What if a quarter-life crisis didn’t take itself so seriously? And was one of the most surprising anime of the season to boot?
You can tell a lot about Wave, Listen to Me! just by looking at it, cause it has an art style you really don’t see all too much in modern anime. I wouldn’t call it flatly un-cute, but the character designs are surprising in how undramatic they are. No one really stands out visually (albeit this is by anime standards, so we’re grading on a bit of a curve here), but therein lies Wave’s visual flair, in that this show has a rather realistic look to it. Don’t get me wrong, characters will make great faces or change body proportions for the show’s jokes, but most of the time this show’s look could almost be called plain, right up until you really look at it and see how much thought and effort is put into this show’s production. If you only know Sunrise as “the Gundam studio,” this show makes it clear that they excel at so much more than just giant robots. I’m trying to think of what else looks like this, and the only show that comes to mind is Shirobako, and that’s only if you tone down that show’s moe influence all the way to zero.
Of course, it’s not just looks that drew me in to Wave, but it’s also how it sounds: this might have the all-around best voice direction of any show this season, and it without a doubt has the best single performance of the season in the character Minare Koda (voiced by Riho Sugiyama). It’s been a while since I’ve watched a show that has a character talk this fast so clearly, so much so that every episode there’s been at least one scene that’s made me rewind it so that I can catch what all the subtitles were saying, but I wouldn’t call this a complaint when the character is both so much fun, and so believable at the same time. Minare is a borderline mess of a woman, and I love her (and not as a waifu, dammit). Like another show that’s currently airing, Wave is also about someone in their mid-twenties trying to figure out themselves and their place in the world, but while Yesterday is rooted in melodrama and a love-rectangle, Wave is something a bit more out of the norm, in that Minare is just trying to figure out her bills and manage work and personal relationships, while also trying to sort herself out without falling into full on melancholy. She doesn’t have the time or the attention to wax philosophical about her own existence, she’s just trying to find steady work and make her car payments.
And her new line of work is where we pick up on Wave’s premise: after a semi-intense breakup that warranted a good night of drinking, Minare unintentionally caught the attention of a radio producer, who recorded her
rant thoughts on the matter, which turns out to be quite hilarious and surprisingly engaging (this is the part of the show where Sugiyama’s rapid-fire and energetic delivery doesn’t steal the show, it becomes the show). However, Minare hears herself afterwards on the radio while at work with no recollection of the night before, and is at first mortified to hear her voice in a decidedly unprofessional manner. But after confronting said radio producer about it right afterwards, he turns the tables on her by throwing her into a recording booth to give her a chance to have the last word. Which she ends up going with, by having said last word not be about her being unintentional entertainment for listeners, but by vowing to hunt down the man just dumped her. Minare might not know what she’s going to do with herself, but she can take control of a situation like its nothing.
If it sounds like I’ve just given away the plot to the first episode, it’s because I have, but for a good reason. Episode 1 is one of this show’s few (but noteworthy) weak points, in that it very much feels like the show is finding its footing. Granted, a lot of anime have that issue nowadays (which is why I’m an advocate for first anime episodes being double length if they want to be), and Wave pulls a neat trick in that every episode afterwards finds a great groove for itself, and the series as a whole finds a pace that’s quick, without breaking a sweat. It’s like a sports anime where the protagonist gets to a new stadium, awestruck by everything and tripping over itself, but then once it gets onto the court it just kicks ass and takes names like it’s second nature. I love shows with a fast and steady pace to them, and Wave exceeds at this; every episode following the first has caught me off guard with just how much happens in every one of them, without throwing so much that it tires you out. Character development, story progression, plot reveals; it’s all done oh so well here.
While this show is comedic, I kind of hesitate to call it an outright comedy. Sure, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are killer jokes in this show (my favorite right now is a scene where Minare stops just short of telling off her boss), but again, there’s this almost unexpected about of realism to Wave, not just in its visual style, but in its tone. There are times when the show will make you uncomfortable, and half of those times it’s intentionally doing so. The other half though... is this show’s other weakness, in that it has some... let’s say, “unprogressive” moments in how characters interact with one another, or talk about others. You’ll know it when you see it, because for a show that manages to have a great feel to it, a couple of less-than-savory jokes stand out in how out of style they are (like how Minare talks about her boss in a couple of moments). Still, this series is having a great batting average, so I’m willing to let a few missteps go for now (but please show, I know you can do better).
A third of the way in, I’m loving how much ground this show is covering in its wide cast of characters (from Minare’s friend from her original place of work, to the radio production crew she’s getting to know, to even her downstairs neighbor who has a great introduction into the main storyline), but I’m also intrigued by how Wave is dangling so many threads in front of the viewer as well. Of course, there is the standard melodrama of characters possibly hooking up, and even though the main draw is Minare figuring out this radio host deal, there are still questions and concerns that have just sprung up. Like how the dating life of one of Minare’s new friends isn’t going well for her, or exactly what the heck that aforementioned downstairs neighbor is getting up to... This is a slice of life show, but I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by it in how it’s looking at slices of life you really don’t see in staples of the genre. This isn’t about someone working their way through high school or even the post-graduation “now what?” phase of life; this is focused on someone just trying to make their way through the boring mundane parts of their life, and even then Wave takes a good look at the people who are a part of Minare’s life as well, outside of her direct knowledge.
Wave, Listen to Me! is funny, candid, messy, uncomfortable, weird, and yet... it all works, and beautifully so. It looks plain, but when you really look at it, you realize so much work has gone into making the show run quite smoothly, while with such a sense of urgent energy as well. I’ve almost lost count of the ways it has surprised me: how un-Sunrise this show looks, how this is the director’s first time helming an anime series, or how its based on a manga written by the same person who penned Blade of the Immortal (yes, really). Like its protagonist, this show won’t be for everyone, but if you’re into a show that’s refreshingly entertaining, real, and takes shit from no one, I implore you to check out Wave’s first few episodes.
And please dear god, don’t delay this too, you’ve taken SNAFU from me, isn’t that enough-
Title: Wave, Listen to Me!
Based on: Ongoing 2014 manga of the same name by Hiroaki Samura
Produced by: Sunrise
Director: Tatsuma Minamikawa
Streaming on: Funimation (US)
Episodes watched: 4
This article is part of a series where my fellow AniTAY authors and I offer our thoughts on various shows from the Spring 2020 season. For the previous entry, click here: