The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
26-year-old Yoshida is an employee at a major IT company. He meets a high school girl on his way home after drinking. Yoshida's crush had decisively rejected him after he pined for her for five years, and he had decided to drink his sorrow. Sayu, the runaway high school girl he meets, says they could sleep together if he lets her stay with him. Yoshida chides the girl for the suggestion but eventually lets her stay with him.
Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway is based on author Shimesaba and illustrator booota's Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirō light novels and streams on Crunchyroll at on Mondays.
How was the first episode?
Higehiro is one of those stories that takes a taboo and builds a narrative around it—in this case a runaway teenage girl being taken in by a twenty-something man who she has never met before. Played straight, a story like this could be used to explore everything from themes of child abuse to societal issues that lead to such a situation existing in the first place. On the other hand, there is always the looming danger that the story could simply turn into a fetishization of an adult preying on an underage girl—especially in a story with hints of romantic undertones like this one.
Or to put it another way, there were so many points in this first episode where this series could have lost me. However, time and again, thanks to the nuance of its writing, Higehiro danced right up to that line before stepping back.
Take the first meeting between our ostensible protagonists. Drunk off his ass, Yoshida encounters a homeless Sayu, who is planning to prostitute herself for a place to stay for the night. Not only does he take her in, he consistently turns down her advances. This holds doubly true when he regains sobriety.
After discovering she is a runaway, he knows he should go to the police. However, Sayu's comments about her family not missing her—and the fact that a missing person's report has never been filed—heavily imply to both Yoshida (and the viewer) that she suffered serious abuse in one form or another. Suddenly, the right thing to do is no longer so clear-cut, and when it comes down to it, the only way Yoshida can guarantee her safety from that point onwards is if she continues to stay with him until she can survive safely on her own.
As the rest of the episode unfolds, Yoshida and Sayu's perspectives on their relationship are made clear. Regardless of whether she is attractive or not, Yoshida has mentally defined his relationship with Sayu as somewhere between brother/ sister and father/daughter. Sayu, however, sees Yoshida as a client, and thinks that she has only one thing of value that she can sell in return for his kindness: herself.
Sayu has forced herself to stay emotionally detached, especially from someone like Yoshida who could kick her out at any time, which is understandable considering the transactional and fleeting nature of her previous living arrangements. In her mind, everything in life is a form of give-and-take. Therefore, receiving kindness without any strings attached makes her fearful and nervous. Yoshida's first challenge is to convince her that the household chores she has been doing around his apartment are worth her rent, as well as provide her with some clothes and a bed of her own. But what's telling is that by the end of the episode, she is smiling and laughing—being herself with her guard down for the first time in a long time. It's the start of a fragile trust between them, but one that could be the first step on Sayu's road to recovery.
There was one question hanging over this premiere from the outset: How creepy is this going to be? This season already started off with one “romantic” “comedy” starring an adult man and a teenage girl, which wound up a deeply unfunny waste of time at best, and a genuinely distressing experience at worst. So just the full title of Higehiro had me bracing for more of the same, prepping for another miserable 20-odd minutes.
Thankfully, this first episode (mostly) avoids that. There are issues, certainly, but if nothing else I'm thankful that our main character isn't one of the embarrassingly prevalent adult men in anime who wants to bang a high schooler. In fact, both Yoshida and the script in general seem very aware of just how rare that is, stating multiple times that the men who did trade a place to sleep for sexual favors from a teenager are trash. In probably the best scene in the whole episode, Yoshida proclaims that him showing basic decency isn't a sign that he's “kind”, and that thinking it does shows just how worthless the guys Sayu has dealt with before were. It feels like faint praise to congratulate a show for NOT indulging in statutory, but apparently that's where we're at, so credit where its due.
That said, the show's script and direction don't quite seem to be on the same page. Yoshida may be adamant about not sexualizing a kid, but the show's camera has no such scruples and the first half of this premiere is filled with paradoxical moments where the story is directly admonishing the kind of person who would treat Sayu like a sex object, while the camera pans up and down her body and makes sure to pause at her hemline. This does largely go away after Yoshida lays down the ground rules of their living together, so maybe it's just a flubbed attempt to get us into the protagonist's head or something, but I would very much appreciate it going away. There's a time and a place for cheesecake, but this particular premise is neither.
And I genuinely hope things even out from here, because there's potential for an engaging story in all this, even if I'm a bit burnt out on Dad Fantasy stories at this point. Yoshida seems like a clumsy but earnest person who genuinely cares about Sayu's problems, even if he's not entirely sure how to help outside of keeping her off the streets. Sayu is harder to get a read on, but there are plenty of hints that she's more complex than her lackadaisical facade would want you to believe. And when she's not throwing her boobs in his face, the pair have a solid comedic chemistry that could grow into something really endearing. Plus, it does occur to me that (so far) the show hasn't shamed Sayu for doing what she needed to get by before this, and that's honestly refreshing.
For all my misgivings, it'd be nice to have this show turn out to not be creepy or leering. While it might not be the kind of thing I'm in the mood for, you absolutely can tell an engaging, even challenging story with the parts at Higehiro's disposal. Yet at the same time, I'm wary. The scars left by Usagi Drop's ending will never heal, and I'll likely never trust this kind of premise without caveat, but here's hoping.
I don't think it's any big secret that fictional relationships between high-schoolers and adults aren't my thing. It comes with the territory of being a teacher – when you spend all of your free time around teenagers, it becomes incredibly obvious why dating and/or sleeping with them is just the stupidest, lamest, and downright saddest thing a grown-ass adult could do. They're children, except the constant pressures of a completely screwed up social system, when combined with the hormone-addled emotional war zones that are their brains, makes them even *more* exhausting and frustrating to deal with (no offense to any of our younger readers out there. I promise, in only a few years you will understand that I am speaking the gospel truth, here).
Funnily enough, everything I just outlined above is exactly why Higehiro *does* work, and why I can advocate it as the platonic ideal of this kind of indulgent romance story. Our protagonist, Yoshida, takes in the runaway Sayu when he drunkenly stumbles upon her sitting alone in the middle of the road. Despite Sayu's attempts to seduce him, which we learn is a rather unfortunate habit she's picked up in the six months since she's left home, Yoshida makes it emphatically clear that he isn't interested in making advances on a teenager. He gives her a place to stay because he genuinely wants her to be off the streets and out of skeevy assholes' bedsheets. He prioritizes getting her a comfortable bed and trying to shake her out of her usual routine of settling for the worst kind of men.
Is Yoshida going to end up with Sayu, anyways? Oh, probably, and while that's its own can of worms, it's a can of worms that is much easier to wrangle with when your story has a leading pair that are maybe a little good for each other. Yoshida might be a bit of a stereotypically chivalrous self-insert, what with his ability to be an ideal paternal figure to Sayu while bravely staving off her constant seductive advances, but you know what, he at least has the good sense to know that what he is doing is definitely kind of sketchy, and he seems to be motivated out of genuinely good intentions. And yeah, the show isn't being at all subtle in how it constantly serves the audience cleavage and upskirt shots of the underage girl, but I can at least see this fanservice as working equally well for many kinds of audiences across the gender and sexuality spectrum (insofar as Yoshida's being portrayed in a way that I could see as being taken as “emotionally sexy”, if that makes any sense. I don't know, I told y'all this genre wasn't my thing! I'm trying to understand!)
I'll let you all in on a little secret that fans of kinky bodice rippers and steamy fanfics have been in on for years: The whole “problematic age gap" thing is a lot easier to play around with as a saucy taboo when the characters actually, you know, make for a cute couple? While I would be more than happy if Yoshida and Sayu remained friends, and each of them found partners more appropriate for them, I'm not going to expect or need the story to conform to my personal sense of what makes for a sexy cartoon. If Higehiro is going to play around in these extremely testy waters, I am willing to give it credit for telling a story that functions more as a fantasy than a thinly disguised horror story in the making. You hear that, Koikimo? It turns out the secret to making a romantic comedy centered around what may become a taboo age-gap relationship is to make sure neither of your romantic leads are literal walking sex crimes! Who would have thunk it…
I spent the entire episode of Higehiro with my heart in my throat. The concept of an adult man taking in a teenager who offered him sex feels like incredibly dangerous ground, rich with potential for exploitation and abusive situations. Koikimo, aka It's Sickening to Call This Love already handled the subject of a man in his 20's stalking a high school girl about as poorly as possible, but luckily, Higehiro looks to be cut from an entirely different cloth.
Sayu, a uniform-clad runaway has made it from Hokkaido to Tokyo by exchanging sexual favors for places to sleep and eat. Considering she's clean and not starving, it appears she's had quite a few takers, until she meets Yoshida, who takes her in but refuses to accept her offers of sex. High school girls are terribly sexualized in many places around the world, but one of the places it's particularly bad is Japan, where their distinctive uniforms have become an object of fetishization in and of themselves. Higehiro seems to actually understand this and how damaging it is, as while Sayu puts on a good performance, her demeanor changes to something far more relaxed and natural for her age once she realizes Yoshida really doesn't want to have sex with her and she can feel safe around him. There's a lot of delicacy and sensitivity to the writing around Sayu's situation as Yoshida tries to sort things out.
Another thing that caught my attention about the writing is how Yoshida refuses to pat himself on the back for his fundamental human decency. When Sayu calls him kind for going outside to smoke, he rejects her compliment and claims that he's really just doing the bare minimum. He's absolutely correct, and it's sad that so few men can even achieve that. Still, it seemed like every few minutes, there was a moment that made me tense up with fear, like him conversing with her about her cup size or telling her she was cute when she laughed. The atmosphere shifted dangerously toward romance, before going back toward safer territory.
While Yoshida steadfastly refuses to see Sayu sexually, I wish I could say the same for the camera work. The storyboarding is overall pretty prosaic and uninspired, but seems most enthusiastic when zooming in on Sayu's breasts and underwear. It's pretty skeezy, especially in a series that's specifically about a child who has been abused and exploited.
Watching Higehiro is like watching a daredevil doing a balancing act. Every wobble, every hint that it might veer off-course had me gasping in fear and worry, but it always managed to recover. It could still very well fall over the edge and plunge into a lava pit of gross exploitation. I will continue to watch with a mix of optimism and terror.
Of the two shows airing this season that feature relationships between adult men and teenage girls, Higehiro is looking like the more tasteful. There's a very clear reason for that: unlike his counterpart in Koikimo, Yoshida does not want a romantic relationship with Sayu, the teenager he brought home one night. In fact, he brought her home because he found her sitting on the street after midnight, alone and with no place to go. When she (repeatedly) offers him sex for letting her stay in his apartment, he's repulsed, and their eventual living arrangement is that she pays him by doing the chores. Honestly, after Koikimo, it seems almost wholesome.
It's not though, not entirely. That's because over the course of the episode it becomes clear that Sayu has not had an easy life, not since leaving home in Hokkaido six months ago, and possibly not even then. There are plenty of hints about that; even if she wasn't a good cook at a relatively young age, Yoshida's search for missing persons reports about her turn up nothing, suggesting that no one back in Hokkaido is actively looking for her. That offering sex for lodging is her first reaction and honestly not seeing anything else that she can possibly offer could imply that over the course of her life she came to see herself as having nothing of value but her body, and that she clearly left home with nothing but the uniform she was wearing and her school bag could provide some uncomfortable hints about why that might be.
Giving us Sayu's potential backstory via hints is probably the best-done aspect of this episode. From her offhand remark to Yoshida about how she's seen single guys' apartments that are clean to her change in demeanor when he asks about her home life and reasons for running away, we get a clear sense of where she's been and what it's been like. Unfortunately, apart from that the episode is much more interested in telling rather than showing; Yoshida's actions could have let us know that he doesn't see Sayu as anything but a child without him spelling it out for us, and his aversion to shaving before Sayu says something could likewise have been done more subtly. But perhaps the biggest issue is that the camera and Yoshida seem to be at odds about Sayu's attractiveness. We first see her via a glimpse of her (scandalous!) black underwear, and the camera also loves to linger on her breasts even as Yoshida is disavowing any interest in them. Yes, Sayu's the one who unbuttons her shirt, but that's less because she actually wants Yoshida to be aroused and more a question of her putting all of her value on her sexual availability. Having her body on display to the audience feels like it's not taking her issue as seriously as it deserves.
I can't quite decide if this is headed in a familial direction or a romantic one. Either way it's already doing a better job than Koikimo, even if it does have its definite issues. If you're not immediately creeped out, it may be worth another episode to see which route it's going to take.
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