We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
You know Nariyuki is a big ol' nerd by how excited he is to take prep school summer courses. Granted, it ties into his attitude toward studying that powers this whole show, and more importantly, acts as a vehicle to introduce a new character. Meet Asumi Kominami, a diminutive sharp-tongued nineteen-year-old who's here to cover more bases if the other girls were just too nice for your tastes. What jumps out to me about Asumi is her multifaceted character concept and personality, rather than starting with a cliche and growing to reveal more layers over time like the other girls. Asumi definitely feels more ‘calculated’ in execution, making it clear right away whether she's going to appeal to a given viewer or not.
We Never Learn tends to move through set pieces quickly, with this episode feeling even thicker on content as it introduces Asumi and explores her character and place in the story in detail. Some parts are fairly predictable; you'll see her working at the maid cafe Nariyuki gets dragged into visiting from a mile away. But other aspects are more subversive, such as her wanting to get into med school not at the behest of her doctor father, but rather against his wishes. Just like the visual of a tiny maid girl talking down to you, Asumi is a character powered by contrasts, from her motivations to the way she jerks Nariyuki's feelings around.
The contrast between Asumi's appearance and maturity level is the core of her personality so far. Despite her tendency to speak coarsely to Nariyuki, her actual behavior makes her come across as quite reasonable. She seems not nearly as prone to exaggerated misunderstandings like the high schoolers in the cast (or most girls in a harem anime), getting a handle on Nariyuki's situation and rolling with it as it works for her. Even her initial embarrassment at him discovering her part-time job gets parlayed into a confident explanation of her situation, assertively demonstrating how she's come to be so respected at her workplace. She's also a quick thinker, throwing out the fake-dating explanation with Nariyuki to keep her father from finding out about her job, then explaining it reasonably when the subject comes up with Fumino. The type of design/age contrast that Asumi embodies doesn't always translate to actual maturity in characterization. Indeed, Asumi's voice actress, Madoka Asahina, previously made a name for herself with the role of Nene in New Game!, a supposedly-adult character who both looked and acted like a child. But Asumi actually comes across like a grown-up for the most part, making for a contrast not just within herself, but with all the more rambunctious teenagers around her. Asahina's voice-acting for Asumi nicely demonstrates her strong range as well.
Asumi's adult aspects let her reflect We Never Learn's themes at a later stage in life than the other students. Her grown-up attitude, ability to keep up in the intense prep school where Nariyuki encounters her, holding down a part-time job, and her medical school ambitions all reflect that concept of hard work as it relates to studies and eventually succeeding in life. In spite of that, she's still coping with massive weakness in her chosen field, so she's quick to accept Nariyuki's tutoring to curb that. It contrasts with her father bringing up the show's regular antagonistic refrain that she isn't talented enough for her pursuit, (yielding another unstated comparison to the abandoned ambitions of her fellow adult cast member, Kirisu), and it raises the question of how long we can unsuccessfully chase a goal before it becomes unreachable. This argument with her dad gives Nariyuki another chance to reiterate his philosophy on studies. He embraces a ‘you won't know until you try’ ideal—even though something may insurmountable for us, we can still put our all into it, even if We Never Learn.
Nariyuki and the other characters come across as more incidental this week. The other girls in particular only come in toward the end of the episode to react to Asumi and cement that she'll be as a recurring member of the group. Nariyuki's role is a bit more integral, moving the plot forward and espousing those familiar themes. Apart from her own teasing interest in him, it seems Asumi's other role will be to provide a somewhat more nuanced and sensible perspective on Nariyuki's romantic sidebars. She's savvy enough to catch on to the feelings that Fumino is suppressing even from herself, and the ending of the episode sees her bring up the point that a high-school study group won't last forever as a setting for Nariyuki and these girls to spend time together. As an extended character introduction, this episode contrasts Asumi well with the established cast to shake up their dynamic and add a new dimension to the story, even this late in the series' run.
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