Should You Watch 'Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun'?

Our Episode 1 Summer Anime 2017 Review
clean freak cleanliness boy aoyama kun summer anime season 2017
Should you watch summer anime season 2017's Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun? Check out our episode 1 review to find out. (c) Studio Hibari

Clean Freak! Aoyama kun opens with our main man Aoyama-kun just after an incredible showing with the Japan Under-16 national soccer team. He is mobbed by his triumphant team mates as joyous music swells… only to dodge each of their loving leaps. He doesn’t want them to hug him because he’ll get dirty, okay?

Our protagonist Aoyama-kun is a soccer prodigy who hates to be touched, get dirty or otherwise interact with germs of any stripe. That’s it: that’s the gag. I’m a little uncertain how far they can stretch this joke out, but if it’s mainly a sports anime with shades of Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto shenanigans (plus bonus The Royal Tutor chibi humor), I don’t see why they can’t dip into that well a few times.

My biggest concern with this show was that Aoyama’s extreme germaphobia and OCD would be used to mock him or question and diminish his accomplishments. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but OCD is a serious issue. Excessive cleaning, excessive hand-washing, fear of dirt and germs, a compulsion that does not allow for logic or rest: for 1.2% of Americans, these are not funny jokes, but a debilitating daily reality.

It’s hard enough to suffer from a mental illness without it being used as a joke for mentally healthy people to laugh at – I didn’t want to watch a whole anime where the main character, a member of a vulnerable population, is cruelly mocked. That would have been wearisome and in poor taste.

I’m delighted to report that Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun treats its main character with empathy, understanding and respect. Aoyama’s cleaning skills are the envy of his classmates and attract the admiration of all, including the ladies, who cheer him on after practice and watch him lather his hands with interest. Aoyama has friends who understand his condition and adapt their playstyles to include him, as well as a protective coach who takes extra time out to make sure the whole team understands and respects his special needs.

When Aoyama’s aggressive senpai, Zaizen, goes ballistic over what he sees as excessive “coddling,” Aoyama’s friends, the whole soccer team, and the neighboring baseball team all turn the tables on him. They point out his sparkling brand-new cleats, the butler that ferries him to and from school and his privileged position as the son of a business mogul. Who’s coddled now, buddy?

For a moment, Zaizen seems like he might really be checking his privilege. Is it in fact he, spoiled rotten and wealthy, who is the coddled one? But then he proceeds to shake off his moment of introspection and moves physically towards Aoyama to “make him” take soccer seriously, which is when the coach, a third dan judo master who looks like Relena Peacecraft’s cousin, does a full takedown on him. Brilliant.

But Zaizen isn’t just a villainous senpai. He’s passionate about soccer and feels like Aoyama doesn’t share that passion, confusing Aoyama’s special needs for a made-up excuse to be lazy whenever Aoyama wants. Over the course of the episode, Zaizen comes to understand that Aoyama is just as passionate about both soccer and winning as he is, and while Zaizen still finds Aoyama annoying, Zaizen must respect his love of the game and acknowledge that he isn’t making up his condition for attention or excuses.

For example, there’s the scene where Zaizen and the coach watch Aoyama polishing soccer balls in the clubhouse. Aoyama is in full cleaning gear with a mask, apron and gloves. He does this after every match , the coach explains, and when Zaizen scoffs that wearing all that cleaning gear is over-the-top, the coach adjusts Zaizen’s perspective: without wearing all that gear, Aoyama couldn’t clean the soccer balls, which he does as if to say “thank you” for their work during the day.

What everyone else can do naturally — sweat, get dirty, come into physical contact with others during the match — is much harder for Aoyama, but he still does soccer activities on a daily basis anyway, because he loves soccer that much. Talk about a thoughtful and sensitive scene I didn’t expect to see in this anime.

Later, we see a rival school team come over to try and recruit Aoyama, led by Takechi, who plays together with Aoyama on the Under-16s. Takechi shows off his abs, while Aoyama shows off his precise playstyle on the field, a style that makes his weaknesses his strength. Once Takechi’s team devotes four players to marking Aoyama, the difference Aoyama makes is clear: Aoyama’s team is quickly outscored without him. (It also starts to rain, so Aoyama can’t move or he’ll get muddy.)  

But after Zaizen blocks a goal with his face, the whole team goes on the counterattack. Zaizen makes a head-shot, which the goalie just barely manages to nudge out of the way… only for Aoyama to suddenly make a move and save the shot in a shocking, muddy turn of events. He explains that as long as it’s the last five minutes of the game, he can handle getting dirty, considering how much he hates losing.

There’s also some girl with a crush on Aoyama, but I don’t care about her yet, honestly.

There are lots of funny moments in this show. Whenever triumphant music swells, you can expect it to be prematurely cut off by Aoyama ruining the moment. There’s a scattering of chibi humor that reminds me fondly of The Royal Tutor (but is not as excessive as it was in that show), like when one of Aoyama’s friends intones “keep it fun” while bouncing a soccer ball hypnotically off his butt. Takechi constantly flexing his abs and pulling up his shirt to show them off is another one that makes me snort with laughter every time (that sound effect!).

The animation isn’t jaw-dropping and the character design is nothing to write home about, but I was actually rather surprised at the unintrusive use of CG, which is usually so notable in anime for being so awful.

By the way, the touching, mysterious reason why Aoyama decided to go to this high school, which he finds so ineffably unique? It’s because the toilets have bidets.

While the opening theme is great, the ending theme is truly stand-out. It’s done in an old-school musical style with old-fashioned shonen animation to match, and I love it. I’m interested in seeing how well Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun can carry on its main gag and whether or not they can maintain the empathy and respect they’ve shown so far for their main character, and I genuinely think it’s funny, so I’ll be adding this one to the queue.

Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun airs Sundays at 12:30 PM EDT on Crunchyroll. Will you be adding it to your queue? Let us know in our comments section below.

 

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