We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
The childhood friend archetype comes up regularly in anime romcoms, and even though things almost never work out for that particular love interest, the reason why can vary greatly. In the case of Uruka, we learned a few episodes ago that she has a somewhat fatalistic view of her prospective dating life with her crush Nariyuki. She assumes he wouldn't want to date her, so if she did confess, those feelings would simply burden him and muck up their friendship. But this week's episode shows that even the dim awareness they share of their situation can cause oddities between them anyway. It's more frustrating to watch when the established relationship between these two isn't played up enough, and the will-they-won't-they at stake is still being put off in the most predictable ways.
There are two distinct halves to this episode's meandering tale of childhood puppy love, with the first one being the weakest. It didn't have to be, since it's a setup with strong potential: Nariyuki and Uruka, despite their inexperience and idiocy, are acutely aware of the growing awkwardness between them. That's good, as it shows them growing to have some awareness of their mutual feelings, and it gives them an excuse to involve Fumino as the one person they know with some degree of emotional literacy. (Okay, Asumi has some too, but they're probably worried about getting roasted alive by her.) Seeing them both go to Fumino with the same cliche ‘asking for a friend’ cover story (and both taking her out to ramen restaurants, no less) is a cute detail as well. It's among the elements of this episode that sell how Nariyuki and Uruka might work well together, if the story would actually let them get to the confession stage.
Unfortunately, the plan that Fumino enacts has too little going on. We Never Learn has been no stranger to scenes of talking heads, but this scene has even less of interest, since it's a whole lot of Nariyuki and Uruka sitting around in a park not talking to each other. We keep seeing them text texting a disguised Fumino in a panic for advice, but all the ensuing scene does is make us feel her mutual annoyance with these idiots. My big problem with this segment is that after all the teasing we've gotten for how well Nariyuki and Uruka's childhood friendship works for them, this scene unintentionally torpedoes that goodwill. We're forced to consider if these two have enough actual chemistry to even converse with each other as friends anymore. The tipping point is the resolution, where a misfired text from Fumino directs Nariyuki to compliment Uruka's hairstyle, which she enjoys and urges him to repeat. This leads to them claiming that they're back to conversing like before when it doesn't appear that way given the context of the show itself. I had a hard time buying this as a satisfactory outcome.
Uruka's whole dilemma with confessing her feelings to Nariyuki rides on their friendship being believable as this strong bond that she wouldn't want to risk dissolving, but this first half of the episode doesn't communicate that at all. They come across like awkward acquaintances at best, with even their ‘back to normal’ phase coming across shallow. At least the second half of the episode is able to improve the situation. The fallout of a swim-meet loss gives Nariyuki and Uruka the chance to philosophize about successes, failures, and how they should move forward with each other as motivators. It's much more on-point in terms of portraying two characters who are supposed to be able to be close and open with each other, as we see Uruka being able to read Nariyuki like an open book.
This part also relies too much on characters just standing around talking, but the natural chemistry they've cultivated (even in the midst of their stuttering romantic potential) is much more palpable this time. We get a detailed flashback to their middle school days, communicating how their different philosophies in life have affected each other moving forward. This is a nice peek into how the friendship between these two worked as they grew up, and it's an enjoyably atmospheric scene to boot. This carries into the present, with Nariyuki's suggestion to help Uruka ‘practice’ her romantic confession fitting in with the show's focus on learning and studying.
So of course, it's all the more frustrating when no confession or change in the relationship status quo results from the jumbled feelings Uruka works through at the end of this episode. Even if the punchline that backtracks everything is cute and funny, it still falls into the same aggravating lack of progress that we've come to expect from this kind of show. This episode serves as yet another reminder that We Never Learn is happy to work purely within its expected genre boundaries, to the detriment of its more distinctive flashes of potential. Just like we won't get to see a childhood-friend character get the guy in a harem show, I don't think we're going to see this series do anything outstanding either.
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