Oregairu, or My Teen Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as Expected, or Yahari no–
Okay anyways. Oregairu is over. There are very few high-school anime that are actually good, and for the past decade or whatever Oregairu has been one of them, alongside White Album 2, Toradora, Hyouka, and… Aku no Hana I guess, though that one is more psychological horror. All of those are either done or never getting finished though, so Oregairu has been asked to bear the burden of providing us with love triangles and awkward teenagers for some time now. Personally I’m a love-triangle addict, so I’m grateful to have had a show like Oregairu at all. But now that it’s over it’s time to dig into the details and talk about which aspects of the show were triumphs and which aspects could have benefited from another round of editing.
No pics on this one. I’m feeling lazy.
There’s one area in which the show stands above just about every single one of its kin, and that’s the character writing. Rarely has there been a show with such a decisive grasp of its character’s traits, personalities, arcs, and relationships. There’s a complexity and nuance to pretty much all of Oregairu’s main cast: Hachiman, Yukino, Yui, Iroha, Haruno, Hayama, and yes, even the teacher, are all some of the most well-realized characters in anime. They’re multifaceted, detailed people with a ton of thought put into them, and they’re expressed with enough subtlety that their traits feel organic.
Rarely can you find a show in any medium where small scraps of offhand dialogue can carry so much weight behind them, or where development is so precise. Hachiman at the the beginning of the show and Hachiman at the end are two completely different people, but there’s no distinct moment where this change happens. Even after Hachiman’s season two moment of revelation most of his original traits initially remain, and it is only after a long and arduous season three that his habits and actions catch up with his emotional ambitions. His slow, grinding trudge towards vulnerability is full of pitfalls and backsteps, each carefully building on each other to form an arc that makes Kasuga’s arc from Aku no Hana look like a rough draft (and if you’ve read the full Flowers of Evil manga you’ll know just how lofty a claim that is!)
There’s really no denying it: when it comes expressing characters through dialogue, none of the other high-school shows can touch Oregairu. Not even Toradora!, my long-standing favorite of the bunch. The delicate, intent-filled conversations of Oregairu are one of a kind, and that’s enough to firmly earn it a spot among the best of the best.
However, despite all this, I think both Toradora and Aku no Hana have better overall scripts than Oregairu. There’s a difference between character writing and regular-old writing, and the difference is that no matter how precise your script’s grasp of the id is there are a few basic tenets of fiction that most stories would be wise to follow. The first and most important is that actions speak louder than words.
Let me say that again, Oregairu.
Actions, you know those things where people express themselves by doing things?
Yeah, those can convey a lot more than people standing around having endless conversations about what they’re thinking and feeling.
Now in Oregairu’s defense a big part of the story is its characters learning the importance of facing each other directly and expressing their thoughts and feelings instead of assuming that others understand them or attempting to cover their embarrassment by conveying themselves in roundabout, convoluted ways. Hachiman standing in front of Yukino and saying outright that he cares about her, wants her in his life, and is willing to put in the effort is a triumphant rebuke of everything he used to stand for, and it’s a monumental moment done through simple words alone. But there are many, many conversations in this show that are not that one, and most of them would have carried more impact if the meaning behind them had been conveyed by someone doing something to express their thoughts or feelings instead of rambling about them. Oregairu’s conversations are great, but they’re overused, while events like the high-school prom (of which there were two) should have been easy slam-dunk show-don’t-tell moments and were instead basically skipped over. That’s a crazy person’s choice. Who skips prom in a rom-com?!
Additionally, Oregairu’s second two seasons suffer from a relative lack of breezy fun-times, a fact made harder by the fact that when the show does goof off it’s really good at it. Hachiman rapping, Yukino obsessing over cats, and Iroha harassing everyone are all great gags, but unfortunately they’re scarce and swallowed by vast swaths of melodrama. I’m not saying that all high-school shows need to be funny, but casual fun goes a long ways towards humanizing characters. This is especially true when the stakes are low, as they are in Oregairu. Aku no Hana doesn’t need humor, because it’s a story about an anxiety-ridden teen who deals with rape and suicide pacts and other fucked-up shit. But Oregairu is a feel-good coming-of-age story, and those succeed based on audience investment. Having god-tier writing goes a long ways towards that, but so do the little, pointless moments that make characters relatable.
The other major issue I ended up having with the show was the harem elements. I wrote a whole article about this before, so I won’t harp on it, but basically my worries of Hachiman becoming Araragi came to fruition in the final season. Yukino, Yui, Iroha, Saki, and Kaori all have explicit crushes on him, while Haruno and even Shizuka (the goddamn teacher) spend extensive time flirting with him, whispering in his ear, falling on top of him, and more cliche anime nonsense. It’s wish fulfillment, pure and simple, and as I mentioned before completely undercuts the show’s main themes. How can you learn to except the pain and disappointment that come with the joys of trying to get closer to the people in your life if there is no pain and disappointment?
The positive is that I saw this coming, so it didn’t ruin the show for me. Disappointing and unnecessary? Yes. But at least the show sticks to only having emotional fanservice. It’s anime. If this kind of crap is a dealbreaker for you, go try a different medium.
What I do want to give the show credit is the ending. Few anime have proper endings, and of those even fewer are actually good. Even my dear love Toradora! has a final ten minutes that are rushed and disjointed, much to my continuous chagrin. Oregairu has one of those rare anime endings that is both satisfying and complete, wrapping up nearly all of the story’s loose threads while pointing the characters in decisive directions. The romantic undertones are resolved, the fate of Hachiman’s friend group is resolved, multiple side characters have their arcs completed, and it manages all of this without speeding through anything. The meticulous storytelling fully pays off here, giving us a chance to spend one last important moment with each cast member while making sure that all of the show’s final turns feel solidly earned. It’s a rare treat to finish a good anime and not immediately have to start doing research about the possibility of a sequel, but Oregairu is one of those few.
And, overall, Oregairu is a good anime. To be fair, the general quality of modern TV anime is low enough that being a ‘good’ anime isn’t saying a whole lot, but I would count Oregairu as one of the overall better rom-coms in any medium (again, not saying a whole lot.) I don’t think the show is revolutionary, and I doubt it would change anyone’s mind on the rom-com genre by itself, but if someone asked me for rom-com recommendations and they weren’t prejudiced against anime I’d probably rattle of this one along with the likes of Toradora!, Lovesick (which used to be Scrotal Recall and was tragically renamed,) Never Have I Ever, and Palm Springs. It’s probably the worst of those, dragged down by harem elements and random first-season ecchi, but for me to add it to The List at all is a real compliment. If you like rom-coms, watch Oregairu. If you don’t, I’d probably give it a skip. And if you’ve followed it until now and have been worried that the final season will undermine your love of the series, the good news is it probably won’t. The dips into wish-fulfillment aren’t that much more egregious than the first two seasons, and the ending is one of anime’s better ones. The show is another example of how most ‘anime-isms’ are blights that drag down otherwise good stories, but it endures in spite of them. A day may come when we are free from Christmas cake teachers and thigh shots, but it is not this day. Today we watch Oregairu, because it’s pretty dang good and our standards are low.
Final Score: 7/10, made me yell at the screen twice, got me to write something for my stupid blog.