My Clueless First Friend
Akane Nishimura, known as "Shinigami" (Grim Reaper on crunchyroll's subtitles) by her classmates, is relentlessly bullied in school by pretty much everyone for her dark hair and clothes. All that changes when a new boy, Taiyou Takada, transfers to her class. He hears about her "Shinigami" nickname she has been given by her bullies and immediately thinks it's the most awesome thing ever. The next step for him is therefore immediately approaching her to learn everything he can about his new best friend.
Stig: I already knew I was gonna like this going in. Word of mouth was already quite positive in all of the online sources I use for the research I do before deciding on something, which is probably also the reason why it was easy to get this show on board for our weekly synchro sessions.
Tim: The spring 2023 rundown Stig and I did in the March 2023 was, hands down, some of the most cynical and depressed we'd been looking at a season rundown of anime ever. Only a handful of shows interested/sounded promising to us. Thankfully, this was one of them.
Wherever you stand on what constitutes bullying, or how much it'd take for something to be considered as such, we can't imagine anyone arguing that what Akane Nishimura is enduring is anything but. The opening segment is literally almost everyone giggling and throwing comments at her, not even caring that she can hear them. They all ostracize her from their own friendship circles, and one of the groups even tried taking Takada (Taiyou is almost never referred to by his first name in the show, so we won't either for the rest of this review - Tim) - the first boy who has actually talked to her - away from her. Nishimura seems to take the bullying in stride, but that's only because she's so numb to it now. It's a big credit to her and how amazingly kind and patient she is for being willing to throw a potential friendship away to protect someone else.
Said friend, Takada, gives off the initial impression of a gag character. The "clueless" in the title is referring to him, as he's more or less impervious to the cruel comments from his classmates. Unlike Nishimura, who is deeply hurt by the torment of her classmates, Takada is too dumb to even notice he is being bullied a good amount of the time. I know we sound like we're selling him short, but the way Takada takes almost every single mean comment and completely dismantles them is a joy to behold. He either switches around his "classmates"'s words into something positive, or point out how they make no sense whatsoever. And when the bullies try to double down on the bullying, it just backfires even harder.
What makes Takada so much fun to watch is just how genuine he is about pretty much everything he does. He's the perfect foil to not only the bullying, but also the way Nishimura tries to push him away to protect him from her bullies. He is a biiiit loud and clingy at times, but he never does it out of any malice or spite. He just genuinely thinks she's the coolest, cutest person ever, unaware how blushy she gets from all his praise.
Luckily for Nishimura, Takada isn't the only one willing to talk to her. His best friend Daichi Hino also befriends her, and he's possibly the only one in the cast even more odd than Takada. He's got this perpetual doofy expression on his face, and the only thing going on in his brain 90% of the time is tank tops (which he wears even in the fall and winter seasons). To his credit, he's also the one who noticed that Takada wanted to make friends with Nishimura and helps by bringing her into their circle. He's also being crushed on by Umi Adachi, pretty much the only other girl initially in Nishimura's class who's not a complete jerk, and also makes friends with her when she realizes just how deep the bullying rabbit hole goes.
Takada's cluelessness and Nishimura's shyness likely wouldn't have carried the show on its own, so it's good that My Clueless First Friend is more about all the little things that make their relationship progress. As much as Nishimura might have buried her sense of worth, her reactions as Takada digs them out of her are adorable. Both of them are middle schoolers, so it's pretty innocent fare altogether when Taiyou comments on how wonderful and beautiful Nishimura is. He might lift her spirits by simply being his weird self and complimenting her all the time, but he also has a sister who's more than happy to compliment her and be her brother's wingman, even if it's colored by her own (relatively harmless) self-interest.
My Clueless First Friend also gives us a surprisingly sad backstory to Nishimura and her upbringing, and it's a tearjerker. Her mother died very shortly after she was born, and she can't even remember what she looked like. She even hides this from her classmates because that would only intensify the already savage bullying she endures. When Takada learns about Nishimura's mother dying shortly after her birth, he feels absolutely awful about all the times he praised her Shinigami nickname, feeling that he was hurting her every time he does so. He flat-out stops talking to her and stays away from her as much as he can after, only making Nishimura sadder by his doing so. It's the first time we see him actually cry in the series; thankfully the two patch things up and he goes back to being cute and supportive of her again.
Another point in Takada's favor, and one that makes him feel more than just a simple gag character, is him realizing over time he just doesn't like Nishimura; he's falling in love with her. Late in the series he comments about how his heart races when he's around her, and his compliments get more personal, telling Nishimura he always wants to be with her, unaware that he was more or less confessing his love to her. (Nishimura responds as adorably blushy as you expect from that.) He even tries to, with her consent, kiss her near the end of the season after seeing his sister's best friend do so with her own boyfriend. They don't go through with it, but still. We've seen plenty of anime with characters far older than the middle school leads of My Clueless First Friend being much slower and clumsier about romance than this series. And yet, these kids - not even likely 12 yet - have a more believable romance than some series with adults we've reviewed/watched for T.H.E.M..
Tim: With that said, I do have one big negative with the show, but it's mostly due to it bringing up my own real-life middle school situation with (verbal) bullies in middle school. And that would be my opinion on one Sumire Kasahara, the leader of the female bullies who makes Nishimura's school life a nightmare during almost all of the first season of the series. People who watch the opening animation of My Clueless First Friend might see Kasahara being around Nishimura like she's part of her friendship circle. For 99% of the series, she's not. She also gains a crush on Takada while still verbally attacking him and trying to sabotage his relationship with Nishimura to get him to be with her, which made me like her even less with how petty and selfish her tactics became to do so. It's not until she becomes the class rep alongside Nishimura that I finally started to like her even the tiniest bit.
I also really didn't like Yukiko, Terada's older sister, being so clingy and fawning over taking pictures of Nishimura in her first big moment with her. It just reminded me a biiiit too much of the clinginess of the female lead of WATATEN. Fortunately that's a one-off thing and she never does that again.
Stig: I've never seen WATATEN, so Yukiko just struck me as a weirdo who triggered some alarm bells in her first interaction with Nishimura, but only then. As far as Kasahara goes? Sure, she is allowed to be a part of the problem for the majority of the show, but it's realistic that people don't just change at the drop of a hat, and the rate of which she changes between episode 1 and 13 is still remarkable, given how everyone else acts throughout the entire show. Is it unpleasant to see her be a part of the problem as long as she is? Absolutely. But the relentlessness of bullying is the main theme of the show, so naturally, leaving an ingrained system like this is going to be a fight in itself, and anyone who are willing to walk that long road deserves the acknowledgment for it.
Back to the positives now.
The lively voice acting of My Cluless First Friend's definitely deserves praising, as the cast does a great job of bringing everyone to life. Shizuka Ishigami (young Thorfinn, Vinland Saga) plays up Takada's cluelessness to perfection, while Konomi Kohara (Chika, Kaguya-sama: Love is War) exudes a quiet gentleness as the super cute Nishimura who could melt anyone's heart. Kouhei Amasaki (Otto, Re:ZERO) gnashes his teeth with gusto during Kitagawa's many, many attempts at sabotaging the friendship between Nishimura and Takada, and there might be some extra depth to some of the others that might elevate them from their former selves.
The character designs are a bit of an acquired taste, though. Everyone in the cast of My Clueless First Friend has these thin, weirdly long ears and stout bodies; the series certainly won't win awards for its character designs or its animation. Still, it's nice to see a school kid anime where the characters actually look about the age they're supposed to. (Unlike, say, Kin-iro Mosaic!, where you'd have to tell us those girls are supposed to be 16, despite their designs and mannerisms being about on par with the cast of this series.) It's also one of the rare anime with school kids in it where no one has any weird hair colors; even Non Non Biyori had Renge and her older sisters have purple hair. The almost watercolor style to the art and backgrounds also looks beautiful, and Nishimura is again absolutely adorable, even with the weird character designs.
Tim: I overall really liked My Clueless First Friend. It's a simple a series plot as can be - boy protects girl from bullies, and then falls in love with her - but it's the way it's done that makes it so memorable. Takada and Nishimura are just absolutely adorable together, and like I mentioned earlier, they have more believable chemistry as friends and potential lovers than some shows I've watched for this website with teens and adults. I'm curious how a season two will go with the fully established groups we see in the opening theme. Hopefully this won't be a one-season thing.
Stig: I also really liked My Clueless First Friend. It is beyond satisfying to see an anime not only bring up how cruel and merciless bullying can be for someone's psyche, but have a character unintentionally but actively trying to turn it around. Takada might be a bit too much at times with his happy-go-lucky, loud voice, but he and Nishimura work wonderfully off of each other. Honestly, I wouldn't be against rating this show five stars, so you can easily consider this a strong four from both of us. I sincerely hope this show continues in the future. This huge heart deserves more.
Recommended Audience: There is no fanservice or violence of any kind, although there is a scene where Takada falls and breaks his arm. The way the show presents bullying is very on point, though, which might not be very pleasant from those with a history of being bullied themselves. (Although they might find the way Takada reverse-UNOs any bullying attempts very cathartic.) Older kids and up could watch this series just fine.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (13/13)
My Clueless First Friend © 2023 Taku Kawamura/SQUARE ENIX・Jijou wo Shiranai Seisaku Iinkai ga Guigui Kuru
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