How Komi Can’t Communicate Uses Aspect Ratios in Episode 2

Komi Can’t Communicate debuted on Netflix worldwide this October. The slice of life comedy-drama tells the story of Shoko Komi, a girl with social anxiety, and Hitohito Tadano, a boy determined to help her make 100 friends. Its incredibly fluid animation brings Komi’s world and her subtle interactions to life.

In animation, every frame requires conscious decision-making, and not much happens by accident. When anime experiments with its format and presentation, then, there is usually a reason why. Komi Can’t Communicate takes advantage of this by deploying the use of various aspect ratios.

The opening seconds of Episode 2, “It’s Just a Childhood Friend. Plus More.,” are presented in a pillarboxed format, which means that bars on either side of the screen give the image a more square-like appearance. This gives the opening scenes the appearance of an earlier television anime, from the time when television screens were produced with a “4:3” ratio as opposed to the modern standard of “16:9.” The question is, why did OLM make this choice?

The scene depicts a boy playfully putting his arm around his friend’s neck in the foreground, and two girls talking in the background. A train hurtles past behind them. The scene cuts away to the windows of the train, each one stylistically presenting a scene from the previous episode. During this sequence, vertical text appears on either side of the screen. Spoken by a narrator, this text reminds the audience of Komi’s situation: her social anxiety prevents her from making friends, but she still wants to. On a mechanical level, the pillarbox format allows for these manga-esque subtitles. The series frequently uses such manga touches, such as narrated callouts identifying Komi’s feelings when they are not apparent to the audience.

The train passes by, revealing Komi standing alone. This is likely to create a contrast between the friends’ relationships and Komi’s loneliness. The cherry blossom petals blowing in the wind link this to an important anime theme: nostalgia. The annual bloom of the cherry blossom tree makes people reminisce about previous years’ cherry blossoms. Komi isn’t just missing out on friendship: she’s missing out on memories of friendship in the future. It’s possible that the pillarbox format could also exist to heighten the feeling of nostalgia in the audience’s minds by reminding them of anime gone by.

Another reason for this aspect ratio might be to emphasize the vertical, as opposed to the horizontal, scale of the scene. At the end of the pillarbox scene, Komi looks up as the barriers to the crossing rise and takes a step forward. The perspective is positioned behind and below Komi, emphasizing the height of the sky above her. This could symbolize the scale of the task ahead of her more effectively than the scene might have done in a wider aspect ratio.

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Komi Can’t Communicate debuted on Netflix worldwide this October. The slice of life comedy-drama tells the story of Shoko Komi, a girl with social anxiety, and Hitohito Tadano, a boy determined to help her make 100 friends. Its incredibly fluid animation brings Komi’s world and her subtle interactions to life. In animation, every frame requires…

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