We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 3 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
With the cast assembled and the premise established, it's time for We Never Learn to show us what its status quo looks like. This third episode is absolutely a ‘baseline’ story, giving Nariyuki some quality time with each of the three main girls while generally tying into the educational theme powering this high-school harem. To its credit, the core motivating idea of this episode does nominally raise the stakes for the story. But it's also so rigidly boxed into a pattern of character vignettes that it can't help but feel like the series at its most average.
The opening of this episode sets everything up. Major exams are approaching in their tutored subjects for Rizu and Fumino, and if they don't show results, then Nariyuki's position as their tutor and that all-important VIP recommendation will be in jeopardy. There are a few interesting twists present just in this setup. Nariyuki quickly recognizes that he wants to help the girls for their own good rather than for his own benefit, while Rizu and Fumino overhear the situation and resolve to perform well to help secure Nariyuki's position as well as their own future. This idea of the characters being motivated for the sake of each other this early into the relationships they've built is endearing, which will help support the eventual romantic side of things. That personable aspect also ties into some of the education-based themes of this series.
We Never Learn's perspective on the role of tutoring is already becoming clear, starting with the dialogue between the Headmaster and teacher at the beginning of this episode. We find out that Rizu and Fumino are being primarily pressured by their teachers to give up all pursuit of their weaker subjects and stick with their specialties. The point seems to be that lesser teachers just try to railroad students based on their natural strengths so they'll perform well, as opposed to assisting them in developing the skills they actually care about or might need to become more well-rounded. It proves how a teacher like Nariyuki who actually believes in his students can help them achieve greater things, and it's an appreciable observation all the same. And as the ending of this episode demonstrates, it's a philosophy that applies even outside the educational system.
It's nice that an otherwise-standard harem series like We Never Learn has some relatively meaty ideas driving it, because the actual plot can be pretty pedestrian. Nariyuki spends a third of the episode apiece with Rizu and Fumino, tutoring them or helping with other issues in ways we already know he can. His session with Rizu passes in shockingly uneventful fashion, mainly just re-iterating the themes at the heart of the series as detailed above. The scene where he takes care of a sick Fumino on the eve of her exam has slightly more substance and even comes with more fanservice than I'd come to expect from this series, although Uruka steals the show in what should be Fumino's segment for the most part. In fact, despite my overall appreciation for this episode's development of We Never Learn's themes, the problem remains that even after getting broken into three simple parts, this episode still seemed to go on forever.
If you've already got a favorite girl picked out of from this harem, you'll probably be happy to spend that much more of the protracted runtime with them, so for me the Uruka portion was the saving grace of this episode. Journalistic integrity demands that I level with you right now and disclose that Uruka is my favorite character in BOKUBEN by a country mile, and everything about her is in top form for her segment this week. Of course, I still don't buy that this poor doomed childhood friend has any chance with the main boy, but exploring how her attraction tied into her complex over her own femininity played out sweetly, working back into the show's main themes in a surprising way. Uruka wanting to be a ‘princess’ despite people telling her it was against her personality fits in neatly with the other girls in the series wanting to major in their off-subjects. In that respect, Uruka and Nariyuki entering a couples' contest and winning mirrors his ability to help all the girls pass "exams" in their problem subjects. It expands the scope of the show past literal tutoring by showing how a good teacher can help develop aspects of yourself that you wish to grow.
So the themes of We Never Learn are quite on-point in this episode, and as an Uruka fan I love how the show took on her problems. But best-girl bias aside, I can't ignore how otherwise typical this outing felt. This show is good at endearing its characters to the audience, but it still feels like it's just barely making ‘good enough’ as a harem romcom when it should be striving for something more.
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