The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide Hitorijime My Hero
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hitorijime My Hero ?
What is this?
Masahiro Setagawa doesn't believe in heroes. With his dad out of the picture and his mother just as likely to bring her work (read: lovers) home as to spend all night out with them, he knows that there's no one to come save you when you're in trouble. To that end, he's thrown his lot in with a group of thugs, doing their bidding if only to have a place to belong. Then one night, after the notorious Bear Killer (a man in a weird T-shirt who takes down thugs) attacks his gang, Masahiro meets Kensuke Oshiba in the park with an abandoned kitten. Masahiro helps Kensuke take the kitten home and feed it, only to discover that Ken's older brother Kousuke is the Bear Killer himself! A year later, Masahiro and Kensuke are starting high school. Masahiro has cut ties with his former associates, become friends with Kensuke, and finally found the hero he's always wished for in Kousuke. But with Kousuke set to become a math teacher at their high school and Kensuke's old best friend Hashiba suddenly returning, do the boys have any hope of a normal high school life – or love? Hitorijime My Hero is based on a manga and can be found streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
I should probably be upfront in noting that, as a high school teacher myself, the premise of Hitorijime My Hero was never going to sit well with me. This isn't really a factor in whether or not the show itself is successful, since it's absolutely a matter of personal taste and not the quality of the writing or production of the anime I'm reviewing. Still, regardless of gender, I find relationships between teachers and students to be inherently predatory, and since this particular sexual fantasy isn't one that I personally hanker after, I was probably never going to “like” Hitorijime My Hero.
Still, my not liking a show doesn't make it a bad one, necessarily, and I can recognize what Hitorijime does right. It's well animated and the character designs are attractive enough, and Masahiro makes for a strong protagonist overall. He's likeable without being bland, and he has some nuanced feelings about his childhood, personal heroes, and how all of this relates to this handsome teacher of his (that also happens to be his friend's older brother). Even if I personally can't approve of the relationship based purely off of its uneven power structure, I can see the appeal in it. At the very least, I can see why a kid like Masahiro would be infatuated with Kousuke, and there's something to be said for an anime that makes the intense pining of its main character feel relatable.
The episode does have some flaws beyond my personal quibbles with its premise, mainly in how rote and expository the script feels. The episode spends so much time introducing characters and jumping back and forth in time, not to mention setting up the core relationships between Masahiro, Kousuke, Kensuke, and Hasekura, that the whole affair comes across as stiff and artificial. It feels like a checklist of story beats and character types being ticked off one by one instead of an organically progressing story in its own right. So, while I can see the aesthetic and genre-based appeal of the characters and story, the actual episode was something of a bore to watch. Does this mean that Hitorijime is a bad show? No, but it certainly doesn't make the best possible first impression. If you love the genre, it might be worth checking out future episodes to see if things smooth out. Otherwise, you probably won't be missing much by passing this particular romance by.
Barring some tremendously strong writing and direction, Hitorijime My Hero was never going to be my cup of tea. I'm pretty far outside the target demographic for this genre in general, and centering the story on a student-teacher romance doesn't help. The older I get, the more uncomfortable that sort of relationship is to watch. That said, this doesn't seem like the kind of premiere that would sell me on a series, even if I were a fan of the genre. It's not bad, but it doesn't do much to hook the audience.
Part of the problem is that the storyline feels more than a little jumbled. This episode jumps back and forth along the overall timeline of the narrative, which ultimately does more harm than good. This style of storytelling can be useful for providing context for an important plot point, but the changes in time need to be deliberate and purposeful. Hitorijime My Hero just sort of hops around aimlessly, and that disjointed feeling makes the various friendships and relationships that it introduces seem less compelling than they might otherwise be. There's no particular moment that makes a strong case for watching the rest of the series.
On the positive side, Masahiro makes for a decent protagonist. We get a good sense of what his life has been like up to this point, which helps to explain why he'd fall for someone who represents a reliable guiding force. His personality strikes a good balance between feeling bitter about his past experiences while remaining somewhat optimistic about his future. Simply put, he seems very well rounded compared to the average blank-slate main character. The rest of the cast doesn't make as strong of a first impression, but there is at least room for them to grow into their various roles.
From where I'm standing, Hitorijime My Hero looks like a middle-of-the-road genre title. It gets enough things right to entertain fans of the genre, so long as you're not put off by the premise. Everyone else can probably skip it, as it doesn't do enough to extend its appeal beyond that core demographic. It does what it says on the box, and nothing more.
Hitorijime My Hero spends a whole lot time hemming and hawing around its central conceit, but it's clear enough that what we're eventually moving towards here is a student-teacher romance. The age gap there isn't as significant as it usually is (protagonist Setagawa's best friend Oshiba is actually the not-much-younger brother of the teacher Kousuke), but it's still about a pretty iffy relationship seemingly being played as unabashedly romantic. That made it very tough for me to invest in this show's drama as presented, which isn't really a “flaw” of the story, but does mean the show will have a pretty specific appeal.
As far as the show's actual execution goes, this episode was mostly just kind of dull. Its greatest strength is easily its protagonist, Setagawa. We get plenty of context early on for the reasons he “doesn't believe in heroes,” from the transactional nature of his middle school friendships to his unreliable and occasionally traumatizing mother. And yet, in spite of having lots of reasons to be a jaded high schooler, he comes across as well-rounded and perfectly personable, actively demonstrating the good influence that Kousuke has presumably had on his life. He comes off as an altogether charming guy, wearing his influences without being defined by them.
Unfortunately, the actual narrative events of this episode just aren't very interesting. This episode is virtually all setup, and not even setup related to its central conflict - instead, we mostly spend time learning about the not-particularly-interesting friendship between Setagawa and Oshiba. There are lots of conversations spent hemming and hawing over missed connections we have little reason to care about, and the finale sequence, where Setagawa is running away from his middle school friends, has no sense of tension or consequence. Most of this episode feels like empty stuff happening.
The show also doesn't look particularly great, though the character designs are attractive enough. There's not much animation to speak of, and the direction sticks to bland mid-distance sitcom shots. Overall, while Hitorijime My Hero's premiere isn't terrible or anything, it also doesn't offer much to sink into beyond the initial premise. Like many shows, fans of the genre should give it a look, others can probably skip it.
I was very torn between a 2.5 and a 3 for this episode, because although the story and characters are interesting, the timeline is so off that it's hard to tell when anything is happening in relation to anything else. I ultimately went with the higher grade because it sufficiently intrigued me to want to see more, but Hitorijime My Hero is going to have to smooth things out very quickly to keep any viewers its characters snag.
Part of the issue may be that this appears to be adapting not just one, but two BL manga by the same author. Memeko Arii's Hitorijime my Boyfriend is a one volume manga about Kensuke and Hasekura, while its spinoff, Hitorijime My Hero, is about Masahiro and Kousuke and is currently in its sixth volume. Right now it looks like there's going to be an attempt to integrate Kensuke's story in with Masahiro's; assuming the two romances happen concurrently, that shouldn't be a problem…assuming that we can establish a clear timeline. This episode jumps from Masahiro hanging out with his thug buddies, to his middle school graduation with Kensuke to him meeting Kensuke for the first time, to suddenly starting high school with inexplicably blonde hair and a close relationship with Kousuke. I assume at some point we flashed back and forward again, but that's really not clear at all.
Of the two couples we appear to be following, Kensuke and Hasekura look like the more textbook, with the two having separated after elementary school and Hasekura way more interested in renewing their connection than Kensuke. There's more of an element of needing a savior in the other romance storyline, and in the absence of parents for Kensuke and Kousuke, it looks as if Kousuke filled that role for his brother, and possibly for Masahiro as well. We know that Masahiro was neglected by his mother – a glance around the dark, filthy apartment says that more than words – but at this point we don't know if either of the two guys saw themselves as having any sort of parent/child relationship. I would guess that Masahiro has had a crush on Kousuke from the start, so it will be interesting (and quite possibly uncomfortable) to see how this develops. There certainly will be a student/teacher dynamic to the romance, so if that's not your thing, this show may not be either.
The show pulls a few typical yaoi tricks with its appearance – pastels abound and the requisite body types and facial features are present, from the beautiful to the childish. The character designs remind me strongly of those in Suzuki Tanaka's manga His Favorite, and thus far it looks pretty good without taking any risks with art or animation. I definitely have to give the episode kudos for the starving kitten without her eyes even open yet – I fully admit that I'm a sucker, but the little details with the eyes and the ribs are heartbreaking. All in all, this is looking much more promising than the last BL TV anime that was streamed (Super Lovers, in case you've forgotten/blocked it out). It'll be worth at least a second episode.
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