The series is about an office lady married to an otaku, and explores the conflict between these lifestyles in a light-hearted and humorous way. There are very little Anime depicting an otaku personality type, it is the only thing which distinguishes them as a group from the rest of society. In practice it amounts to little more than perpetuating stereotypes now so sharply defined that any variation from them would subtract from their authenticity.
There is nothing more that can be done in Otaku parody, and nothing about it that has been left unsaid. If that were not reason enough to be cynical about “Danna” , this isn’t even the largest obstacle that it faces. “Danna” is not a full length tv series, or even an OVA, in fact this wonderful Anime is only 3 minutes long per episode. The limitations this creates are rather more intrinsic than the subject matter; producing something genuinely worthwhile in this format is a difficult task, as is evident from previous examples. Most abandon all hope of telling any overarching story, and focus instead either on single scenes or random batches of gags. Productions in this format never amount to anything more than a minor distraction.
Denna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken achieves more in its short running time than many full length series do across their entire run. It begins with an introduction to our leading characters, office lady Kaoru and her otaku husband Hajime. We expect that much will be made of their imagined lack of compatibility, and while not entirely wrong about this, there is evidence that there is more between them than meets the eye. That they are not paired for the sake of comic effect but there is a real connection between them.
The next episode introduces Tadashi, Hijeme’s ambiguously gendered sibling. He has an incestuous attraction to his brother which brings the series a significant step closer to the dreaded otaku parody genre. His character appears again throughout the show, primarily as comic relief but also as a source of character development, providing an important link to Hajime’s past and an overseer of their entire relationship.
As the series progresses, more and more time is focused on developing the relationship between Hijeme and Kaoru, which is interesting for a number of reasons. Romance stories about established couples are somewhat uncommon, as are those concerned with people in their late twenties and early thirties. Melodrama is sidestepped and instead we can examine the less often discussed process of two formerly independent people living together and eventually becoming a family, where far more is at stake and so much more can go wrong.
This isn’t the only sign of a more mature romantic outlook in Denna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken . It would be incredibly temping for an anime like this, featuring a relationship between an ‘otaku’ and an ordinary person, to depict it as one sided. There is no shortage of anime which depict relationships as ‘long suffering woman takes pity on unappealing male’ or Hijeme as ‘Almost unbearable man with a heart of gold’.
While these scenarios provide some potential for comedy, they are completely removed from reality. Few people would consider marrying someone unless they believed they were in love with them. Denna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken recognizes this and takes the time not only to explain what Kaoru sees in Hijeme, but the equally important question of what he sees in her. Because Kaoru has faults too. She smokes a lot. She drinks too much. She experiences loneliness. This focus on the emotional bond between Kaoru and Hijeme continues as the series edges toward its conclusion.
Then something completely absurd happens. Something so unbelievable, I find myself struggling to even write it down. What happens at that point is basically this: a thirteen episode series of three minute long anime shorts taking a humorous and light-hearted take on the relationship between a hardworking office lady married to an otaku, caused a fully grown man to start trying to fight back the tears in his eyes.