We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
Episodes 1-2

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN ?

There's almost something cozy about a show like We Never Learn - BOKUBEN. Simple harem romance comedies have been a standby of manga and anime for decades, and they fill an obvious niche for their teenage target audiences. What sets each harem romcom is the colorful cast of characters taking part in the shenanigans, and different hooks in the premise can set stories apart as well. In the case of We Never Learn, our guy and his gaggle of girlfriends are all about studying! It's a hook the series uses well, helping define its characters and their situations.

The players in We Never Learn's prospective multi-angle romance actually get a fair amount of character established in these first couple episodes, just starting with the shorthand of their academic strengths and weaknesses. Rizu and Fumino's desire to specialize in the opposite fields from the ones they're gifted in gets explained succinctly in the first episode. Nariyuki also gets a leg-up on other average-potato harem protagonists by being pointedly average; the way his aggressively-honed studying skills have landed him in a current situation where he's tutoring these girls sets up the whole plot, and he's believable as a well-rounded protagonist for the genre. His goal of helping his impoverished family adds a likable wrinkle to his basic archetype. He's still light on personality, but he's not offensively vapid or unlikable.

"Generally pleasant" best describes basically all the main characters introduced in this premiere. Rizu's lack of understanding about human emotion could have easily turned her into a curt and insensitive robot, but it's clear that she's trying her best. The emotionally-fluent and self-punishing Fumino could have come off as shrill or annoying, but she spaces her most extreme moments out enough to be endearing. The initial issue with We Never Learn would seem to be that it doesn't have enough edge to stand out; even the fanservice is pretty light for a series of this type.

Things do spice up more in the second episode with the introduction of Uruka, who breaks the established mold by being a student athlete who's just terrible in every academic subject. We Never Learn stands out by qualifying Uruka's struggles-—rather than just being "dumb", she's poured so much of her time and energy into swimming practice that it left her with little time for studying. That already sets her apart from the other girls, whose issues are presented as more inherent to their personalities.

Uruka really does steal the show in the second episode. She's high-energy compared to the others, and she even channels her personality into giving us more development for Nariyuki. Uruka being his childhood friend lets us see reflections on how he regards others, making him come across even more gosh-darned nice than before. It also outlines some potential romance in this romantic comedy, with Uruka being the first girl to become aware of her crush on Nariyuki, though that childhood-friend status means she doesn't stand a chance in a show like this. (The best girl never wins.)

The biggest detraction to We Never Learn thus far is how lightly it treads in both its romance and comedy. Uruka's feelings for Nariyuki are barely background noise at this point, with the only other minor tension just starting between our boy and Rizu by the second episode. What jokes exist are basic and few, with the swimsuit-switch gag at the end of episode 2 provoking the most laughs so far. On top of that, the production values for the series aren't great. The limited animation injects plenty of personality into the characters, but it's rough and flat in other places. And deploying simplified floating chibi-head art for a number of sequences in episode 2 does not bode well for the rest of the production.

That means the show's left to mainly fall back on the studying hook, which has provided some interesting story beats so far, at least. There's some effective real-world studying philosophies addressed, and the interesting part moving forward will be seeing how Nariyuki tailors his lessons to each particular girl; Uruka's diving English lesson in the second episode is a highlight in that regard. But the show will also need to ramp up the drama and pitch some more heightened challenges to its cast. So there are many directions this show could go to keep our attention, but it needs to actually start going soon.

Rating:

We Never Learn: BOKUBEN is currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.


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