Reconciling with ef

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Show, don’t tell.

A collection of interwoven memories pieced together by means of resonant themes and visual stimulation builds the anime adaptation of ef – a fairy tale of two. Adapted by Studio Shaft into two distinct series entitled ef – a tale of memories and ef – a tale of melodies respectively, both titles highlighting the more focused overarching theme. Memories and music, the former creating our self, the latter an outlet of expression. The ef series is comprised of experimental visuals, beautiful music, and an excellent exploration of characters that helps set it apart from other similar adaptations. Seeing the unhinged visual feast that Shaft unleashes can be overwhelming and deter the viewer from actually digging into the emotional core of both series. However, much like their catalogue of anime that came before ef, Shaft blends their stylistic flair with a liberal adaptation of the source material to transform the work into something entirely unique. In short, the stylized visuals enhance the narrative more I expected, and has led me to change my overall opinions of the series upon rewatch.

 

During a string of good luck, I ended up having lectures cancelled for an afternoon sometime last year. This meant that after my first class which ended before noon, I had the entire day to do nothing. I was by no means a studious person so I decided to watch ef – a tale of memories after seeing it recommended quite a bit in circles I followed. What initially intrigued me was the drama-centric plot and an adaptation of a visual novel, which I have an unusual affinity towards. The first few episodes drew me in enough to get the metaphorical ball rolling but it eventually grew to a point of no turning back. It was during this time that I was regularly watching 6-7 episodes of any given series per day, but in this situation I was reaching episode 7 and the sun was barely beginning to set. Seeing as this anime only had 12 episodes, I decided to go all in and finish it. This was a mistake.

 

I believe that the enjoyment of art is greatly enhanced by the external factors just as much as your internal factors at the moment when you view it. For example, the enjoyment of Evangelion is said to be inversely proportional to how much you like yourself when watching it. (Credits to whoever said that) Similarly, I also feel like the external factors of where and how you viewed something equally contribute to the level of your enjoyment, by increasing or decreasing it. Meaning, watching a slice of life anime while laying under the covers of your bed will likely invoke a sensation of comfort, and thinking back on it will remind you of that memory. The enjoyment was enhanced because there were positive experiences tied to that piece of art. With anime, I think there are shows that you can binge, and those you cannot. The latter being more dense with information that you might feel overwhelmed watching it all in one go. That is how I feel about both Monogatari and ef, both by Studio Shaft and chalked full of artistic flair like none of their contemporaries. That is why I felt that binge watching ef – a tale of memories was a mistake.

 

After revisiting ef – a tale of memories with the intention of refreshing myself with the content of the show before finally getting around to ef – a tale of melodies, it turned out to be a serendipitous experience. Rewatching anime always had this charm of discovering the hidden potential of a show the second or third time around. Often times I find myself remembering a certain show despite not necessarily liking it when I first watched it but enjoying it much more the second time around. Perhaps this is just me being more in the mood to watch a show when I know more about it, or maybe it’s just enjoying it more with context. Regardless, upon rewatching a tale of memories, I got more out of the show than I expected and I felt that was largely in part due to the knowledge of what was going to happen, as well as a more open mind to the visual storytelling.

 

Studio Shaft likes to play with their visuals in a way that is apparent to anyone who looks at their anime. On the surface they offer a unique twist on anime visuals we now consider more “traditional” by blending a myriad off animation styles, but they are also a tongue-in-cheek way to play with more nuanced ideas in a particular show. I first noticed this in rewatching the Monogatari series earlier, but their more inventive shots consist of highlighting the most important aspects of a scene. For example, in the aforementioned Monogatari series, there is a play with still images, aspect ratio, color palette and shadows. These carry over into ef into some regard, specifically the dynamic use of lighting and still images.

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These still images are often brief, and we are only supposed to barely make out what it is, and that is the point. I remember arguing with someone before who insisted that you were supposed to pause and read the paragraphs during the Monogatari series, which is not the case. The intent, as I believe, is to force the viewer to only catch snippets of information, simple words and phrases at best, to barely fill in the gaps. This is because these are flashbacks or thoughts in Araragi’s mind that are taken from the light novels, and are not meant to be of the utmost importance. They are like human thoughts, blink for a moment and remember a past memory but upon opening your eyes the image is gone. In a similar fashion, ef utilizes still images of creative kanji readings representing dichotomy, dramatized depictions of what characters are feeling, and random german text to create a distinct style. It feels like watching a multi-act performance that combines text and acting to create an experience that almost transcends the medium.

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In regards to the dynamic lighting, I think this is where the show really sets itself apart. Light and dark motifs are ubiquitous in fiction and are applied everywhere conceivable. This is because it is so easy to compare and contrast two different things. However, in ef, the use of dynamic lighting is used in a way to reflect the characters on screen. Some of my favorite shots in a tale of melodies are when two character will stand in a room but are only highlighted by opposite colors. This literally juxtaposes the two conflicting personalities through how they affect the environment around them. This continues into the use of shadows that are used to obfuscate expressions and represent the emotions of the character. For example, someone laying in a shadow will be contrasted with one laying in the light representing their opposite feelings at that given point. This is not new ground in cinematography, but the way ef utilizes these tools creates a simply breathtaking experience for the viewer.

 

After coming to terms with digesting the visual feast Studio Shaft has set before, I began to dig into the meat of the series. Dissecting the characters is not too difficult since a lot of information is explicitly given to us, or conveyed through clever visual tricks. The most poignant character arc in a tale of memories for me was Miyako’s, which came as a surprise to me. Upon my first viewing, I never liked her character much but I was failing to grasp why she acted the way she did despite the information given to me. She was neglected as a child and never was able to feel the comfort we all take for granted. She explained how her parents would never speak at home, never say her name and constantly be surrounded by high tension there. Despite her giving it her all in sports or academics she was never given the recognition she wanted. But it was not the recognition of getting praised, she just wanted to be reminded that she existed. That is why she clung desperately to Hirono when he gave her a chance, was heartbroken when she thought he left her, and overjoyed when they met once again. This really hit me upon rewatching because I was more emotionally invested into her character from the start because I knew how she felt and was able to empathize with her more knowing that there was a deeper reason to her actions. Similarly, in a tale of melodies I grew incredibly attached to Yuuko’s emotional arc. The portrayal of her character accompanied by the foreshadowing and presentation, it all came together like a puzzle assembled in slow motion. Seeing it fall together, piece by piece, allowed for me to reflect upon how each piece fit together and the impact it had on the greater picture. This meant that I was able to see the final image before it was completed and it tore me apart.

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This is the power of storytelling that I expected from a nakige and it was unequivocally enhanced by the visuals. This is why I believe that only Shaft could have created something like this. It’s a beautiful storybook, hand-painted and carefully crafted, but nonetheless an emotional roller coaster. Now I don’t regret binge watching a tale of memories nearly a year ago, frankly, I think it allowed me to enjoy the series more this time around with more context in mind. Studio Shaft has truly an incredible production team that allows themselves to experiment outside the bounds of what we expect from anime. By utilizing their stylistic strengths, they were able to create an adaptation like none other. I am reminded of Key stories when thinking about ef retrospectively, but I feel like ef really sets itself apart with the visuals in ways that the original visual novel could not explore. Creative liberties are not always appreciated by the consensus, but in this case I think this melancholic exploration of love and loss is one worth experiencing.

 

Afterword:

And…. I completely skipped discussing the music! To keep things a bit shorter and stay focused, I avoided a crucial part of the presentation that I greatly enjoyed. Particularly the opening “Euphoric Field” and the track entitled “A moon filled sky.” Both are incredible piece of music, the latter being a wonderfully melancholic violin song that evokes a sense of longing in me. I really enjoyed the classically themed OST though, it really complimented the themes and artistic style of the anime.

a moon filled sky

To wrap things up, I think you get the picture that I really liked ef. Hopefully reading my gushing about it for roughly 1600 words was not terribly painful. I wanted to discuss Shaft briefly while I am still on top of my soapbox. I have generally had a love-hate relationship with the studio in the past and have told people that I even disliked their style, but that is now untrue. I think it was during my second rewatch of Bakemonogatari that something finally clicked for me and I completely understood their visuals.Before that I really only cared for their adaptations of Monogatari and Madoka Magica, but since then I have started to shift my perspective of how I view their anime as less “traditional” and more in their own category of expression. Even Nisekoi was a blast because of the completely uncalled for, but incredibly fun, visuals. Now I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a fan so easily but I appreciate their style much more than I did in the past. Sometimes I get in the mood to see something completely different and a Shaft show never fails to deliver in that regard. But I digress.

This post was inspired by stray thoughts that i had when wanting to surmise my thoughts regarding ef in a way that would explain a drastic change in opinion. In a way this is essentially the same type of post as my Gochiusa reflection in which rewatching a show at a later date increased my enjoyment. Perhaps that just goes to show my evolving tastes, or maybe it’s more indicative of my cycling moods that ultimately determine what I watch next. If the mood I’m in suits a certain show better, and I know exactly what it is, then I will probably like it more than if I’m going through my backlog like a checklist.

 

Fin

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Overlooking View

/1

 

Panorama.

Perspective.

Thanatos.

 

『俯瞰風景』。。。

 

Overlooking View

 

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And overlooking view is entirely conceptual as well as literal in it’s usage during the first installment of the Kara no Kyoukai series. Fukan Fuukei, translated to mean “Overlooking View” is captivating simply when considering the ideas presented. Literal or figurative, this idea of an overlooking view can be applied to understand the themes of the story.

We want to understand ourselves, but oftentimes we come to learn that we ourselves are a stranger. The closer you are to something might make it easier to understand, but perhaps that lack of distance paradoxically obfuscates our understanding of it. We like to think we understand our friends or family, but we might be deluding ourselves in thinking this way. It is said that siblings are the closest strangers living with you after all, because you think you know them but really only understand what you know. Keeping your eye trained on a fixed point will make you unaware of everything happening around it and thus make your understanding limited to what you can interpret. Your view is limited to the point at which you stand, and if you are closer to the object in question the view you have is limited in scope. Thus, you think you know everything because you understand everything, but is only what you can see.

So we take a step back.

/2

From an overlooking view we gain a broader understanding. If you’ve ever visited a tall building in a city it’s almost a given to take the time to look out the window and look at the world below. It’s an intoxicating feeling that you feel when being able to look down on everything you thought you knew. But in doing so we accept our own insignificance.

“Here, in this window, the world that I view from on high actually makes me feel secure. A view of a world that I can’t reach doesn’t make me entertain any illusions of reaching it.”

– Shiki, Murder Speculation (Part 1)

In a literal sense, we can gain an overlooking view from reaching a measurably higher place upon which to stand. Going up to the top floor of your house does this. On the ground the world is familiar to you and you can understand what surrounds you to an extent. The ground is roughly one and a half meters away, the ground feels firm, my feet touch the ground, the sky is above and the perspective is familiar. Reaching a higher level you alter this view but being able to take things into a new perspective. On the observation deck of a skyscraper the world is alien to you despite nothing changing. The people are mere dots on the pavement, the vehicles move like matchbox cars and everything seems less significant.

This makes jumping down all the more alluring.

/3

The subtitle of Overlooking View was “Thanatos”, the embodiment of death as well as a topic in Freudian psychology. This drive of death is described as “Thanatos, from the Greek word for “death” is the drive of aggression, sadism, destruction, violence, and death.  At the conclusion of C&D, Freud notes (in 1930-31) that human beings, following Thanatos, have invented the tools to completely exterminate themselves…” (1). The creeping feeling you try to suppress when at the top of a high place is Thanatos, it’s unfathomable to even consider the thought of suicide but the height just makes it all the more alluring. It’s the human desire to return to where it belongs, the unrest of being able to view their world as insignificant and the morbid curiosity of “what would it feel like to fly, albeit for only a moment?”

/4

Either we fly, or float. But sometimes we fall. What matters is the intent

Aozaki Touko concludes that “we humans can’t fly by ourselves. And yet, as expected of men, the more we forget this.” The concept of the flight and floating as inextricably tied to one another, and likewise plays with the theme of falling. To begin, flight is implied to have a destination or reason, while float implies stagnation and aimless in it’s purpose. People who fly know where they are going and expend energy to reach their goal while the latter simply wait idly.

Sitting on the side of the road on day, I started to think about the direction of my life as I watched cars drive past me. Everyone always appears to be in a hurry to go one place or another and can never stand when the driver in front of them do not share the same haste. However, I sat idly on the side of the road watching everything and wondered how I appeared to them. Perhaps they were flying and I was floating, but of course it’s not that simple. It’s a matter of perspective after all. Understanding one’s purpose isn’t as clear to see as recklessly driving down a busy street, nor is floating necessarily meaning doing nothing. Our aim is to move towards a direction that satisfies us in the end.

 

<And overlooking view>

 

/5

“It’s how far everything is. A view too wide makes clear the boundary between you and the world. People can only rest easy with things they are familiar with. Even with an accurate map telling you your exact location, you know that’s only information. To us, the world only amounts to something we understand and feel from experience. The boundaries and connections of the world, and of countries, and of cities, are only constructs of the mind, not something we feel ourselves. But with a view too wide, there appear gaps in our understanding.”

– Aozaki Touko

 

The concept of boundaries surfaces to the forefront this time. Kara no Kyoukai is written with the kanji for  Empty “空” and Boundary “境界” conjoined with the possessive particle “の”, roughly meaning (The) Empty Boundaries. Ironically, the kanji “空” read as “kara” can also be read as “sora”, or sky. The sky is a boundary between mortality and gods, a barrier we can never breach but get infinitely close to.

“Our mental perceptions, on the other hand, also stand perched on its own vantage point. Different minds perceive different things, but all are imprisoned, asleep in a paradigm of material reality. Awakened minds bearing a more malleable paradigm, such as those of mages, can bend its rules, but never truly break them. To cross that boundary is to become something more and less human. A god, but absent the restraint. And so Hypnos becomes Thanatos.”

 

Curiously I find the idea of boundaries, both conceptual and literal, to be the most interesting idea present in this story. Touko explains how “A view too wide makes clear the boundary between you and the world.” in which the view from a high place would both literally separate you from the world with an impassable barrier of empty sky, but also separate you from the reality you thought you knew. “Viewing the city from up here sure puts it into perspective.”  Understanding the significance of everything puts your life into question, the monumental issues you face seem to fade as the world shrinks below you and you are no longer connected to it. Similarly, you dissociate from reality. This becomes a prevalent theme later on, but the idea of disconnecting from yourself and reality is played with in the duality of Shiki and SHIKI as well as in Paradox Spiral. Boundaries erect between two extremes; high and low, light and dark, but crossing them is not impossible. Reaching a figurative overlooking view separates you from society. You fall down the slippery slope of thinking those around you are insignificant, unimportant and this cease to associate with them. This in turn begins your descent into dissociating with reality. “These people mean nothing to me”, “I’m better than them” and raise yourself to a high place to justify the feelings you internalize as truth to feel more comfortable. This is but a mere illusion of what you want to believe, only your perspective if you will. Similarly, a literal high place is only a shift in perspective and what determines its impact is how you view the view from above. “But you don’t choose these paths because of the weight on your soul. We don’t choose the path we take because of the sins we carry. But we carry our sins on the path we choose.”

But to fall or to fly.

“She had no reason to kill herself,” I say finally. “She just wasn’t able to fly.”

The irony lies within both being the same, a fall with intent. Flight is a prolonged fall with a destination to reach, falling is a failure to reach the destination. Unlike floating, in which there is no fall. Those that float do not even attempt to fly, so they never had a chance to succeed or fail.

 

/Final

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

 

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References:

  1. https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/definitions/deathdrive.html
  2. https://www.geneseo.edu/~easton/humanities/Freud.htm

Etc; Kara no Kyoukai – Kinoko Nasu

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A Revisitation of Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??

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Indecisiveness regarding finality has been a common problem I’ve been dealing with for a while now. Finishing something is different from completion, since the former indicates something is at a satisfactory level of being “done” while the latter implies a resolution that can be left behind. In the realm of video games, there is a major difference between beating a game versus completing a game, which is reflective on my view of the aforementioned concept. The finality of deciding something and simply forgetting about it is difficult, and is seen in my anime view habits. In my eyes, the difference of completing and anime and “finishing” an anime is the amount of return value it continues to give you. Finishing an anime means that you have exhausted the maximum amount of enjoyment you personally can get out it but not necessarily watching all of it, while completing an anime means you saw the story through to the end.

When I first started getting into anime everything was a fresh experience and was not able to wrap my head around the idea of dropping a show. I watched around a hundred series before I encountered Rewrite, frankly an unimpressive show that I really had no desire to watch weekly so I dropped it. Since then I have dropped a few anime mainly because the lack of motivation to continue watching even when I feel like I try to commit to watching most things. However, sometime last spring I dropped Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?? despite finding enjoyment in the first series, but ultimately felt like I had finished getting my moe fix at the time. Even with feeling confident in my drop of the anime I returned to it recently and found it to be pleasantly surprising.

The first season of Gochiusa (abbreviation) was a pleasant watch due to the comfy aesthetic of the series and the general moe vibes it emitted. Paired with a fantastic seiyuu cast and high production values it made for a good watch for any fan of loli or moe in their anime. The first season was quite enjoyable reflecting on it, but I didn’t feel all that strongly towards the show since the supporting characters were a bit too shallow. Nonetheless I rated it well and decided to watch the second season a short while later. However, I only made it 4 episode into the second season before deciding to drop the show to move on to other series I felt more strongly about.

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To begin this introspection, my reason for “dropping” season two of Gochiusa last year was not necessarily the fault of the show and more to do with my mood at the time, hence my willingness to return to it after a year. In particular I felt like it had to do with my eagerness to move onto the “next big thing” which plagues my video game hobby even more so than anime. I imagine this as an extreme form of “the grass is greener on the other side” idiom, except when applied with anime it means that the next series on my queue appear more interesting than the one I am watching currently. I equate this to the overabundance of media at my disposal and the never-ending backlog leading me to have such a short attention span to focus on one show for long stretches of time. With games, I found that avoiding digital purchases and only buying a limited amount of physical games made me more likely to play what I already owned. However, anime is different in that I could tab over to a certain torrent site, streaming site or look through my hard drive and see shiny new series I have yet to watch. Suddenly what I am currently watching seems significantly less appealing. Oversaturation, ease of access and abundance of media available leads to such problems and that was ultimately what forced my hand to drop Gochiusa season two.

Fast forward to present day and thoughts of adorable loli infest my waking thoughts, as per usual. Along with these questionable daydreams, I remember a particular moe anime about a cute white-haired loli and a persistent theme of rabbits. Suddenly I felt compelled to drink coffee! To give context, I have mainly been consuming more sci-fi and fantasy anime as of late after becoming engrossed with the Sword Art Online and Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria light novels. My current part-time job gives me a decent amount of down time so I fill it with reading light novels and thus have inadvertently been avoiding slice of life and moe series. I have always been an advocate of variety in the media I consume to avoid burnout and by neglecting my own self-imposed rule, I ended up desperately craving moe. When watching anime, I like to mix things up once in a while to give every genre a try to discover the appeal of a myriad of artistic styles, but occasionally find myself going down a rabbit-hole unaware of what I am doing. Such was the case with my light novel obsession as of late. It wasn’t until I was pulled to my senses by daydreams of Chino that I realized that I still loved slice of life moe anime.

Upon returning to Gochiusa for the second time, I found myself having genuine fun with the show because it was exactly what I wanted when I most craved it. Perhaps last spring I was expecting too much from a simple show and didn’t judge it fairly. To be blunt, Gochiusa isn’t deep and the characters are quite simply, the themes are repetitive and there are way too many references to rabbits but I still found myself instinctively clicking to the next episode. Then I remembered I wanted exactly what it was presenting and I wasn’t expecting anything more. Once I stopped obsessing over minor nitpicks I found myself feeling a wave of cute wash over me much akin to a warm blanket on a cold winter night. The entire aesthetic of the show oozes comfiness and Chino is irresistibly cuddly. In short, I got my moe fix. But there was definitely some interesting ideas buried here beneath the cute fluff. What I found was understanding the importance of Chino’s journey as a person, since in the beginning she was depicted as a gloomy girl due to the implied death of her mother.

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As a result she was forced to grow up quickly to support her family’s business run by a single father, and appeared gloomy compared to her peers. However her life got a second wind in the form of the cafe workers as they started to give Chino a new perspective on life and she started to shift her outlook little by little by inviting her into their fun. But ultimately it was the carefree and caring Cocoa who made her realize that she yearned for a person to care for her deeply and show her the love she thought she didn’t need– Chino needed an older sister.

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Gochiusa isn’t anything more than what it wants to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without merit. The themes are nothing fresh but are presented nicely and in a way that makes you care for Chino. Whether you choose to look at it in the perspective of understanding her character arc or simply on the surface of a cute girl’s show about working in a cafe, there is enjoyment to be found here. The simplicity of the storytelling supports the easily consumable qualities of the show and I found myself able to just sit back and absorb the overflowing moe. Upon revisiting a previously “dropped” anime I have found new enjoyment where I previously thought didn’t exist. I suppose the lesson I learned was the value of finality since opinions can change, tastes can evolve and mood can ultimately determine what you desire.

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The spirit of the run – a personal reflection

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The races of Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru really capture the spirit of running. It’s not glorious like other sports where a game or match could be decided with overwhelming strength. Running a good race is not only a combination of mental fortitude and lengthy training leading up to the event, but also the state of mind you are in at that  moment. That decides the amount you are willing to push yourself even when your body is failing. At the climax of a race you are past your VO2 max, your muscles are screaming for oxygen and you are in an anaerobic state of perpetually suffering, your mind wills your legs to move forward. I believe it’s that moment that decides who will be victorious and who is strong. It’s pure insanity to think that runners willingly submit their body to the suffering of distance running with a reason. Training is vital to becoming better, but it’s really about who can push themselves further. Running is not a glorious sport and really needs to be done to fully understand the strength required to do it. As a runner myself, I love the spirit of the run that is captured but Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru. All the pain is all made worthwhile in that moment when you cross the line just to see how far you have come to get there.

I ran cross-country and track in high school because of a misunderstanding, and grew inexplicably drawn towards the sport over the years. I was an extremely out of shape teenager before joining the cross country team under the impression that I would be a sprinter or something. My first rude awakening was having to run three miles the first day of practice, and much like Prince, found myself dragging my feet barely making it back to the school. My second awakening was realizing that I was good enough to run with the top competitors in track and that running to win was a possibility. My last awakening was returning to the trail on my own after swearing to quit running the previous Fall. During my four years in high school I ran with a lot of great guys and forged friendships built upon our mutual suffering during practice. We would will each other on with our very presence alongside each other. After practice we would eat together and talk like any regular friend group and it resulted in good memoirs to look back on. Nothing could compare to the feeling of elation after finishing a good race and celebrating with my teammates, all of us barely able to stand but full of joy. Those were the days I ran with the wind and discovered the joy of the run.

 

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It was because of running track that I was introduced to anime, and since then I have sought to find an anime that captured the spirit of distance running but without avail. Disappointed with Prince of Stride, I turned towards other sports anime like Haikyuu that filled me with the same feelings of high school sports but something always felt missing. Then I found Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru, and it met my expectations. Now as a university student, seeing the characters go through similar life problems that I faced or will face with the backdrop of a pure depiction of distance running really struck a chord with me. I was honestly expecting a lot from this anime, but in a surprising turn of events this show was able to surpass my expectations.

Truth be told, I am a hardcore otaku. During the run of this show weekly, I would often watch an episode before I went out for a run myself since during October and November I was training for 5k’s as a sort of motivation for myself. There was a certain beauty in seeing character express themselves through their love for the sport they participated in, whether they realized it or not. Because of this I feel like Kaze excels in capturing the spirit of distance running like no other piece of media I have seen regarding the sport. Watching the races filled my heart with the same fluttery eagerness that I felt waiting on the line to start a race in high school. The building tension, the subtlety of the sound design to highlight the inconsequential noises that you notice racing, and the power you feel upon hearing the cheers of your teammates and coach. Not only that, but the sequences of the characters in the anime training perfectly captured the seemingly carefree interactions between me and my teammates in high school. Running teams are not just a team of similarly athletic individuals, but a hodgepodge of the closest people to you and a family. I love how the anime has a variety of individuals who each have their own quirks that make them unique. Much like on my team, not everyone was equally athletic and some of us lagged behind but shared the common love for running. Not everyone is the idealized elite Olympic marathoner, we each are individuals from different backgrounds, weighed by our own problems, but when we run together we forget all that. Nico explains this best in episode 5: “Only when I’m running, I feel clean. Pure white. I can leave all the stuff I’m carrying behind.” Running allows the characters to momentarily direct their attention elsewhere and helps them move past their difficult past.

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“Running is 10% physical and 90% mental” was written across the back of the runner in front of me during my last freshman cross-country race in high school. I understand running to be the pursuit of pushing yourself to your physical limit, then going further with willpower. It is in that moment of insanity that you can truly understand yourself. In the anime, King explains how he feels “Released from everything, I can face myself.” in episode 22. You run with your teammates and help each other to reach new heights, but in the race you are alone and must face yourself. Doubt, hesitation, fear, and constant signals from your body to quit are what you feel in a race. The disconnect between your mind and body is what separates you from yourself. One part of you will beg to collapse and curl into a ball, while your heart wishes to push yourself to new heights. Which one wins out is what the spirit of running seeks to capture.

A lot of the messages surrounding Haiji and Nico are that which resonate deeply with me. They used to run in high school and fell into disillusionment with the sport after failing to meet the expectation of others. Haiji could not satisfy the goals his father set him and injured himself as a result. Nico on the other hand was denied the right to do what he loved because he was unfit to participate in distance running events. Similarly, Kakeru tried to run away from his problems during high school and into university but ultimately had to come to terms with understanding his own shortcomings and true desires. All three of these people love to run but were held back because of the competition. Running in its purest form is about the joy of the run and constantly seeking the fabled runner’s high. Like Kakeru says in episode 15, “This time, I’ll run of my own free will.” and Haiji in episode 20: “Unable to run for the first time, I genuinely wanted to run.” It’s the undeniable love of the sport, you can never turn away from running because doing so is only running away, and that’s the irony of it all.

 

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Even now as a university student and borderline shut-in, I still seek the joy of the run long after my competitive career in high school came to a close. During that time I started to become disillusioned with the concept of hard work and began to despise running because of the intense training lifestyle I had to live. I remember finishing my last race at the state competition and swearing that it was my last race, ending my career on a personal best. However, it was short-lived because the following Fall I found myself on the trail again, alone, training for a 5k. Returning back from campus to my hometown for the race, I was greeted by the familiar faces of the guys I ran with in high school all finding themselves back in the midst of competition. The joked that it was difficult to see me, the guy who always complained about workouts and claimed to hate running, once again on the starting line for a race on my own volition. I cannot deny my insanity of willing bringing myself to face the pain and difficulty that is distance running, but I found it even harder to stay away. “Why can’t we stop doing something so painful and difficult?” questions Shindo in episode 20, unable to formulate his own answer at the time, but he like his team soon learned why they ran.

 

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It’s the wind against my face, the ground beneath my sneakers and the salty droplets running down my face that were inexplicably addicting. That is what I believe the spirit of the run is for me. “It’s much more fun when you chose to run instead of being forced to run”. (EP 6) Much like in Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru, the characters each find their reason why they are running and I found my own as well. “If running was easy, everyone would do it” is what my cross-country coach might have told us, proudly beaming as we recovered in-between sets of mile repeats. You have to be strong, not your body from training but your kokoro- your heart, mind and spirit.

 

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Empathizing with Zaimokuza, and understanding self-expression

Well written characters are those whom you can understand fundamentally. Then the difference between a “good” and “great” in my mind is not the quality of the writing per say, but the human element the writer weaves in the construction of said character. Great characters are those who you will remember long after you close the book and sit back in you chair. Some of my favorite characters are those who I can understand, empathize with and see aspects of myself or the creator in because they will feel more human, as compared to a two-dimensional “character” implying a lack of depth. The characters that can transcend the screen and work their way into my heart are those that possess human elements. I find these characters incredibly fascinating because I can approach them from the same place I would when trying to understand another person, because their logic is reasonable and psyche is well constructed. Coming off the tails of completing my Yukinoshita Yukino analysis, I feel like I have helped myself gain further insight into how I approach the Oregairu series in particular, and also how I treat its characters. Since then I have been working through the light novel and have been unable to avoid thinking about a certain character in particular who I have been enjoying since the first season of the anime, but now have a newfound appreciation of. That is none other than Yoshiteru Zaimokuza.

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Before I begin I want to discuss my opinion of chuunibyou characters. According to TV Tropes’ entry on the subject, “中二病 is a term used in Japanese media that literally means “Middle [School] 2[nd Year] Syndrome” which is why it is translated as M-2 syndrome in the official editions of Oregairu. An interesting tidbit of history for you, but “The term was coined by Japanese radio personality Hikaru Ijuin on his program in 1999. He originally used it much more broadly, to refer to any kind of childish thinking or behavior exhibited by kids that age (and would occasionally admit to “contracting” chuunibyou himself). The Japanese Internet took the concept and ran with it, applying it specifically to the kind of people.” (TVTropes) Personally, I initially only related this term to a certain 2012 anime when I was unfamiliar with these characters. However, since then I have found an unusual sense of appreciation, empathy and general understanding towards these characters. This is particularly interesting since upon inspection, since I personally was never the type of person to cosplay in trenchcoats or hide my evil eye in middle school. But nonetheless, I think that is just the surface level to these characters, which I will delve into later. These chuunibyou characters are perhaps most emotionally resonant to me not because of second-hand embarrassment, but due to how they make me feel regarding my wish to express myself in a similar manner.

I think the word cringe is incredibly overused and I despise the entirety of the culture surrounding it. Individuals will act with superiority over others whilst belittling their attempts at self-expression. This feels like “acting yourself” is unacceptable without the fear of being called out, resulting in people “hiding their power levels” and increasing the amount of self-awareness a person might have. From the perspective as an otaku, I feel like the whole reputation of this community has gotten tarnished because of cringe-culture. In spite of this I have taken an opposite approach towards this stigma and am unafraid to express my love for that which I love. We reach a certain point in our lives when we decide that the opinions of strangers mean nothing, and putting so much artificial importance on them is pointless. Every day at university I will see a new face and will most likely never see them again, even at a relatively medium-sized campus. Nobody is willing to put in that much effort to memorize all the people they see and eventually the faces start to blend together and little importance is placed on trying to remember them. Walking in campus with a shirt of my favorite anime or video game is bound to get some weird looks but people are more likely to not say anything because they have places to go themselves. They won’t remember me in 20 minutes. It just means if someone recognizes that show or game on my shirt, it will be like a conversation starter and the opportunity to meet a new person.

To return to the topic at hand, the main reason I empathize with chuunibyou characters is because I understand the desire to express yourself without the self-awareness. I wish I wasn’t so self-aware, and wish I wasn’t so hung up on it before because I could have had so many more worthwhile experiences meeting others instead of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Chuunibyou characters act the way they do because it is how they wish to present themselves, and perhaps the only way they know how. It’s all an act in a way, but it is an exaggeration of how they wish for others to perceive them. But in turn they are living and idealized version of themselves which is a life of passion. Their persona is a result of them trying to understand themselves, but also not being able to understand the people around them so they feel alone. While they might look back on those days with a tinge of pain, they cannot deny they embodied what they wanted to at that time. Regardless of who we try to act like we are bound to look back on our life with some sort of regret. So it’s better to pursue your dreams instead of trying to be the cool stoic guy sitting in the corner with a false sense of superiority. But in the end, we all had our own awkward middle school moments of stumbling through adolescence, attempting to find our footing to make it to adulthood. I never really got my balance and that is why I empathize with these delusional teenage anime characters. Idealistically, but also as a reminder that self-expression and individuality is not worth denying your hobbies for.

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Now to examine Yoshiteru Zaimokuza. Initially upon viewing Oregairu I found his character to be a fun comic relief with his wacky dialogue and unhinged unpredictability. Simply put, he was an enjoyable character to watch and that is all I really accredited him to be at the time. However, reading the third light novel, particularly the chapter entitled “Despite it all, Yoshiteru Zaimokuza wails alone in the wasteland”.  (Yet Alone in the Wilderness, Zaimokuza Yoshiteru Laments in the fan translation) To begin, the symbolic nature of the title alone hints at the unhappy end for our resident chuunibyou, but it is rather melancholic upon finishing. The title is dramatic purposefully because it is meant to give the impression of being so, something to exaggerate the events that will transpire. In this chapter, Zaimokuza is forced to face reality while the United Gamers (UG) Club attempts to dismantle his dreams of being a games writer. These pretentious kids try to explain how in order to take your creative endeavors seriously, you must study the critically acclaimed art first, discounting anime and light novels. Unperturbed, Zaimokuza explains his reasoning for pursuing this passion of becoming a writer: “‘Right now, I believe with all my heart. Even if I can never become an author or a writer, I can still continue to write. I don’t love writing because I want to be a writer! …I write because I love it.’” (Vol .3, Ch.5 pg.164) Despite the lack of academic knowledge and critical eye that the UG Club members might have, or the calculated approach to learning about their goals, Zaimokuza has pure love for his passion. “I write because I love it…” is an impactful line even to Hachiman, who at the time comments that he is jealous for the lack of cynicism and strength he had to say such a line. In a way, Zaimokuza is able to say this because of his overflowing passion for what he enjoys; games, anime and light novels. Even if there are people saying he will never be able to make it in the saturated industry, his passion alone sets him apart.

What is most resonating in this volume of Oregairu, with Zaimokuza in particular, is him momentarily breaking character. There was a moment in the volume in which he calls out Hachiman by recognizing his change and hypocrisy. During the drama CD included with volume three, we find: “For some reason, Zaimokuza confirmed his victory with a loud laugh. ‘Mwahahahahaha! You’re so weak! Be happy you even got invited once! That’s hardly very loner-ish!’” On the one hand we can see a feeble attempt at Hachiman and Zaimokuza to one-up one another to see who is the best professional loner. This is quite sad in hindsight, but brings up a small detail about their characters. It is often mentioned briefly, but Zaimokuza and Hachiman have a history of friendship together despite the latter denying it for no reason in particular other than an attempt at self-preservation to maintain his ideal of being a loner. What I find most interesting is that Zaimokuza is able to recognize this subtly only because he used to be close to Hachiman. Meanwhile I doubt Hachiman actually choose to deny their friendship because he is worried about what others perceive him as, this his reasoning is completely entirely due to maintaining his idealized self. Zaimokuza is the real loner here, his friend group consists of Arcana Hearts players he knows online and Hachiman who denies his existence when convenient. But how Hachiman wants to perceive himself is another topic entirety.

When Zaimokuza momentarily breaks character, he will say something critical of Hachiman. This leads me into a bit of a theory, but I believe he amongst other chuu2 characters act in such way as a defense mechanism. It’s a feeble attempt to deceive yourself that you have importance, to forget the painful experiences of your past and avoid facing reality. The UG Club members call this escapism which is correct. Acting in such way is avoiding the facts of reality because you might be scared to look at them directly. Without such delusions of grandeur, you begin to grow incredibly self-aware of your own shortcomings and isolation. Maybe chuunibyou characters act like their favorite anime characters because that is all they have, their friends are two-dimensional and the world on the screen seems better than the one in which they are constantly made fun of. Zaimokuza perhaps is aware of this but continues to choose this path because it is a defense mechanism. Fake it until you make it. Presumably, his previous best friend Hachiman is not rejecting him, he is alone in a new school amidst normies and pretentious geeks and he just wants to display his passion of his otaku hobbies. But in the end he is just the butt of their jokes but despite all that, his desire to become a writer persists and his determination is unwavering even if it is hidden behind a cloak of fabricated reality.

To close things off here, I just wanted to explore why chuunibyou characters have always resonated with me, and Zaimokuza provided a good excuse to do just that. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I look up to characters like these. Zaimokuza is just a guy stuck in an awkward phase of youth and is forced to intermingle with the normies around him. He is stuck with the innocent passion to pursue his dreams that a child has, while his peers are eager to grow up and have already accept the pessimism of the world. His persona is a way to preserve his passion for his hobbies and desire to create something, in his own way. I personally relate to this sentiment, because oftentimes I will hear the infamous line “why are you still watching cartoons and reading picture books” or “isn’t that show for girls?” and I will simply pretend not to care, but those words stick with me. My idealistic self is one of pure, unwavering passion for my otaku hobbies that embodies Zaimokuza. He’s incredibly awkward, terrible at conversing with a normal dialect, constantly referencing old anime and wears a trenchcoat in the summer but I love the guy. While Hachiman embodies my cynical side that I have on days of wishing to avoid people, Zaimokuza embodies the side of me that wishes to bask in the blinding light of otakudom, indulge in what I love and pursue my dreams.

bird

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Regarding Yukinoshita Yukino

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Preface

Welcome to my personal retrospective and character analysis of Yukinoshita Yukino, from the anime and light novel series Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. This is an attempt at a comprehensive personal analysis of this character using my own understanding of psychology, literary analysis and personal emotions to construct a complete picture of her in my mind, and present that to the community. I am largely using my own psyche and experiences as a reference to construct a greater understanding of Yukino, so please keep that in mind when proceeding.

This paper is a means to express my observations while watching the anime and reading the novel from notes I have taken. Of course, this is not meant to be taken as definitive fact, rather one man’s interpretation and a platform for discussion. That said, I have not completed the light novels since the last two novels are incomplete in their translations as of writing this, meaning much of this analysis could be subject to change depending on the direction of the story, therefore this will only use the material covered in both anime seasons.

Quotes have been taken from the following sources for reference:

  • Season One: FFF
  • Season Two: Commie
  • Light Novel: NanoDesu/Yen Press

Introduction

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It was the beginning of the end for those lazy, hazy summer days at the end of August. Small reminders of the upcoming time that I would have to wave goodbye to the peaceful time I was enjoying and return to school permeated into my daily life. It was an uneventful summer of 2015, I was about to turn sixteen and the second year of high school approached. Not much has changed since then though, as I was still deeply invested in anime and it was how I spent my days of leisure in that summer. Dread clouded my perception of high school life after some complications arose the year prior due to failed attempts to integrate into a new school and romantic let downs, so I was not looking forward to returning. With this mindset, I was nearing the end of the seemingly short summer break and decided to watch one last anime before academic responsibilities took over, that series was Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteriru.

Never before this had an anime resonated with me on such a personal level, and in a way my own twisted perception of society as a teenager found solace in hearing the words of Hikigaya Hachiman. It was the perfect time to be introduced to this series in a way, I was in the target demographic of immature, cynical outcasts who related to Hachiman. Despite recognizing the faults of internalizing the deliberately biased words of Hachiman, it provided me a feeling of comfort to know that this person, fictional or not, understood my perspective. It was for this reason that I fell in love with this anime.

From the opening monologue, I sensed that I would be in for a real treat but never could have imagined the emotional rollercoaster I was in for. Hachiman established himself as a character I could project to, understand him beyond what was presented on-screen, and empathise with in ways I never understood before. To me, Oregairu is, even now, an anime that remains close to my heart because of its ability to craft seemingly human characters with so much emotional depth. I have a stronger grasp of the psyche of some of these characters and understand their emotions better than my friends in reality.

Then I met Yukinoshita Yukino, the unwavering dark-haired beauty that has since cemented herself as the first and only fictional character to truly steal my heart. Prior to this, I was infatuated with kuudere characters on a superficial level because I related to their personalities on the surface. However, after seeing Yukino develop as  character I found myself anticipating seeing her again when she was not on-screen. I was completely infatuated with her allure, and it was then that she became my waifu. Despite the ironic portrayal of otaku being infatuated with their love for fictional characters, I was unaware of that and simply felt an unrequited bond forming between me and this character on the screen. Her personality and growth as a character was incredibly inspiring and remarkably endearing so I couldn’t help myself from falling in love.

Even after rewatching the anime and getting into the light novels years later, I still feel a deep emotional connection to Yukino and what her character means to me. Because of that, I rewatched the anime once again with the intention of taking notes and with the goal to reason out a psychoanalysis of her character in order to understand her further than I had before. Hopefully this long-winded analysis proves to be as useful as it was for me, in exploring Yukinoshita Yukino.

Under the Snow

Names carry a tremendous weight to them. In the West, parents having children will often look to their religion for inspiration for naming their children. Me and brother were named after Catholic Saints due to my parents finding the meaning behind said names to resonate with them enough to name us after that. Names can carry the importance unlike any other title given to you, for they were given to you by a parent and hold meaning to them beyond the superficial sound it makes rolling off the tongue. Literature and film will commonly heighten the underlying meaning by assigning certain names to character to derive more depth and personality to those characters. Japanese naming conventions similarly utilize the importance of the meaning behind names, but in my opinion to a more nuanced degree due to the complexity of their writing system. Japanese names will use Kanji, or borrowed Chinese characters, all with a multitude of readings with varying meaning, as well as Hiragana and sometimes Katakana. However, Kanji contains such an extensive list of characters to choose and the ability to combine different Kanji to create a unique meaning to the child’s name. Likewise, “Some kanji have nanori, which are readings which occur only in names.” (3) Much like anime characters, Japanese people will have a name with another layer of depth beyond the sound their name makes. For example, the name “Ichirou” is a common boy’s name meaning “first son” which relates back to a traditional naming scheme of naming children after the sequential order of which they were born. (3) For this reason, anime characters will utilize the unique Japanese naming conventions to expand of character personality through their names. Examples include “Makoto” meaning “sincere, honest” and Shinji meaning “true ruler”, and knowing this allows the viewer another element to think about when examining a character. The meaning of a character name is rarely contrived, so exploring deeper into the Kanji allows for another layer of characterization to be uncovered.

I want to begin with understanding the Yukinoshita Yukino, a duplicative name which holds hidden meaning. In Japanese, the name 【雪ノ下雪乃】 is comprised “雪” is the kanji character meaning snow, while the second character being katakana “ノ” which is a possessive particle as well as “乃” which has the same reading, and finally “下” meaning underneath or beneath. Simply examining the family given name of Yukinoshita reveals the literal meaning of “under the snow” followed by the first name Yukino, roughly meaning “the snow.” In totality we can interpret the name of Yukinoshita Yukino, rather the slightly modified “Yuki no shita no yuki” as snow beneath the snow.

“Snow beneath the snow” implies multiple layers, and when examining Yukino as a character I want to explore this concept much further as a keystone to her personality. Stories will commonly explore such ideas of hiding behind a mask or a protective layer to shield one’s heart from being revealed. Not everyone can wear their heart on their sleeve, and nobody does in the anime and light novel series Yahari ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru, or Oregairu for short. Everyone has a facade and holds ulterior motives to their actions giving us in the fanbase plenty to examine. Here I will further explore the theme of layered personality of Yukinoshita Yukino and the snow motif as a basis for this character analysis.

The Past

Much of Yukino’s past is shrouded in mystery, rarely revealed to us in brief moments of vulnerability. It is in these moments when the layers around her heart lose their strength and show the true nature of what Yukino carries with her. One such moment I will bring up later, but surfaces as a result of discussing family, which she relates to the Yukinoshita family situation:

“But as soon as I called out to her, the clouds covered the sun and a shadow came over her face. Because of that, I couldn’t read the expression on Yukinoshita’s downturned face clearly. But the mere sight of her feeble, drooped shoulders told me she had let out a short sigh.”(Volume 2, pg 110)

Hachiman notes this change as he explains

“Her expression was no different from normal – cold and withering. The clouds had only covered the sun for a moment. I had no way of knowing the meaning of the sigh she had breathed in that split second.”

Observant as always, he is able to catch the fleeting show of raw emotions displayed by Yukino in a vulnerable period. This is most likely due to the fact that such a subject being brought up was unexpected, thus she was unable to prepare herself to hide her true feelings. Also, the Yukinoshita family dynamic is strained and a difficult subject for her to face. I will cover that extensively in detail later on, but for now as a reader of the novel and watching the anime, we only are aware of Yukino’s strange reaction that is quite unlike her usual self. The “Ice Queen” that is, one that has a personality as cold as ice and a heart frozen over. The reason is made evident as we delve deeper into Yukino’s past.

Tsurumi Rumi was the young girl that was helped during the summer camp arc in the first season of the anime, she is a girl who they notice to be standing away from her assigned group and is seemingly detached from the rest of the class. Rumi’s story mainly serves as a point of reference for understanding the mentality of each character and how they feel about themselves. This is evident because each character attempts to guide Rumi in a direction they see best fit basing their reasoning off lessons learned from their pasts to deter her from making the same mistakes they made, or prevent the hurt they felt growing up. Seeing a vulnerable child venturing down the path of a cynical loner like Hachiman is preventable early on and we get to see the true nature of the cast as they intervene.

The result of the conflict is resolved in episode eight of the first season, with Rumi reassociating with her classmates as they “reset” the bonds between the girls. But that isn’t that important, because what Hayama explains afterwards is critical. He confesses that as a child, he saw a similar situation with a girl being alienated by the class and bullied behind her back, and he expressed guilt for simply standing back and watching. That is why with Rumi he decided to make things right and get involved to help instead of living with regret once more. However, the girl Hayama failed to save was Yukino.

In episode three, Yukino reveals that she studied abroad but was alienated and bullied when she came back to Japan. Of course, she presents this in an arrogant fashion that somehow “all the girls at school grew desperate to eliminate me” (Ep 2, 8:38) because she was too cute. Of course this wouldn’t fool anyone but the intention was not that, rather it was to persuade people that she was utterly self-absorbed and nothing would phase her. Yukino was presenting a painful piece of her past in a way that would make her appear indifferent to it, but it only brought to light an uneasy concern within those around her. This act simply building up her persona of “The Ice Queen” due to her icy personality and unapproachable nature.

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Episodes seven and eight we also get a brief introduction of the fragile relationship between Hayama and Yukino. Initially Yukino only appears uncomfortable around Hayama and his group of friends, but it is later revealed that Hayama’s father is the legal advisor for Yukino’s father who holds a political office, and they were classmates in elementary school. This implies their past complicated history. Yukino is emotionally distant from Hayama due to his failure to intervene when she was bullied in school, and Hayama lives with that guilt.

A Veil of Snow

“In the end they always get jealous and avoid her”– Yukinoshita Haruo

Hachiman refers to Yukino in a condescending manner due to her cold and unfriendly demeanor and his dislike in the how she treats him. In his pseudo-Death Note he writes:

“April 2013; 1. YukinoshitaYukino looked down on me the moments I met her. Looked at me as though I were a bug. Way too self-conscious. She’s the Ice Queen! Demon superhuman!! I’ll kill her!” (Ep 2, 15:04)

Despite the comical impression Hachiman initially forms of Yukino, this serves as a manner to examine her personality. The “Ice Queen” persona is her facade she built up, trying desperately to convince herself and those around her in the hopes that the lies will eventually become reality. In a way this allows others to grow to understand Yukino in the way she wishes to appear, as Hachiman notes that she is “…always beautiful, unable to lie, honest, always standing on her own two feet, without anyone or anything to support her.”(Ep 9, 21:37) However, this persona only served to give people a false image of the true Yukino, the vulnerable girl she wishes to keep hidden, but it doesn’t last long, “I chose to feel like I understood her.” (Ep 9, 21:48) notes Hachiman after realizing the truth unravel before him.

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Even Yukinoshita Yukino lies, Hachiman misjudged her. He initially was under the impression that there was some truth in her Ice Queen persona, but he ended up overlooking the truth. Earlier in the episode, Yui explained that “Yukino wants to talk to someone and I can’t do it myself.” yet this was disregarded because Hachiman was too confident in his warped understanding thinking that Yukinoshita Yukino would never need the help of someone else. In a way, the distant personality helped her move past the troubles she faced, but at the same time discouraged people from trying to get close to her.

However, this doesn’t mean the persona will forever remain. In episode eleven, she confesses “Yuigahama-san, right now it is difficult for me but one day I’ll rely on you.” Yukino is expressing her desire to want to rely on someone, because after trying to carry the weight of responsibility herself for so many years she isn’t ready yet to trust people. The Ice Queen thinks that seeking help and relying on others is a sign of weakness, but Yukino is growing to understand that her warped way of thinking is misguided, yet is still unable to let go of her familiar way of thinking despite the known negative implications. However, the first step to recovery is recognizing the issue, and as Yukino realizes that she has been perceiving the world wrongly it spurs her growth as a person to begin.

Based off personal experience, trust issues stem from the warped self-responsibility or desire to not rely on others. Other people are inferior so relying on them is a sign of weakness, right? A superiority complex has roots in the fear of being inadequate, and in order to justify not being at the bottom you have to lie to yourself that you are better and everyone else is below you. But to me this is was a defensive measure. “If people don’t like me, I will dislike them right back because their opinion doesn’t matter anyways!” All this does is alienate yourself from your peers because you become so absorbed in a narrative where the world around you is wrong and your worldview is the only correct one. In a way, I feel like Yukino falls somewhere into this frame of mind. Her classmates in elementary school bullied her due to jealousy since she was off studying abroad and came from a wealthy background. So she convinced herself that those people weren’t worth her time and the only reason they spoke cruelly about her was because she was obviously superior. However, this only perpetuate the cycle with both sides equally pushing away from one another. This is why Yukino appears unapproachable, because she has been alienated by the school and from her own doing under the impression that she is too perfect.

Relationships

Hachiman

Hachiman is a self-proclaimed loner, and a hypocrite. After joining the Service Club, his charade of isolation, narcissism and self-assessed understanding of human relationships is tested and placed under inspection. He no longer is able to turn to his comforting ideal of being a longer because he is forced to interact with others as a result of the activities of the Service Club, whether or not he recognizes it as such. Clinging to these ideals long into the series proves as a test of his abilities and forces him to come to conclusions that might be unfavorable to him. Continuing to resolve conflict in his typical manner only results in unsavory feelings of resentment from his peers, even if they were successful in the end.

During the school trip with Tobe’s request, Hachiman’s conclusion is to take the fall in order to solve the conflict. Because of this, Yukino and Yui are upset at his way of handling things, and is evident through Yui stating “Spare a thought for how someone feels” and Yukino’s: “I hate the way you do things.” when reacting to Hachiman’s efforts with the Tobe request and the School Festival arcs respectively. The perspective of the girls show Hachiman essentially carrying the burden of responsibility and diverting the conflict towards himself instead of truly solving a problem, and as a result are upset to see him take the fall. Hachiman wants results regardless of the repercussions without explaining to others what he intends to do, weakening the sense of trust between the group. Likewise, Yukino is afraid of Hachiman’s destructive approach to approaching problems since he doesn’t seem to care about his perception in the eyes of the school, and ultimately the club. Yukino grows to fear the path Hachiman continues down, one that she was once familiar with and wants him to understand his flaws, but they are unable to truly understand one another. She holds a faint image of what Hachiman is in her mind and watches it diverge from the actions that the real Hachiman takes. To put it simply, YahariBento explains this as “… the author tries to explain how humans place expectations to other people by believing in the image of that person. The image that “the watcher” believes that what they understands is the truth because “the actor” presents her/his standpoint via remark, attitude and actions. So basically, both of them help one another to create this image. The final result is the watcher believes it, but will be betrayed by both of them later, when the watcher realizes that the image is not the truth…” (5). This essentially is bringing to question the trust between the club members and the disingenuous facade each person is constructing.

In episode twelve of season one, Yukino tells Hachiman that “You and I can’t be friends.” At the time, her reasoning is that she doesn’t feel like she knows him. My interpretation is that Yukino is not confident in truly understanding Hachiman, and fears her own inadequacy at the time. He has gone on to talk about how “She and I are completely different. That’s why all our conversations are refreshing.” and Yukino most likely understands that sentiment. However, she fears that she is inadequate to get close to him and complicate club activities while also “taking” Hachiman away from Yui, who also has feelings for him. She is also unable to properly understand if Hachiman is the person she thinks he is.

These feelings shape the inner conflict surrounding Yukino as we enter the second season of the anime. From the start of this new season, it is more visibly evident that Yukino is more self-conscious of the relationship between her and Hachiman, as well as how their relationship might be interpreted by onlookers. During the school trip, all the students are put into a new situation and it changes the lens at which they look at their relationships with one another. Being outside of a school setting transforms their perception of how they view their classmates, friends of teacher since it is not in the typical classroom setting. School trip, hot spring, and beach episodes in anime are particularly important due to this fact, providing a change of pace and altering the usual setting at which each of the characters grew to understand each other in. For example, seeing Hiratsuka-sensei in a casual setting might seem strange to the students who are so comfortable seeing her as simply their home room teacher.

So Yukino suggest suggests for her and Hachiman to return to the hotel separately during the school trip to avoid suspicion, and to not cue Yui in on the fact that they are meeting behind her back. Perhaps this is due to Yukino’s strong desire to maintain the mutual trust between her and Yui that she chooses to not provide any sense of confusion which will complicate their relationships. In a way she is unable to fully accept her selfish desire to be with Hachiman and recognizes it as such, but this brings to question her self-confidence and willingness to act. At the time I can assume it is because she has yet to fully commit to the idea of progressing their relationship and is not ready to confront the time when she will do something which will harm the group dynamic of the Service Club.

On a personal aside, I’d like to briefly relate this to my personal middle school class trip. We spent a week traveling to, visiting and returning from the nation’s capital. Initially this was a great change of pace to take a break from school, thinking about high school starting in the Fall, and just hang out with friends. However, this proved to be an interesting experience because even though this was a school organized event, everyone was outside of the classroom setting and allowed to essentially do what we wanted. It was the first time I shared a hotel room with two other guys, and we spent the time watching Family Feud, eating snacks from the vending machine, prank calling other rooms and talking late into the night. Being on an extended trip away from home as a teenager with a bunch of my peers allowed all of us to feel that sense of independence and strengthen our bonds as friends by sharing these new experiences with one another. Likewise, the teachers felt similarly and I was able to talk in a casual manner with some teachers I usually never talked to, discussing stuff like video games and movies like they were a distant uncle or aunt. That’s why I believe that the class trip in Oregairu was critical in introducing a new layer to the relationships of the characters since they were able to meet in with different pretenses. Previously it generally was under the pretenses of work for the Service Club, even if it was just an excuse.

“I’m sure she and I are similar on some level” (Ep 1, 13:19) observes Hachiman after assessing the type of person he perceives to be Yukinoshita Yukino upon their first meeting in the Service Club. However, the irony is that Yukino chooses to distance herself from Hachiman and instead favors Yui. For Hachiman, this seems strange since he believes they are of similar mindset, but she knows there is a clash of ideals between the two that cannot be overlooked. Yukino knows that she and Hachiman are fundamentally different in their view of their own self-image and goals. While Hachiman seems content with his life and treats his faults as strengths in a twisted way, and Yukino seems to recognize her faults and hates herself because of how she acts. She wants to change herself and the world for being wrong, while Hachiman believes that the world is the problem but chooses to blame it instead of attempting to confront his problems. His inability to understand the way Yukino feels creates a dissonance in their ability to understand one another, and is upset at Hachiman’s reluctance to confront his problems and accept change. More than anyone she feels like she understands the importance of changing oneself and wants Hachiman to understand that sentiment. Both unable to recognize this conflict, we are left to consider the quote “Knowing each other is one thing, but understanding is an altogether different matter” (Ep 3 6:13). With this in mind, Hachiman cannot recognize his own faults nor accurately view Yukino for who she really is, and Yukino is equally guilty at pretending to understand his mentality. Hachiman is clinging to the perception of Yukino he observed upon their first contact and is unable to evolve this image to change in accordance to the Yukino in front of him. He fails to understand her which only strains their relationship, evident through Yukino line of “And here I was sure you’d understand.” (Ep5 17:45) after overestimating Hachiman’s ability to understand her. This only serves as a set-up for him to misjudge her personality which he refuses to accept could happen. This is reinforced because he still tells himself such things as “Yukinoshita doesn’t lie” and ultimately the result is the finale of Zoku, in which he is forced to accept reality that “Yukinoshita is a strong girl. And so, I burdened her with the ideal image I had of her.” (Ep13 20:20).

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Family Dynamic

“Family reasons, huh…” Yukinoshita said. “Every family has them.”

She had a deep look of melancholy on her face that I had never seen before. She looked just like Taishi, who had come to tell us of his troubles. By that, I mean she was on the verge of tears.

“Yukinoshita…”

But as soon as I called out to her, the clouds covered the sun and a shadow came over her face. Because of that, I couldn’t read the expression on Yukinoshita’s downturned face clearly. But the mere sight of her feeble, drooped shoulders told me she had let out a short sigh.” (Vol 2 pg 111).

Mother & Expectations

In a perfect world, we’d like to think we had control over dictating the outcome of our life. In some ways we can, though there will always be forces outside of our control that we cannot include in out calculations and pose problems. However, in the case of the Yukinoshita family, the children have little say in the course of their life. To frame this properly, we must consider the status and expectations place upon the children of a powerful and influential family with successful parents, such that the children are almost forced into inheriting the family tradition and need to somehow meet or surpass their parents success. This is seen quite often as a theme in fiction as well as reality that can often lead young people to massive amounts of stress. We will begin to get a more clear picture of the mentality of Yukinoshita Yukino, as well as Haruno but beginning to examine their life through the lens of Japanese cultural traditions, family expectations and the mother’s role in this.

Jim Taylor Ph.D explains how “Ability expectations are those in which children are expected to achieve a certain result because of their natural ability, “We expect you to get straight A’s because you’re so smart” or “We expect you to win because you’re the best athlete out there.” The problem with ability expectations is that children have no control over their ability.” (7) Returning focus to Yukino, we can see her continued success inside the classroom as a byproduct of the expectations she has continued to live up to because of her family name, and has accepted it as normal. “In the end they always get jealous and avoid her” is how Yukinoshita Haruno puts it, and it is accurate to say that Yukino’s continued success has proved to set her aside from her peers in both a positive and negative sense. The Yukinoshita name continues to be held at a high regard, but at the same time she is distancing herself from her classmates due to widening the gap to which she would be approachable as a peer.

The reason for the continued academic achievement of the Yukinoshita children is largely due to the mother’s influence. Traditionally in a Japanese family dynamic;

“…the mother sets the expectations for the child. She creates a relationship with her child through amae, the desire to be passively loved. The child is dependent on the mother and is cared for unconditionally. It is the mother’s responsibility to raise her child with love and security.

The “Kyoiku Mama,” or Japanese educational mom, is dedicated to supporting the education of her children.4 The mother makes sure the child receives a quality education. If the child succeeds in school, the family is also considered to have succeeded. The child’s mother helps with homework, teaches discipline, provides a supportive home environment for studying, and is involved at school.” (8)

Because of the importance of the mother’s role in their children’s academic upbringing, Yukino’s mother has very likely been a major player in shaping the ideal of academic and extracurricular success, grooming them to one day inherit the family name. However, we later learn the bias of the mother towards Haruno since she is the eldest and already successful, thus pushing the importance of Yukino’s accomplishments to the background since she is no longer the heir to the family.

Now to look into the portrayal of mother Yukinoshita in the series to see just how she holds a strong grip on her children. In episode eight of the first season, Haruno says that their mother wants to meet her, which changes the weight of the scene. This is the first time we get insight to what type of person the mother is, and is evident with how Yukino reacts to the summon. She changes to a more serious attitude, puts up the “Ice Queen” front and leaves. Afterwards we learn that Hachiman didn’t see her again for the rest of the summer. From this first introduction, we don’t even have to see the mother to start formulating an idea of what kind of person she it. Due to prior foreshadowing, such as Yukino’s downcast expression when family issues were brought up, we can now start to assume that her mother is potentially the source of those feelings.

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Now, looking further into Zoku we finally get the first appearance of the mother whom is dragging Yukino down. She tells her “I want you to stay true to yourself and live freely, but I’m worried you’ll go down the wrong path.” (Ep12 21:03) but, contrasted with Yukino’s perception of her mother’s expectations:  “When mom decides something, she forces other people to follow.” We can see that there is a discrepancy in the viewpoints of these two parties. I interpret this as an illusion of choice, taking the side of Yukino. “The illusion of choice is a psychological mental model that states humans are happy if they believe that have control over their own actions and can exercise free will.  If free will is deprived, or seemingly deprived, from an individual, he or she will become resentful or rebellious, even if the choice forced upon him is identical to the one he would have selected of his own accord.” (9) Yukinoshita’s mother is controlling the lives of her children even if she might deny that presently. This is not as direct as we might think however, it is equally the result of the children not wanting to disappoint the authoritative figures of their parents. Yukino explains how “We all have our own personal image that’s dictated by others-” which is indicative of her perception of the control her mother has over her, further evident through her mother telling her that“I want you to stay true to yourself and live freely, but I’m worried you’ll go down the wrong path” in episode twelve of season two. Obviously, their mother cares about them, but perhaps it is for the selfish reasoning of wanting to uphold the family’s appearance as successful rather than simply wishing for her children to have a bright future. The latter is only a byproduct of the former so she can view this as a win-win despite not considering the wishes of her children. Now, taking Yukino’s statement at face value, we can conclude that while the mother does most likely have the best interests of her in mind, she is only viewing it from her own perspective and not that of what Yukino wants. Hachiman goes on to explain how “We all wish to remain true to ourselves, but who decides who we are as people?” In the case of Yukino and Haruno, they are shackled by the expectations of their mother and find it difficult to express themselves freely.

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Haruno & Self-Actualization

“Siblings are the strangers that live closest to you.”

Yukinoshita Haruno is an enigmatic figure, playing both the figure of an instigator and an older sister leading to mixed results between the relationships of the cast. We first are introduced to Haruno during episode six of season one, when Hachiman and Yukino spend a day together at the mall under the pretenses of finding a gift for Yui. This event facilitated an environment in which the two would experience a close- than-usual interaction, influencing their willingness to confine in each other. However, the important variable at play here was the unexpected appearance of Haruno, which is the first time we learn of her in the series. This first impression of her character allows not only for us to start to formulate a conflicted distaste for involvement, but also to serve as an agent to cause Yukino to react in ways unfamiliar to what she has shown before, vulnerability. I will refrain from discussing the intricacies of Haruno’s psyche, rather, I will focus on the role she plays in the series.

Yukino’s relationship with Haruno is complex, but can be interpreted as Yukino being jealous of her older sister, and resents that she feels that way. Much of the dynamic within the Yukinoshita family stems from the importance of their perception to others, and the continued success at upholding the family name. Naturally being the oldest, Haruno grew up with the expectation of being the figurehead representing the Yukinoshita family, thus making Yukino constantly living in her shadow of success and wants to prove herself. She confesses, “as for anything regarding my family’s reputation is Haruno’s Job. As for me… I’m a replacement.” Feeling that she isn’t regarded as “important” as Haruno, she desperately tries to fight for the affection of her parents through the only means to get their attention, which is academic success.

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Sibling rivalry is quite common, personally I can speak first hand of this. I have a younger brother whom is like my best friend. Despite this, I get the impression that we inadvertently try to one-up one another in sports and school. A healthy rivalry sparks competition between two parties creating the motivation to constantly improve upon oneself with the justification of outshining the other person. Ideally, this is all done with good intentions. In sports for example, my running club would train together through the week, each person urging each other onward, and during races we would all race and push each other to reach success which could not have achieved alone. Siblings act in a similar manner with a healthy relationship, like with me and my brother. However, this can also easily lead towards jealousy when one sibling perceives that another is receiving more attention or affection than them. “Sibling rivalry is more common in same-sex siblings since they share common desires and attributes and there is more room for competition. Sibling rivalry is more common in girls than in boys.” (6) explains Alexander K.D. Leung in his paper entitled “Sibling Rivalry.” In the case of the Yukinoshita siblings, we can see this rivalry evident, even if Haruno doesn’t engage in it directly. In fact, it is my understanding that Haruno’s ultimate goal is to lead Yukino out of her shadow and for her to find her own success.

“Yukino hasn’t changed a bit, always matching, always hand-me-downs” Haruno explains this when recognizing that Yukino is following her footsteps of going to the same university she attended. Yukino yearns for those feelings of familiar love, but they are not reciprocated to her, directly implied with her observation in episode thirteen of season two; “You two must be close. I’m envious of that.” Yukino, on some level, wishes for her mother to recognize her as an individual capable of success. However she has only been able to prove that by following the footsteps of her older sister, and as a result, not being true to herself. The paradox lies in the fact that Yukino cannot freely express herself without restricting her own life choices to those of her mother if she wishes to gain affection. Haruno understands this and wishes for Yukino to look at her perspective critically, learn from that, and move on to be her own person.

Haruno explains that the best way to spark development and unity is a desire to fight a common enemy. Using her statement as a basis for understanding her objective, I have concluded that Haruno’s goal was to act as a “villain” in order to motivate Yukino to grow as a person and test the concept of if their relationships are “genuine.” In much the same was as Hachiman approached conflicts in the past, she plays the role least desirable in order to achieve success directly. Hachiman even notices this and then asks “Did you purposely make-” leaving us to speculate what this means, though even he seems to be aware of her intentions. A redditor by the name of /u/johnbon7 explains Haruno’s actions as “deliberately antagonistic”(10) which I feel is an incredibly accurate description of her role in the series.

That said, I have grown to understand Haruno as the “instigator.” She is trying to incite the event in which would make it seem like she was that “villain” in order for Yukino can turn to her friends. Haruno’s plan would then either result in Yukino confining in her friends and strengthening their bonds, proving their “genuine” relationships, or going on to highlight their strained relationship if Yukino fails. Regardless of the outcome, Haruno seems to be testing the friendships of the group at the expense of taking the emotional toll on herself in much the same way Hachiman was prone to act. Either she is the agent of the mother or she wants the best for her sister, still unclear judging from an anime perspective. So, these actions are done with the intention of Yukino not following her footsteps. She is trying to insinuate change in Yukino by acting like the villain, so her sister finds her own path. During the concert at the end of season one, Yukino finally acts independently and remarks “This is the way I have always been. We’ve known each other for seventeen years. Maybe you never realized it.” evidently highlighting her growth over the course of the season. Yukino finally accepting herself and her standing in the family. Hachiman then says the compliment was unexpected, which Yukino responds by saying that she never hated her sister, but there was time when she wanted to be her. Haruno used to be her measure of success, a figure to look up to and to compete with. But eventually she was forced to accept that it’s impossible to become another person and she needed to stand on her own.

In Brown and Bosson’s dissection of narcissistic personalities, they found “that narcissists experience “both high and low self-esteem in alternation” (italics added, this issue). In support of this contention, Morf and Rhodewalt cite several studies that demonstrate associations between narcissism and fluctuations in state self-esteem” (12) This points to the fluctuation in people with narcissistic tendencies and could possibly serve to explain the evolution of Yukino’s personality. Her narcissism was just a cover to hide her true feelings, a veil of snow if you will, and when she began to realize her faults that layer melted away like the winter snow upon reaching spring. Unsurprisingly, the main agent of change is none other than Haruno, who’s name is written with “陽” meaning “the sun” (13) but is read as “Haru” meaning spring. Following the trend we have seen thus far in the series regarding names, Haruno is the foil for Yukino, the ray of sunlight to melt the snow in the start of spring. She was able to inflict a change in direction for Yukino’s feelings and ultimately instigating the majority of the character relevant changes after her introduction, who she plays a major role in.

Psychoanalysis

After examining the known forces influencing the psyche of Yukinoshita Yukino, we have begun to grasp a stronger understanding at the person she is. With this in mind, I’d like to return to a few moments during the series which could best be understood after understanding of Yukinoshita from the a psychoanalytic perspective.

To begin, we can generalize Yukino as being quite similar to Hachiman in action, but is more self-aware and critical. Meaning, while she does share some logical reasoning stemming from a point of her viewpoint towards society, it is not to the  narcissistic levels which Hachiman demonstrates. Psychologically speaking, narcissism originates from the basal human desire to seek approval and be regarded well by others. (11) Hachiman is a self-titled “loner” despite the visible contradiction of him having success in forming relationships with his classmates, yet he chooses to disregard those experiences in order to preserve his own ideal image of himself. It was quite interesting to discover a phenomena in which a narcissistic person will be likely to misread complex social situations due to psychological impairment. It is described as follows:

“…narcissistic myopia, a state similar to alcohol myopia. Alcohol myopia (Steele & Josephs, 1990) refers to a state in which only the most salient cues are processed due to decreased cognitive capacity. Because of decreased cognitive processing, contextual cues are neglected and complex deliberations are severely impaired. Given that complex processing demands are present in most social situations, it is not surprising that alcohol myopia has been shown to impair appropriate interpersonal judgment” (12)

With this in mind, Hachiman’s psyche begins to unravel and we begin to understand his unwillingness to let himself accept the true social discourse playing out in front of him. This is perhaps a reason why he is unable to unable to realize the evolution of Yukino, rather choosing not to accept it because he was too confident in his own assessment of her to begin with.

Later on in Zoku, Yukino confesses “All I ever did was act like I could do anything- like I understood everything” both serving as a means to explain her own shortcomings, but also wanting Hachiman to realize the faults he has despite the current success of his plans. Hiratsuka-sensei explains how Hachiman is good at calculating human emotions, but that is also his downfall. Case in point, with the Yukino and Yui situation, she told him this: “The last remaining answer- the one you can’t calculate- that’s human emotion” meaning that Yukino is not upset over what he is doing, rather what this makes them feel as a result. However, Hachiman finally begins to come to critically examine himself and the club throughout Zoku, and because of this we reach the conclusion to the Student Council Presidency arc.

The Student Council election, and festival serves as a means of concluding Yukino’s period of growth and testing her ability to understand herself. In the school festival arc, Yukino initially refuses to be chairwoman, but later accepts the position to help Sagami. Either this was because she regretted not taking the position originally, or because she was not confident in her ability to handle the responsibility of being an authoritative figure. Despite this, Yukino was seemingly serving as the person in charge of the committee rather than assuming role of assistant. I interpret this as her wanted to handle this herself as a way to prove that she can handle this responsibility alone. From what we’ve learned from her perception of success, living in the shadow of her sister’s reputation is creating conflict in her. On the one hand Yukino wants to prove her worth in succeeding in anything her sister Haruno could, but is then also conflicted that she is being manipulated by the authoritative rule of her mother unwillingly. Later in the episode Haruno shows up and this causes tension with Yukino because of the newly introduced pressure of being judged by the person she wants to prove herself to. Perhaps this pushes Yukino to refuses assistance after Sagami decides to screw everything up, in away to overburden herself and artificially give herself more responsibility. This unmoving stance of not wanting the help of others is a detriment to her only aiding her levels of stress, which ultimately cumulate in her having feigning a sickness to take a day off. Contrary to what Hachiman thinks, the fact that someone has always found a way to avoid relying on people, does not mean they should not get help when they need to. Yukino realizes the harm she is doing to herself and the superficial reasoning of proving herself to those around her.

Through my own experiences, I can empathise with the thought process in which Yukino feels the desire to unnecessarily burden herself with responsibilities. While not having gone to such lengths are her, I tend to get protective over my own projects and will often disregard the offers of assistance. I feel like this is more of my own distrust of other people in not being able to meet my own unreasonably high standards. Oftentimes I will have lofty goals to reach with ambitious projects and quality standards I expect only myself to follow and it will more often than not result in me getting agitated at the project or myself as it spirals out of control. Similarly to Yukino, I desire that control over the situation and fully assuming responsibility on the actions I take, but it’s not a viable option when the issue grows in scale. Sometimes the project is too difficult to tackle alone and trying to do so will on result in exhaustion and failure. Yukinoshita reached her limit on what she could assume responsibility of and ultimately had to abandon the duty she had taken on because of those reason. It was because of this that she started to understand that despite accepting the help of others, it was in no way accepting defeat. Relying on others only demonstrates the strength of your trust in them that they will assist you wholeheartedly, unless that’s a school group project. But in the case of Yui, Yukino had to realize that when she was overwhelmed she needed to come to understand that her friends were there to help her, but not used to that she was unable to consider that an option at the time. Eventually this understanding leads Hachiman to show concern for her, in his own way, by making Iroha student council president. Despite being displeased with the manner of which Hachiman burdens himself with the problems of others she was able to learn that one day there will be someone who will understand her, so long as she opened up her heart.

However, this change within Yukino also caused Haruno to respond with a rather cryptic warning, stating that it wasn’t trust growing in her but something more sinister. Haruno’s warning might have implied that she had realized the growing dependence and possibly even codependency that Yukino felt towards Hachiman. As explained by Wikipedia, “Codependency is a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.” Assuming that Haruno was being genuine with her warning, this would mean that she believes Yukino is enabling Hachiman in a way that would prevent him from realizing his problems and in turn, prevent his growth which would ultimately serve to help her. By not trusting Hachiman to help her and instead say nothing and make him worry, she is forcing his hand and the only way he can solve a problem is through his own extreme measures. Similarly, Yukino’s inability to genuinely trust Hachiman or Yui highlights the growing tension in the club, and with the mutual understanding of one another the trust is completely one-sided. Nobody can understand someone fully if they don’t display their emotions openly or express them to others. This is the precursor to what sparks Hachiman’s breakdown, in wanting something genuine.

Something Genuine

The height of the tension within the Service Club cumulates in one of the most iconic monologues of the series in Zoku. This is the first time we genuinely see Hachiman show emotionally vulnerability, allowing himself to also act as a representation of the feelings he has been holding back up until this point. Concerning the previously mentioned tension in the club, it was a result of the continued inability of the club members to allow themselves genuinely trust each other despite growing closer over the course of the series. Despite the common understanding within psychology that ninety-three percent of communication being non-verbal and only seven percent being verbal, the small percentage of that whole should not be disregarded, and was the flaw of the club members. They expected each other to read their emotions, Hachiman himself even prided himself in being able to read people but the continued stress of over analyzing simple emotions and miscalculations resulting in negative consequences led to his outburst. “There’s stuff others won’t get unless you say it loud. But sometimes, you can’t get through to people even if you spell it out.” (Ep 8 15:58) Even after asking someone how they feel, it’s difficult to take what they say at face value after previous doubting and critical examination due to that person not being fully open to discuss what was wrong. This is why Hachiman explains that “It’s not empty words I’m after. There was something I desired all along.” (Ep 8 17:12)

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Hachiman is tired of all the nonsense that has come as a result of the stress that came with his constant concern with the intricate emotions of those around him. He is tired of being in the dark and miscalculating what people say either because he overthinks what they say, or because they aren’t able to say what they really want. When there comes a point in which he even beings to doubt his friends, he realizes that something needs to change. Hachiman simply wants to understand people in a way where there won’t be any unknown variables, those being his source of stress and eliminating them will be the only way to give him true peace of mind. He doesn’t want friendship or mutual understanding. This roundabout way in which the Service Club members have accepted as normalcy is only straining their relationships, not saying what is on your mind only serves as a way to deter help instead of reaching out. Yukino doesn’t say what she really feels, and seeing Yui confused makes him finally understand that this is not how it should be. He wants something where they can have relationships where they’re free, unburdened by the enigmatic display of emotions they present each other. He understands this is unreasonable, out of reach, yet he still wants “something genuine.” A world in which people would say what they mean and open their heart to the world so that there won’t be any more confusion.

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Something genuine, “To preserve that place and time we spend there.” Hachiman is more empathetic than he has presented himself as and this is shown with his genuine concern for the future of preserving that the club means to him. All this parading around behind masks is what he despises about the “normies” in school yet he has let his own circle of friends down the same path and wishes to fix it. Since the buildup of tension in the club, they haven’t been able to sit down and drink tea together, which symbolized the time they would be able to recognize their bonds with one another. As Hachiman begins his monologue, his gaze lingers on the unused tea set and confesses “…There was something I desired all along.” (Ep 8 17:12) What he really wants is to return to the time when the three of them were able to drink tea after school, not seeing Yui so troubled when she unable to read the feelings of her best friend and Hachiman standing there feeling helpless.

After spilling his heart out, Yukino is still unable to fully comprehend the desire for something genuine. Perhaps she was unable to realize the true nature of Hachiman’s “request” believing that they were all friends. But it wasn’t until episode ten of Zoku in which she truly begins to understand what Hachiman desired all along. This is why after Hachiman thanks Yui and Yukino for fulfilling his request, they retort but saying it was not complete yet. They have accepted his request in a way he is not willing to understand, because between the two of them they have finally began to formulate what “genuine” means to them. Yui and Yukino desire something more than just friendship with Hachiman, and thus are unable to accept that their part in the request complete. After witnessing Hachiman’s desire to show vulnerability in spite of their perception of him breaking down, Yukino begins to accept her own desires, selfish or not. No more superficiality forming false friendships with each other, Yukino begins to want that genuine relationship too in her own way. In the end, Yukino finally realized her own final request as a result of this, she can’t lose to Yui. Prior to this she has only held back her feelings because she was not willing to sacrifice the bonds between her friends in order to be true to herself. However, the irony is that the bonds between her friends at the time were not genuine. Because of her hesitation and misreading of their relationships, her inability to express herself freely, ultimately was one of the pieces that led to the exposure of their false bonds. If the club’s friendships were genuine, Yui and Yukino would not have problem in confessing their love, but because of their lack of confidence in these bonds they did not want to strain them any further in order to be selfish.

“But you can’t call something genuine just because it makes you suffer”(Ep 8 10:28)- Hiratsuka-sensei

 

Conspiracizing

More Regarding Haruno’s Teasing

Now that I have unpacked the major points of discussing regarding Yukinoshita Yukino, I want to take some time to explore some decisive moments in the anime series. This is largely based off personal theories and might be proven to be false due to the possibility of the light novel exploring the nuances of said events in great detail later on the series. That said, this is mostly for fun, discussing some potential possible ways to interpret certain events.

As I have mentioned previously, Haruno was an enigmatic figure in the series that primarily served as a instigator with a concern for her sister. It is still mostly unclear whether or not she was genuinely wanting to help Yukino, or if she was there to sabotage the relationships of the group. This is largely shrouded in mystery due to the fact that we never really have gotten an explanation of her motivations and that a majority of the back story of the Yukinoshita siblings is still not available to use as a reference for psychoanalyzing them.

In Zoku, I observed that Haruno would often tease Yukino regarding the topics of love or a boyfriend. After seeing this as a running theme, I found it hard to concretely say if Haruno did in fact have good intentions. Being her older sister, I would assume Haruno would have a grasp of what kind of person Yukino was and knew how to avoid sensitive or embarrassing subjects. The result of this teasing had potentially adverse effects as Yukino was perhaps even more hesitant to proceed further with a relationship due to fears of harassment. This is seen when Yukinoshita reveals that “Back when we were kids, [my sister] would always mess with me at places like this.” when she and Hachiman are alone together at the amusement park, which is often seen as a cliché in romantic comedy type anime. Whether this was a means to stimulate the budding romance in the group, force Yukino out of her shell, or simply to harass her is quite unclear.

Personally, I find it difficult to express my emotions sometimes, and when someone would inquire about me having a crush I would instinctively deny everything. I think it’s quite common for people to avoid discussing such topics out of embarrassment because we either don’t want to be teased about it later on, or that the truth of our feelings would be made public. Though technically speaking, neither should be a problem. If we have confidence in the genuine relationship with the friends asking us there should not be a worry that they would maliciously harass us, or make it common knowledge about this disclosed information. Even if the person we are crushing on learns of out feelings, it really shouldn’t be an issue since it’s the truth. Because of this and knowledge of her goal to test the genuine bonds of the three, Haruno aligns more with “chaotic good” in that her involvement in the series is largely destructive towards character relations, but also acts as a way to be an overall instigator of change, regardless if those intentions are selfish or not.

Save Me

Hiratsuka-sensei explains to Hachiman that he is good at calculating human emotions, but in turn it proves to be his greatest flaw. With the Yukino and Yui situation, she told him this: “The last remaining answer- the one you can’t calculate- that’s human emotion.” This implies that Hachiman failed to take into account the emotions of those involved as a  byproduct of his actions. He was unable to see past his personal objective to fix the problem that the feelings of those involved were overlooked. You can’t calculate human emotions, our thoughts or the feeling of love. These are unexpected variables that one can never be certain as to how others will react without a greater understanding of them as people. This is why when Hachiman felt he had a firm grasp of the situations around him, it was only through his perspective with little regard for the emotional consequences, which was the fault he was constantly accused of. Yukino even vocalized this sentiment when she told him “I hate the way you do things.” in episode two of Zoku. Even Yui was uncharacteristically upset when she accusingly told Hachiman “spare a thought for how someone feels.” after the Ebina confession scene in the same episode. “…if you stick to your ways, you won’t be able to help someone when you most want to.” (Ep3 13:04)

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With this in mind, we head into episode nine of Zoku at the amusement park. As Yukino and Hachiman approach the next ride, clearly for couples, she hesitates and heavily implies that she is nervous. Hachiman misreads her body language and assumes she was referring to the ride itself, not the social implications of going into a love tunnel amusement park ride because he has yet to accept that both Yui and Yukino have feelings for him. He is unable to understand these complex emotions and seems to want to disregard them, because of his predisposition that romantic comedies don’t exist in the real world along with his warped perception of love. It is then at the peak of the ride, finally realizing that she can handle her own feelings and vulnerability being exposed, Yukino confesses “Hey Hikigaya, help me someday.”

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This is Yukino’s emotional climax and essentially the final step she had to take to finally move in a direction of change. She was able to accept that Hachiman will change his perception of her, and would understand the vulnerability of displaying her emotions to him. One day there will be someone who understands Yukinoshita, someone who can break through her shell. She wants Hachiman to be that person, the one to save her.

Later on the bench, it seems as if she is looking at a picture. For amusement parks, it is not uncommon for pictures to be taken on rides and be available for purchase when you get off, so it extremely like that is what Yukino has. Our suspicions are confirmed when she hides it quickly upon Hachiman’s return with drinks, and this is when she opens up to him. She begins by telling him “I was always the obedient unproblematic girl, but I also knew they called me stuck-up, unlikable and the like behind my back” confirming the idea that she would conform to the wishes of her family in order to remain unproblematic. Perhaps afraid of the consequences, then eventually accepting that behavior as normal until recently. What changes all this was her desire for something that neither Hachiman or her sister had. She wanted something that could only be attainable without trying to pretend to be someone else, something only attainable by Yukinoshita Yukino, she wanted to please herself. Going on the ride was her first step in moving towards her progress at displaying affection towards Hachiman in her own way, despite Hachiman being unable to realize this. Yukino realizes that she needs to stop comparing herself to others for her identity and needs to learn and become the person her heart truly desires.

In episodes ten, she carries this sentiment when dealing with the planning committee: “Making vague statements for actual communication and understanding, while never lifting a finger… It will never create anything, never improve anything, and never help anything. It’s nothing but a sham.” Yukino continues her habit of unveiling her person philosophy through her statements towards others. The previous episode allowed her to develop and with this understanding she applied it to the stalemate at the meeting. This is most likely unintentional, but it goes to reinforce that her way of thinking has been changed as she reveals it herself regardless.

The last variable is Hachiman, and if he is willing in accept the change that his peers have. Youth is about developing physically, academically and emotionally yet Hachiman clings to his ideals because he wants to disassociate with the idealization of youth, or “seishun”. He has always been an outsider and likes to still think of himself that way even if it’s false. He needs to undergo the same evolution as Yukino if he truly wishes for something genuine. In the last episode of Zoku, we see the seeds of change planting themselves in his mind. He thinks to himself “Yukinoshita Yukino is a strong girl. And so, I burdened her with the ideal image I had of her.” before the final title card falls with the message “Spring Always Comes to Life/Buried Underneath a Pile of Snow.” Hachiman was only finally able to internalize his shortcoming when it was already too late, and most likely will change his ideology. He himself wished to understand people, but in the end he failed to meet his friends half-way and remained stagnant. As a result he ended up hurting both Yukino and Yui with only himself to blame, and he understands this at long last. As for the title card, I like to think of this as illustrating the parallel trajectory of Yukino and Hachiman. For the longest time, Yukino hid her feelings under a veil of snow, the snow under the snow. Hachiman is similarly doing this, by refusing to accept change. However, though understanding of one’s faults and changing yourself for the better, the layers of snow can melt away and finally reveal the beautiful flowers of spring below. All that needs to happen is for you to allow your heart to thaw.

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Afterward

Why Yukino Means a lot to Me

Thought the psychological analysis and use of personal anecdotes, I have felt that I personally have found some closure in understanding this character. Her development as a character through the two seasons was had a profound impact. Yukinoshita Yukino is such an important character for me, and even more so through the writing of this paper. Her evolution from the “Ice Queen” to a vulnerable girl really highlights how much people can change over time, and it resonated so much with me. I’m sure there are plenty of Oregairu fans out there that were initially drawn to the show because we projected our thoughts onto Hachiman. But for me I guess these were only the thoughts that I wanted for be my own. In a way, the persona of Hachiman lived inside me and only came about because of consistently being excluded from social situations and I was alienated by my peers. So the cynical thoughts served as a crutch for me to accept my situation as it was and continue onwards lying to myself. But thought witnessing the evolution of Yukino through the series, I started to connect with her more than I thought I would. It was in seeing her develop to accept herself despite the implications of others judgement was I able to learn the faults in myself. I needed to be true to myself, I needed to desire something that only I could and stop aligning with the malicious thoughts I had come to form because I was secretly depressed but failed to recognize that, instead hiding under a veil of snow to protect myself. I still find it difficult to genuinely come to accept the lessons I’ve learned and put them into practice, but at the very least I was able to recognize my own faults. Much like Hachiman, I am in a place where I recognize that I have been wrong, but am at the crossroads of continuing down the path of destruction or rehabilitation. Though, as cheesy as it sounds, I remind myself how Yukino was able to move past her narcissism and change in spite of the external factors holding her back. Even if I don’t change into an optimist, I have come to understand that change can happen, even to the “Ice Queen.”

But regarding Yukino in a more lighthearted lens, she is my self-proclaimed waifu. It’s probably obvious simply due to the serious dedication of writing a lengthy dissection of her character and this series. To reiterate what I had touched on in the Introduction of this paper, I was originally a kuudere guy. I was particularly infatuated with Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and she was the first character that could be considered my waifu, but it was mostly due to the fact that I found her aesthetically appealing. At the time I wasn’t seriously into the idea of waifuism nor was I deep enough into otaku media that I actually was able to understand the love between a fictional character. For that matter, I never really understood love. But then as I watched Oregairu I started to feel the feelings of attraction blossoming inside me, I desired to see this character more and she charmed me in a way I thought impossible. I was initially starstruck at the beautiful dark-haired maiden who spoke harshly to the main character and was instantly infatuated in a way I thought impossible. But it wasn’t until the completion of both seasons when I realized I was in over my head. The logical part of my brain argues that waifuism is dumb, but I can’t help the strong feelings of admiration and affection I feel towards Yukino. This is why I believe in the power of writers to create such human characters that blur the line between fiction and reality. Through all my hardships and lonely nights, I was able to keep my head in the right place because of the reminder that I cared for someone and love still existed in this world, even if the person was two-dimensional. No, love existed in spite of the cruelty of this world and transcended dimensions. Destructive, mostly likely, but I cannot deny the fact that learning to love Yukino has helped me in times of distress and has overall served as a force to keep me accepting that love isn’t all for naught instead of succumbing to the cynical worldview that has crossed my mind many times alone.

Retrospective & Regrets

I impressed myself that I have come this far! Seriously, this is easily the longest paper I have written and has been a considerable amount of work to produce this, which is why I am afraid of sharing it. I have my doubts that this will even be relevant and I never planned it to be. This is, in the end, a surface level biased analysis of a character whom I claim to be my waifu. Honestly, there most likely isn’t anything in this paper that is worth anything as most of it is potentially just reiterating known information. But despite my lack of confidence, I was able to reach a point where I was moderately satisfied with this paper. In the end, I feel that some of my personal analysis fall short. A lot of what I write relies heavily on my own personal references as a basis for understanding some of the nuance in the character action of Yukino so it’s hard to imagine a stranger being able to fully understand that. Similarly, I’m no expert in human emotions and will admit that I have difficulty understanding people. I’m terrible at reading emotions and it took me a while even with this anime series to distill the important information and structure it just so that I would get a proper understanding of the characters. Characters like Haruno were extremely troubling for me, as I felt like I was taking shots in the dark as to what she possibly was planning on doing. In reality, I have one real friend and find it difficult to form bonds with people because of my lack of understanding and failure to learn these crucial interpersonal skills as a result of my childhood.

This was a huge undertaking for me, not only because I wanted to fully explain this character but also because I really wanted to do justice to the character of Yukinoshita Yukino. Even now, nearing well over 12,000 words I still feel that this sufficiently capture the essence of who Yukino is. It is this dilemma that kept me from even starting this paper. The constant self-doubting, the lack of self-confidence and my overly self-critical nature that can never accept the quality of my own work. I didn’t want to do a disservice to a character I care so much for so I ended up blowing this project out of proportion in the beginning. To give some back story, I initially rewatched Oregariu in April 2018, during which I took notes with the intention of writing a comprehensive analysis of my favorite character. It was because of the previously stated reasons, of which setting my standards too high, that I ended up being discouraged to even starting this project after I noticed I had over ten pages of notes alone. So I put the notes in a folder deep into my hard drive and decided that I could just give up. However, the urge to write never died down and I found the motivation to write this paper. For both myself and the community. Even if this was all nonsensical rambling using a bare minimum grasp of psychology, I wanted to create this. I had come to far to turn around and here I am, nearly complete and the weight finally off my chest. I guess it is paradoxical to ever want to cover a topic with one-hundred percent accuracy, because my own critical nature will never let what I have as “enough.” I still hold a shred of self-doubt within my that knows that I probably missed something in the light novels that I haven’t finished, or some nuanced moment of characterization in the anime that could dispel anything I presented in this paper and I guess I will have to live with that.

Lastly, I want to point anyone towards the excellent blog YahariBento: https://yaharibento.wordpress.com/ They write my personal favorite analysis of Oregairu, reaching levels of understanding I can only aspire to reach. I references one of their posts in my own paper, but have also used their blogs as reference to help grow my personal understanding of the series, serving as my favorite supplement to the anime and light novel.

Anyways, thank you so much for making it this far, I really hope this analysis has come to help you understand Oregairu or Yukinoshita Yukino further, or simply served as an interesting read taking into account one man’s take on the series. If I missed anything or simply wish to contribute to a peaceful discussion, please feel free to share your thoughts and potentially correct anything I might have missed in this paper. Once again, thank you for reading, have a nice day.

References

  1. 雪. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2019, from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/雪#Kanji

 

  1. Cook, V. (n.d.). Reduplicative Words. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from http://www.viviancook.uk/Words/reduplicatives.htm

 

  1. Campbell, M. (n.d.). Japanese Names. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from https://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/japanese_names

 

  1. Yukino Yukinoshita. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2019, from https://oregairu.fandom.com/wiki/Yukino_Yukinoshita

 

  1. Y. (2015, August 25). Oregairu Analysis – Why are Yukinoshita Yukino (雪ノ下 雪乃) & Yuigahama Yui (由比ヶ浜 結衣) So Angry at Hikigaya Hachiman (比企谷 八幡) (During The School Trip)? [Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Season 1 Ep 10-12 & Zoku Season 2 Ep 1-2]. Retrieved February 13, 2019, from https://yaharibento.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/oregairu-analysis-yukinoshita-yukino-yuigahama-yui-angry-hikigaya-hachiman-school-trip/

 

  1.  Leung, A. K., & Robson, W. L. M. (1991). Sibling rivalry. Clinical Pediatrics, 30(5), 314-317.

 

  1. Taylor, J., Ph.D. (2010, November 4). Parenting: Expectations of Success: Benefit or Burden. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201011/parenting-expectations-success-benefit-or-burden

 

  1. Bennet, L. (n.d.). Expectations for Japanese Children. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from http://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/yl/1003/100306.html

 

  1. Kennon, J. (2010, December 17). Mental Model: The Illusion of Choice. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://www.joshuakennon.com/mental-model-the-illusion-of-choice/

 

  1. /u/johnbon7 (2015, June 23). Haruno’s character ,motivations and analysis. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://old.reddit.com/r/OreGairuSNAFU/comments/3aurdt/harunos_character_motivations_and_analysis/#ampf=undefined

 

  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Narcissism as addiction to esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 12(4), 206-210.

 

  1. Brown, R. P., & Bosson, J. K. (2001). Narcissus meets Sisyphus: Self-love, self-loathing, and the never-ending pursuit of self-worth. Psychological Inquiry, 12(4), 210-213.

 

13.https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%99%BD#Kanji

 

14.https://anime.stackexchange.com/questions/23670/what-does-it-mean-by-hikigaya-hachiman-s-desired-genuine-thing?rq=1

 

15.https://old.reddit.com/r/OreGairuSNAFU/comments/aecshb/when_haruno_refers_that_yukino_doesnt_really/

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Regarding “Tate Yuusha no Nariagari” and power fantasy isekai

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During the early fall when “Tensei shitara Slime Datta Ken” started airing I got a bit obsessed with isekai again. I suppose one could consider my first introduction to this style of storytelling with Sword Art Online, that is if we consider it a true isekai but that’s besides the point. Isekai is a weird subgenre since it has experienced a huge surge in popularity in recent years, and as a result we have an oversaturated genre with not just anime but manga and light novels. That said, the oversaturation can be seen to have benefited the subgenre by forcing authors to be more creative with their isekai stories resulting in a lot of gimmicks. It has become a bit of a meme now to see a weird gimmicky isekai story about an average Japanese guy getting hit by a truck and getting reincarnated in a traditional RPG-esque world with the same tired tropes after that. Sometimes we have them getting reincarnated as a non-human race, starting over as a child, or as a villain adding more “originality” to their own take on isekai. Despite this once the gimmick has lost its novelty factor the story will often devolve into a power fantasy featuring an overpowered main character and an endless stream of new girls for his ever-growing harem. It’s obvious to understand the baseline appeal of isekai storytelling just at a glance, but sometimes we get something different that approaches the subgenre in a refreshing way that makes us look at the tired tropes and reconsider our declaration that the subgenre is objectively awful.

The opening scenes of “Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari” starts off with a powerful first arc and delivers exactly what it wants the viewers to expect moving forward. The story begins awfully standard with a seemingly average young Japanese guy named Naofumi Iwatani getting summoned to another world after reading a weird novel in the public library. It is then revealed that he is one of four legendary heroes that has been summoned to a world in danger of “The Wave” and he is a “Shield Hero.” However during the first confrontation with King Melromarc we already see the predisposed feelings the people of this country feel towards Iwatani when he is ignored and not taken as seriously as the other heroes. This is because he was chosen as a shield hero, a decidedly inferior class due to the lack of offensive abilities in combat and as we later learn, apparent lack of knowledge about fantasy worlds because apparently Iwatani hasn’t played enough MMO’s. He is set up to fail from the beginning, because even if he becomes strong like his fellow heroes the public opinion of him wouldn’t accept that he an equal. Then everything goes dark.

Tate Yuusha no Nariagari has something I have been looking in an isekai anime since it was exactly what I wanted to see tackled in this type of story- what happens if the summoned character despises their situation? One could argue that Sword Art Online attempts this, but only in the Aincrad arc it seemed, and even then the characters seem to still make the best out of their life in the game and experience happiness. However with Tate Yuusha, Iwatani gets the opposite treatment than what we’ve grown to expect. The Sword, Spear and Bow heroes are regarded as powerful warriors, get the girls and shine in the spotlight when they achieve brave feats in battle. Iwatani was already discriminated against from the beginning and never managed to get on equal footing to his peers. This is why he is manipulated and tricked. This isn’t you typical escapist fantasy world that we are used to seeing, this is a story of redemption.

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Naofumi Iwatani an otaku, in the novel he is often relating what he experiences to that of a manga or anime so it is safe to assume he is familiar with isekai. In the beginning when the summoned heroes are given party members he is left alone, and being a defensive hero there is literally nothing that he could do alone. Then a suspiciously beautiful girl offers to join him and give him a hand. As a novel reader, this was particularly difficult to watch since I already knew his fate, and the anime adaptation did a fantastic job at giving enough tale-tell signs of what was in store for Shield Hero. In short, Iwatani was manipulated because he fell for the same tropes he was used to reading about. Malty was never trying to be his companion and was only using Iwatani’s desire to be an isekai protagonist to her advantage. In his mind, Iwatani is relieved that he finally has a companion to help him level up, and there’s a hope that he could start a relationship with the girl who clung to him and offered to help the weakest hero. He was not seeing the truth for what it actually was, only what he wanted to see. He desperately wanted to get stronger and live out a power fantasy that he didn’t really stop to consider the implications of spending a vast majority of his initial resources on a party member he only just met.

To address the elephant in the room, there’s the rape allegations and the portrayal of Malty which apparently is a source of controversy. I saw this coming a mile away as a novel reader, this story isn’t shy to tackle dark themes and extremely sensitive topics about society. I believe this whole “controversy” is being looked at from the wrong perspective and not being addressed critically. To elaborate, the isekai subgenre traditionally has been a male biased in terms of narrative and depiction of characters with a few exceptions. That means that male readers are the large majority of the fanbase, so obviously a story portraying women as villainous manipulators clearly shows that this series is an extreme MGTOW propaganda story right? If you want to make sweeping generalizations yes, but here’s exactly why that is wrong. Tate Yuusha is, in my opinion, more akin to a critical think piece about critically exploring the common isekai tropes that we have grown tired of. It reinterprets them from a cynical perspective and subjects the main character to the opposite of what we expected from this subgenre. To start, Naofumi Iwatani is a university student, stingy with money, and a huge otaku. Truth be told, that is likely a 1:1 representation of the target audience and it fits me to a tee. Because of this, we can see a lot of ourselves in the role of Iwatani, being a loser and fantasizing about the joys of adventuring in a fantasy world without worries, but unfortunately he got much worse. Our first characterization we get of Iwatani in the anime is in the opening scene where he bumps into some girls outside a store and they ignore him, which is sadly not an uncommon reaction to expect. Iwatani is a bit of an oddball and an otaku and is most likely not experiences with women. Not to go too far down the /r9k/ train of thought here, it’d be not wrong to assume Iwatani doesn’t have a healthy view of the opposite sex, like other frustrated youth of his age. It’s not that uncommon for both sexes I’d imagine, especially in the modern society we live in today so much of the audience might understand his perspective. Iwatani is already biased in his thought towards women before going to the fantasy world, and there when everyone turns on him and he is manipulated by a women he reacts reasonably to how his personal philosophy interprets the situation. He allows Malty to take advantage of him for being naive, and then as a result he suffers the consequences. It’s not against the rules to make a manipulative female character a villain, she is using the tools at her disposal to her advantage.

Let’s face it, isekai doesn’t automatically make you a harem god just because you are special, you are still the same otaku loser you were back in Japan. In a sense, Iwatani was wrong but his naivety was his downfall. This is no justification towards his perspective, rather I want to highlight that the moment he decides that he can start over fresh in a new world, maybe meet “the one” and have a better life, he is just reminded of the way he used to think. However, at the end of the day, manipulative people are out there that just want to use others to further their own ambitions and it doesn’t matter how you feel about it to them. Iwatani was just a victim because he was expecting something that was never promised. This series interprets the themes of a typical isekai through a cynical lens which highlights the inherent problems and results of believing in the escapist fantasy.

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I’ve heard Tate Yuusha no Nariagari described as a “revenge isekai” and I suppose it could be categorized as one, but I feel like it is more a redemption story. Iwatani avoids execution because he is a hero, but is treated like human filth because he was exploited. This is why he is pushed to the edge and is a pseudo-anti-hero. He was pushed to the point of forcing himself to resort to violence and dirty tactics to win. The game was rigged from the start for him, but being ostracized by the world only pushed him to the mindset of not caring anymore about how he won, because it wasn’t even fair to begin with. This is why the last scene of the first volume of the light novel was so emotionally resonant, those who read it know what I am talking about. Iwatani isn’t a bad person, but being subjected to unjust treatment shapes his world view. A lot of people might be able to relate to this, a wrongful accusation when you feel like the whole world is against you, so you hate the world back. But then from the darkness, a hand extends and tells you that you are (not) alone.

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Growing up and losing everything

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I think it goes without saying that the narrative of Shinsekai Yori is dark, one that is not afraid to express itself with violence and themes which are sometimes a difficult pill to swallow. When I was nearing the end of this anime, I wasn’t all that impressed since what was actually presented to me was artistically beautiful, yet felt empty. There was a certain amount of meditation that needed to be done to really start to sort out my thoughts about what I could extract from this show. Ultimately upon reflecting on Saki’s journey to adulthood, I reminded myself of the quote from episode 18 that made everything fall into place for me- “Back in the days of our youth, the world seemed grand and full of dangers. But once we had grown older and acquired out Canti, we felt that nothing would be able to scare us anymore.” This show was just a fantastical depiction of a coming of age tale, but leaned more towards that of tragedy and grief.

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Saki lost all of her friends, her parents, and the person she used to be. The tangible losses could be counted, but we can’t measure the impact of her spiritual journey that shaped her outlook on the world. Using the aforementioned quote as a reference, Saki has come to learn of the darkness in her world, that which her childhood self never could have imagined. We can look at this from two perspectives; that of “ignorance is bliss” or interpret her gained knowledge as acceptance of reality. I often ask myself the question of “would I be better off not knowing ____, would I be happier?” It’s not possibly to accurately answer this question since I’d either look back on my life before understanding with rose-tinted goggles, or weigh the improvement my life has had as a result of said knowledge. However, when the fundamental truth we learn is one that is difficult to accept, sometimes we wish to not know because it ultimately changes what we think of reality. Ignorance will momentarily keep you blissfully unaware of the world outside your vision, but once the veil comes off the truth will be there. I think it can be thought of along the lines of whether you want to pull the bandage off, or if you want your parents to do it for you. For Saki, she is forced to confront the reality of her world, and watching her friends become consumed with darkness and leave her behind. This results in her tragedy, which was an extreme loss of innocence.

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“A “loss of innocence” is a common theme in fiction, pop culture, and realism. It is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a person’s life that leads to a greater awareness of evil, pain and/or suffering in the world around them.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innocence#Loss_of_innocence). Looking at how Shinsekai Yori explores Saki’s loss of innocence, it is quite apparent due to the prolonged exploration of her adolescence and watching her approach adulthood. Returning to the idea of “ignorance is bliss”, Saki was led on by curiosity in her youth because there was a sense that there was something important she was unaware of. Did she really have a sister, why was she gone and why did she have no recollection of this major event? But alas curiosity will eventually kill the cat, except in this case the cats will kill you for the same offense. The unfortunate thing is that curiosity gets the best of us humans, and is one of the primitive extincts we have. A taste of the truth is enough to get us interested even without knowing if we want to know the rest and what the consequences are. But I think Maria explains this best, “I think there are probably many things in this world we are better off not knowing… Sometimes the truth is the cruelest of all” (Maria, EP11). Even if this “truth” is not objective, our interpretation of it will shape our perspective and we see how Saki feels about this: “…But once we had grown older and acquired out Canti, we felt that nothing would be able to scare us anymore.” This is why I think Shinsekai Yori is quite depressing upon retrospect, just examining the coming of age story with Saki.

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To be able to compare the child who first entered the Cantus users academy to her adult version gives quite the perspective. Saki lost nearly everything, on one occasion she expresses her concern for Satoru by explaining that if he dies, she will be the only person from her old school friend group still alive. Not only that, her parents were killed in a Queerrat invasion of their city and she had no home to return to. This could possibly be why she was saddened by the fate of the Fiend she defeats in the end, because that was the child of her friends Maria and Mamoru. Its death severed the only connection she had to her old friends. That child who was raised as a Queerrat and was unaware of their own humanity, yet was forced to be eliminated because of the danger they posed to society as a whole despite being unaware of the danger they posted to their own kind. Shinsekai Yori was a tragedy despite the misdirection with an optimistic ending, elements of darkness still loomed in the shadows. Satoru and Saki married and were expecting a child, but then we see Satoru raising young Tainted Cats alongside her wife that only serve to provide unsettling imagery that expresses that nothing in this world has changed. Ultimately, Saki did not change the world nor improve it and her note in episode 25 explains “Can we really change? You, the reader of this text a thousand years from now, should know the answer. I hope the answer is yes.” The society was not a utopia, but it was a world that only served the purpose of preserving the human race. In the end, it was successful at its job despite the moral implications of the expulsion of deviants and was only really challenged by extremist outside force. Perhaps Saki and Satoru viewed this system as wrong, but ended up conforming to it as an adult because it was the only choice. Or perhaps we should examine Saki’s wish in a more philosophical sense, one bringing into question humanity’s righteousness considering the atrocities they subjected the Queerrats to, which was just a genocide.

Humanity was the only villain in Shinsekai Yori. Humans fighting amongst themselves, challenging their own rules and their internal struggle to accept reality. The Queerrats served, in a metaphorical sense and somewhat literal, the discrimination of humans amongst themselves in society and the denial of rights to those they perceive as lesser than those in power. However, the adolescence of Saki depicted in Shinsekai Yori and her forced understanding of the dark reality she lives in, with an ultimate acceptance of it. “An object of fear changes to one of hope…” captures this, in that what she once grew to fear changes to and understanding and ultimately hopes that the future generations can come to understand and change.

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Rambling about the point of art and finding meaning in anime or something

I think I missed the point of Bunny Girl Senpai and that doesn’t bother me, I still didn’t like it. Continually watching this show weekly with a friend online, I only really had motivation to return to it because we were in it together despite our feelings towards the show. Every week however, I felt like something was not there that a vocal majority of the community seemed to be understanding. My ignorance to “the point” this particular anime was trying to make, or the appeal of it passed me by. Perhaps this is largely to do with my incessant problem with the seasonal watching culture, or perhaps it was due to the inherent problems with this show as it stands. What if I am the problem? I did enter the show with a negative predisposition that it was not as good as its contemporaries, which it was wrongfully being compared towards, or maybe it’s just that I couldn’t seem to like the characters. I was aware of the comparisons towards Oregairu and Monogatari, some of my favorite and most beloved series so I had unreasonably high hopes for this new show to somehow launch itself to the heights of the unreachable greatness that I hoped it could. Now let’s take a step back, expectations will always be let down when held too high, that much is obvious. However, I was mostly curious about exploring the idea of “missing the point” of an anime, and what that entails. I’m going to follow-up this claim with some scattered thoughts.

Let’s assume all things have meaning, and thus anime has meaning. This claim is much to broad however, meaning is completely arbitrary and subjective, to and extent. In literature class we were always taught about the vague differences between the true meaning and false readings of what the author intended, or at least what the consensus of people agreed that intention was. I was taught to think of this concept like a flashlight shining in the darkness, where anything in the light was considered correct while the further you moved away from the center of the beam, the further you strayed from the truth. On the one hand, it seems wrong to try to be able to distinguish a correct interpretation from an incorrect interpretation from an abstract piece of work. But on the other hand, there is such thing as assigning meaning where none belongs. But is it really so wrong, to be wrong?

In academia, the only really limitation to understanding art is the instructor and the worry about reaching a false conclusion on a paper. Outside that realm of the classroom is a different story though, where we reach a point where the consequences for misinterpretation only will warrant being ostracized on a forum or something. To bring this back towards anime, let’s say one watched Evangelion and understood it differently and took less meaning out of it that I had, and because of it they understood Shinji as no more than a weak-willed protagonist. In my perspective it would appear to me that they did indeed miss the point of the story, but their meaning is just as important to them as it is to me because meaning is tied to one’s personal experiences.

My personal example with a situation similar to this is when I read Densha Otoko. It depicted the rapid change of one otaku as he attempted to win the heart of a regular woman, though the help of 2ch. Personally, I absolutely could not stand this story and found the message to be advocating the need to change to find a significant other. It is within my personal belief that changing yourself for someone else is only lying to yourself and the other person because that isn’t who you really are, and changing for them will only result in you leading a false life. This is because I have a personal experience in which I tried to lie to myself and deny my own personality quirks in order to get closer to people I really didn’t belong with, because of a girl. Thus, my predisposed feelings towards this type of situation made me interpret the story as one advocating disingenuous change and looking down on otaku culture because of the success the main character had because of it. Nothing can change my mind that I thought the message of the manga was good even if my interpretation was indeed biased.

Now to shift the focus to look at Lucky Star, it doesn’t come across as a modern commentary on the social roles in contemporary Japan or anything, it’s anything but that. It was a cute moeblob show following a group of friends in the truest form of the genre “slice of life” that I have seen. There are the lives of these girls depicted in no glorification, just showing them as is and providing characterization through these mundane events. Because of this it feels like a very natural progressions of learning about these characters, their relationships and the era they inhabit. There isn’t anything more to derive from this show besides what is presented and that’s why I believe it’s brilliant in what it is. Lucky Star doesn’t have an artistic purpose, there is nothing you can miss from it, but still it is not universally accepted as a masterpiece.

These were just long-winded examples to explain this; we each have a point of view. This means that our point of view is composed of all the experiences, morals and emotions that make us unique. This allows us to have a different perspective on the art we consume because we all see everything a bit differently even if the meaning is made clear. With Lucky Star, I know that not everyone likes how boring it comes across because nothing happens, and I love it immensely for the same exact reason. Neither perspective is objectively right because the meaning we each find in the experience of watching Lucky Star is intrinsically tied to the type of person we are not and is telling of the type of anime we like. I wrote before when talking about cultivating a favorites list: “Learning what is important in media for you personally is the most important thing because once you begin to understand what you like and why you like it is the first step to cultivating your identity as an otaku.”

I think the meaning to be found in art is a result of who you are as a person and it should not be another way. The emotions of a person should allow them to bring themselves closer to the art they experience because of the connection they will for with it. This means that my deeply personal connection towards Welcome to the NHK might not be even remotely close to the next persons because we are completely different people, and that’s what makes art great. The meaning we derive from watching anime is no different, and so is the level of enjoyment. Some people are more attracted towards high-impact action shows with bombastic comedy and bright colors, whereas others might be more comfortable watching a comfortable slice of life show with cute girls and a subdued color palette. Who we are determines our opinions and out personal beliefs dictate our stance on morals that direct our interpretation on art. I completely missed the point of Bunny Girl Senpai and I still can sleep at night, because I don’t need to like this show, nor understand why I should. Something about that anime just didn’t resonate with me on the level it might have for you and that doesn’t matter if either of us have conflicting opinions. In short, we are different people and everything is subjective… nothing profound to conclude with here.

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Thinking about denpa while watching Boogiepop Phantom

Working through Boogiepop Phantom was not my favorite anime viewing experience, but possibly one of the most unusual due to the overall aesthetic presentation of the show. The story was obtuse, especially so for those like me who were not familiar with the source material prior to watching the anime which acted as a sequel to the novel. Despite this, I could not help but be drawn in the intense style emanating from this anime that reminded me of a particular themes I discovered one day browsing 4chan.

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I used to be a frequent visitor of the board /jp/ mainly for the Comiket music threads and Train threads, mostly lurking and occasionally looking into the threads other users would create that would often inform me of something I was not aware of at the time. One day I stumbled across a “Denpa Music Thread” which intrigued me because I like to listen to all kinds of obscure Japanese music so I started looking into this style which I was not familiar with. However, besides the somewhat hypnotic trance that one would slip into when listening to denpa music, I was surprised to learn of Denpa-kei, or the denpa style which extended beyond music. I learned more about this in a now deleted video by the Youtuber “KenjiTheEnji” who made an information video about Denpa-kei. Because of this one video and the introduction to a fascinating Japanese subculture, the aesthetic influences of a show like Boogiepop Phantom became more apparent and much more interesting with it in the back of my mind.

“Denpa (電波) literally means Radio waves (or any other kind of radiation coming from electronic devices). Therefore (as a slang) a “Denpa” (or Denpa-kei 電波系) person is someone who looks like he’s constantly receiving and transmitting radio waves; usually weird and delusional individuals who don’t try to connect with people around them and act in erratic and incomprehensible ways. They could be seen as incoherent, creepy, or insane people.” (http://denpa.omaera.org/culture.html). With this in mind, I could not help but continuously remind myself of the denpa-kei influences in the character writing of Boogiepop Phantom. I believe one of the prime examples for characters in the series who exemplify this style is Tomo and Suganuma.

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Right off the bat, episode one displays an unexplained energy beam going off into the night sky that causes electronics to go haywire. This is later implied to be some sort of catalyst to the series of events that follow and some explanation as to why weird events are occurring in the city. Meanwhile, this episode focuses on a girl named Tomo to paranoia and essentially succumbing dissociating with reality. It appeared as if she had become increasingly distant with one of her best friends due to the other girl maturing at a quicker rate while Tomo was left behind. So Tomo felt left behind after what appeared to be her only friend leaving her behind so she started to lose her connection with her peers and eventually society around her. She grows more detached, drifting between events and starts to grow incredibly paranoid. We can see her wiping her hands obsessively to the point of skin irritation, and disinfecting door handles before touching them. I’d imagine this is a result of her extreme mental state wanting to keep herself away from the society she feels so distant from. Nonetheless, I found this strikingly similar to the denpa-kei style I read about prior. Tomo is losing touch with reality and the people around her and this is only exemplified with the visual cues of her literally chasing a spark of electricity along the cables in the city which would be a visual motif referenced often in the show.

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However, what really sell the denpa-kei influences is the aesthetic style and sound design, which I will discuss a bit later after touching on the other character I found most interesting.

Episode four made for a genuinely uncomfortable experience. This was most thematically similar to a movie like Perfect Blue, except from the perspective of the disillusioned stalker and not the prey. Suganuma is the main guy focused on in this episode, he is a generally average high school student but a bit of a loner. However he is under constant pressure from his father to receive good grades so he could get into a good university. Despite this, the pressure he internalized is largely artificially inflated from what his father actually expects. His father states a few times how he expressed that his son didn’t need to go to a top school, but at least a state university and most likely just wants the best for his son. Suganuma instead feels overwhelmed with the expectation to be successful and doubts his ability to succeed so he starts to seek refuge in the world of galge, not uncommon to many other youth in Japan. These circumstances are some of the reason why young Japanese men turn to the lifestyle of a hikikomori, because of the societal and familial pressure to not fail that they just crack under the weight of expectations. As is the case with Suganuma, who starts to spend most of his time either at work or playing a galge (lit. “Girl Game”, often referred to as a Bishoujo Game, a type of visual novel targeting a male audience). Because of his desire to completely forget about his life’s problems, he starts to become obsessed with the heroine of one of his games and then stuff starts to get weird. Reality starts to grow indistinguishable from reality as he starts to project the image of the games heroine on his younger coworker, and this is when I started to feel extremely uncomfortable. The depiction of Suganuma’s extremely delusional worldview and extreme infatuation with this girl in reality (or the game?) grow to unhealthy levels and he starts tripping out.

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He mentions the “My Fair Lady” story where he explains it as a story of a professor making a regular girl into a beautiful maiden, so essentially here he is taking over this girl’s personal will just to push his desires onto his coworker. It becomes more extreme, escalating from simple favors to gain the girl’s trust to sexual harassment and forcing himself on her. There is a quote where Suganuma remarks that “You’ll always be right in the palm of my hand” which reminds me of that one shot in Perfect Blue where the presumed stalker pretends to hold Mima in his hand by way of perspective.

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This idolization of people is quite unhealthy all things considered, because there will reach a point where the person existing in your head that you’ve infatuated yourself with is not actually the one that exists in reality. And this is what happens to Suganuma, he goes so far down the path of insanity that he loses touch with the fact that his coworker is an individual, a human being with her own free-will and his actions were completely unhealthy. Not to mention he was under the influence of some weird drug the entire time which most likely perpetuated his delusions and served as a crutch, since he was shown to have become incredibly dependent on them when he ran out.

Boogiepop Phantom really excels in it’s style if nothing else. The music is mainly composed of usual electronic sounds that don’t quite sound right. As if they are sampling a collection of various sounds emitted from electronics and formed into a melody. This adds a striking denpa style, as if the sounds we hear are the chaos of real life forming a coherent melody. It feels like the sound director wanted to capture a feeling of getting into the mind of one of these disconnected characters and make the music and effects feel electronic, but not overly produced, as if to make it seem like they would be sounds that would be emitted through various radio waves and were being received by a denpa-kei person in their delusions to sound like music. The results are fascinating if nothing else, experiment with crushed and noise influenced sound effects to make the sounds design feel like you were on a hallucinatory trip, and imagining the noises around you were parts of an avant-garde symphony.

The directing is quite interesting as well. There was a distinct style that the show will capture that makes it feel like we are disconnected with the events on-screen, as if we were not in the room with the characters but were spying on them in a sense. I distinctly remember a shot in the first episode where Tomo is being cornered in the Infirmary and the camera is positioned in such a way that it is viewing the scene from an open window outside the building. Mixed with the short cuts mashed together to make this feel less coherent and more akin to loosely strung together related events. To me these loosely connected scenes reminded me of watching something like a slideshow of family video, with a minor overarching theme to barely string it all together.

There is also a distinctive feeling of oppressive darkness, grainy picture quality and the washed out colors of this anime that give and overwhelming feeling of a dream that we are only observing, but for the characters, it’s a nightmare. I found the stylistic color palette to be one of the strengths of the show’s aesthetic because it felt like an amateur produced found-footage film. The overwhelming dark scenes felt more mysterious in atmosphere because the shadows were like a void of darkness, and we had such a limited view of what actually was happening.

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It was minimalistic, only showing what needed to and maintained a dreamlike feeling in the air. I was actually reminded of a video I watched in a psychology lecture about being in the mind of someone with schizophrenia in how the disconnected nature of the show felt. I’m not quite sure if this was the intent, but I as a viewer felt isolated from the presentation on-screen, giving off an uncanny visual verisimilitude in which I processed the events on screen as real, but not quite connecting them to the usual “reality” of anime. Again, there was this dreamlike or hallucinogenic state the style emitted making this anime let us get into the world of Boogiepop and reflect the feeling of denpa-kei. This overall feeling really got me into the mindset of Denpa because nothing felt real, and that was the point. These character were losing touch with reality.

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So Boogiepop Phantom was a weird show man. It used denpa-kei to exemplify the delusions of the characters and add a distinctive aesthetic feeling that not many anime I’ve seen attempt, in the same vein of something like Serial Experiments Lain I’d say if I were to compare the styles. However, despite the fascinating aesthetic strengths of the show and directing style, I could not help but feel like the reliance of prior knowledge from the novels took away from most of the enjoyment I could have gotten out of this anime. As a standalone work, this show was a unique exploration of the human psyche and was a critique of modern society in some ways all presented with an incredibly satisfying oppressive atmosphere. But on the other hand there were too many scenes where I was left lost trying to keep up with the extreme lack of explanations towards many of the backstory. This made the story feel more confusing that it should have been that left me craving for more of the visual spectacle rather than the dialogue that would most like not mean much to me as it might to a novel reader. Overall, I felt as if the denpa stylistic influences that I observed in this show were worth mentioning since it’s a unique movement in Japanese art that isn’t well-known outside of small circles in the community. I highly recommend looking more into this if it interests you.

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Further Reading:

Denpa introduction: http://denpa.omaera.org/culture.html

Interview with novel author: http://www.gomanga.com/news/features_boogiepop_001.php

Read before watching Boogiepop: http://animeboards.com/showthread.php?t=60133

Thematic Analysis of Boogiepop: https://web.archive.org/web/20160430032540/http://kilesa.tk/2005/08/11/stanton/

Toru Honda, the leading thinker for fellow otaku: https://web.archive.org/web/20050624023834/http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200506040207.html

Analytical Essay Regarding Denpa: https://goo.gl/JTCGFT

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