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What Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko And Komi Can't Communicate Have In Common - Exclusive

2021 was a busy year for director Ayumu Watanabe with the release of two major anime projects. His feature film "Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko" won awards at festivals and was nominated for best animated independent feature at the Annies; it's now playing in theaters in the United States. His other big 2021 credit was the first season of "Komi Can't Communicate," a popular anime series that is currently releasing its second season on Netflix.

You never know what exactly to expect when you see Watanabe's name attached to an anime, but "Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko" and "Komi Can't Communicate" have more in common with each other than either anime does with, say, Watanabe's 2019 film "Children of the Sea." For instance, both "Nikuko" and "Komi" are comedies about teenage girls dealing with anxiety and embarrassment in their own quirky ways. Looper sat down for an exclusive interview with Watanabe (via a translator), and he told us about the deeper thematic connections that drew him to these stories.

Both anime deal with anxiety — and opportunity

Anxiety is the most obvious connective thematic tissue between "Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko" and "Komi Can't Communicate." The former's protagonist, Kikuko, is an imaginative teenage girl who struggles to express herself and make friends — issues the silent Komi takes to comical extremes. When asked about the appeal of such stories, Ayumu Watanabe said he's not "choosing" to focus on teenage anxiety specifically, but he was drawn to these anime because he is interested in stories about characters finding new opportunities.

"What I really like about characters, or what I see in characters," he told Looper, "is the moment that they can open a new door for them, or open a new life for them. I'm not sure if it's growth — or it doesn't exactly have to mean that it's growth — but I really like it. I'm lucky that I get to depict all the characters where you get to experience that in my work."

Strong character arcs might very well be the only connective thread between Watanabe's filmography, which is otherwise all over the place in terms of genre and subject matter. When asked what sort of anime he wants to make next, his answer focused on this trait: "I would like something that depicts a character that purely challenges himself or herself against something."

"Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko" is now playing in limited theatrical release and will be available on digital and Blu-Ray/DVD on July 19. New episodes of "Komi Can't Communicate" premiere Wednesdays on Netflix.