One of the highlights of the current anime season is Himouto! Umaru-chan, a rather odd little show that takes the Squid Girl approach of splitting each “episode” up into several shorter little vignettes in which nothing really happens, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Umaru (as I shall refer to it hereafter for simplicity’s sake) is a show that exemplifies the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae, these being a person’s “true feelings” and their “public face” (or, literally, “facade”) respectively. Title character Umaru is the very model of beauty and respectability when she’s out in public: she’s the darling of her whole school, always gets the best grades, is good at sports and is respected by everyone. Back home, however, she’s a lazy slob who sponges off her long-suffering brother and sits around in her hamster hoodie playing games and drinking cola all day.
Umaru highlights this contrast by literally changing the character’s appearance when she switches from one “face” to the other. When she’s out in public being the beautiful and respected Umaru-chan, she’s the epitome of moe — long, flowing hair; big, sparkling eyes; a calming, gentle voice — but when she gets back home she immediately becomes represented by a short, aggressive, chibi character that is cute in an entirely different way to “full-size” Umaru. Her behaviour and mannerisms are completely different, her voice becomes louder and more forceful, but it’s abundantly clear that this is when she’s at her happiest.
As the series progresses, Umaru reveals a third persona: that of the elite gamer “UMR”. UMR is something of a balancing act between the two extremes she had previously exhibited up until this point; she’s realistically proportioned and acts like a normal human being, but is passionate and enthusiastic about gaming — not to mention in possession of some serious skills. UMR is by far the most naturally likeable of all Umaru’s personalities since she tends to keep things fairly low-key — she even dresses considerably more conservatively than her “ideal schoolgirl” persona — but is also a lot more honest about who she really is.
The idea of the necessity of putting up a facade for the rest of the world to respect you is a defining characteristic of the series, and it’s not just Umaru who exhibits this. Umaru’s friend Ebina, for example (above), is an attractive, busty young girl who draws the eyes of everyone around her, but she’s afraid to open her mouth in case her country bumpkin dialect slips out, as it occasionally does when she’s feeling at ease and comfortable. Likewise, recurring character Kirie is completely unable to approach moe Umaru at school, despite wanting to, but she manages to bond with lazy slob Umaru — whom she actually believes to be Umaru’s younger sister, just to complicate matters — over games, cola and laziness.
Over time, these characters all become better defined, and their different personas start to merge into one another. I’m interested to see whether or not the series intends to “say anything” with this concept by its conclusion, or whether it’s simply going to continue using them for comic effect. Either way is fine by me; Umaru is not the kind of show that particularly feels like it needs to have a strong moral message — though I won’t deny it will be somewhat satisfying to see the precocious little slob version of Umaru get her comeuppance for taking her poor brother for granted by the end of the run!
Regardless of how it ends, Himouto! Umaru-chan has been a really fun series so far, and I hope there’s more in the future.