail on an artistic level.
Arguably the characters are the backbone for comedies (characters being the backbone for all anime is another conversation entirely), meaning whether or not Himouto can stand upright relies mostly on the strength of its cast.
Focusing solely on the main troupe – Taihei, Ebina, Sylphinford, Kirie, and Umaru (ignoring Bomber, the “Christmas Cake” boss, and the other very minor characters) – Taihei actually rests at the bottom of the totem pole. Much of his persona derives from the other girls. He shows kindness towards Ebina, understanding towards Kirie, and happiness towards Umaru. This, combined with his adult status, does not give him much room to change throughout the season, and that is sort of the point. As a caregiver, as a guy who has to look out for his family and his family’s friends, he is more or less the rock that supports them. While he does have nostalgic asides, the anime uses Taihei as the man he is and the man he is supposed to be: one always willing to help those around him.
Ebina is not so much a helper as she is a girl seemingly out of her element. She hails from the country, her accent (which she hides) giving her away easily enough. Her strangest feature, though, is her adoration of Taihei. Her loving him is fine, it is her reasoning that is weird. On her travels, Taihei was (supposedly) the first person to look not at her ginormous bosom but instead at her, the girl hoisting said bust. Therefore, whenever Taihei is around she noticeably blushes. As for her relationship to Umaru, they are best friends, the big-boob lady floored that the perfect girl of the school would even think of hanging out with her country bumpkin self. Ebina does not do a whole lot throughout the season despite hang out with Umaru, fail to get her feelings across to Taihei, and try to make friends with Kirie, but as the genuinely sincere part of the group, she plays her role well.
Sylphinford also has a role in the group: the hyper-competitive and hyperactive girl. Loving games, anime, and manga (which she hides from her brother), she comes from a place of wealth. Aptly put, Sylphinford is a character among the characters. She has a self-imposed rivalry with Umaru – in sports, in grades, and in general life. Sylphinford always loses but she never lets this deter her. She is almost happy that she loses, or at the minimum has someone who she can call her equal. Umaru’s masquerading gamer side is someone Sylphinford also competes with for nearly the same reasons. But no matter who she is with, she gives everything her all not because she wants attention but because she simply wants to have fun. She loves playing games but even more so than that she loves making other people smile.
Kirie is similar in the sense that she wants to have fun but has a hard time getting across this notion. She has an extremely awkward personality (which she hides…unsuccessfully) that most people interpret as a threatening demeanor. She was lonely because nobody wanted to interact with her and because she could not muster the courage to interact with anyone else. It is not until Umaru’s hermit half that she finally opens up completely, revealing to the audience a girl who is still awkward at times but actually filled with heart and love. Kirie is the only one to see growth of a sizeable magnitude: having overcome her inherent anxiety, not just with Umaru but with Taihei and Ebina later on, she comes to have the type of camaraderie she had always sought, breaking her shell slightly. And it is slightly. Kirie still has a lot of difficulty talking with everyone, even regular Umaru. But progressing to the point of having a beach vacation with five people at once is a hugely relative leap for the hugely shy lady.
Unquestionably, Umaru is the most interesting character. Questionably, Umaru is the most complex of all the characters. Technically Umaru is a single person. However Umaru is somebody with multiple personas (which she hides). Like Spider Man and Peter Parker, she adapts herself for the people around her. For Ebina, she acts like her refined self. For Sylphinford, she acts like her gamer self. For Kirie, she acts like her lazy self. In other words, Umaru “becomes” somebody else depending on who she happens to talk with. Her brother is the only one to see all these sides simultaneously because, as was aforementioned, their sibling relationship demands trust between the brother and sister. Interestingly, she does not “open up” to anyone despite them opening up to her. Ebina recollects her outside origins, Sylphinford laments her embarrassment, and Kirie confides her troubles. On the one hand, this is selfish of Umaru. Her friends willingly unveil themselves while she continues to dodge their glares. On the other hand, Umaru is the least selfish. Looking at the situation more closely, Umaru uses the persona that best suits each of her friends, less a ruse and more a comfort. Ebina cannot handle crazy stuff so she acts normal, Sylphinford loves to compete so she dons her UMR mask, and Kirie is better at dealing with children so she goes full-childish. In a strange way, she is a complex character, someone who contorts to fit the occasion while simultaneously being herself. She is Doma. She is UMR. She is Komaru. And yet she is not. Because, in the end, she is nobody else besides Umaru.
Umaru easily personifies one of the definitive themes of the anime. This theme being two-sidedness (granted, Umaru has three sides). Each of the girls has the same peculiar quality – they hide some part of themselves. Indeed, the previous discussion on each character makes this connection clear. Everyone has something to hide, or more poignantly everyone has something to reveal. Men and women often view other individuals through a single lens rather than through a multidimensional scope. Meaning they are incapable of seeing all sides to another person. Ebina is quite reserved, but she has a voracious appetite, an accent, and a pure love. Sylphinford is bombastic, but she adores candy, loves “all things Japanese”, and hates to embarrass herself in front of her brother. Kirie is overly shy, but she can play sports, she can cook cookies, and she is devoutly loyal. Ebina, Sylphinford, and Kirie reveal these traits to Umaru as time passes, and to an extent it is a relief for them. Having the opportunity to be themselves around another person, revealing who they actually are, is a wonderful feeling, one that Himouto manages to explore in a comedic yet meaningful manner.
The opening theme is absolutely delightful, perfectly capturing the mood of the show. The beat is quick, the tone is ecstatic, and the instruments are fun. However it is the song’s interlude, where the track shifts its tune from cacophony to calm then back to calamity – what Umaru does on a daily basis – that elevates the piece’s awareness of the anime’s focus, thereby improving the piece’s overall execution. The ending theme cleverly tones everything down, keeping its mood mellow. The four main girls take turns singing in the first half, followed by an audible “aragato”, and then the second half a choir of their voices. Alongside the cheerful and serene tone, the track gets better the more it is listened to. If nothing else, the piece has the audience exit each episode feeling warm in the soul.
A minor note: the anime likes to use silly sound effects, especially with the characters. This most prominently happens with Umaru and Sylphinford, their “Umaruun!” and “Shupaan!”, respectively, adding comedy to their actions. Also, the distinct sounds of hermit Umaru walking make her tiny form that much funnier. As such, the anime improves on its comedic delivery, albeit in a roundabout way.
Voice acting for Himouto is above average for most of the performances. Aimi Tanaka as Umaru provides two separate voices to match the young lady’s current demeanor, giving Umaru a stronger distinction between her two halves. Plus, as Ms. Tanaka’s first major role, she goes above and beyond. Yurina Furukawa as Sylphinford uses quite the upbeat voice, resulting in a girl who always sounds determined. Similar to Ms. Tanaka, this is Ms. Furukawa’s very first role, meaning her debut performance could not have gone any better. The best performance comes from Haruka Shiraishi as Kirie, whose grunts, gasps, and guttural noises made her into the lovable weirdo that she is. And as might be expected, this is one of her first bigger roles in the industry, her well-executed performance demonstrating a potentially bright future for her as a voice actress. Akari Kageyama as Ebina also has this as her first big role, so if anything the voice acting should be remembered for enlisting new and strong talent for the majority of the main cast.
The remainder of the soundtrack outside of the OP and the ED is intriguing. As a slice-of-life anime, Himouto is not grandiose in its background music, but some do manage to perk the ears. One track involves a low-note piano with constant snapping, used for the slightly ominous moments. Another almost strictly sticks to xylophones for the questionable times. Techno beats, fast-paced tunes, and lots of flutes fill the air of various pieces, creating a wide range of offerings. The music can also become specific, like during the time Umaru, Kirie, and Taihei play a video game that incorporates 8-bit recordings. Again, nothing is memorable but Himouto does a nice job of having the right piece for the right moments throughout the season.
Admittedly, there is not a lot to say about this one. Except for specific categories, the anime is quite average at everything it does. Yet this does not outright deter the amount of entertainment derived from the show. The characters, regardless of their meager development, are nothing short of fun. Especially Kirie, whose awkwardness and accidental creepiness, combined with her stuttering and devotion to Umaru, made her an undeniable ball of awesomeness throughout the season. Literally anything Kirie did made me laugh out loud, making her easily my favorite of the show.
Sylphinford is not too far behind. Her boundless determination, sincere praise of Umaru, and her ridiculous poses were nothing short of hilarious. Umaru, too, with her dramatized adorableness and lackadaisical attitude. Ebina, as well as Kanau, brought a dash of romance which, given my adoration for the genre, was a welcome addition. Bomber is a cool dude, too. He plays the off-kilter man to Taihei’s straight man while also playing well off of lazy Umaru and his sister Kirei. The characters are a nice bout of fun, individually and collectively providing laughter throughout the experience.
In fact, there was probably more room for different pairings. Sylphinford barely interacts with anyone besides Umaru and there is very little of Kanau despite her having a funny (and heartfelt) scene. Furthermore, besides the moments themselves being cutesy or sweet, none were moving; the events were neither sad nor frustrating to me. While I could certainly empathize with the sibling relationship ideas, I simply understood those themes and where they were heading rather than them being a set of scenes that I found myself resonating with. Regardless, the faces the characters made, the imaginations they thought up, and the simple moments they shared with one another put smiles not only on their faces but on mine, too.
Himouto! Umaru-chan is a comedy before anything else. Its meager themes on siblings and the idea of multisided people exist but are not explored extensively. Other areas are a mixed bag: the animation is solid but the art is often par for the course. Still, this does not take away from the musical choices, the impressive debuts of the voice actresses, and the large amount of entertainment the whole package delivers. And as this one shows, regardless if it is a made-up anime family or my brother and I, having a sibling relationship is a truly unique experience.
Story: Fine, comedy entails desire and bending reality, with sentimental and sibling themes that are explored only adequately
Animation: Fine, above average actual animation, Sylphinford and Umaru are the only impressive character designs, about average artistic direction with hints of ingenuity
Characters: Fine, while the majority of the cast are relegated to singular roles, Umaru’s adaptability and the theme on multiple sides holds a higher sense of meaning
Sound: Good, great OP, good ED, okay OST, above average VA work
Enjoyment: Good, Kirie, Sylphinford, and Umaru were hilarious, the rest of the cast was fun, with missed pairing opportunities and emotional events.
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3