Management: Covering the plot and the character work of the last two seasons of My Teenage Romantic Comedy SNAFU, otherwise known more pithily as Oregairu, while my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay is, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of the complexities of a couple of the show’s characters. It’s a good show though, so you should watch it if you haven’t yet.
A link to a previous mini-analysis of aforementioned two characters can be found in the beginning of this piece as well as here.
“I’ll go searching…”
A post a few months ago had me answering at length: What is [my] favorite anime couple? and Why? It’s My Teen Romance Comedy SNAFU’s (or Oregairu’s) Hikigaya Hachiman and Yukino Yukinoshita, and the explanation is in the embedded link. But wait, they aren’t an official couple as of yet. Wouldn’t pairing them together be considered shipping?
For those who aren’t in the know about this particular factoid about me from either my comments on anitwitter or the opening paragraphs of my White Album 2 review, I don’t ship. In the event that characters are reasonably well-written, that their hopes and fears, insecurities and desires relate, resonate, with our human us, with our human selves, with humanity, with what it means to be human, I want to avoid imposing my wishes on characters as much as possible.
These characters are fictional, but fiction are reflections of reality. Beyond any convictions of essentialism (of which I hold few to none), I’m loathe to deprive humanity of its agency. I believe character agency is tied to character respect. I do end up wishing certain developments for characters I become attached to anyway because my own hopes and desires for these characters leak out. However, I draw a line when it comes to shipping. For their sakes, something intimate as a romantic relationship is no business of mine to matchmake just because I’m God.
“Filling in the blank space,
I thought this theorem I posed was correct,
But it ends up just treading air.”
That being said, I described Hikigaya and Yukino as the couple to eventually be. Call me a hypocrite, but I don’t necessarily think that’s shipping.
“I’m not going to play shipping or best girl here. I legitimately believe that Oregairu’s [My Teenage Romantic SNAFU’s] narrative has meticulously laid itself out for a relationship for those two that just doesn’t exist on the same level with any of Hikigaya’s other ‘love interests.'”
I’ve listed a number of reasons why the show’s narrative about the two in my previous post seems to be more than warm to the idea of Hikigaya and Yukino ending up together. It’s more than a fascination with each other’s looks and the chemistry that sparks during those two’s interactions, although both certainly have a part in it. I’d go so far as to say that it reaches beyond how they influence each other’s development as maturer people. It’s the obsessive expectations both have for each other, obsessive to the point that they are devastated when they are betrayed by each other, that belie how much they care for each other. How much they care for each other, however, needs to be spelled out, starting with a separate analysis of their characters in the context of their internal backgrounds, as well as how the external events of the show affect them.
“They interact with each other, and while they deprecate each other, they grow to have a begrudging respect that transforms into awe for each other’s talents, awe that escalates at several points into an overestimation of each other’s true abilities and a confusion of each other’s true selves.”
“The future is warped,
And from the tiniest crack it twists and twists,
Diverging further from my ideal.”
Their expectations toward each other can be imagined as something rather fairy-tale-like. Hikigaya viewed Yukino as something an angel. Yukino still views Hikigaya as something of a knight. The angel imagery is something that the show has played up with Yukino before in the two’s first encounter with each other. The knight thing is something the fanbase conjured up on its own, with frequent parallels between Hikigaya and Batman being drawn. They are comparisons I find myself agreeing with, but not for the positive connotations many in the fanbase commonly associate the comparisons with. If it were not for popular American and, by extension, Western media culture, I think “dark knight” would be considered something of an immediate oxymoron, and Yukino (since she’s Japanese) would strongly agree with that negative assessment. Or even if she was used to the cultural trope, she’d probably still vehemently disagree with Hikigaya’s way of fulfilling Service Club assignments. And she most certainly and vehemently disagreed with how Hikigaya went about things at the end of the Field Trip Arc in second season Episode 2 ,”His and Her Confessions With No One.” Contrary to her expectations of how she trusted Hikigaya to take care of that request, he fulfilled it not only underhandedly, but superficially. It’s also the former, but the latter especially, that sets Yukino off.
“This lukewarm water,
Made the sound of growing cold.”
Rather than allow a successful love confession between Tobe Kakeru (the one about to give it) and Hina Ebina (who doesn’t want to receive it) take place, Hikigaya disingenuously confesses to Hina. Hina (but not Tobe), silently realizing the confession’s disingenuity, rejects Hikigaya with an addendum. In couched language, she lets down Tobe by saying she’s not interested in a romantic relationship “right now.” Because she says “right now,” however, Tobe draws the conclusion that he can make his confession later. Thus, a successful love confession is postponed rather than stymied, under conditions Tobe’s and Hina’s friend Hayato Hayama hopes will be more amenable to one. “Hope” is the operative word, however, because there’s no indication of a plan in the future that would shape the conditions for this successful love confession to occur. In fact, Hayato doesn’t really care whether or not success even happens. What Hayato and Hina want is the current relationship dynamic within their social circle of friends to continue as it is: harmonious. They want the preservation of the familiar and comfortable status quo, and an unsuccessful love confession would have shook that. They want to preserve its superficiality and convince themselves it’s reality.
And in spite of that part of himself who sees this superficiality for what it is, he comes up with a superficial reason for covering for Hina and Hayato: I’m Batman. He fulfills it himself in an albeit underhanded but arguably ingenious manner. He touted it as the most efficient way to get the assignment done. He got the fish.
And yet the underlying issue that caused this mess of an attempt at a confession in the first place remains unresolved. Another confession attempt will happen eventually. The villains Batman sent to Arkham Asylum are bound to break out again. They don’t know how to fish.”
Why would Hikigaya go out of his way to help Hayato and Hina? He certainly isn’t particularly close to either of them beyond acquaintance, and he doesn’t have any compulsion to help just anyone in general. Even if he insists that he’s fine playing his unique role, just the effort involved in playing that role would be too much to justify off of a mere whim.
In pursuing the familiarity and comfort that comes with the preservation of status quo social relations, and…
…In retreating from insecurities he felt would make him vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the uncertain…
…he was scared of getting hurt.
He identified himself with Hina and Hayato pain’s because their pain was a lot like his. Off of more than just a mere whim, this subconscious empathy led him to be their perverse savior, their “dark knight.” But he doesn’t openly admit that he did that all. He’s insecure about being vulnerable. He’s scared of getting hurt. He might not have fully grasped at the time how insecure he really was because of how much effort he’s put in to distance himself from the pain of confronting his personal demons. Regardless, expressing his discomfort will get him hurt either way, so in addition to preserving the superficiality of Hayato’s and Hina’s social circle of friends, he ends up burying the truth behind willful ignorance and self-rationalizing rhetoric. He ends up being doubly superficial with his justifications for helping them. In an attempt to avert getting hurt, he tries very hard to convince others and himself that his fictional reason was real fact.
The source of this discomfort, manifested most clearly in what Yukino insisted with Hikigaya was an understood rejection of superficiality, stems from a paradox. He wants to connect with others in a genuine way, yet putting himself out there sincerely puts him in a position for others to really hurt him. Thus, he obfuscates how he really feels from others. That insecurity, while seen comically throughout the series in flashbacks, was demonstrated devastatingly in his real-time encounter with Kaori Orimoto in second season Episode 3 “Quietly, Yukinoshita Yukino Makes a Decision,” a person he did once try to connect genuinely with.
“If I’m planning on changing my path,
Now’s the time!”
Yukino regarded her insistence with Hikigaya that their understood rejection of superficiality was, in fact, mutual. “Understood” is the operative word though, since neither of them explicitly agreed with each other on this point. Where, one can argue, Hikigaya subscribed to this understanding unilaterally (it was probably later when she became more familiar and comfortable with him that Yukino during at least the Culture Festival Arc made that understanding truly bilateral) was first season Episode 1 “Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected.” Hikigaya imagines Yukino as an angel, complete with wings, sparkles, and a spotlight. Beautiful as she may be physically, what leads him to associate her with angelic imagery isn’t, or isn’t simply, her face and figure. It’s her steadfast dedication to rejecting superficiality, born from a similar place of social alienation as his, that leads him to make that connection. It starts him on the path to becoming enraptured by her, and leads him to some obsessive expectations I will return to in detail later.
The superficiality of Hikigaya’s insecurities manifesting through his actions during the Field Trip Arc, more subtle and repressed, is something that likely flew over Yukino’s head. From her previous declaration of understanding Hikigaya in the Culture Festival Arc, the Student Council Election Arc has her declaring that she doesn’t. She never truly did know him, and that it was foolish of her to assume. So, it’s the superficiality of covering for Hina and Hayato that frames Yukino’s disagreement towards Hikigaya. Yet, her mere convictions toward rejecting superficiality doesn’t explain the sheer vehemence, disgust, and anger in her disagreement. Second season Episode 3 has her talking down Hikigaya’s predictably less-than-scrupulous suggestions during a brainstorm of ways to fulfill client Iroha Isshiki’s request to lose in the upcoming student council presidential race with grace.
She tries to shoot down the credibility of Hikigaya’s suggestions with any reason she could think of. She takes short breathes every time she adds another reason against approving his proposal. She sounds exasperated, desperate even deep down. Despite her face only betraying part of the true extent of her frustration. It balances between unusual emotion and her usual stoicism. A balance that almost breaks before she realizes what exactly she’s saying, the incriminating things she’s declaring about an institution like the student council that a person of her position is supposed to promote and endorse as proper, by calling it an outright sham. There are no attempts at snides, wordplay, or clever tricks to hide her cynicism, especially with a teacher being present. She blurted it out not simply because there’s an argument for student councils being shams meant to keep up facades out of obligation to certain faculty, admin, chairpeople, and tired ideals of political liberalism and activism, and out of posturing to students so they don’t complain as much as they otherwise would.
She blurted it out because it was a point against Hikki’s proposal.
It was only when Yukino started declaring that the no one cared enough about the student council elections to investigate voting number fabrication that she caught herself before furthering her tirade, startled by the fact she actually admitted something that cynical aloud, cynical to the not only that of her deepest level, but that of the level of Hikigaya, who previously expressed the exact same solution during the Culture Festival Arc about stuffing ballot boxes. This is in stark contrast to first season Episode 2 “All People Surely Have Their Worries,” where a comparable deconstruction by Yukino (in that case, a light novel) was conducted coolly and calmly. Perceived superficiality surrounds her everywhere she goes, and to be as wrathful to superficiality in all instances as she was toward Hikigaya’s in particular would not only be exhausting, but inconsistent with how she has been characterized in the show until now.
Hikigaya’s been using less-than-scrupulous methods, with Yukino’s knowledge, to solve people’s problems since the Service Club’s inception. In fact, first season Episode 12 “Thus, His and Her and Her Youth Continues to Be Wrong” has Yukino teasing Hikigaya about how he made himself the most hated person in the school. It thus seems strange that Yukino would take particular issue with the nature of Hikigaya’s actions at the end of the Field Trip Arc if she didn’t have an issue with it in the Cultural Festival Arc.
It’s in the second season’s Episode 2 of the Field Trip Arc, where Yukino witnesses Hikigaya’s methods at work, personally and for someone other than herself, where the crucial differences reside. Without the pretense of humor, she witnesses Hikigaya trivialize himself in such a horrible manner, reminiscent of his confrontation with Minami Sagami in the Culture Festival Arc, except Yukino was absent during that instance. She wasn’t absent here, and she was furious. She was furious at Hikigaya, and furious…
…disappointed, depressed, and then finally resigned at herself.
“I don’t want a replica like this —
I’m fine with only having things that can be called ‘real.’
I’ll go on searching, following this path…”
“But that’s just a well made fairy tale.”
For the longest time in the Service Club, for this assignment and so many others she has accepted, without fully realizing it until that point in the show, she counted on Hikigaya as her knight. He was a knight that, from his swearing into service, would solve the bulk of issues they were confronted with, to the point of even saving her and the day during the Cultural Festival. The Field Trip finally sunk into her cognition how black his chivalry was, however, and Yukino was forced to confront an unfamiliar and uncomfortable three-pronged reality. One, that he broke the superficiality pact she thought they both understood. Two, that he’s doing all the work. Three, that she has a problem with how he’s doing said work. These three simultaneous harms Yukino perceives aren’t mutually exclusive, and nor do they simply stack on top of each other. They intertwine and interlock, above and below, without and within, as multiple emotional jeopardy. Yukino takes Hikigaya’s violation of the superficiality pact more harshly than otherwise. Yukino takes it hard precisely because it’s their superficiality pact, because it’s Hikigaya.
“I stare at the blank space where the answer vanished;
I thought I’d buried it in here,
But no matter what, I can’t figure it out.”
Yukino takes Hikigaya’s assumption of her labors, labors that she struggles with, yet labors that she resolves to see through, as harshly as she did because it’s him that assumed it. Second season Episode 4 “And Then Yui Yuigahama Makes a Declaration,” had Yukino taking the drastic action entering herself as a presidential candidate, with all the responsibilities attached to it, to honor Iroha’s request of losing the student council presidential race with grace. While Yukino had her elder sister Haruno Yukinoshita’s goading in great mind, she likely wouldn’t have taken that point of departure into a presidential running without being also troubled by Hikigaya to the point that she had to prove something both to him and herself. To him, about the legitimacy of the proper process in the face of his underhanded and superficial methods. To herself, that her methods are not irrelevant to achieving her ideals of helping people, her ways of doing things are not irrelevant to his, that she herself, her whole existence, isn’t irrelevant.
“Even if you carefully raise a beautiful flower,
It will simply be trampled,
By dirty feet lacking hesitation.”
A more rigorous breakdown of Yukino’s character is necessary to examine her motivations toward running for the presidency outside of the reductive assumption that she decided to become president so she’d be in a better position to help more people. Second season Episode 5 “The Scent of Tea Doesn’t Fill That Room Anymore” features an alternative solution to Iroha’s request where Yukino, Yui, and Hikigaya all join the student council as president, vice president, and general affairs respectively. Some commenters focused on this scene as a slight against Hikigaya for not being imaginative enough to come up with this solution. That may be true, but what they fail to mention or understand in shaming Hikigaya (perhaps due to either a sort of constraining tunnel vision caused by Hikigaya being the first person narrator and/or some personal beef with some or all of Hikigaya’s motivations) is that Yukino is none the wiser either. She decided to become the president without the rest of the Service Club’s approval or support. She decided to become president not from when it was possible to procedurally run for one, but when she was simultaneously burdened by Hikigaya’s betrayal and Haruno’s goading. She decided to become president in contradiction to her philosophy that she shouldn’t provide the fish for Iroha and become president for her, but should teach her how to fish and enable her to find the solution to her dilemma on her own terms.
This closer look at Yukino during the Student Council Election arc makes me question the sincerity of her attraction to the presidency. It makes me inclined to believe that she’s perfectly content being the head of the Service Club. In addition to not actively vying for the student council presidency from the outset of the Student Council Arc, she did not vie at all for the committee chairmanship during the Cultural Festival Arc either. She officially ran for president and effectively worked as chairman when she ended up being externally pressured to, these pressures always related to both her family issues with Haruno and her personal feelings towards Hikigaya. Haruno picked on her for not becoming chairman and goaded her into running for president. Hikigaya caused her distraught when she omitted to knowing she had a part in his earlier hospitalization, and disillusioned her when he betrayed her trust and understanding.
“Under the building white,
A tiny bud is steadily covered up.”
“The far, far off spring,
Is beneath the snow.”
And then we arrive at Hikiagaya. The reason for her vehement denial of Hikigaya’s methods and the drastic actions she took in response is also due to the fact that she cares about him enough to get furious and depressed over him. The person with whom she believed she shared a special bond of substance with, the person who stood up for her and defended her in his own peculiar way when the superficiality of other people were sieging her into resignation, not only betrayed her with a compulsive demonstration of superficiality. He also belittled himself, trivialized himself, ripped himself apart in the process. The superficiality bothers her, to be sure, but equal or even more significant than that, in spite of Hikigaya’s assertions to the contrary, she is bothered with Hikigaya looking down on himself like that. She’s bothered by Hikigaya hurting herself.
And she’s grappling with these feelings she’s unable to fully parse together and voice, feelings that, subconsciously, are intimate and even romantic.
“And yet they aren’t a couple, nor actively attempting to forge a romance. Why? Personally, I think it’s because I don’t think they’re ready for a romance. They’re too socially maladjusted. They’re too busy trying to figure themselves out. I think Yukino got at when she (half-)jokingly dismissed Hikigaya’s second attempt to formally reach out to her as a friend, that there’s a special connection. It’s a connection between them that transcends friendship.”
She’s not accustomed to being genuine to her feelings, however. She can’t even figure out exactly these feelings are, and yet she feels them enough to act in any manner to distance herself away from the hurt of not being genuine. And how these troubling feelings are manifested itself instead through that which is familiar to her. The default is something she’s comfortable with, her own status quo. Rejection of superficiality is something she can latch on to, which is why Yukino reacted in the vehement and desperate way she did towards Hikigaya’s breach in their mutual understanding, their one special bond. Every person isn’t without their superficial elements on some fundamental level, Yukino being no exception. Yet her current expectations for Hikigaya as a knight are unreal to the point of obsessive, just like Hikigaya’s former expectations of Yukino as an angel are unreal to the point of the same.
Hikigaya’s high expectations of Yukino bit him like a rabid dog during the Cultural Festival Arc, and Yukino’s high expectations of Hikigaya did the same in the Field Trip, Student Council Election, and Christmas Planning Arcs. Hikigaya once idolized Yukino and felt disillusioned once he realized she wasn’t all he thought she angelically was. Yukino, who idolized Hikigaya in turn, is feeling the same cuts from the shards of shattered images of the dark nature of his knighthood.
While the similar in many respects, Hikigaya’s and Yukino’s temperaments are also different from the other in flip-opposite ways. I speculate this is part of the reason why takes Yukino three arcs to resolve her disillusion with Hikigaya, or three times as long, while Hikigaya takes only one arc. Whereas Hikigaya’s response was self-loathing at being wrong about Yukino, Yukino’s response is vehement towards Hikigaya because Hikigaya is just wrong. Unlike Hikigaya, she can’t direct any of the blame for her disillusion on herself, because that’s anathema towards what she is or who she made herself out to be.
It’s fine for Hikigaya, he insists, because he’s used to shitting on himself. It’s not fine for Yukino, however, because he’s someone she cares about. Yet she can’t bring herself, is in fact unable, to express this sentiment to Hikigaya or herself. She doesn’t know, and yet she wants to know. She wants to connect with him genuinely. But wanting both taps into her insecurities. Wanting both makes her vulnerable. So she insists desperately on rejecting superficiality.
They are the damn flip-sides of the same freaking coin.
“I don’t want a replica like this —
I’m fine with only having things that can be called ‘real.’
I’ll go on searching, following this path…”
The fitting thing about Oregairu’s English title, “My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU,” is that the SNAFU in the narrative as it stands is that there is no romantic relationship. These two are so socially inept and insecure that it’s impossible for the two of them, as they are now, to engage in that kind of conscious intimacy and romance. And so the narrative of the show focuses on developing the two to the point where they are socially mature, where they can engage in that conscious intimacy. And what’s driving it all, what’s driving the two to develop the most dramatically, is the subconscious intimacy they share.
And where these dramatic developments occurs is where their subconscious intimacy and romantic feelings with each other lies: their obsessive expectations with each other. These expectations are not only the result of them obsessing with each other specifically, but also because they are immature. Having those expectations betrayed by specifically them is key to having them mature, because it’s only between them that they care enough for each other to make fundamental changes for the better happen in the first place.
They want to genuinely connect with each other, so they’ll gradually, and unevenly, keep trying.
“Thank you for finding this tiny bud for me.”
Management: A great “in the (episode) moment” analysis of Yukino’s psyche can be found on Kyakka’s site here.