Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hitorijime My Hero
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Masahiro Setagawa has not had an easy life. His flighty mother is rarely home, leaving her young son to find a sense of belonging with local thugs, even though he's not actually comfortable in their company. All that changes the day that he meets Kensuke Oshiba, and through him his older brother Kousuke. Masahiro and Kousuke fall for each other, but Masahiro can't bring himself to trust that anyone could possibly be there for him – plus Kousuke is now a teacher at his high school. Is there any hope for them, or has their love been doomed from the beginning?
Hitorijime my Hero is actually a compilation of two series by the same manga creator – the first three episodes are an adaptation of the single-volume Hitorijime Boyfriend, while episodes four through twelve follow its sequel, which shares its name with the anime. That's certainly grounds for suspicion as far as managing the pacing and the material, but as it turns out, the series does a surprisingly good job with this – the first three episodes may not be strictly necessary to Kousuke and Masahiro's story, but they do provide some background for both characters, and once the adaptation shifts to the second manga, the series becomes a stronger tale.
Each portion of the story features the romance of one of the two Oshiba brothers. Younger brother Kensuke is in the same grade as Masahiro Setagawa, the protagonist of part two, while his older brother Kousuke has recently become a math teacher at their high school. While Kensuke is being romanced by his childhood friend Hasekura (in a not-always-consensual way), Masahiro is trying to deal with the fact that he has romantic feelings for Kousuke, the hero of his childhood. Because Masahiro's mother is rarely home and works as a hostess or something similar, he's been at loose ends for most of his life. Before he met Kensuke, Masahiro spent time with a group of local thugs, who in their own way did provide him with a place to belong and more or less looked after him. Being inherently sweet, however, Masahiro was never entirely comfortable with the thug life, and an encounter with Kousuke, who made it his business to put a stop to illegal behaviors, helped him get back on track. Now in high school, Masahiro and Kousuke are dancing around their feelings for each other, although the catalyst of Kensuke and Hasekura beginning to date pushes them to really think about what they want.
The first warning bells may have started ringing when you read that Kousuke is a teacher at Masahiro's high school; in fact, he's his math teacher. Student/teacher romances are inherently problematic, and it is to Hitorijime my Hero's credit that it does take the time to address this. Along with the fact that the two met and fell for each other before Kousuke became a teacher, the latter half of the series brings up that their relationship is automatically a bad idea, to the extent that several adults speak to both Kousuke and Masahiro about the dangers it entails for them both. The suggestion all around is that they break up, and while this is a romance and that would be contrary to our expectations of a happy ending, it also isn't a terrible idea. Granted, we don't consume romance as a genre because we want something realistic – the genre is a fantasy, and that fantasy includes forbidden-love stories such as student/teacher relationships. But given the preponderance of unequal relationships that seem to crop up in BL series (not that other subgenres don't also have them), seeing a character actually consider the unhealthy or dangerous implications of his relationship feels like a breath of fresh air. It's still going to give us our happy ending, but seeing some unexpected grounding helps set Hitorijime my Hero apart from its fellows.
It also helps that Masahiro is a remarkably sympathetic character. It's clear that he's been doing his absolute best to cope with the terrible hand life dealt him, and while Kousuke is a large part of what makes things easier for him, he's also found solace in Kensuke's friendship and in their mother welcoming him into their home. For Masahiro, the Oshiba family represents warmth and safety, and his fears of losing Kousuke stem partly from this; he'd rather give up their relationship than be the cause of career suicide for the man he loves. Neither Kensuke nor Kousuke seem to truly understand this, although Hasekura may have a clue, but it's central to Masahiro's character – he sees himself as worth less than the people he loves. Part of his acceptance of his love for Kousuke has to come from him understanding and accepting that he deserves to be loved and cared for as well, something that Kousuke's gift of a corgi helps him to realize. That moment, when he comes “home” to the Oshiba house to discover Shigeo, the dog he'd fallen in love with at the pet store the previous day, marks the real start of understanding what he means to Kousuke, and that he might be allowed to accept that love.
Although not a brilliantly constructed series, Hitorijime my Hero does make a lot of good moves over the course of its twelve episodes. Along with the consideration of their power dynamic, the relationship between Kousuke and Masahiro is largely consensual, with Kousuke typically asking permission before kissing his boyfriend, and they never go farther than Masahiro is comfortable going. Masahiro and Kousuke both have friend groups outside of their relationship who are separate from each other, and both sets of friends seem to genuinely care about them. We get a good sense of both Masahiro and Kousuke as people, and if the final two episodes are needlessly dramatic, there's still more sweet than not about their love story.
Hitorijime my Hero is almost a “starter” BL series – you could watch it if you were curious about the genre but leery of it delving into some of the more infamous tropes. This is essentially what we stereotype as a shoujo romance but with two men as the romantic partners rather than one of them being the starry-eyed heroine. Its art is simple and pastel-hued and the animation isn't terrific, but it's a surprisingly nice story overall.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Ultimately a sweet story, actually deals with the consequences of its relationship power dynamic, largely consensual
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