We have arrived this week at what I consider to be one of the most important anime series ever made. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is about the rollercoaster of personal issues and emotions teenagers have to go through at school, and focusses strongly on bullying, isolation, friendships and the awkwardness of developing relationships. The main character is Hachiman Hikigaya, who is a lonely outsider. Interestingly, the major cause of this seems to be his appearance: he has “dead eyes”, which are represented by being narrow, compared to the standard huge anime eyes. Over the years he has developed a coping strategy for dealing with bullying, which basically amounts to keeping himself to himself, deflecting any insults by agreeing with them, and acting as everyone’s inferior. At times it is painful to watch. His self-esteem couldn’t be any lower, but as a survival strategy it works.
Hikigaya’s teacher, who is also an interesting character (young, single, sensitive about that fact, and fiery) recognises the problem, and orders him to join a club with another lonely teenager: Yukino Yukinoshita. She is lonely for very different reasons. She is incredibly clever, beautiful, and refuses to be a fake. She says what she thinks, and because she won’t behave in the way that the popular girls behave in order to be a part of a clique, she has ended up alone. Together, the two form a “service club”, which is simply a club to take requests from other students in need of some kind of help.
The series introduces the main characters steadily and methodically. Firstly, the third member of the club turns up, initially somebody asking for help. Yui Yuigahama is one of the popular girls. She has everything going for her and from an outsider perspective would appear to be happy and popular. But in her own way she is every bit as lonely as Hikigaya and Yukino, because her group is formed of fake friendships, and she can’t be her true self around her so-called friends, or say what she ever really thinks. The three of them start to form some kind of a friendship that is real, but it is not easy. In their own different ways they are each incredibly socially awkward and have never actually formed a friendship that is truly genuine. Complicating matters, both girls are clearly developing feelings for Hikigaya, recognising his qualities that have remained hidden from everyone else. It’s messy and confusing.
Then we have Yoshiteru Zaimokuza, another outsider who has dealt with his victimhood by withdrawing into a world of fantasy. He dreams of becoming a writer. There is Saika Totsuka, who is a boy with a feminine appearance who falls for Hikigaya. The only thing that I didn’t like about the series is that it treats this simply as comedy, which is a huge amount of fun, but it seems wrong that so many teenage issues are dealt with so deftly, realistically, and unflinchingly throughout the series, and yet the gay kid is just joke fodder.
Yukino’s older sister is a fascinating character. She used to be the most popular and successful girl in school, but was completely different to Yukino despite sharing similar abilities and beauty. She made use of her attributes, while Yukino instead insists on remaining true to herself. At first, the sister seems to be a popular, happy, fun person, but turns out to be incredibly manipulative and quite sinister in the way she goes about things.
The series works through various situations, which the service club become involved with. The very best of the series is when they help out at a summer camp for younger children, and see a young girl there named Rumi Tsurumi who is the isolated, lonely child in the class. Hikigaya of course immediately recognises what is happening, and sees reflections of his own past in her. She is like a cross between Hikigaya and Yukino, but the group are desperate to help her before she ends up like them. But this is a realistic series, and despite Hikigaya’s efforts there are no easy answers. It’s fascinating stuff.
Often set against the backdrop of familiar teen anime situations (fireworks, cultural festival, etc), the most important aspect of this series is the relationship between the three main characters, which is further complicated by a mysterious accident from Hikigaya’s past, in which they have some involvement. It is one of the most unflinching and realistic representations of teenage loneliness I have ever seen, and yet it is also filled with hope.
We’ll look at where the second series goes next week.
This series is also known as My Teen Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected, which is clumsier, but I’m not keen on the “SNAFU” abbreviation, which is short for an expression that includes a profanity that doesn’t fit well with the character of Hikigaya. In fact, the entire title is rather misleading. This is very far from being a “romantic comedy”, as we understand the term in the Western world.
Unfortunately there is no official dub for this series, which is really quite extraordinary considering its popularity. The Japanese voice actors are magnificent, especially Takuya Eguchi as Hikigaya, and it’s actually hard to imagine anyone else managing to live up to his distinctive performance, but the problem with watching with subtitles is that this is a complex series, full of fast-moving dialogue, so it’s not a good starting point for anyone who is inexperienced at grappling with reading while you watch. You can’t help but feel like you are missing out on some of the visuals while trying to following the lightning fast subs, and it’s all too easy to get confused about the storylines. There is a very good fan dub of the first two episodes on YouTube, but after that you’re stuck with the subs.
For an expert view of this series, I recommend Karandi’s 100 Word Anime blog. Here’s the link to her article:
…and also she has the following fascinating article about Hikigaya and other similar characters in anime:
I’ll leave you with the opening credits, which are really quite beautiful. RP