We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 8 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?
At their best, teen romance comedies like We Never Learn are about highlighting the embarrassing silly minutiae of your first major romantic connections, as well as the more serious points where you interrogate what these feelings mean to you. As such, this particular episode is evenly split between those two extremes. It ends with Uruka coming closer than ever to revealing her feelings to Nariyuki, meditating on her fear of rejection and desire to maintain a valued friendship. But it begins with Nariyuki accidentally calling up all his potential partners while they're studying in the bathtub.
It's the type of silly sitcom scenario designed entirely around the antics it might produce. Nariyuki gets his first smartphone, and then the study group uses it to look up the supposed strategic factoid that studying while bathing is an effective tactic. So the stage is set, and Nariyuki's inexperience with the device leads him to make escalating mistakes into embarrassing situations when he's just trying to use his phone's search engine.
This is We Never Learn at its most transparently comedic, and to its credit it does deliver some laughs. The girls' different reactions to Nariyuki's botched communications do well to play off their personalities and burgeoning feelings. Fumino is still worried about her affection for Nariyuki growing out of control when she feels she should be supporting the other girls. Rizu's analytical style means she's not too weirded out by things until she makes them weird for herself. And of course everything goes completely wrong between Uruka, Nariyuki, and an accidental video call. This definitely feels like the fanservice-iest episode of We Never Learn in a while. If you've found yourself fancying any of those characters in that way, you'll probably be satisfied with this vignette. It does feel a little leery at times, but that's a feature of the series and the genre it occupies, so I was honestly impressed with the way the show parlayed this into exploring the characters' awkward feelings instead of just their bodies.
The other half of this episode swings into a more sincere focus on feelings, specifically Uruka's. There's an odd lack of focus at first, setting us up to expect a story about Uruka pushing herself too hard in both her studies and swimming practice. I was prepared for some meditation on pacing yourself in life, but instead it turned out to be an elaborate setup for Nariyuki to finally get a clue about Uruka's feelings for him. The little scene between them in the infirmary would be the kind of sweet that appeals to me (especially given how much I support a relationship between them), but it feels more like an awkward mechanical inclusion. Uruka's mostly unconscious through the whole thing, and even Nariyuki hiding under her bed from her friends is largely so he can overheard them revealing her crush.
There are some moments this segment gets right, particularly the electrically awkward response you might get from merely brushing up against someone you're crushing on. In general, We Never Learn's characters have gotten better at feeling like actual clueless teenagers. There's a POV shot from Uruka that lasts just a moment, but effectively communicates her messy feelings in this situation. And I certainly appreciate seeing Fumino try to play matchmaker for the two. The problem is that it still falls into the same status-quo-maintaining tropes of its genre forebears. Nariyuki actually brings up Uruka's crush to her, giving her a chance to come clean. Maybe I'm expecting too much this early in the story, but it's still frustrating to see the characters backtrack with something like Uruka's "yeah right" reaction.
If you dislike these kinds of cop-outs in the romcom field We Never Learn occupies, this shoot-down will drive you crazy. Uruka gets a fair internal explanation at the end of the episode, explicating a serious fear of rejection and not wanting to complicate their childhood friendship. That's fair enough on its face, but it also feels unfair to the audience in terms of setting us up for some sort of release only to shunt us back to square one. I don't expect this show's story to come close to wrapping in one cour, but it would be nice if it felt like we were heading for an actual resolution rather than just being set for more antics.
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