I’m probably one of the worst people to talk about “favorite” anime of all time.
If I finish a show, I’m generally positive about it. A quick glance at my My Anime List profile shows my mean score is 7.55. This means I rate most shows somewhere between a 7 and an 8. Even more than that, I’ve only given a handful of shows less than a five — Chobits is my lowest at a 3.
Often I feel like I’m far less critical than other bloggers are. What I want more than anything else is to have fun. That means if I watch a trashy show like Gantz, I’m happy. Yes, it’s not a quality show, but I care enough to be invested. And, let’s face it, I want to be entertained. I don’t sit down in front of my computer or television with the intention of being bored or confused. I’m far less likely to give those shows the time of day.
Not only that, if I sink six or 12 hours into a show, I want it to be good to the point where I’m probably convincing myself that a show that should be a six is really a seven.
But like I noted in my last post, there is a thick line between a show that is good or even great and one that deserves to be on my list of favorite shows of all time.
In fact, it’s a line I never expected any show to cross — ever again.
It takes a unique alchemy for a show to win my heart. It has to be thought-provoking, have a compelling story and I have to love it.
The first two are easy to explain, but the third one, well, it’s easy to say why I don’t love something then why I do.
That said, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I’m ready to put a show on my list of favorite shows of all time. A show that is special even among other luminary shows in the same genre.
So here is where I talk about my love for My Teenage Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected, or for the sake of my fingers, Oregairu.
My Strange Relationship with Romcoms
I still find it a little strange that I love romantic comedies. In part, it’s because I grew up in the 80s and 90s when romcoms were largely considered movies for women. This was before the rise of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith. They cemented that RomComs are really for men and chick flicks were about a bunch of middle-aged women discovering themselves while on vacation in Greece.
Of course, this is all colored through my novice perspective. I did zero research on this part. So feel free to disagree with me.
To be honest, a good romantic comedy needs to be more than just two people who don’t really get along suddenly finding themselves attracted to each other. In fact, a good romantic comedy needs to be more than romance and humor. It needs to be a story of two people learning about themselves. A good romantic comedy is a coming-of-age story.
In fact, all of my favorite romcoms fit this mold — As Good As It Gets, The 40-year-old Virgin and High Fidelity. The story is about how people grew up or learned about themselves.
And where better to have a coming-of-age story than in the middle of a high school. Let’s face it, John Hughes was on to something. High school is filled with contradictions that make for great stories. Teenagers are simultaneously trying to figure out the world and are convinced they understand it already. They have their entire lives ahead of themselves and are told that they need to figure out how they’re going to spend it.
It’s both deadly earnest and laughably absurd.
Animation only serves to make those extremes more believable.
This is where Oregairu starts
I apologize for those of you who aren’t familiar with the show and have read more than 700 words. I’m getting to that now. The three-season-long show is an adaptation of a series of light novels written by Wataru Watari. Fourteen light novels and four interludes were published between March 2011 and April 2021.
It tells the story of Hachiman Hikigaya, a middling student who has mostly given up on having friends or having a life. He plans to spend his days living at home. Then, one day, he meets a teacher who refuses to let him just waste his life. He is thrown into what can only be described as a community service club with the brilliant and beautiful Yukino Yukinoshita.
Then, along with this group of misfits comes the garrulous but kind Yui Yuigahama.
These three form the central cast as a bunch of other weirdos parade through their lives. I first came across Oregairu last year after finishing up Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. I loved Hikigaya’s commitment to being surly even in the face of others trying to reach out to him. The chemistry between him and Yukinoshita was great.
When you add Yui into the mix, you effectively had an everyman who wants to have a relationship with the other leads. In fact, her charm combined with some beautiful character designs make her a fan favorite.
As I got near the end of season 1, I found that the story took on a surprising amount of depth. Without going into too much, Hikigaya starts taking actions that at first seem to solve problems for himself and his friends. But then end up creating more problems.
When I finished the first season, I told myself I would just watch one more episode. When I finished that one, I thought, well, I could watch one more. Then several hours later, it was 2 a.m., and I had to force myself to go to sleep.
The next day, I sat down and watched the rest of season 2 and all of season 3.
And the time, I just wanted something new to fill that Oregairu hole. I convinced myself it was a 10 in my heart, but it had problems. I wanted more Yukino. I felt there were too many unanswered questions about her family and their relationship.
My Change of Heart
So what happened? I explained there is a thick line between shows I like and my favorite shows of all time. When I finished watching Oregairu the first time, I was sure I would rewatch it, but I was also equally certain it would be a fond memory.
Then I rewatched it. The first season went about the same as the last time. The first episodes are fun. Then it starts to get great toward the end of the first season. I took my time and stopped to read subtitles I might have skimmed over.
When I put down that season, I decided to take a break. So I watched Fate/Zero and Steins;Gate. Then one Sunday afternoon at 7 p.m., I popped in the second season.
Four hours later, I had watched eight episodes.
That’s when I realized two things. The first is that I love Oregairu. I love it in a way that I don’t love other romcoms like Real Girl or Toradora. I could name many things I love about it, but I will try to keep myself contained to a single set of episodes. See, at the beginning of the season, we start to understand what Hikigaya’s self-destructive behavior costs his two friends/love interests.
This leads to a set of circumstances that put him and Yukinoshita at odds. As part of that, she decides she wants to run for student council president. Yui comes to him and asks him to stop Yukino from doing that. The show then casts Hikki’s actions as the “correct” ones. He lies to his friends and convinces Yukino not to run.
The problem is that Hikigaya’s actions nearly ruin all of their friendships. It nearly emotionally cripples Yukino. What he did was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
That’s what makes this show great. It planted seeds in the first episodes of the season that end up not just paying off but paying off multiple times.
In doing that, the show recast the initial actions and then recast them again. It creates a beautiful puzzle box that, much like RahXephon, allows me to enjoy the story at a base level but then allows me to question whether what I thought was correct.
I could write an entire series pulling apart these moments.
Peeling Back the Layers
So I’ve said that it’s compelling. I’ve said I love it, and I’ve hinted at what was thought-provoking, but I need to bring up one other thing that makes this show special.
Each of these characters has a rich internal life that plays out in the story. Let’s take Hayama, who is the popular guy in the class. In a typical story, Hayama and Hikki would clash, but eventually, they would be friends.
This “rival turned friend trope” would be acceptable. Hell, it would be expected.
But that is not the story of Oregairu. Instead, as pieces get pulled back, we learn that Hayama’s life is just as empty as Hikki’s life. Instead of pushing everyone away, Hayama wants everyone to be his friend. He wants everyone to get along. But he does this at the cost of not showing favoritism to anyone. He never starts to date. He never falls in love. He doesn’t even have a best friend.
Then we learn that Hayama and Yukino have a back story. This is never explained in detail, but it’s not hard to fit the pieces together. Yukino was ostracized when she was young, and instead of standing up for her, Hayama tried to be everyone’s friend. He learned that Yukino wasn’t going to put up with that.
I would like to point out that I spent five paragraphs talking about a side character who plays a minor role in the story.
And my short analysis here isn’t anything compared to the tomes written about the characters in Oregairu. I’ve read essays on Yukino’s sister, Haruno, or the scenes with Shizuka.
What about my complaint, though? What about wanting more about Yukino? As I thought about this, I determined that it was more an excuse than a problem.
Could we know more about Yukino? Yes. But should we?
Here is the trickiest part about Oregairu. This is the story of Hikigaya growing up — of him learning how to deal with other people, learning to love other people.
But at the center of all of it is the most important love story of them all.
At its heart, Oregairu is a story about Hikigaya learning to love himself.
And that is why I’ve decided that My Teen Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected is going on my list of favorite anime of all time.
Thanks for reading