The epitome of satisfaction: potato chips and cola! Himōto Umaru-chan emphasizes the need to indulge in life’s simplest pleasures. Umaru Doma is a seemingly perfect high school girl, with a greasy secret. When she gets home from school each afternoon she literally transforms into a chibi otaku (‘chibi’ meaning smaller version of herself, and ‘otaku’ meaning extremely pop-culture-obsessed homebody). Umaru is the anime version of Clark Kent sans the powers. When in her chibi mode, she is unrecognizable to even her closest friends, creating a unique social web. Umaru has several alter egos that all play different roles in the show. Contrasted by her workaholic older brother (Taihei Doma) we are told a story of generosity and love in spite of the ridiculous tendencies of family and friends.
Umaru’s closet otaku lifestyle sheds light on culture and customs that new anime viewers might not have been familiar with. This comical otaku slice of life is easily relatable to the casual anime watcher (because who doesn’t love coming home, eating junk food, and indulging in mindlessly addictive activities). It gives you some of the basic anime tropes in a funny yet endearing way. However, this is also what initially turned many anime lovers off. Originally many of the characters seem to play their stereotypical roles to a T and some anime clichés are unmistakable. Umaru’s spoiled/selfish nature obviously irritated real otaku who do not appreciate being associated with those personality traits and could not look to her as a protagonist. This is where character development comes into play.
At first glance… Most of the time Umaru-chan comes off as a spoiled brat. Manipulating and utilizing her brother Taihei’s meek disposition seem to be some of her favorite pastimes. Taihei’s unconditional concern to fix Umaru leaves him more frustrated than not. Yet, their relationship perfectly fits the “deep down they really love each other” trope. While Umaru predominantly acts as the annoying antagonist, we have to wonder what Taihei would be doing if she wasn’t living with him. Taihei would perfectly fit the role for the Japanese archetype of a salaryman, with a bleak existence that lacks meaning. Umaru adds warmth to their home and reminds Taihei not to take life too seriously.
This is not the only instance in which Umaru (or one of her alter egos) provides balance for another character’s personality, this actually happens with most (if not all) of her intimate relationships in the show. Nana Ebina plays the role of the ultra shy clueless girl that we have seen many times before; Umaru takes Ebina under her wing by building her confidence and helping her get acclimated to a new environment. Sylphynford Tachibana lives for competition and always strives to be the best; Umaru takes on her alter ego UMR to balance Sylphynford’s competitive spirit and to teach her how to enjoy what she is doing. Kirie Motoba initially falls under the tsundere (cold and hostile before showing their warm side) stereotype, but unexpectedly switches to the yandere (obsessive and jealously affectionate) type. When alone with Kirie, Umaru transforms into her chibi mode that Kirie refers to as “Komaru” (literally meaning “Master”). This is beneficial to Kirie since she is detrimentally shy and has a hard time communicating with anyone besides children.
Umaru becomes what the stereotypical characters need in order to help them break their stereotypes and in many ways they do the same for her. While not being a plot driven anime, it would be wrong to dismiss this as one big trope. Beneath the silly veneer, Himōto! Umaru-chan is the story of the yin and yang that is provided by solid friendships and a steady reminder not to take life too seriously.