Sep 16, 2013

Anime Review: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru.

Oregairu logo/titleI frequently bemoan the over-saturated and generic “high school setting” in anime, especially because it seems like easily half if not more of all shows tend to fall into this category. I understand that partly it is an audience identity thing, target demographics, and familiarity. But I don’t mind if things otherwise work well despite the lack of an original setting. Oregairu has just enough skill and style that it manages to be a lot better than it seems on the surface. It is far from perfect, suffering from a short broadcast of one cour, but what’s there is enjoyable and just refreshing enough to overcome a lot of its problems. Excellent writing and a good, tight cast of characters help make this one stand out from the myriad other high-school rom-coms.

Hachiman stands at attention facing the viewer, eyes narrowing in annoyance, as his teacher sits in front of him with her back to the viewer, saying "You have eyes like a dead fish."Things start off strongly, though, with our male lead, in the form of Hachiman (called Hikki by most of the rest of the cast), waxing eloquent on the deceitful and ultimately futile game youth play over various idealized scenes of his school. You see, he’s a loner sort with a huge chip on his shoulder about human relationships, bred from a long history of rejection and awkward encounters, especially with the opposite sex. (“Can we just stay friends?” as one early flashback recalls.) As such, he has developed into a loner-by-choice who has given up on trying, with a very negative view of the whole ordeal to the point of cynicism. While he is no Kyon, Hikki manages to be an excellent lead in a lot of ways, providing a lot of good internal commentary and reactions with his peculiar slant, as well as some very well written monologues on his opinions of things usually of the human relationship sort. The clear bias makes for an interesting perspective that is as frequently familiar as it is unfortunate, especially to those of us who share even a passing acquaintance with that sort of behavior and experience — we are the obvious target audience, to be sure.

Yukino sits calmly reading a book by a bright, sunlit window, with sparkles and colorbanding highlighting herThe real crux of the plot starts quickly, as his sardonic and cynical view of things bleeds pretentiously into more than just his anti-social behavior but his writing, which brings him to the forefront attention of his teacher after he turns in a rather harshly worded essay (which, as we discover, we just heard in that beginning montage). Determined to cure him, his teacher forces him to join the Volunteer Service club, which just so happens to have only one member: Yukino, a girl whose perspective is perhaps as damaged as his though in her own way and not in as obvious a manner. Very early on, they involve themselves with a third girl, Yui, and the three sort of de facto become a working club. Forced by the same teacher to engage in volunteer service within the school, she hopes that it will force them into situations and people that will open their eyes in time to the truth. Kind of a nice twist, as she never really lectures them on things and instead puts her confidence into them directly, that they will, on their own, come to the realization themselves (which, perhaps, she correctly assumes will be far more lasting and impacting of a lesson than any verbal barrage she could hurl at them). She remains the antagonist, still, by forcing them into the club directly and thus into the various situations indirectly, but a good-natured antagonist all the same. It’s refreshing to have an example of a non-evil, non-villain antagonist — after all, the antagonist opposes the protagonist but that does not have to be in a literal fighting kind of way.

Helpfully, while employing a lot of familiar tropes and situations and so on, the series remains fairly well consistent in focusing on the anti-social thing and the relationship of the three main characters. Lots of quick flashbacks, internal monologues, and long discussions punctuate the more normal seeming activities they are forced to be a part of. All the while their variously strong and nuanced personalities coat every proceeding in a more than satisfying way. Even though a lot of other things feel cliché, such as the love triangle that emerges or the fact that the three represent very distinct archetypes, their nuances and subtle development is usually enough to look past the weaker aspects of the story and characters. The series’ strongest area is definitely in the writing, as the dialogue is frequently smart, witty, and insightful.

Yukinon waves meakly and somewhat surprised, with Yui standing beside her, outside on a sunny weekend.

It helps that the series has a mostly nicely done animation style, a little rough at times, but often fluid, often pleasant, and it strikes a good balance between colorful and cartoonish. Individual drawings are often a bit iffy and crude, but the animation itself flows well and the backgrounds and other effects are well done. It’s kind of charming, too, in its imperfections (like Kokoro Connect’s similarly occasionally dodgy animation). There are a lot of little details, too, that serve little purpose but were to me rather endearing, such as the progression of stickers that appear on their club room sign, or the fact that many of the characters who get fully named have nearly repeating first and last names. Yuigahama Yui, Yukinoshita Yukino, Hayama Hayato, Kawasaki Saki, Tsurumi Rumi, and so on. It’s such an obviously contrived detail, but I like that it almost calls attention to the fact that they are made up (and, let’s face it, unimportant) names that need only exist to identify characters.

Unfortunately, the short length leads to the series just sort of stopping, kind of like Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. It’s not that nothing at all happens or gets resolved, but so much more could be, and it left me a bit unsatisfied. A second season isn’t so much desired out of more time with a good story, but rather to simply properly finish up some threads with an actual ending. While no episode feels outright wasted (not like the final episode to A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives), they do sort of just meander a bit and then just stop, which is more than a little frustrating since it has enough good things going on.

Yui glomps Yukino from behind as both look to the viewer where Hachiman, his back to us, awkwardly pauses

Furthermore, the lack of a proper wrap-up to the story is a big problem when you consider that the peculiar characters and dynamics are the primary appeal of the show amidst the rest. Not resolving that leaves a giant hole in the enjoyment factor. Considering that the show can be a bit slow, sometimes subtle, and occasionally not original enough, it really hurts the big good point it does have by not giving it the resolution it desperately needs. With that said, can I recommend this? Well… difficult to say. There was, for me, a lot to like, but also a lot of just okay stuff, and the lack of a good ending makes me hesitate to call the series, overall, good. It’s definitely not bad, and it has a lot that make it worth watching, but it isn’t without some serious flaws. Enter at your own risk, I suppose.

As of this writing, you can watch My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (as they translated the title) for free on Crunchyroll.

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