The open forum for My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected (AKA Oregairu) volume 1 has been “live” for a month, and as promised, here is our editorial to reflect on the volume as a whole. Frog-kun, Melody, and I are here to share our analysis of volume 1! Feel free to share your thoughts on the volume too.
(Note: This is an editorial for the volume, so there will be spoilers. Be sure to finish reading volume 1 first!)
Hachiman Hikigaya and Yukino Yukinoshita
Cho: Hachiman Hikigaya is the viewpoint character of this story, and he can be described as an apathetic, pessimistic, introverted, and pragmatic loner. He stands out as a light novel protagonist in that he has a bitter soul and a disdainful heart. The story explains how Hachiman started high school friendless due to unfortunate circumstances. As for why he has never made friends since then–well, it’s not hard to see why. Hachiman constantly assumes the worst in others, and he can’t accept the idea of anyone having a pleasant high school experience. Everyone has deemed him a fish-eyed loser, and his response seems to be “You got a problem with that?” The world has shunned him, so in turn he will shun the world. (Or at least, that’s his goal, right?)
Meanwhile the heroine of this story is Yukino Yukinoshita, who is clearly meant to contrast with Hachiman despite the two more or less being in the same boat. Yukino is also a loner, but this is due to her years of being ostracized by jealous peers. The only thing more infuriating than someone who acts like she is better than everyone else, is someone who actually is better than everyone else–and Yukino is all-too-aware of her superiority. On one hand it is good to be queen, but on the other hand it really is lonely at the top. Let’s say you attend a weekly board game tournament (The Game of Life?), and the same person wins every single time, year in and year out. How fun is that? As a reader I can’t be too upset with Yukino though, because despite her sharp tongue and icy demeanor, she is legitimately making an effort to help people and improve things at her school.
This first volume features Yukino earnestly and Hachiman begrudgingly helping their peers at school learn to deal with various problems. They don’t make Yui a great cook, Zaimokuza a great writer, or Totsuka a great tennis player. Instead, I think what they really accomplish is helping their classmates put things into perspective. Yukino is always brutally honest. If you want to achieve something, you’re going to have to work hard for it–so get to it! But unfortunately, for most people (i.e. anyone but her) the results aren’t going to come overnight. Hachiman’s jaded remarks meanwhile present a superficial “solution” of sorts for how to get by in the meantime. Yeah, you’re a terrible cook, but that’s okay. Boys will like anything their sweethearts make for them. Or Yeah, you’re a terrible writer, but that’s okay. The most important part of a light novel is its illustrations. In a fashion, Yukino and Hachiman–our two negatives–somehow manage to make a positive.
Frog-kun: Yui Yuigahama is initially introduced as a superficial girl who dresses in fashionable clothing in an attempt to fit in with her classmates. In Hachiman’s cynical and misogynistic worldview, she is a “slut.” But as the story progresses, it becomes quite clear that Yui is a rather sweet and affable girl who simply longs for acceptance.
The story of Yui’s request to the service club is told (and seemingly resolved) in chapter 3. She asks Yukino to help her make cookies and doesn’t succeed all that well, but eventually she appears to make peace with the fact that she will never be a good cook.
Chapter 4, however, reveals that her issues are more deep-rooted than insecurity about her cooking skills. Through Hachiman’s perspective, we see her interact with her friends in class. Because she wants to fit in with the group, she struggles to voice disagreement, and in the end feels lonely and isolated. It is only when Yukino enters the fray with her brutal honesty that Yui cheers up. Yui even appreciates Hachiman’s meek attempt at intervening on her behalf, even though nothing changed or was resolved.
The “service” that Yukino and Hachiman provide Yui is, in my view, companionship. Yukino and Hachiman are both loners because they reject social niceties. Yui knows that she cannot be like them or else she, too, will lose her friends. But she appreciates their honesty and how they stay true to themselves, and because of that, she earnestly desires to be their friends as well. Admittedly, this applies more to her relationship with Yukino at this point, but I think she appreciates Hachiman too, albeit in a way she finds difficult to express.
By the way, I believe that Hiratsuka-sensei counted Yukino the winner of this incident. While Yukino may have failed to teach Yui how to bake cookies properly, Yui made an important friend in Yukino. With Yukino, Yui doesn’t have to worry about changing herself to fit in, and I think she finds that relieving. Yukino, for her part, is also relieved to encounter someone who can take her honest criticism without resenting her. In that sense, you could say that Yui performed a service to Yukino, just as Yukino performed a service for her. Both girls were the winners here.
Frog-kun: Zaimokuza is our resident “chuunibyou” (translated in the novel as “M-2 syndrome”) character. To be honest, he’s a rather one-note character in this volume, but his request does reveal some important things about our protagonists.
Zaimokuza asks Hachiman and Yukino to read his novel manuscript and provide feedback. He’s unwilling to submit his work online because he doesn’t want to be criticized harshly, but as he reveals by the end of chapter 5, he really just wants to have friends who can read and react to his stories. Being a rather pathetic person who doesn’t have friends, Zaimokuza is just like Hachiman but with less self-awareness. The Zaimokuza incident affirms just how pathetic Hachiman must look from an outsider’s perspective, but it also reveals Hachiman’s capacity for empathy for all his snark and cynicism.
I’m unsure who provided the better service in this incident. Yukino is predictably harsh with her critique, which is perhaps what Zaimokuza needs to evolve as a writer, but it is Hachiman who understands his worldview best, having once been a “chuunibyou” patient before. Hachiman doesn’t really help Zaimokuza, only telling him that the writing doesn’t matter when it comes to selling light novels, but Zaimokuza is still fired up about writing light novels in the end anyway. Hachiman would never admit it, but they’re kind of friends, aren’t they…?
Melody: Totsuka is the typical bishounen character, a man so cute, even Hikigaya the “Master Loner” falls for his charms. Their encounter is, unlike the others, not directly linked to the service club, though he will eventually ask for their services.
Totsuka’s search for strength in tennis translates to his lack of confidence in himself. He rarely gets angry, has an apologetic attitude, and last but not least gives off an aura of genuineness. In contrast to the others, Totsuka is a refreshing character, hiding his heartfelt emotions in laconicism and humbleness. A clichéd character he is not, and because of that, Totsuka finds it difficult to fully express himself.
However, while still being a principal character for a good chunk of the book, Totsuka’s struggles are merely relegated to the background. Hachiman’s relationships with the other introduced characters are meanwhile broadened, due to their presence throughout the two chapters (yes, even Zaimokuza gets some screen time, incredible). This results in drawn-out jokes about Totsuka’s beauty, genuineness, the fact that he isn’t a girl (which is something I would also want to change), and overall a drop in writing quality.
He mainly finds new strength through his interactions with the service club, which tried but ultimately diverted themselves from their true goal, by defying Hayama & Co and leading toward a final climax of sorts. Totsuka, by talking with unusual humans, transformed himself by getting more involved in matters, yet was not truly the one engaging in them.
At the end, Totsuka did improve on his bashfulness and lack of character, but was overshadowed by the others. Which in a way, corresponds a lot with his character… His growth was more related to the enjoyment he obtained during the play-offs and when communicating with the service club than any clear action from the latter. He has become more of a side character, someone who would cheer for you even in the direst situations.
And he’s totes cute.
Sometimes, the Gods of Romantic Comedy are Kind
Cho: By the end of the volume, I think it’s clear our main characters have managed to grow a little bit. Hachiman is still insistent that it’s fine to be a loner, but he has learned to accept what he terms the hypocrisy inherent to the high school experience of “normal” students. “Youth sucks!” he cries, but perhaps (inwardly at least) he has become a little more willing to see youth as bittersweet, rather than just bitter. Meanwhile for Yukino–well, I think she’s managed to become friends with Yui, though it may take some time for her to fully embrace such a notion. This is the first time someone has accepted her for who she is, after all. Maybe that’s all Yukino has really needed. And maybe that’s all Hachiman really needs, too? (Maybe that’s all anyone really needs?)