Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru – Review

It’s a common complaint about anime. Why are so many series obsessed with high school? Why do we only get young protagonists? Why aren’t there more stories I can still relate to, now that I’ve grown beyond that setting? And it’s an extremely valid one – anime does squander its infinite potential by adhering to such similar settings, and we really are deeply lacking in protagonists covering the range of mature human experience. The reasons for this trend (the age of the fandom, the high premium placed on nostalgia and escapism, the natural tendency to continue making what sells, the adherence to safe formulas, etc) are as understandable as they are disappointing. And the complaint doesn’t even take quality into account, which is another issue – many of these shows tread the same ground, they often deal in archetypal, empty characters, they often exist as pure escapism or viewer self-insert fantasies, their humor repeats, their drama repeats worse, they exist as commercial shells and have no greater human ambitions. Sometimes it can feel like we’re well and truly fucked when it comes to imbedding some creative spark and ambition in this sea of similar, empty productions.

To this jaded and completely reasonable perspective (one which you can probably tell I largely agree with), I would have to say: OreGairu.

I didn’t have huge expectations for this show. I knew Brain’s Base was a very talented studio, but their most recent productions (Tonari, Amnesia) hadn’t really displayed that. I’m actually a huge sucker for romance, and so I pick up pretty much every romantic comedy – but that suckerdom does not extend to liking things even if they’re bad, and so I pretty swiftly put most of them back down again (or ride them out while whining endlessly, like with Sakurasou). The art style didn’t look that special, and the premise seemed kinda predictable. I figured a few episodes wouldn’t hurt.

My reaction to the first episode has been my continuous reaction since then – “Dear god Brain’s Base, you’ve finally done it,” and “Finally, after all this time, a smart romcom actually exists in our world.” It begins with a monologue by our protagonist and central loner, laying out his cynical view of high school and justification for his detachment with more acuity and wit than I’d ever seen before.

This monologue is then immediately trashed by his teacher, who ridicules his maudlin prose and chastises him for missing the point of the assignment.

And that’s pretty much the show in a nutshell. It’s a show about smart people, which is different from being a show about people who the show tells you are smart. The characters display their intelligence through their wit, through their reasoning, through the carefully constructed shells that surround them.

It’s also a show about young people. Our protagonists may be smart, but they are anything but wise – their views of the world are incomplete, their perspective fails to understand a thousand thousand things, and their philosophies are predicated on the viewpoint that the reason they’re alone can’t truly be their own fault. They need to believe that – for all their defenses and rationale and witty repartee, they are deeply insecure and deeply lonely. The show doesn’t tell you that – it doesn’t have anyone outright break down over their need for connection, though Yui sometimes come close. You just get to see the scars – the walls they’ve constructed to make sure their fundamental pain is kept as distant as humanly possible.

The show juggles the disconnect between their critical, analyzing nature and incomplete perspectives with inspiring ease. Many episodes are full of fractured gems of genuine insight from Yuki and Hikki, but their own personalities and egos are always the limiting factor in their analysis. Outside of the surface conflicts provided to illuminate their ideas and give the early episodes narrative focus, OreGairu is essentially the definition of a “character conflict,” in that virtually all of the conflicts of the show stem directly from the nature of the characters themselves. There is no injection of outside drama keeping these characters from achieving success – their conversations in the very first episode reveal every hurdle they will eventually have to overcome. This is how character writing is supposed to work – it can be difficult to empathize with characters going through conflicts that have no bearing on your own life, but when those conflicts are based on fundamental human flaws, their journey can become universal.

Which brings me back around to the school anime complaint. People have told me they feel they’ve “outgrown” the high school focus – that it has no resonance with their life any more. I feel that with most shows, this complaint is valid – most shows are attempting to provide entertainment, and if the shenanigans on-screen are no longer what entertain you, then there’s nothing more to say.

But OreGairu is not about pure entertainment – it is about understanding, illumination, resonance. Even if your school days are a distant memory, the fundamental conflicts of this show are about our universal human nature. I’m biased, obviously, as I can see a character like Hikki articulate the precise, perfectly logical reasons he chooses to disengage from his experience, and see a shadow of my much younger self. But I think most people can relate to that fundamental insecurity, that need to rationalize your world in a way that makes it less judgmental of your own choices. The desire to disengage because engaging invites disappointment or pain. The difficulty in accepting the limits of your own perspective. Many people have said they relate to Hikki’s struggle, or see too much of themselves in him – that’s definitely not something to feel bad about. The well-articulated strengths, flaws, and scars present in both Hikki and Yuki are what make them worth empathizing with – what make them uniquely human. Regardless of your own point in life, the internal struggles these characters face are something we all deal with in our own way.

That’s a lot of somber analysis for a romantic comedy, huh? Well, I hope that doesn’t make the show sound dry – because it also works better than many as a comedy, and better than almost any as a romance. The comedy generally evolves naturally from the personalities and banter of the characters, as expected. While there are occasional standout gags, the humor generally does play second fiddle to the character drama, and there are even occasional missteps where the show leans slightly too far into the genre conventions it’s normally eviscerating. The romance fairs much better – it is incredibly understated throughout, and grows at a pace with the character’s own personal development. All the romance that exists is built out of the need for understanding and trust the protagonists exhibit – their shields are pretty tough, and until they learn to trust each other, nothing else can grow. This process is depicted as naturally as possible, and is built on a tremendous understanding of how chemistry works. Even from the first episode, Yuki and Hikki trade barbs with ease, and from very early on it is clear their senses of humor bounce off each other well, and that their worldviews both complement and often mirror each other. They’re clear equals in many ways, and seeing them slowly come to respect, trust, and understand each other is honestly an incredible joy to watch.

What else is there to say? The show is. The visual aesthetic and soundtrack are generally just serviceable, though Brain’s Base often display great subtlety in using the character’s physicality to display their emotional state and relationships. The narrative craft is excellent, with the early episodes offering simpler stories to establish the core relationships, and the second half concerning itself more with truly clashing their personalities against each other, and forcing them to address their own weaknesses and shields. The voice acting is solid, and some of the side characters display a great deal more thought and nuance in their depiction than expected – Hayama in particular is a much-needed counterpoint to Hikki’s perspective.

There are certainly flaws here – not all the side characters are interesting or well-articulated, not all the story arcs are equally insightful, a good number of jokes don’t land or repeat, and there’s even a tiny dash of fanservice. But the things this show does right are so distinctive, so important, and handled so well that I really can’t force myself to spend time further articulating these weaknesses. Even after spending all these words discussing it, I really feel like I’ve failed to capture the fundamental point here – the writing is just good. That’s a much rarer thing than you’d think – very, very few people can write characters whose personalities have true weight, and whose every action reflects the sum of their person. Very rarely do I find myself watching a show and actually trusting its writer – secure in my knowledge that the characters will hold up and only show themselves as even stronger the deeper I dig. It’s easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and certainly a very personal favorite. I’ll still be talking about this show for a very long time to come. Effortless 10/10.

18 thoughts on “Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru – Review

  1. Though I too appreciated the candor and authenticity of its script, a fundamental flaw I find with SNAFU is the visual production. Simply put, it was one of the blandest looking shows I watched this season. It was all talking heads and simple panning cameras. Someone with a sense for the visual aspect of visual storytelling could have taken SNAFU’s script and made a bigger impact with interesting camera angles, depth of field, or art style variations. This is a case where the story has plenty of substance, but no style (or budget) to make it really stand out.

    • I agree, the art direction and actual direction were very bland for this show (though I did like how the characters actually looked like older teens). The visual aspects of anime are generally just gravy for me – I’ll appreciate it and raise my score if they’re distinctive, creative, or aid the storytelling in some way, and if the visuals are the purpose of the show I’ll judge accordingly (like with Redline or something), but the things I normally focus on are story, theme, and character.

  2. I also enjoyed the writing of the show. The two main characters Hikki and Yuki definitely made the show for me. Their insightful yet incomplete views on the world around them made me truly appreciate the show’s overall message. Coupled that with the fine chemistry with a colorful cast, I’m very grateful to Brain’s Base for making such a clever show.

    The only disagreement I have with your assessment is the actual romance itself. I do agree that we witnessed a personal and genuine relationship forming between Hikki and Yuki, but I actually never took it as anything romantic. If anything, I saw two people with similar attitudes and mindsets developing mutual respect for each other. However given the openness of the ending to an adaptation of an ongoing series, I can understand it being taken either way. Regardless of whatever is forming between the two, the relationship is something we both enjoy.

    • Yeah, I’d agree that the depth of feelings between them is definitely up to interpretation (I mainly felt that Yuki was pretty directly flirting with him by the last couple episodes, plus there was Hikki’s “maybe now we could…” from episode 12). Either way their interactions were fantastic, and I really loved how the last arc saw Hikki shifting from idolizing Yuki, to being disappointed when she didn’t live up to his impossible standards, to actually supporting her in maintaining her pride in front of others. Reconciling his original philosophy with his respect for Yuki definitely brought out a new level of maturity in him.

  3. Pingback: Top Twelve Anime of 2013 | Wrong Every Time

  4. Before I begin there will be some minor spoilers but since this is a comedy and has no plot it should be totally fine to read them…

    I do agree the show is different from all the other high school romcoms with it’s good writing and that’s what it makes it special. However, I do not agree the writing is just THAT good. I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the first episode, as you’ve said, it’s enough to watch the first episode to fully know the character’s personalities. On top of that conversations between Hiki and Yukinoshita are hilariously intelligent and unique, something you don’t see very often in romcoms. But… The show, in my opinion, waters down after approximately 3rd episode and suffers from exactly the same problems other romcoms (which we’ve said we are glad this show is different from) suffer from. They are in no particular order:

    There are almost no character development throughout the whole season
    … Hiki is the same Hiki 13 episodes before, Yukinoshita is the same Yukinoshita 13 episodes before and so on. You can say: “People can’t change their personality so fast, what do you expect? The show isn’t even over.” and that’s exactly my point. Starting with the latter, we know second season is coming but there’s nothing to latch on from the first season, the characters are the same, what’s the point of the second season plot wise? None. In my opinion, the entire first season could have been told through an arch of 6 episodes, that’ll probably be the case with the second season which means this could have been a good 1 seasoned anime with quality direction. Instead, it’s yet again an anime which has slow and watered down plot with profit as #1 priority. I will touch former in a second.
    There is no romantic development whatsoever
    … Sure there are few scenes where we see Yui struggle with not knowing if Hikki and Yukki are dating and of course the only scene with some romantic weight in it (which has a cliche plot device unfortunately) where she tries to confess. But nothing develops from those situations and therefore there’s no romantic development. As I’ve said, the show will start with the second season with nothing else to offer. What has been established is: Yui is in love with Hikki, Hikki thinks Yuki is interesting, Yuki is on the fence with her emotions about Hikki. And that’s exactly my point, it took them 13 episodes to establish that.
    Cliche plot devices

    … which give viewer the hope something interesting will FINALLY happen and then it takes that hope, smashes it and shits all over it, and then expects from the viewer characters are dumb enough not to pursue that road. Mentioned scene when Yui tries to confess to Hikki and gets interrupted when her mom calls, scenes where Yui reacts jealously toward Yuki or someone else because they had a more intimate encounter with Hikki, scenes where Hikki and Yuki are nice to each other and act all awkwardly (I-I’m doing this cause I want to help you, not b-because I l-like you! Baka…); it’s fine the first few times, but it gets kinda boring and repetitive after the 10th time (develop that romance!). I’ve just realized this part is tightly related to 2nd bullet but that’s not weird cause romance is pretty much the only plot device that can happen in SoL romcom.

    Your best argument would be: “You drank water which is one of the best when you were expecting mineral water; the show delivers it’s genre.” But I would not agree, I think the time has come for romcom anime to take the next step. Some people argue “it’s a comedy, there will be no romance development, deal with it. It’s a high school drama, there will be no character development.” I beg to differ, if you haven’t please watch the entire Friends (TV show). I know it’s not anime, but you will see how a hilarious sitcom can be so funny, tear jerking, heart wrenching, serious, life teaching and fun, all in the same time. Which brings it to my final point: SoL romcoms should start taking that path.

    • It kinda seems like you wanted to be watching a different show – not that this one failed at what it was trying to do, but that it simply wasn’t what you were looking for. It’s definitely not a romance – there are hints of awkward feelings between the characters, but a big part of the point is that they’re too trapped in their own insecurities to really be ready for honesty with another person. Which ties into your complaint about the character development, too – this was more a sympathetic character study than a coming-of-age story, and I actually found the small ways the characters learn to empathize and help each other refreshing, and much more true to life than the grand gestures and large spurts of emotional growth you tend to get in such shows.

      For shows that actually adhere more to the pattern you seem to be desiring here, I’d recommend Chuunibyou, Toradora, or possible Spice and Wolf/Kids on the Slope. All of them are more overt/focused on their romantic/dramatic elements, and the first two have those big leaps of character development you seem to be desiring. They’re also all really good, or at least I think so.

      • I think the last paragraph that I wrote fully arguments your statements in your first paragraph.

        I’ve watched Toradora and Spice and Wolf. Toradora was hilarious sometimes and had some good drama. However I’m not really into tsundere characters (except Haruhi) so I was annoyed by some scenes where Ryuji tolerates her behavior, that was however long time ago, when I subconsciously wanted shows to pander to my tastes. I don’t really remember too much of Spice and Wolf, I remember it had some good subplots and interesting episodes and I had some complaints of how romance wasn’t developed as much as it could have.

        There is a saying I like to say to my friend who recommends me anime: “I don’t want to watch noobs.”, meaning I don’t want to watch an untalented main character for 12 episodes who stays incompetent and untalented throughout the whole 12 episodes, in other words – no character development. It is definitely interesting to see a noob become a pro but that rarely happens because the genre works that way. The best example of an anime that pleasantly surprised me was School days. Now that show had a ton of character and romantic development, it conveyed a clear message, it was emotionally inducing and the show ended not only shockingly, but shockingly good. That being said, I’ve tried Chuunibyou but then I thought I would be watching noobs being noobs once again so I dropped it, I might give it another chance for different reasons now.

        My point is not stating these anime are bad, I’m saying these anime are good (8/10) but they could be way better if writers were brave enough to break free from genre expected plot devices and they could learn how from the western TV shows.

        • Again, this all comes down to the kind of storytelling that makes you happy. It’s not about this show taking a “next step” or not – it’s that this show focused on elaborating a few characters with acuity and empathy, and you wanted something with more central romance or narrative thrust. That’s not a value thing, it’s a preference one. Your “no noobs” preference is a clear articulation of this – you want a lot of narrative developments, which is fine, but again actually a clear example of wanting shows that, as you say, “pander to your tastes.” Which isn’t something we really grow out of – I also have specific types of storytelling that appeal to me (often the types of dramas I prefer deal more with elaborating characters and exploring their nature than following them through tremendous personality-changing shifts, like this show or Uchouten Kazoku), and freely admitting that helps me keep perspective in discussions with others with very different tastes.

          School Days is an interesting example, because while I agree it had a clear message, I think it was also flawed in many other ways. The characters all worked in service of that message – they weren’t complex, they were just deeply damaged, because the show was intended either for shock value (if I’m being cynical) or as a statement on the screwed-up nature of harem storytelling (which is how I like to think of it). I wouldn’t want most of my shows to follow that route – life is generally much less dramatic than shows like School Days make it out to be, and I really like shows that reflect life as I see it. Which is my own problem with shows like Friends (or almost any western sitcoms, actually) – I don’t find their styles of characterization, dialogue, and drama ring true for me, and given that, I can’t get emotionally invested. OreGairu wouldn’t be “better” if it took lessons from Friends – it would be a different show with different priorities that makes different people happy.

  5. People like OreGairu for reasons such as related to their loner days, break from traditional romcom, deep philosophical, “batman” hero, etc… As for me, my reason for liking OreGairu is: It is the first anime/light novel that have characters that make me feel like a loser myself (what a ironical).

    For example, take Katsuragi Keima from TWGOK. He excels in games, can finish Mario, Lunatic Touhou without continues, getting A+ in all subjects, and still conquering 2D & 3D girls like nothing. Compare with me, who can barely 1cc Normal Touhou, only getting A in some subjects, having no girlfriend, am I feel inferior to Keima? No, never am I. But OreGairu casts has made me rethink about how I was spending my high school days. There are many reasons but I only list one here.

    The “kindness” of Yukinoshita: During episode 1, when Yui feel that she has no talent for cooking, Yukinoshita reply with her famous speech: “People who don’t work hard don’t have the right to be envious of the people with talent. People fail because they don’t understand the hard work necessary to be successful”. During high school, I am also good at studying like Yukinoshita, so a friend asked me to help her studying better, but in truth, she only want the answers/result. She said she is not talented like me, so that was the best way to get good grade. In my head, I was thinking exactly like Yukinoshita, but I couldn’t say the words. My excuse is it is her freedom of choice, but the truth is simple: I am only care about myself, I want the world to become better but I don’t want to do anything to make everyone around me better, I am just a hypocrite. But Yukinoshita is not, she cares about other people, even the one that she never meet before (like Yui).
    Hikigaya “pride of being loner”: In the eyes of my high school classmate, I was eccentric and strange. I was aware of that fact and it made me nervous about myself. I was constantly trying to fit in with everyone, but in the end, it only made me feel inferior. But Hikigaya is different, he is proud of himself and his ideal, despite fully knowing that it will give him a hard life. If this anime was aired 6 years ago, I would not having to regret my high school “youth” now…

    In conclusion, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru is the only 2D work that make me can not escape into 2D anymore. (BTW, sorry for the rant)

    P.S. I also like romance between Hikigaya and Yukinoshita, it the romance between two people has same caliber and understand each other (a rare thing in anime/manga world). Hikigaya can fall in love with other girls or no one, but if he and Yukinoshita falling in love with each other, I bet they will live happy after ever (like fairy tales, LOL)

    • I’m happy to hear Yahari affected you this way! Which may seem a little odd or callous to say, but I can strongly remember shows that acted as my own kick in the pants, and I think it’s one of the most positive things a show can do. The best shows don’t make you want to escape – they make you want to seize life! I wish you luck in using the spark Yahari provided.

      I agree about Hikigaya and Yukinoshita – it’s great to see a relationship between such clear equals. Hopefully things work out for those two.

  6. Pingback: Uchouten Kazoku – Episode 1 | Wrong Every Time

  7. Pingback: Top 30 Anime of All Time | Wrong Every Time

  8. Pingback: Top 30 Anime Series of All Time | Wrong Every Time

  9. [WARNING: Super long, personal comment below!]

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Oregairu lately, so I’ve been rereading some of your old reviews about this series. I’m actually still somewhat amazed that a “literary” critic such as yourself would praise Oregairu so highly when I don’t think that this series manages to escape the “generic romcom” aspect it so seemingly tries to subvert. I personally think the fact that, at its heart, Oregairu still embraces the “generic romcom” is part of the reason of why it’s such an empathetic story. I’ve always enjoyed stories that can be easily appreciated from multiple angles, and Oregairu is without a doubt my favourite LN from a literary perspective.

    The prose in the LN is actually pretty great, I think – mostly witty and sarcastic but also occasionally poetic. It’s very much a teen lit work by capturing the experience “in the moment” rather than retrospectively. But rather than finding the writing style shallow and irritating, I think it’s charming and true, at least to my own experience of writing as a teenager.

    It is pretty amazing that, despite this story being about high school, I personally found myself resonating with it now that I’ve left high school. Because come to think of it, I really was one of those “smart” teenagers who thought myself superior to other teenagers, but I lacked the self-awareness to criticise myself for it at the time. I thought the teenagers around me were just going through a “phase” with drugs and serial dating, and that they would eventually come to realise the wholesome life of relying purely on your own intellect and close, platonic relationships to find emotional satisfaction. (I had a really anti-romance mentality!) My elitism makes me more like Yukinoshita than Hachiman, so I’ve got a slightly different perspective from others who relate to this series.

    In any case, Oregairu is probably the first teen lit novel (English or Japanese) I’ve come across that actually understands and criticises this particular worldview. As a teenager, I was never able to relate to the shallow love stories or the overblown angst, but now I find myself revelling in so-called “low art” in a way I would never have thought possible.

    I think you’ll enjoy the second season of the anime, because the content it covers is less on the lightweight side. It definitely won’t be another Chuunibyou Ren. I thought the first couple of episodes of the anime (and the first couple of LN volumes) were rough, but Wataru Watari is genuinely interested in accurately exploring the teenage experience rather than subverting anime tropes for subversion’s sake. You might find his author’s notes interesting: http://oregairuthetranslation.wordpress.com/volume-1/afterword/

    Anyway, your writing about Oregairu has been really inspiring; I can feel your love and enthusiasm for the characters shine through every post you wrote. You actually got me to read The Catcher in the Rye! (I think both Holden Caulfield and Hikigaya Hachiman seriously need a hug.) So thanks for that. It’s been great.

    Now off to read some teen lit and translate the rest of the LN ;)

    • Hah, oh man, those author notes. It’s clear this story is coming from a very personal place, but yeah, no mistaking that now! I’m excited to hear the second season will actually get into some thorny dramatic territory, and also that the writing continues to become more focused and consistent. And I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed my posts – it’s true, I absolutely love these characters, and want to give big hugs to all of them. Growing up is hard to do.

  10. Stumbled across this blog. I have got to agree about Yahari. Posting to say just that. Fell in love with the anime’s first season and then headed off to read the Light Novels. There is actually a lot of plot that the show leaves out from there. And the light novels keep getting better. Just illustrates how even though the animation is pretty average, the overall pacing erratic, and the general appearance of the show bland, the characters make it rise above. And very soon you stop noticing such “flaws”. The rhythm of the story takes over, the characters infuriate, and surprise. It has a heart and real heartache. It really is wonderfully crafted. And Wataru’s insights into people, not just adolescents, are remarkable.

    Speaking of intelligence, agree with you. Its how the anime actually shows it to us in Hachiman in all its twisted, misguided, altruistic glory where most other anime begin to fade in comparison. And the part that really got to me, as the poster above partially points out, is that it shows us both how such intelligence can work against itself, and the struggle to still somehow, despite it all, connect. The light novels are also a real study in how characters and people can change, or sometimes not. The humor is never overwrought. A lot of the subtlety thats there in the text in fact doesn’t shine through, or perhaps can’t because of the medium, but then what does get through is plenty.

    Shows like this are the reason why scrounging through all the other cliche ridden, tsundere raging, panty flashing high school rom-coms is worth it. Yahari is a rom-com all right, it never treads beyond the cliches. It never transcends them. Can’t see how it can to be honest. High school is the place where cliche’s are at their most potent. Still each cliche is treated as an opportunity for doing something different. Something authentic based off the characters. Just wish there were more of it around, but really how many other mediums offer this sort of insightful story telling stretched over multiple seasons. Just hope it gets a long enough run to get to the later light novels. This is the type of story telling that made me fall in love with anime. Thanks for writing about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>