We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
I knew I was right to believe in We Never Learn's potential! This episode thankfully ditches the vignette format for a solid full-episode storyline centered on just Nariyuki and Rizu. The result isn't exceptional, but it does a solid job of demonstrating why shonen romance comedy is such an enduring genre. The series is sharp enough to stay on-message, as it's not a mere school trip the characters find themselves on, but a dedicated sleep-away study camp. Of course, this episode is really about finally igniting the fires of romance between Rizu and Nariyuki.
Given what kind of series this is, all the different personality quirks that inform the girls' characters will also end up informing their romantic trajectory. Rizu's part of this episode hits super-hard, when an offhand comment from Fumino about how she's staring at Nariyuki more than usual makes her incredibly self-conscious, which she interrogates repeatedly, only digging herself deeper into a feelings-hole. Despite several of its cast members being ‘geniuses’, Rizu is the one who most fits the classical ‘nerd’ archetype, and her overly-analytical approach runs with that idea in an adorable way. Even though she's the focal character this week, the episode smartly uses this setup to contrast her with how Nariyuki's other study-buddies act in the same situation. Fumino breezes right past her own observations of Rizu to not worry about how she interacts with Nariyuki at all, and Uruka gets distinctly flustered because she's already aware of her feelings for him. This dedicated studying scene drives home how We Never Learn is totally capable of juggling its romantic developments with its main plot when it matters.
But that's just establishment, and while ramping up the tension between Nariyuki and Rizu in this episode hits many familiar notes, the show still handles those well. The humor is more on-point than it has been before, like the cute sight-gag of the height-challenged Rizu struggling to reach a vending machine button. The spat that she and Nariyuki have smacks of plot mechanics, but it's worth it for how it plays off their analytical nature; Rizu gathers the udo for Nariyuki because she observed his interest in it before, and Nariyuki is able to find her because he recognized the cards from her game. It's basic stuff for a story like this, but setting up characters who actually learn things about one another as they fall into a romance is still something the narrative has to do well. The show also succeeds with characteristic details like Rizu's reaction to the rain she's caught in being far more nonchalant than her recognition of her own feelings.
The various contrivances and expected beats this episode hits aren't necessarily bad, but they are things genre fans will have seen before. The accidental kiss between Nariyuki and Rizu isn't the most absurd one I've ever seen, but I still find myself wondering how these things happen without the participants just smashing their heads together painfully. It's just here to formally kick off that ship and inject some necessary tension into the second half of the episode. Rizu's flustered emotional illiteracy fits her character and also makes me curious about how Fumino's feelings will be handled in contrast to Rizu and Uruka, once her turn comes around. And Nariyuki having to hide in the girls' bath while all his classmates parade around providing fanservice is hardly original material, but I appreciate the hilarious way it was set up—Rizu wearing the ‘cleaning in progress’ sign was a delightful visual punchline. I'll also give this section credit for proving me wrong about Sekijo, who has stuck around as a valuable character so far.
Successful humor aside, what impressed me most about this episode was the sincerity of its characters' intensifying feelings for each other. This wasn't just wacky blushy shenanigans where the participants become more flustered at how close together they find themselves; there's some deeper affection growing between the leads. As cliche as that kind of romantic obliviousness can be, it feels more fresh when it's these supposed ‘geniuses’ being so stupid about their own feelings. Its rigid adherence to stock genre tropes is the only thing that holds this episode back, but it's plenty enjoyable regardless.
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