- Genre: Sports!, Comedy, Slice of Life
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Studio Hibari
Everybody loves Aoyama-kun. Throngs of cheering fans follow him wherever he goes. Men want to be him and women want to be with him and also the other way around sometimes. Teachers wish every student was like him. His soccer rivals want him to switch to their teams. Artists use him as a muse and friends even copy his hairstyle. He inspires awe and bottomless devotion in all around him. Yet Aoyama is so deeply germophobic that the idea of a handshake gives him panic attacks. So why is he so popular? Find out in 12 episodes!
I love sports anime so I was always going to watch this show but when the episodic reviews and think pieces discussing the series portrayal of mental illness started trickling in, I got really intrigued and decided to bump it up the watch list.
Clean Freak! Aoyama-Kun is in some ways rather experimental and you do get the feeling that maybe the studio had some reservations. The art is quite pretty but the animation is jagged. Tricks such as sliding backgrounds or movement lines are regularly used to give the impression of action while animating really minimal mouvement. This can be a big drawback during the soccer scenes which often concentrate more on the faces of the players rather than their feet.
The designs were pretty but I highly doubt I’ll remember any of them a few months from now. I can’t explain why but I personally didn’t like the voice acting here. For some reason I felt that Aoyama was really miscast. He doesn’t speak that often but every time he did, I thought “man that voice doesn’t fit”.
As I mentioned, Aoyama tried a few things. Namely, it tried to mash a few genres together. A third of it could be considered a more or less traditional sports anime, following the soccer team’s training and matches as they aim for nationals (of course), half is episodic comedic slice of life, the rest is a character study and even a dash of romance. Unfortunately, Aoyama himself is too aloof and distant to provide any sort of strong connective thread to tie everything together and the pacing is off to enjoy it as a purely episodic slice of life.
**I recently read a few blogs that say critiquing pacing is meaningless so here is what I mean. The character development is rushed in certain episodes then grinds to a halt in others making it difficult to simply enjoy the story as you either feel like you need to keep up or as if nothing at all is happening. Since you can’t get a proper sense of the rhythm of the narrative, the assimilation of the story becomes laboured.***
This said, some individual episodes were quite amusing. In fact a lot of the show almost worked. There’s not enough soccer to call it a sports anime but I did thoroughly enjoy the episodes that did focus on it. New point of view characters are introduced regularly so we end up running out of time for any sort of proper development but they were all quite likeable on a superficial level. Let’s just say you won’t be getting any of the nuance of Haikyuu!! here but you will get roughly the same number of characters…
However, what the series core really is and what seems to have made the greatest impact among fans, is the character study. Aoyama is a callow but well-intentioned attempt at showing mental disorders. It manages to illustrate how truly intrusive and difficult the symptoms can be without falling into melodrama. It infuses humour into the subject but remains deeply respectful and it shows how a network of understanding and supportive friends can be a life saviour to someone suffering from such a condition. Aoyama-kun is a very compassionate show.
I have mentioned on my blog before that I am prone to OCD behavior. I have in fact a mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have had it all my life but was only diagnosed very recently and it has helped me tremendously. I am very lucky in that my condition is so mild that some simple behavioral therapy is sufficient. I try to curb my compulsive instincts into something productive, like writing a blog everyday but only once a day (no more even if you have time). I’m also lucky in that I have none of the associated conditions, like depression.
One example I can give you is that I love to bake but not to eat so when I started seeing someone a while ago, I used it as a perfect excuse to bake for them. I would make them lunch in the evenings and bake a small batch of cookies for the desert, or some bread. I would do this the evening before every work day. One evening, we were out quite late and I got home with only a few hours before I needed to get back up for work. I went to bed and ended up tossing and turning unable to sleep. Finally I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning to bake some cookies. For some reason not having put together the rest of the lunch didn’t bother me but until I got the baking done I simply couldn’t sleep.
Let me stress that I have a very mild case. Some people can’t leave the house until they perform complex rituals that take hours. Some people can’t interact with others unless it’s under precise circumstances. OCD isn’t a very sexy condition so we don’t hear a lot about it but it can ruin your life.
As I said, I didn’t know I had this as kid, but if I had, a show like Aoyama-kun would have been a huge comfort and I am very glad it exists (along with Soul Eater and Toradora, which both have awesome examples of OCD characters). I know the series only refers to Aoyama as a germophobe (a lot) but to me his behavior was very familiar and really looked more like a cleaning compulsion than a phobia. In any case, it’s important that we acknowledge the existence of these disorders and we treat the people that have them with respect. (Yeah… I know freak is in the title…)
And all of this is an excellent first step, but, with everything that has happened lately, maybe we should start thinking about the next step. One common theme is that people acknowledge the symptoms of the disorder as part of a character’s personality but that’s not entirely right. Sometimes those symptoms get completely out of hand and need to be managed not just accepted. Shows very rarely broach the issue of treatment, unless it’s the entire storyline and then you get the impression that therapy becomes the character’s entire life. Aoyama doesn’t need to spend the rest of his life in self imposed isolation. He doesn’t need to lose out on sleep in order to clean the entire school, he doesn’t need to miss out on social events for fear of contamination. Not necessarily. There are many viable avenues of treatment. As important as it is for kids out there that might be struggling with mental issues to know that they deserve compassion and respect, it is also important for them to know that there are options. Help is available.
So, next time somebody is being a nit picky little pain, be a little patient, they may not be able to help themselves. And next time you’re making yourself miserable over nothing and wonder why you do that, maybe think about talking to someone. You might be suffering needlessly.
Oh the show… It was cute. I liked it but I’ll likely forget it. It’s not going to change your life.
Favorite character: Tsubasa
It does not matter if the glass is half empty or half full, clearly there’s room for more alcohol
Suggested drink: Anything neat
- Every time we see Aoyama’s fan club – raise your glass
- Every time Aoyama’s eyes have a color fail – take a sip
- Every time Aoyama dodges – take a sip
- Every time Zaizen gets/hits a ball with his face – take a sip
- Every time Aoyama says he’d rather die – take a sip
- Every time Takechi shows his abs – raise your glass
- Every time you see a cat motif – take a sip
- Every time Goto brings out her adorable bat of death – take a sip
- Every time Zaizen gets mad – roll your eyes
- Every time there are professional photographers at a high school soccer game – get some water
- Every time Aoyama is really good at something – take a sip
- Every time they mention the 5 minute rule – scratch our head
12 thoughts on “Clean Freak! Aoyama kun and The Limits of Compassion”
While it sounds like Aoyama-kun wasn’t the most thought-provoking portrayal of mental conditions, it also sounds rather respectful. Sort of like the distant friend who politely checks in on you every so often to see how you’re doing, I guess.
I appreciate what the studio was going for here, but maybe it was a bit off the mark. Still, people should really be more accepting of others.
The jiggling abs gif as the featured image had me cackling, by the way. IMPORTANT DETAILS
Honestly – the main reason I wrote this post…
Very good reason.
Hm, if you’d ask me to rank what I watched last season, Ayoama-kun would fall somewhere near the middle. It was decently entertaining, better in the first half.
I think of the show as a very simple comedy. It’s using what could have been character moments for punchlines pretty often, for example. But unlike many other shows, this never feels meanspirited. The result is a show that feels inclusive, and not only towards germophobes. What makes the show work best is the off-centre focus. While the show is ostensibly about Ayoama-kun what we get is a series of vignettes about other characters: Ayoama-kun is, structurally, the centre of gravity. All the other people have their issues, too, and a combination of hyperbole and understatement obscures scale. There’s no sense of judgement which issues are heavier. It’s a comforting fantasy that radiates inclusiveness. This is completely unexceptional when it comes to comedies; we generally call this a feel-good comedy. Nothing to write home about. It’s somewhat rarer, though, when the gimmick you use is a mental issue. Ayoama-kun is the sort of show that doesn’t have to say “We’re laughing with you, not at you,” because it’s actually true.
As for therapy, that’s a bit of a taboo in anime (as it is, I gather, in Japan as a whole). I’m in two minds about this. I feel we’re currently too focussed on labelling “mental health” and outsourcing it. Therapy often pits healing against coping, and some people might be better off just living with an issue than seeing it as something to tackle. It’s a matter of priorities and balance. However, some issues are so severe that “just pushing through it” isn’t going to cut it, and we get train-wrecks like Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, where they tackle a rather severe trauma with a pretty simple “you just have to try harder”. With Ayoama-kun, though, I’d say that the inclusion of therapy would go against the “comforting fantasy feel” the show has going. For example: how did Ayoama-kun come up with the five minutes rule? Trial and error? Used to be only one minute, and now it’s a whole five minutes interval? Progress? The inclusion of the five-minutes-rule is important: we know that the show doesn’t take the issue lightly. But to focus any more on it might threaten the show’s balance.
It’s about an “issue”, and it’s not deep. That’s why it made waves. People seem to have an easier time to get issue-shows right when they’re allowed to add depth. So a relatable feel-good show stands out. It’s not that people were saying, “Gee, I wish there was a fluffy feel-good comedy about germophobia.” It’s just when there unexpectedly is one, and it’s not mean to you, you feel like a gap has been filled in and you feel a little less excluded.
The inclusion of the 5 minute rule is one of the reasons I get the impression that this is more of a depiction of compulsion, where these sorts of arbitrary “regulations” are quite common, than a phobia which tends to have more consistent behavioral symptoms. Of course both symptoms and interpretations change quite often and depend on your reference material.
That makes perfect sense to me. (Wouldn’t a phobia also a have trigger that’s defined more clearly?) X-phobia, in daily usage, often means nothing but “really doesn’t like X”.
The bat of death was adorable and one of my favourite reocurring jokes in this series. As much as there were parts of this show I liked, and the dealing with mental health issues was one of them, ultimately the show is a bit of a miss as a show. Some momens are genuinely entertaining but a lot of it just falls kind of flat.
I read your review of this as well and I pretty much agree with everything you had to say. I think Imight have enjoyed it a touch more because of my blind devotion to the Sports! genre.
That’s a great review and I’m glad they portrayed a mental condition respectfully unlike several other media such as Rain Man or the Belgian film Ben X. I thought it was brave if you to talk about your mild OCD and I applaud you for mentioning that. Massive respect there. This does sound like a quirky, yet original anime. I saw some pictures and wondered if this would be like if Welcome to the NHK and Whistle did a fusion dance, but it sounds way more than that. Good job!
This doesn’t come close to NHK. It has it’s moments but it’s a rather shallow show, don»’t expect to much in the way of tought provoking material here.
Gotcha. That’s fair. I might give it a watch sometime. Not everything has to be like something Yoshitoshi Abe or what Satoshi Kon would make.