The main leads in an anime are often stereotypically loud, boisterous, and confident in everything they do. We rarely get an entire show based on one that barely speaks more than two words, and even then, she ends up being near indecipherable. Komi-San is more than just a breath of fresh air, however. Komi Shouko might be one of the first characters in an anime to be shown as being somewhat on the Autistic spectrum.
Mental health in anime isn’t really a popular thing. I mean, anime is an escape for most people, right? So, the characters in these stories tend to be larger than life, untouched by the mundanity we mere mortals have to go through. Representation of disabilities, both physical and mental, are so rare. But some anime do it exceptionally.
With Komi-san from Komi Can’t Communicate, we have an entire show dedicated to a character who shows visible signs of distress and anxiety when trying to converse with her peers. And it’s not like she isn’t trying. The creator of the original manga series, Tomohito Oda, has made it very clear that Komi isn’t doing this because she’s merely shy. Even the Japanese title for the manga proves this fact, where it’s translated as ‘Komi-san Has A Communication Disorder’. The use of the word disorder is very important here.
But does that alone mean Komi-san can be considered either autistic or on the spectrum, at the very least? Well, for that we’ll need to unpack a lot of what it means to have a behavioral disorder in the first place. And this is, at its core, a light-hearted anime. But that’s why this conversation is important. So, let’s discuss!
Who Is Komi-san?
Komi Shoko, or Komi-san, is the titular protagonist of Komi-san Can’t Communicate. Introduced to us through the biased eyes of our other main lead, Tadano Hitohito, she is known as an ice princess at the elite school they are currently enrolled at, known as the Itan Private Academy.
She is affectionately termed the Madonna, thanks to her stunning features and stoic personality. She is beloved by her peers to the point of being revered, where they believe her to be above petty conversation. But of course, that’s not the truth at all!
Komi-san would love nothing more than to be able to talk and converse freely with her classmates. She would love to have friends and share her dreams with someone. But instead, she is debilitated by a speaking disorder that renders her unable to voice out what she wants.
Is Komi-san Autism Coded?
There is no right or wrong answer to this. The first thing to remember here is that Autism Is A Spectrum. It is a range between the verbal and nonverbal tendencies of a person but it’s not a linear pattern No one who deals with Autism is a cookie-cutter representation of how the disorder works. Hell, some autistic people are extremely high-functioning and have no issues talking to people, even when addressing a large group of people.
The way Komi-san acts, especially in those first episodes, she isn’t just merely anxious. She has active difficulty speaking up, where even the attempt sends her shivering in what can best be described as a panic attack. She isn’t just shy; the girl is terrified every time she tries explaining herself.
According to plenty of viewers dealing with the spectrum themselves, many agree that she has displayed autistic behaviors. One of the key points they bring up is Komi’s hypersensitivity to her emotions and the way she tends to shut down during social interactions. The way she can’t comprehend social cues or exaggerations also proves how she takes things at face value and needs affirmations to help guide her.
In Japan specifically, Autism isn’t seen as an intellectual disability, but as a communication disorder. Remember what we said about the title before?
Does Komi-san’s Autistic Nature Matter?
In either case, I think the best part of this show is that even if Komi isn’t outright said to be autistic, the way they portray her struggles is never mean-spirited or evil. She is still beloved, has found good friends, and trying to be better.
She isn’t an incomplete human, but a fully realized individual. That kind of representation is important, no matter the context.