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Some background going into this: I was bullied in school, starting in the fifth grade. It was bad, culminating in my parents switching me to a different school system in the middle of seventh grade, which didn’t stop it; it just made it different. Nishimura’s experiences as depicted in these first three episodes are painfully familiar – the way that she assumes she won’t be included, the expectation that all things said about her are dagger-sharp and cruel, and the way she feels she can’t tell any of the adults (more specifically, her dad) what’s really going on. This show absolutely nails how being bullied can wear you down until you not only accept your reality, you feel that maybe you deserve it. After all, Nishimura’s teacher(s) can’t possibly be ignorant of what’s being done to her; their silence toward her affirms the bullies’ words and actions.
So why did I ask to review this show? Because it’s the furthest thing from hopeless. This isn’t about Nishimura being trapped in hell; it’s about how she learns that she can rise out of it, and even if she doesn’t believe she deserves it, Takada is there to remind her that she does. He is a literal ray of sunshine (his first name, Taiyo, is written with the character for “sun”), and not only does he think Nishimura is awesome, but he’s also not shy about who knows it. Forget Superman; Takada is the superhero bullied kids need. From the moment he bounces onto the scene, Takada is bound and determined to be best friends with Nishimura because he genuinely thinks she’s amazing. He’s a bit of a Pollyanna, interpreting every bad thing one of their classmates says into rainbows and kittens. Heck, he encourages her to adopt an actual kitten in episode three! He’s Nishimura’s saving grace because he believes in her unconditionally, which opens a door inside her.
Speaking of doors, the ending theme has some remarkable imagery that helps drive home the themes of the show properly. I mentioned it in the Preview Guide, but the way that Nishimura desperately paws at the thorn-covered walls of her mazey prison is a pitch-perfect depiction of how it feels to be trapped within bullying and that the door she uncovers leads her into an upside-down Escher hellscape and an endless loop likewise capture the feeling of there not being an escape. The field of doors, which look a little like gravestones, represents the possibility of an exit, but fear holds her back until a hand is extended to her. Someone who worked on this show knows what it feels like to be in Nishimura’s position.
I said before that Takada is a Pollyanna, putting the best spin on everything, but is he doing it unconsciously? The title may be My Clueless First Friend, but you do have to wonder, from some of his amazing takedowns of head boy bully Kitagawa, if that’s the case. From tricking him into saying that Nishimura’s just a regular girl and not a grim reaper in episode one to saying that he couldn’t possibly want his curry and so should give it to Takada when Nishimura is serving lunch in episode two, to the public embarrassment of announcing that if Kitagawa doesn’t find Nishimura cute in her swimsuit, he must like school swimsuits, Takada’s responses are perfect and shut the bully right up. Meeting Takada’s sister Yukiko in episode two provides some insight – she’s training him. But the uncertainty of Takada’s awareness makes for a delightful question of what he’ll say next and whether or not he means it as Kitagawa takes it. Yukiko may have a questionable fondness for dressing Nishimura up and taking pictures, but her heart’s in the right place, so these may be a couple of very awkward siblings. And it’s hard to deny how giving Nishimura her hand-me-downs empowers the younger girl – would she have been able to buy a pink bathing suit had Yukiko not shown her that she could wear colors?
The cast and show are still developing at this point. We’ve seen that head girl bully Kasahara may not be quite as serious as she appears (kittens solve so many of life’s problems) and that the current root of her meanness may be the crush she appears to have on Takada. Hino, the tanktop-loving goofball, probably never actually noticed what was happening. He quickly started talking to Nishimura once he’s friends with Takada and was noticeably absent from earlier bullying scenes. This is off to a very good start, and while I can’t speak for everyone who has been bullied, for me, this is the hope I needed to have back in the day, and I’m really glad that it exists.
My Clueless First Friend is currently streaming on