My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!
by Nick Creamer,
Growing up is in many ways entirely unlike ripping off a band-aid. Or leaping into a cold pool. Or getting a nasty shot. We say that growing up is like these things, in that sometimes you just have to grimace and bear the immediate pain, because there's no way to get around that pain, and you'd better start sooner than later. But the pain of growing up doesn't go away once you rip off the adhesive - it's more like a series of band-aids you'll be staring down and yanking off for the rest of your life. Each one's gonna sting, and the sting doesn't fade as fast as bruised skin. The unfortunate fact of life is that band-aids aren't something you rip off to get over with - that it's only the sting of embracing the hard choices that makes life worth living.
Hikki ripped off a serious band-aid this week. The first half of this episode was dedicated to a long conversation between Hikki and Sensei, where she essentially stole my job by outlining just about everything Hachiman has been doing wrong. Hikki opened this conversation with an easy metaphor, as his council-minded critique that “we were wrong not to decide who's on top, and who bears the responsibility” could just as easily apply to how his club has fallen apart. When the club's existence is accepted, it's no one's responsibility - but when it's in danger, and neither Hachiman nor Yukino can express what they actually want, things dissolve.
Sensei was having none of that wishy-washy metaphor stuff, and got straight to the first of many points: “you're very good at reading people's mental states, but you don't understand emotions.” This is true, in a way, and can be pointed in both directions. As Yukino's sister said before, Hachiman always assumes the worst in others' actions, which causes him to oversimplify social interactions and push people away. But even beyond that, he can't assume the best in his own actions, and his desire to maintain his defenses means he can't embrace what he emotionally needs but can't rationalize according to his narrow philosophy.
After a brief (and kinda unwelcome) dip into being flattered by Hikki, Sensei's truth beating continued. First diagnosing that he was distancing himself from his friends in order to avoid hurting them, Sensei got straight to the bottom line: “you don't want to hurt them because they're important to you.” Hachiman's rationalizing often puts the cart before the horse, and it ends up sabotaging his emotional needs. He solves immediate problems in ways that work according to his immediate beliefs, but this nearsighted system both hurts the relationships he cares about and reflects a pair of fundamental misunderstandings about how human relations work. What are those misunderstandings? Well, Sensei laid those out too.
The first, the lesson he should have been taking to heart all season, is that “it's impossible not to hurt others. People hurt others simply by existing.” Hachiman claims to hate fake friendships, and he's been disgusted at himself for preserving friendship stasis throughout this season, but he's been learning the wrong things from these trials. He takes the easy route: “people hurt each other because people are lousy.” But the truth is harder: “people hurt each other, and that's okay.” Hachiman thinks the fault lines of Hayama's group prove the weaknesses of their friendships, but the way he himself has reacted to the faults in his own club prove that false. People who care about each other hurt each other. Sometimes we hurt each other because we care about each other, because we can't let someone go. “Caring about someone means being resolved to the fact that you'll hurt them.” It means you accept that fact, and you don't run away.
The second lesson, and one that Sensei might not even have needed to tell him here, was that “to you kids, right now feels like everything. But that's not true at all.” Hachiman's framing of social pain in terms like “no one will take any damage” reflects the permanence he sees in the trials of high school, but all these kids are going to grow up eventually. They'll find other friends, fall in love again, and be hurt again. It doesn't have to be Hikki who reaches out to Yukino, and though that's a cruel truth to hand him, it might just have been the push he needed.
Because Hikki did take that step. In the episode's second half, in a sequence marked by a beautifully building soundtrack and likely the best character animation this show's ever seen, Hikki told the truth. That he wants the club's help, and that his problems are a result of his own actions. That he was unfair to Iroha, and that even Rumi ultimately wasn't helped by his methods. That he's afraid, and that he's been afraid, and that “even if you had told me what you felt, I wouldn't have accepted that - I would have thought there was something behind it, even if it was my own selfish idea.” That he wants to understand, and that even though that might not be enough to repair this gap, it's all that he has.
There's a bunch of small details I could gesture towards in this second half, from the blocking of the characters (when Hikki doesn't attend the club, Yukino sits next to Yui - when Hikki makes his stand, he moves his chair directly facing the two of them) to the grand diversity of expressions that played out across the three of them, but I've only got so much praise to give. This sequence was phenomenal - it was the catharsis this show has been building towards across the better part of two seasons, the moment when Hikki finally admitted his weakness, was struck back by Yukino (who's still further back on her own journey towards self-acceptance), was bolstered by Yui trying to share the blame, and finally declared that he wanted “the real thing.” What even is the real thing? Yui and Yukino both admit they don't know, and Hikki probably couldn't express it more clearly himself, but it's the honesty of his confession that's important here. He wants to reach out, and be hurt, and admit he cares. He wants to know more, and to stop using what little he does know as a shield against knowing more. He wants to be the person his friends think he could be. He wants, and simply declaring you truthfully, desperately want something is a small step for Hikki, but a giant leap for Hachimankind.
Yukino wants, too. That's why she ran to the rooftop, where she knew her friends would find her. Yui wants, and says as much, again and again, because she's always been the best of them. “So we won't understand. But at least we'll understand that… or something.” Her friends aren't there yet, but they're trying. We all do what we can.
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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