The aptly-titled third season of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, also known as Oregairu, does manage to bring the story of Hachiman, Yukino and Yui to some sort of a climax, something that is actually surprisingly unusual for love triangle anime series.
Before we get to that, Oregairu was always about more than the romance. It’s a highly philosophical series, examining the nature of human interaction, with a particular focus on what is genuine and what isn’t. The three main characters have to reach an understanding about what their relationship currently means, before they can figure out what the future should hold for them. Exerting more influence than perhaps they realise are the two older female figures of importance: Yukino’s older sister Haruno and Hachiman’s teacher Hitatsuka. Despite being a sibling, Haruno has long been the series’ evil step-mother type character, which takes some doing when there is actually a mother figure in the mix who is every bit as challenging to deal with, but Haruno’s perception of the relationship between the three main characters is warped and toxic, and that derails them for a while. She describes it as “codependent”, and that strikes a raw nerve. It takes Hitatsuka to finally put things into perspective for Hachiman and explain to him the folly of trying to boil down a whole mess of complex emotions into one word. Hitatsuka also describes Hachiman as the most remarkable student she has ever taught, which is a reminder of why we are watching this series. It’s incredibly rare to find a protagonist like Hachiman in any anime series, a young man who truly deserves the attention of all the female characters that eventually comes his way. Hitatsuka’s imminent departure to take up a position in another school hangs over his head like a cloud. There is a strong sense of time running out to this series, even though it does not represent the final year of school for any of the main characters.
As per the previous series, a big school event is used as a way to explore how the main characters interact, and how healthy or unhealthy is the balance of their relationships and interactions. This time it is a prom, which runs into some problems when the school receives complaints about the whole idea. Once again, Hachiman’s incredible ability to strategise and Yukino’s determination are needed to sort out the problem, but this time they sail their own courses towards the same destination, driven apart by worries about the nature of their friendship and Yukino’s perceived inability to stand on her own two feet without Hachiman.
Of course, what we’re all really interested in is how the love triangle is going to be resolved. The series starts exactly where it left off, and then stalls for a while, with a focus on some of the ensemble characters. Whilst it’s nice to have early episodes that focus on people like Kawasaki, Komachi and Iroha, it rarely feels like it’s adding much to the overall story and does feel a bit like delaying tactics. During the latter half of the season, there is a very strong focus on the girl who is going to be the loser in love, and although I was fairly certain who Hachiman was going to end up with, so much time is spent on his relationship with the other girl that I did wonder if there was a surprise brewing. In the end, this becomes a series that spends much of its time examining what it means to be the loser in a love triangle, and how it’s possible to move on from that, which is of course especially important when the two girls are best friends. The potential loss of the status quo of the three main characters’ friendship is desperately sad, and of course needs to be addressed. The series never pulls its punches in showing the utter misery of being the one who knows she is going to lose out, and has to live with knowing she can’t have the love of her life. There are many tears, but ultimately we do have an ending that seems like the right one. Having said that, the inherent problem with a love triangle series is that the resolution is always going to disappoint a large percentage of the fan base who were rooting for the other girl, but it is by far the lesser of two evils compared to the endless ranks of anime series that bottle out of resolving a love triangle at the end.
I’m not sure the visuals quite achieved the standard of the first two seasons, and there are times when the characterisations seem a little off, but the very existence of this third season feels like a minor miracle. The second season ended in 2015, and it seemed for a few years that we weren’t going to get a third. Five years later, made and broadcast in the midst of a pandemic, we got the conclusion to the story we had been hoping for, and had waited five years to see. With one OVA episode still to come, it’s not quite the end of the story, but that will be the icing on the cake for a story that feels like it has been brought to a solid ending that does justice to the characters. I think if I had to sum up the one thing that makes this such an impressive show, it’s the evolution of the characters, who go on a fascinating journey of emotional growth over the course of the three seasons, to the extent that Hachiman is reminded by his teacher of his attitude to life at the start, and is thoroughly embarrassed. He goes from being a friendless loner to somebody who can hold his own in a rap battle (yes, really!), and he thoroughly deserves the happiness he finds. He has earned that happiness.
The ending of this series is a bittersweet moment. It’s great to see it brought to a conclusion, but it can’t be a triumphant one for everyone. That’s fine, though. This is a series that has always shown us mixed emotions, and it remains true to that course, right to the end. RP