The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
How would you rate episode 1 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
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How was the first episode?
We Never Learn stands as the first romantic comedy of the spring season, and it offers a surprisingly gentle reintroduction to the genre. We're quickly introduced to Nariyuki Yuiga, and learn that in order to ensure he claims his school's collegic “VIP recommendation,” he must tutor two girl geniuses - Fumino Furuhashi and Rizu Ogata. Unfortunately, each of these girls are only interested in pursuing the opposite field of their talents - math genius Rizu wants to study literature, and literary genius Fumino wants to study sciences.
We Never Learn's premise is quickly relayed over the first couple minutes of this episode, with the rest being dedicated to Nariyuki's fatigued attempts to tutor these geniuses. The show's greatest asset might be its generally positive nature; Nariyuki and both his students come across as considerate, sympathetic people, and it's actually pretty pleasant just watching them attempt to surpass their personal limitations. A lot of anime comedies rely heavily on over-the-top slapstick, contrived misunderstandings, and characters just being mean to each other, so it was refreshing to see a comedy about characters doing their best and clearly enjoying each other's company. Additionally, the show's visual design is quite strong - there's lots of creative expression work, and some unexpected flourishes of genuinely beautiful character acting (particularly in the show's superbly animated opening song).
Unfortunately, We Never Learn is hamstrung by one central inescapable hurdle - it's just not that funny. The jokes are pretty thinly distributed throughout this episode, none of them are all that creative in their conception, and what jokes do exist are all pretty similar to each other, leaning heavily on silly faces and loud overreaction. The show often seems more interested in being a character drama than a comedy, and though I found this episode's more heartfelt material endearing enough, it wasn't so well-written as to be genuinely engaging. We Never Learn feels like it's stuck in an awkward limbo where it's not funny enough to succeed as an outright comedy, but also not grounded or incisive enough to succeed as a romantic drama.
That said, there's nothing truly bad about this episode, and the characters already possess a pretty reasonable chemistry. If We Never Learn continues to lean into its strengths and adds some texture to its characters, it could be a perfectly pleasant romantic comedy.
I'm going to sound like a big old Grump about this one, but I had issues with We Never Learn from the moment I figured out its shtick. Rizu is a mathematical genius who wants to major in the humanities, which she is hopeless at to the point where she refuses to accept that “analyzing a character's emotions” is even possible without the aid of scientific advancement. Fumino is a brilliant writer who moves people to tears with her words, but she wants to major in mathematics, which is made all the more difficult given that her brain literally shuts down at the very sight of formulas and equations. It is Nariyuki's job to tutor them both and help the girls overcome their weaknesses – and naturally, romance is bound to blossom. This low-effort setup doesn't do the show any favors from where I stand, but I'm much more inclined to be nitpicky about We Never Learn's underlying gimmick.
I know that I'm questioning the logic of a broad comedy that is only meant to set up some laughs and romantic conflicts, and I know that the show's central theme seems to be about pushing back against the notion that your natural talents should decide your future. But for whatever reason, I just can't get over the idea that Rizu and Fumino could somehow get to near superhuman levels of skill in their respective fields while harboring passions for the subjects they have absolutely no talent for. I'll grant that Rizu's anger at being told she ought to major in math because she's astoundingly good at it implies that her and Fumino's motivations stem more from simply wanting to know they can succeed in the subjects that intimidate them. Still, the whole setup of their goals and their relationship with Nariyuki makes the story feel needlessly contrived and artificial.
What I'm saying is that We Never Learn's premise makes the characters feel less like real people to me. In a story like Danganronpa, you can get away with having a cast made up of ridiculous superhuman caricatures – that franchise is going for a very specific tone and atmosphere, not to mention the dozens of hours it uses to develop the nuances of how its characters' abilities work. Even in this one episode of We Never Learn, Nariyuki feels like the same warmed-over bowl of plain oatmeal that always nabs leading roles in these kinds of romcoms, and Rizu and Fumino are just the cute girls who are going to fall for him because he can teach them how to study right. Snooze.
Of course, this is entirely my personal reaction to the episode. Stepping back a bit, this is a perfectly okay show. The art is plain, and there's nothing special to the direction or the music, but it never falls apart or becomes distractingly bad or anything. Fans of the genre will likely get a kick out of it, and it's entirely possible that I'm completely wrong and the show will reveal thematic depth that I haven't given it credit for. Given the quality of this first episode though, I'm inclined to spend my limited time with other series this spring.
We Never Learn is a serviceable romcom ready to fill the hole in your anime queue that Nisekoi left behind (or burned to the ground, depending on your opinion of its second season). Its male lead is nice, the girls are cute enough, and the fanservice never veers into anything I'd call uncomfortable. Is it interesting though? That question draws a long “ehhhhhhh” from me.
We Never Learn isn't actively boring, but its premise is pretty thin. Two girls, one a math whiz (Rizu) and the other an amazing wordsmith (Fumino), want careers outside their specialty. The series frames this as their respective talents being a burden. Educators have treated the girls like their destines are preordained because they each have defined academic gifts, with no concern as to whether Rizu or Fumino are actually interested in their respective subjects. You'll have to suspend your disbelief that an individual could foster talent in a subject that they don't genuinely care about for this anime to work. Otherwise the show's mileage is mostly reliant on whether the viewer likes Fumino or Rizu.
Personally, I found Fumino's self-depreciation pretty grating. She referred to herself as a “lowly worm” a handful of times in between falling asleep. That more or less sums up her personality as of the first episode. Rizu makes it out slightly better but doesn't quite escape the human-calculator-doesn't-understand-people character mold. There's room to explore her lack of emotional intelligence, but it's far too early to say whether a romcom is going to handle the topic with composure or not.
We Never Learn offers up a bare-bones premise of love quadrangle hijinks (an athlete looks to be joining the trio in the next episode), but gives us little to chew on in the drama or comedy department. It's an easy-breezy watch if this is your particular anime comfort food but if your spare time is looking tight already, you could easily skip it all together.
Math genius Rizu (who wants to go into the humanities) has a point when she says that she's tired of everyone telling her what to do with her life. Why should she be stuck in a field that she doesn't like just because she's good at it through no fault of her own? Likewise, why does language genius Fumino (who wants to go into science) have to stick with her forte? Sure, they're making their own lives more difficult by insisting on wanting to do something different, but can we really fault them for it? In the case of their tutor, perfectly average student Nariyuki, the answer is “maybe,” because their urges to go into fields that they're not academically cut out for is making his life difficult – if he can't help them improve, he won't get the coveted VIP recommendation from the principal that would make it possible for him to go on to college on scholarship. Given that his younger siblings greet him with “We found edible plants today!”, it seems like he has a viable reason to need that letter.
Thus begins the rom-com/tutoring world of We Never Learn. I remember being only marginally impressed with the source manga back when I read volume one for Manga Preview Guide, but both upon re-reading it and watching this episode, I find myself warming up to it. Mostly this is because of Rizu's statement about wanting to do what she likes as opposed to what she's good at – although there are plenty of stagnant rom-com hijinks and tropes to be found here, the heart of the story is in the right place. All three of the main characters we've met so far (number four is waiting in the wings) have been thrown into a situation they feel their futures depend upon. The girls are beginning to despair, as evidenced in their accusation that Nariyuki's just going to leave them high and dry like the last few tutors, and Nariyuki sees this as his last, best hope of getting the higher education he wants, because there's no way his family can get him through college otherwise. That's solid ground to build a plot on, and the first episode's set up works with it well.
Less thrilling are the schlockier elements that we've seen in virtually every story featuring one guy and a bunch of attractive girls since day one. Naturally Fumino and Rizu have drastically different breast sizes (although thankfully the gags about that have been relegated to theme songs and the like thus far) and Nariyuki freaks out when one of Rizu's breasts accidentally touches his arm, something she probably didn't even notice. Rizu is emotionally unintelligent (because she's good at math! That's how that works, right?) while Fumino is a mass of seething anxiety every time she messes something up, and of course the administration is more concerned with his top students looking good than with what they actually may want.
That last may not be strictly true – after all, he has been trying a lot of different tutors – but there's something a bit suspicious about the entire enterprise. I could just be overthinking it, of course; with the addition of the student athlete next time that should become clear. As it stands with this episode, however, this is good enough to be a bit above other stories in its genre while still remaining firmly entrenched in the tropes. If you're in the mood for that, I think it's going to be pretty fun.
So am I the only person who looked at Nariyuki's character design and immediately thought, “hey, when did Negi Springfield grow up?”
That aside, We Never Learn seems to be borrowing one of the staple scenarios of hentai doujinshi – romantic relations developing between a student and tutor – and running with it in a tamer version as a full series concept. It doesn't look like it will be completely innocent, however; while there is no overt fan service in the first episode, both the opener and the way certain scenes are framed strongly suggest that the series will have its share of at least mild ecchi content. The strong potential for romance is definitely in the air as well, and that's without even getting into the younger sister who has a Big Brother Complex or the addition of the third girl, who is shown prominently in both the opener and closer but only first appears in the episode's epilogue. Yep, the series is all primed for harem or harem-like adventures in studying.
It's also possible that I am overstating the case a bit and the harem aspects will remain as a backdrop against the story actually pursuing its premise. The first episodes does at least take pains to establish why each girl wants to pursue an academic field that is contrary to her specialty; Fumino wants a career associate with stars because she believes her dead mother was reincarnated as one, while Rizu seeks liberal arts so she can pursue psychology as a way of understanding people and their emotions better. Their frustration over being pushed in the direction of what they are truly good at is also made plain. That makes them easy to sympathize with despite their genius, though I do have to wonder how happy they will actually be not using what they're best at. Hence I'm hoping that the series will explore finding ways to connect what they're good at with what they actually want to do.
I'm not expecting a lot out of the series, however. The technical merits are on the low side of mediocre and the girls – at least so far – conform a little too much to stock types: Fumino is physically the tall, willowy beauty and the timid, harshly self-deprecating one by personality, while Rizu is the shorter but bustier one with the more contrary disposition. (I also find it interesting that their hair colors and lengths conform exactly to the female duo standard popularized by the original Pretty Cure series.) The third girl looks like she's going to be the deeply-tanned energetic idiot. The one saving grace of the series so far is that there is at least some degree of sincerity to it, but I question whether that will be enough to carry the concept.
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