The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is the story of the everyday life of a group of eccentric, diverse people living under one roof. It's silly, lighthearted, and—like most slice-of-life anime tales—ultimately goes nowhere. Though, in this case, that may not be a bad thing.
Aside from Usa, the main character, audience proxy, and straight man, the titular Kawai Complex is home to a range of eccentric characters. Ritsu is a book worm and an introvert—uninterested in almost anything not related to reading. Shirosaki is a masochist who isn't just open about his perversion, he revels in it. Mayumi is a beautiful woman who falls for only the worst of men—and who turns into an angry drunk when the relationship inevitably goes south. Lastly, Sayaka is a two-faced manipulator who appears to be a beautiful, kind girl on the surface but who actually finds no greater pleasure than seducing men and breaking them.
These characters are all easy to relate to and become invested in because each represents an aspect found within each of us. Ritsu represents our passions—the ones that rule our lives. Shirosaki reminds us of the odd things we love about ourselves and revel in despite how other people view us. Mayumi brings to mind our bad mistakes that we are aware of but can't help but make again and again. Sayaka shows us the mask we all wear in public, the mask that sometimes slips to show the true—and often not so nice—person within.
One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is the needless extending of a “will they, won't they” romantic setup. Not only does it stupidly contrive to keep characters apart, but it also implies that actually admitting they like each other is the end of the relationship instead of what it really is—the beginning.
Yet, while Kawai Complex does have its fair share of “will they, won't they” moments, they are made bearable by the fact that they obviously won't be. While Usa may have a crush on Ritsu—and while it’s obvious she has growing feelings for him—Ritsu is clearly not ready for any sort of romantic relationship. She already has problems with just making friends, much less properly managing friendships. While Ritsu is no doubt strongly connected to the others living in the Kawai Complex, theirs is more a relationship of family than friendship. In most ways, Usa is her first real friend—someone who generally wants to share her interests and just enjoys her companionship. Frankly, watching Ritsu slowly grow as a person due to their friendship is the best aspect of the series.
The group living at the Kawai Complex revels in playing off Usa's straight-man routine. They constantly tease him and meddle in his affairs, especially his obvious crush on Ritsu. However, they are fiercely loyal to him. In the house, they give him a hard time; but it is all in good fun. Yet, when they see him in real pain—being set upon by someone outside of their circle—they all instantly jump to his aid.
Kawai Complex is really a story about living life, about facing the world together with those around you even if you share almost nothing in common. Watching how the Kawai Complex residents shared experiences slowly but surely make their differences irrelevant is half the fun of the series.
There is no real overriding plot in Kawai Complex. Rather everything is simply set up and then let go to run wild. One episode could be about working at an early 20th century style cosplay cafe, while another could center on making dirt clods. While there is often character development for at least one member of the cast and a constant return to Usa and Ristu's budding relationship, very little happens in this anime.
However, despite this anime's lack of a driving plot or thematic exploration, it is often still quite entertaining. Seeing the characters interact is often worth a watch in its own right and the series' light humor serves it well.
Unfortunately, as there is very little plot, this also means there is very little resolution—and not just to the story. None of the characters—except for perhaps Ritsu—grow beyond what they were at the start of the series; nor does anyone make any sort of life-changing decision. And, as mentioned a few sections back, there is most certainly no resolution to Ritsu and Usa's relationship. Rather, like most slice-of-life stories, this one just ends—leaving little, if any, sense of closure.
The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior is the kind of anime you watch because there’s a character or two you identify with. The story isn’t building toward anything or really going anywhere. It’s simply interested in having as much fun with the characters and situations as possible. Yet in all seriousness, it shows how a bond of sorts can grow among the unlikeliest of people. Frankly, if you like slice-of-life comedies, this is a must watch. And as a person well known for disliking the slice-of-life genre in general, even I found it adequately entertaining.
Want a second opinion? Check out the review over on TAY, our reader-run blog.
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