My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!
Episodes 1 - 3
by Nick Creamer,
SNAFU can be a painful show to watch, sometimes. You just want to grab its characters and shake them, force them to be a little more honest with themselves and others. You want to do what their teacher does, and show them some kindness while also constantly affirming that things get better. Tell them they're okay, but that they're wrong - wrong in so many ways, wrong in beliefs that give them strength and identity now, but that will all look like embarrassing quirks of youth down the line. SNAFU is full of good kids making exactly the kind of wincingly relatable mistakes that exemplify precocious, lonely adolescence.
Hachiman is the worst of it. He's constructed an entire shell of distance and social analysis to protect himself, and he's the one who suffers for it. This second season's first episodes have seen him pushing away the people he cares about for a variety of reasons, but most of it comes back to the fact that he can't let go of the shields that have defined him. He scorns Hayama for treasuring the friendships at the core of this season's first conflict, and says they're ultimately shallow and fake - but he's not any better, and in fact is really only separated from Hayama by his inability to embrace temporary friendships. Hachiman fears getting hurt, and so he constructs a philosophy where he's both always right (“those friendships weren't worth anything anyway, I'm way above these shallow relationships”) and always safe from the pain of connection (“I'll make myself the villain, it's easier that way”). But Hachiman really does value his own friendships, and the fragile hypocrisy of his beliefs is beginning to wear down the world he's constructed. He sneers at others for valuing stasis, but he is the most tied to stasis of any of them.
Yukino can't stand this. Though she's also very naive in the way she sees people and treats relationships, she is absolutely not a hypocrite - she sticks to her scorn, her denial of smalltalk, her belief that people can be better, and that she's going to be the one to show them how. By the end of the first season, she figured an unwavering disdain for the “fakeness” of high school (which, again, isn't actually fake at all - but when you're young and lonely, the idea that everyone else is just a sucker who you've evolved past is a very tempting one) was something that united them. Yukino desperately needs a friend, and she thought she saw a kindred spirit in Hachiman - but she was mistaken. Hikki isn't principled, he's just created a shell that somewhat mirrors her real feelings. In fact, it was Yukino's dedication to her ideals that first impressed Hachiman about her, largely because he felt that made her better than him. But Yukino can't see this, because Yukino sees people in very binary ways, and so Yukino has started to be harder on Hikki than ever before precisely because she cares about him. She wants him to be “better” than he is in a way that she can respect, and her inability to compromise on her ideals means she refuses to let his actions go. Hachiman clinging to his shield, and Yukino demanding he become the person she wants him to be, is tearing their friendship apart.
Between the two of them, we have Yui, who confesses she can no longer understand what Hikki is thinking. Which is a bit ironic, given how this season has been framing both her and Hachiman - though she doesn't have their gift for banter or general negative attitude, Yui might actually have more in common with Hikki than Yukino does. They're both very lonely and ultimately empathetic people, who really do care about their friends and what their friends think of them, and find themselves unable to take the Big Steps that will bring peace to their daily worlds. The third episode hammered on this point specifically with the matched framing of Hachiman waiting to enter the club room and Yui waiting at the front of the school. They're united in loneliness, and Yui has the worst of it - her feelings for Hachiman are repeatedly ignored, because even if he were able to recognize them, that kind of emotional connection would make Hikki even more vulnerable than he already is. Vulnerability is death to Hachiman, and so he keeps setting himself as the villain, even as he sinks into depression over how his actions are hurting the feelings of the people he cares about. You can only play the villain for so long.
So that covers the main three, which should give some indication of why SNAFU is such a wonderful, wonderful show. Its characters are layered and nuanced, full of painful edges that contradict each other in ways that only make them seem more real. Their conflicts emerge naturally from the base natures of their personalities, and the drama is set in terms that smartly hide the actual nature of their disagreements. Yukino needs to believe in Hachiman for her own sake, but he's disappointed her, and so she lashes out in a way that's ultimately unfair, but that plays into Hachiman's own insecurities. Hachiman is blunt and negative to Hayama, but the person he's really failing to convince is himself. There are constant games of emotional distance, small cruelties of conversation, and well-chosen tiny moments that strongly reflect the day-to-day realities of young loneliness. That scene of Hachiman waiting on the stairs so he wouldn't be forced to talk to Yukino alone definitely got a wince from me, as did the whole “I texted you, and waited for your response” monologue at the donut shop. Hikki's casually sexist “I know this kind of girl” act actually just make him seem even more real - he's a lonely, self-aggrandizing teenage boy, of course he's going to fall into that kind of rhetoric.
The change in studios between SNAFU's first and second seasons has overall been a tremendous boon to the production. The designs are lankier now, with the characters all looking like somewhat older and more angular teens, appropriate for a show that's so much sharper and more keenly observed than the usual romcom fare. The faces are expressive, and the animation in general has seen a clear upgrade, with standout scenes like Yui and Hikki's non-confession in the second episode possessing a great fluidity of body language. The show's shot framing has also significantly improved - characters are often framed in ways that strongly emphasize the relative emotional distance between them, or isolated in intentionally broad frames to demonstrate their loneliness. Hachiman will sit down at the club table in a shot that barely sneaks him into the corner, emphasizing the table's presence as a kind of shield, and then the next shot will peak over his shoulder to highlight the vast distance from him to Yukino. Hachiman pushes his sister away, and then the door slams with a mid-distance shot that poignantly conveys Hikki sitting alone in a vast empty room. SNAFU is finally getting the aesthetic nuance its characters deserve.
There's more to tell, from the unique counterpoint to Hachiman offered by Hayama's character to the way the new arc seems to be setting a specific trap for Yukino, but I'm sure future episodes will offer fine reasons to get into all of that. SNAFU is a tremendous show, and I'm looking forward to covering it. I have a great fondness for these sad kids.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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