We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
So it appears that the We Never Learn anime will be dutifully sticking with the ‘multiple short vignettes’ format for now. This would be good news for viewers wanting guaranteed quality time with their best girl in every episode, but not so much for anyone hoping for some degree of substance to each developing love story. This show fees like it's simply filling a genre space at the moment, with the best of the three stories in this episode barely cresting ‘average’ in quality.
The first third of the episode is Fumino-focused, playing off her various insecurities to arrive at a good old-fashioned weight-problem panic as her issue du jour. Everything about this plotline just feels so tired. On the one hand, the fact that Fumino's extra weight isn't apparent on her even in-universe means we don't have to sit through the other characters making fun of her, but in-practice we're mostly stuck watching the poor girl stress herself out over a non-issue. Fumino's self-deprecation shtick has always towed a fine line between mildly amusing and grating, but it tilts too hard to the unpleasant side this week. With a reminder from Nariyuki that she also stressed herself into illness in last week's episode, it just makes you wish that Fumino would learn to take better care of herself.
That could open an interesting angle for the characters to better themselves beyond mere studying, but this particular storyline doesn't go for that. Some of the jokes and little touches are somewhat amusing—Fumino gets cute asides like her fantastical food-equation mutterings or her hilarious impression of an imagined passer-by mocking her, but there's not enough humor to fully carry the segment. So instead it's taken up with regular stressful episodes from her and an awkward tummy-rub scene between her and Nariyuki. Though I guess if we're going to include fanservice anyway, it's a slightly original twist on expectations. Would you rather just have more generic accidental boob-grabs? (Well, you get that at the end of the episode anyway.)
The middle portion is the strongest one of this episode, though just barely. With all the major cast members assembled, We Never Learn can start bringing in more incidental side characters. The one we meet this week is Sawako Sekijo, Rizu's unmentioned (and seemingly unnoticed by Rizu) rival in the maths and sciences. I generally like the idea of Sekijo's dynamic with Rizu; she wants her rival to stay out of her desired focus on humanities so she can best her properly, but secretly she just wants an excuse to stick around Rizu and become friends. Unfortunately, it ends up not being as engaging as it could be, because despite taking up a third of the episode, it's paced out even more glacially than the romantic elements it's also teasing.
Sekijo trying to uncover a romance between Nariyuki and Rizu that doesn't yet exist makes for a decently funny segment, especially once her hapless efforts convince the desperate-for-popularity Nariyuki that she's into him instead. And the twist revelation of Sekijo's secret desire for Rizu's friendship is a cute note. But it's only just engaging enough that I wonder if this character will even be memorable enough in the future to make her introduction worthwhile.
Last in line is Uruka, and while normally I'd give her some leeway, the premise for her portion is even more bare-bones than the others. She forgets to put a bra on before coming to school and has to play basketball with Nariyuki, getting super embarrassed that he might notice. That's pretty much it, just one half a basketball game where Uruka gets embarrassed that her crush might notice her unhindered boobs, and then a second half where she goes all-out because he complimented the way she usually plays. The animation isn't up to rendering any strong fanservice from this contrivance, so we're left with Uruka's feelings and development over the short sketch to carry it. If you're rooting for her, it kind of works, but once again it doesn't do anything new for the main relationship; Nariyuki is earnestly nice and encouraging to Uruka, and that's why she likes him.
We Never Learn is frustrating me currently, since I do like the characters and the potential of their relationships—there's a solid concept here. But episodes like this one are the very definition of ‘meh’. Some romcoms are funny or charming enough to get by on the pure antics of their vignettes, but so far this is not one of those shows. I find myself in a parallel position to Nariyuki with his pupils: I believe these characters can be better at what they want to do, but we're still stuck in the early stages of learning how to do it.
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