Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected
Hachiman Hikigaya is fed up with all of society's “high school is the best time of your life” garbage. As far as he can tell, being a teenager is far from the rosy picture painted by nostalgic adults, and he's not going to be a part of the glorification process. Unfortunately, when he writes an essay to that effect, his language arts teacher disagrees, and before he knows it, Hachiman has been forced to join the “Service Club,” where he's supposed to help fellow students resolve their problems alongside truly unpleasant girl Yukino Yukinoshita. It seems impossible, but did his life just get even worse somehow?
As far as annoyingly unrealistic statements made to children by adults go, “these are the best years of your life” is probably one of the worst. Apart from the fact that you (hopefully) have a lot of life to live post-high school, the teenage years can also be some of the most difficult, as raging hormones and a need to carve out your place in the social microcosm of school take over, causing people to form cliques and act out in ways that they might not have before. For the loner, the kid on the outside of the social whorl, this sort of adult nostalgia is particularly harmful, apt to increase those feelings of “not doing it right” or outright social ostracism. That idea sits at the core of the first novel in Wataru Watari's lengthily titled series My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected. (You may be more familiar with it by the anime's translated name, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.) While the book can be difficult to get into, containing some of the most obnoxious characters in recent memory, it also presents a view of high school that plenty of us actually lived, setting it apart from other stories with a similar setting and cast of characters.
The protagonist, Hachiman Hikigaya, is a second-year in high school. He's pretty fed up with the whole thing, having gotten into an accident on his way to his first day of high school the previous year and therefore missed out on the chance to find himself a friend group in the cliquey world of teens. Since he already had difficulty making friends in middle and elementary schools, this seems to have relegated him to the position of “loner” once again, and by this point he's developed a great deal of cynicism for the interactions of his peers in general. His mindset is certainly familiar: if you're on the outside looking in, you have the choice to either become a toady to the popular people in hopes of some slim acceptance or sit back and let everything happen without you while you observe quietly. Hachiman has opted for the latter, and by the time the story begins, he's so entrenched in this position that he can't think anyone would even want to talk to him, much less know his name. It's not fair to say that he sees himself as worthless; it's more that he can't fathom being of interest to anyone because he's so removed from the class at large. This makes him a very relatable character, even if you don't always like him – he's a more realistic misfit than we usually see in teen media.
Sadly for him, there's always that one teacher who sees his worldview as a warning sign and takes it upon herself to do something. That would be Ms. Hiratsuka, who somehow manages to be intensely irritating in her attempt to do her job properly. It's true that the essay Hachiman writes for her class should trigger her concern, but it's how Ms. Hiratsuka goes about trying to “fix” him that forms the problem. She's one of those violent and rude teachers so prevalent in Japanese pop culture, who takes an attitude that she alone knows best without considering the student's circumstances. While Hachiman was going to be annoyed by her regardless, readers might be frustrated by her on a whole different level, especially since she gives him no further direction after bullying him into working with Yukino Yukinoshita.
The bulk of the story focuses on Hachiman's attempts to work in the Service Club – a school club intended to help out students in need – and to navigate the social world of high school. As the book goes on, it becomes more enjoyable; it's clear that Watari is interested in reproducing a cast of familiar people most of us knew in high school without resorting to typical anime tropes and types. Still, there are some concessions: mean girl Miura has blond sausage curls like many of her brethren and Yukino is a fairly by-the-book tsundere, but Hachiman comments on how they are both similar and dissimilar to their archetypes, allowing us to theorize that he presents them to readers as he himself sees them. He views them like characters in a book rather than his own classmates. In a few cases, we can see beyond Hachiman's descriptions, such as Miura's boyfriend Hayato, who's clearly a nice guy once you look at him neutrally, but part of the story's appeal comes from how recognizable the students are in the context of high school life. If they were nicer – or meaner – the novel would lose some of its appeal.
Despite these positives, Watari does fall into many of the usual light novel traps. The biggest issue is that it's often difficult to tell who is talking, which in all fairness might be due to the translation, as English only has one word for “I” while Japanese has several, making tags less necessary to identify speakers. There's also a tendency toward overly descriptive passages and snide commentary that doesn't quite work. The biggest problem for some readers may be the way Hachiman refers to Miura and Yui, who both roll their skirts and unbutton their blouses a bit, as “sluts.” That's a very loaded word, and while it may be a realistic thing that someone like Hachiman might think, it also adds an air of meanness that the character otherwise lacks; it would have been better if a different word had been used in the translation.
My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected's first novel is the kind of book that grows on you slowly as you read it. If you never were a Hachiman in high school, I suspect that it will remain difficult to connect with, as a large part of its later appeal is in its cynical familiarity. But if you're tired of the rosy nostalgia for high school that most anime, manga, and light novels peddle, this is worth checking out. The art doesn't really add anything to the experience (despite there being a fair amount of pictures), but the story stands on its own once you get a few chapters in.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Eschews the rosy “high school is magical” viewpoint we commonly see, characters develop into complex people rather than strict tropes
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