This anime is a fan favorite for those who love common tropes, pop culture references, and the otaku life. And while I do think that it is a lot of fun, I will also make the claim that this series is for non-anime fans as well.
Okay, they probably won’t like it at all, especially if they just don’t get it. But I hope that there is a better understanding of what anime, and ultimately otaku culture, is about. Like the main character duo in this series, I find that there is a lack of understanding between anime fans –more specifically those who are considered or self-ascribed otakus– and everyone else. As always, I will be taking into account my personal experiences as they relate to the series, and respect that those experiences are not necessarily yours.
If you must know, I don’t call myself an otaku, but since I associate with enough of them to be called one by folks both inside and outside the anime fan community, I might as well be one. Either way, I’m going to be an annoyance to someone, and I’m not going away that easily!
I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying (Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai ken, from this point forward, Danna) chronicles the lives of the newlyweds Hajime and Kaoru Tsunashi. Kaoru is a modern Japanese woman who makes her ends meet as a hard-working office clerk. Her husband Hajime on the other hand, is an otaku and not much else.
For the most part, the two are indeed a happy couple. But when it comes to Hajime’s obsessive hobby and Kaoru’s struggle to maintain some sense of normalcy, conflicts are bound to happen over little things that are hardly anything to worry about.
Most of the short segments of this anime are told in Kaoru’s point of view, which often shows just how ridiculous some of the tropes and references can be. Danna has parodied plenty of pop culture references, making reference other contemporary romcoms like Engaged to the Unidentified, or making fun of Western icons like The Terminator.
Perhaps most classic of all is Hajime’s impression of Gendō Ikari from the Evangelion series.
On top of overused memes and references, Kaoru also has plenty of confusions with otaku terminology such as waifu or moe, often writing them off as strange fetishes that her husband has for anime. But Kaoru grows to understand what these mean to Hajime, and learns to keep them in context if only for him alone.
Of course, it also helps that Kaoru knows other otakus besides Hajime, whether they’re his friends or some of hers. At one point, Kaoru learns of the BL terms seme and uke, and use them against him in a very comedic way.
Contrary to what one might expect from a series like this one, Danna‘s animation is very mild with sexual content. Yes, the characters will make references to sex and sexuality, but none of the scenes are very explicit. Not that it needs it, since all of the humor comes from the dialogue and pop culture references anyway.
But we all know that the Tsunashis had to have done the nasty at some point, especially when we get to the center of Kaoru and Hajime’s troubles. After all, Kaoru can’t understand her husband’s otaku-ness, and she’s bound to worry whether he will be a good father!
I think it’s pretty obvious that Kaoru is the driving force of this series, trying to understand her husband and fitting in with the rest of her friends and family. But for the rest of this review, I want to focus a little more on Hajime. Now I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend for the time being, so I wouldn’t go so far to say that I know how Hajime feels. However, when it comes to Hajime’s behavior and his interactions with other people, I can relate to those.
I come from an American family that just happens to be ethnically half Japanese. I know that Japan is not anime, and I wouldn’t expect Japan or Japanese people to be anything like what I see in anime. Given my persona and appearance, some people might see me as some kind of anime expert or super fan or whatever. But despite my passion for what anime has to offer, no one else in my family are fans.
I assume that they have accepted my lifestyle, but a lot of times, I get this weird vibe that they’re really looking for something else out of me. And that’s kind of what I see going on with Hajime.
Anime can offer a lot of beautiful art and stories that can speak across cultures, and will continue to do so with its growing popularity. However, I think that anime’s history as an integral part of Japanese deviant subculture often gets lost in translation. Sure, I don’t agree with every aspect of what that means to fans or to the industry as a whole, but I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Characters like Hajime speak to me with strong familiarity because I feel like I don’t belong to the rest of “normal” society. And no matter where the source of those feelings come from, I don’t think I will ever be normal.
Although this show is still very entertaining, one thing I take away from Danna are the strategies that Hajime makes to coping with other people. Sure, there is a lot of pressure on Kaoru to understand him, but Hajime has to take extra steps to be honest with Kaoru and (I know this is very hard for some of us) interact with actual people.
Anime references are amusing, but one of my favorite episodes from the series was when Hajime and Kaoru go bowling. In an attempt to settle their differences, Hajime thought that maybe Kaoru needed a hobby to understand his own. But since Hajime isn’t very comfortable around people, they went on a group date with their friends who are also married, as well as Hajime’s otaku friend and little brother for good measure. In this public space, both Hajime and Kaoru could be themselves and still have a lot of fun, even if it meant they would have to return to their quarrel once it was all over.
Hajime may not like to admit it, but he does take pleasure in the company of others, if only in small doses.
Danna is a comedy about Kaoru trying to understand the musings of her otaku husband, but it is also about Hajime trying to find his place in society at large. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it matters so much if they come to any kind of understanding, but that they will be there for each other when they need it most.
After all, isn’t that what love is all about?
For a less serious attempt at understanding otaku culture and bringing on all the funnies of a newlywed romantic comedy, watch I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying.