Oregairu is over and so is my youth. – Reflections on Oregairu

*And immediately I have to make a disclaimer that Oregairu is technically not over, as I found out while looking up things for this piece of writingthere’s a series of short light novel volumes currently being serialized. I couldn’t resist making that the title, though, so forgive me for the intentional falsehood.

This post will contain spoilers for Oregairu Seasons 1-3.

I watched Oregairu’s first season in November of 2014, during the first semester of my senior year of high school. It wasn’t too long since I had started watching anime, but it was the first show which made me want to look for the source material. And I did, finding fan translations of the light novels online and eagerly awaiting new developments. The second season came five months later; I kept up with the series and its corresponding weekly discussion threads on reddit, excited to see my favorite scenes adapted into motion and color and voice. From there on was the English licensing, the long-awaited final three volumes, and, at last, the third and final season. Being too scared to watch it while it was airing, I put it off and off, until after a long six years, I’ve come to the conclusion of this special series.

There are a few things I remember distinctly from when I first watched the anime and read the fan-translated light novels. First, I was a huge Yukino fan. I gobbled up the date scene in Episode 6 of Season 1, and the moment on the roller-coaster made me lose my mind. Second, despite being in high school at the time, I didn’t really relate to Hachiman. Perhaps it’s because I had read analyses of the series beforehand, but throughout the series, I had the mentality of “Hachiman’s thoughts are immature and I’m here to see him grow out of them.” Third, I loved Meguri-senpai. Episode 13 of the first season was super cute, and after reading the novels, I named my new smartphone at the time Megurin Power.

As I’m sure everyone reading this knows, I completely changed on the first point. I still love Yukino as a character, but, well, I couldn’t ignore a certain presence because of how brightly she shone. And as my tweets reveal, I still hold to that third point. Megu Megu Megu☆rin Megurin Power!

The second point, though, is something I’ve pondered over every time I re-engage with the series. Ironically, in some sense I feel like I’ve grown in the opposite way of Hachiman. Hachiman’s unreasonably cynical beliefs are full-blown at the beginning of the series, and they slowly get tempered down over the course of the three seasons. However, over the past few years, I’ve found myself empathizing more with some of his thoughts when I’ve re-watched some of the earlier episodes, or thought about his monologues in certain life situations. Maybe it’s because I need to learn how to be cynical before learning how to be un-cynical?

I think the more likely answer, though, is that Hachiman wasn’t necessarily wrong. As Hiratsuka-sensei so, so, so crucially points out at the end of Season 3 Episode 10, people can come to radically different conclusions looking at the same thing depending on the lens they wear.1 She speaks it in a specific context and time, but I believe that what she says can be applied to the series overall, and to us as well. Ultimately, due to the ways in which experiences upon experiences have piled themselves up uniquely in each one of our lives, we may not see the same thing in the same way.

This brings me to a topic which is probably the point on which I disagree with the series the most. A bit before that scene, Hachiman has his final one-on-one conversation with Haruno, in which he states that he “coerced both of them [Yukino and Yui] to swallow that incredibly outrageous lie.” This is really the conclusion of a thought that’s floated around the series for many episodes, but it’s one that is influential enough to be worth exploring—that Hachiman, Yukino, and Yui’s relationship is a “lie”, or at the very least, not genuine. High schoolers do tend to make things overcomplicated (does that mean I’m still a high schooler?) but I vehemently disagree with the core concept of this idea. It is true that the three of them avoid expressing their feelings on the unanswered questions of romance in the latter half of the series. But that alone doesn’t erase the hours whiled away in the Service Club classroom chatting, the excursions doing things probably only Yui had experience with, the disagreements, clashes over differing opinions, hurt, and reconciliation. This may just be because of the lens that I hold, but these are the things that form the foundation of relationships. Because of this foundation, the genuineness they’ve already shown to each other, they should trust that the worryingly opaque clouds that surround them right now will eventually clear as they continue to grow individually and together, even if it’s only in small steps.2

In the end, our three precious children are able to reunite in the room they love with the people who’ve been by their side, in a way that’s presented as pretty much a return to normalcy (which I feel like reinforces my position, but…). Yui doesn’t get time to affirm or resolve or express anything to Hachiman or Yukino as individuals (my second major gripe about the third season), but perhaps that’s the show’s way of doubling down on its position that words ultimately aren’t able to convey what we want to convey. Instead, she presses on in the way that I so love about her, happy both because she gets to be with the people she loves, and because the people she loves are happy. If someone was watching Oregairu for the first time, but knew about my taste in characters, I’m sure they’d be able to predict that I would fall in love with this kind, compassionate, determined, selfish-but-selfless girl. I’ve laughed at her retorts, wanted to yell at her joyful embarrassment, felt my heart clench at her tears, and smiled at every “Yahallo!” I’m not sure if I’ll come across another character who I’ve wanted so strongly to both be with and be.

To quickly address the logical question/assumption that I may not have liked the romantic ending, I think I’m satisfied with it. I believe that there was a reasonable way for Watari to write the story into either romantic ending, and I’m not upset that he chose what he did. My romance-loving heart couldn’t help but jump while watching the extended confession scene and subsequent date, as much as it hurt for Yui.

This piece ended up being somewhat long and rambly, with transitions I myself am not entirely convinced by, but allow me to jump into one final thought. My favorite line in Everyday World, Season 2’s beautiful ending theme, is right at the beginning of the first chorus. “If this is love, then the strength known as loneliness seems like it will disappear.” People will hurt and be hurt because we’re all sinners, in the literal meaning of the word. It’s easy then, to conclude that rejecting people is the position of strength, as Hachiman had. But, as he discovers over the course of the series, it’s so much better to be “involved” in another’s life. As Hachiman and Yukino awkwardly yet eloquently articulate at the end of Season 3 Episode 11, love (and not just romantic love, as used in the Japanese lyric) is giving your life to someone else. It’s something that will hurt and come at a cost. But in the end, what you get is so much more. Hachiman hated his deception. Yukino hated her cowardice. Yui hated her selfishness. This loathing isn’t gone by the end of the show. What has changed, though, is that they now know that they are willing to be hurt, willing to sacrifice a part of themselves, to stay by each other’s side.

Thank you for reading. I hope I was able to make clear the world I see through my lens.


1 Because I would be bothered if I didn’t add this: This doesn’t preclude a lens being faulty, which also in turn does not mean its wearer is to blame.

2 I worry that I come off as prideful when I write this, but I really do believe it! Hachiman would definitely disagree with me, though.

Afterthought: a lot of things about this were unplanned. I originally wanted to just put down a bunch of random thoughts about Oregairu, but the (feeble) connections drew themselves and I was surprisingly able to string them into a semi-coherent piece of writing. What was more surprising to me was how the last paragraph ended up. But, I don’t think I should be surprised that I was able to find something like that in a piece of media that I love.

Ni~jiga~saki~!

Something I’ve thought about a number of times over the past year-ish is, stated simply, “Why Nijigasaki?” Why has my affection for Love Live’s third generation managed to surpass µ’s, who I’ve spent countless hours reading fanfiction for, and Aqours, who I flew across the country as an incomeless college student to see? Likes and dislikes can be irrational or unexplainable, so I don’t think it’s a question that necessarily needs or even has a satisfying answer, but the idea I keep coming back to is that it was just the right time. Of course, that’s not to say that Nijigasaki doesn’t have inherent charms that have drawn me to it, but I think the heart of it is that it was simply something serendipitous that I’m grateful for.

Starting from when the Perfect Dream Project was announced, through the announcement of the seiyuu and the release of their first single, I hadn’t given Nijigasaki as much as a second glance beyond the news announcements that occasionally appeared on my twitter timeline. It was only when SIFAS1 launched in September of last year (which I hadn’t even seriously considered starting) that I began looking into the Nijigasaki girls. I have to credit Nijigasaki Perfect Fans Paradise2 here, as their work in translating the seiyuu’s tweets was a major catalyst to me falling for the cast of 18 (now more!), such that in December, I was wishing that I was at their 1st live and regretting that I hadn’t bought the concert merch.3

At the same time I was getting into Nijigasaki, in the “real world”, I had begun my first job out of university, and was adjusting to a new rhythm of life in a new city. I’m not sure if I was expecting things to go a certain way, but there were at least a few hopes I had going in to the adult world. Unsurprisingly, life didn’t listen to my wishes. Work was confusing, church community was a struggle, and “adulting” sometimes was just difficult. I didn’t have many connections and was across the country from my family, so everything combined ended up leaving me kind of…disoriented. It wouldn’t be truthful to say that Love Live/Nijigasaki saved me from this state, but I also wouldn’t say that it was merely a distraction to run to when I felt stressed. It was, and still is, something that I enjoy spending time consuming, pouring effort into creating for, and using my newfound disposable income to support—something important to me.

Reflecting on it again, I feel like I can relate to Yuu in the TV series. The cast members might not have been unsure of themselves or their future as Nijigasaki, given that they had the relatively stable role of SIFAS already, but I’m sure that even back then, they were already dreaming of sharing their passion for Nijigasaki with more and more people. It almost feels a bit presumptuous to say, but I’m grateful that, like Yuu, I can channel my energy into supporting them and being a part of making their dream a reality. I’m not sure if “something will start for me” on this journey, but I’ll be having fun each step of the way.

One final note: something that had bothered me was the emphasis of the concept of Nijigasaki as “solo idols”—“friends but rivals, rivals but friends” being another way it’s often put.4 I appreciated the group dynamic and unity of the previous two generations, and the apparent reversal of that was admittedly not entirely surprising but still dissatisfying. The anime, though, has convinced me otherwise. A theme that ties together many if not all of the individual stories is the desire to express something, which is neatly illustrated with the culminating performance(s) each member gives. Each girl, with her own talents, struggles, and character, has something different to convey, and the anime gives each of them space to do it. For all its triumphs and flaws, the Nijigasaki anime has convinced me of this concept. (Also, “individual” makes “group” that much more precious.5 I got emotional watching Yume ga Koko Kara Hajimaru yo.)

Nijigasaki—the seiyuu, the fans, the creators, the staff—has been through so much already, but I’m sure the next year will have a new stage to step on, with a thousand new stories yet to begin. I can’t wait to see what it’ll be like.

1 Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars
2 @niji_fans_para
3 I did manage to acquire some on the post-concert re-release!
4 “切磋琢磨” “個性” “バラバラ” are words that I’m almost tired of hearing after watching many livestreams.
5 The seiyuu, for one, have mentioned on multiple occasions that it’s meaningful when they all get to wear the same outfit.

Thanks for reading!

12 Days of Anime (2) – To raise a flag

This post is part of my attempt to take on the 12 Days of Anime tradition. Read more about it here.

Spoiler warning: This post addresses the events of Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend flat, episode 8.

Saekano’s first season aired about a year after I started watching anime, and I think it was the first time I understood what exactly a dating sim was. Since then, it’s been a guilty desire of mine to play one; so many anime poke fun at them, but I’d like to experience the supposed silliness myself. Wooing heroines that slot nicely into archetypes with presents and dates couldn’t be anything but thrilling…right?

Of course, Saekano itself doesn’t shy away from spotlighting these things. After all, Aki is a huge fan of dating sims, and as a fan he’s able to critique the one-dimensional relationships (well, as much as he can within his otaku worldview) he’s dissatisfied with as he pushes forward with his own creative vision. And I believe it’s because of this unique setting Saekano has constructed that makes Season 2, Episode 8 work out so well.

It’d be safe to say that Episode 8 of Saekano’s second season is the single episode of anime I’ve rewatched the most, at least in recent memory. There’s just something about it that clicks with me, and I feel like every time I rewatch it, I’m able to get a new insight, or reflect on how an idea it presents mirrors something I’ve thought through before. I think that’s because this episode is about relationships between people, which is something I’ve spent the past few years mulling over. What defines a friend? How do you know how close you are to someone? A very college/young adult thing to ponder, I suppose.

Aki’s clumsy and awkward. He doesn’t really know how to approach Katou nor directly make up with her, so instead, he proceeds down the only route he knows how to play—the thing that’s tied him and Katou together for the past year—the doujin circle. He tells her about the ideas that he wants to bring alive, his desire to make an even better game. It’s a lot of grandiose fluff; as she quickly points out, between the content of the game itself and how he’s going to pull everyone back together, Aki hasn’t completely thought it through. But it works, and as the tension thaws out a bit into banter, Aki’s able to properly apologize.

Aki doesn’t quite hit the mark, but he gets close enough; in the end, it’s not about Blessing Software, it’s about the team members. It’s not about Cherry Blessing, it’s about the family restaurant meetings, the late nights. Katou and Aki have triggered so many flags, but ironically, maybe Katou’s the only who recognized them. As Aki obliviously points out later, people and relationships change over time, and that in turn affects their interactions. So why didn’t Aki notice the change in script, the additional dialogue options, or the new actions he could’ve taken? Katou’s hurt by Aki’s unintentional indifference, but she’s also hurt by the distance it’s forced between them. She’s had to hold her feelings in all this time, but can finally shout them out:

It’s such a powerful moment, but what makes it and the rest of the episode so compelling to me is that it’s immediately demonstrated. Katou bares her heart, acting out the very vulnerability that she speaks of, admitting that it’s been a difficult time for her. But I think the brilliance of this episode is that it subtly continues this, even through what seems to just be a fun snippet of married life. Katou comes along with Aki for another long planning session, but this time it’s clear that she’s doing it not because she doesn’t care, but because she really cares, and throughout the entire time, Aki experiences a side of Katou he hadn’t before. Katou acts on her own whims, presumptuously making plans to stay the night, and complains about Aki, all the way to the bath and back. She’s “all over the place”, as Aki puts it, and I think that’s because she’s letting her guard down with someone she trusts, someone who she can be vulnerable to. It’s another flag raised, but more than that, it’s a relationship mended and affirmed. In a show I find hard to relate to most of the time, this episode is one that stuck in my heart, and won’t go away any time soon.

Side note: the episode’s content shines even brighter with the solid direction and especially the stellar performances by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka and Kiyono Yasuno. A highlight of voice acting, imo.

Thank you for reading!

12 Days of Anime (1) – Haruka Amami’s dream is lovely.

This post is part of my attempt to take on the 12 Days of Anime tradition. Read more about it here.

This post will contain spoilers for THE iDOLM@STER, episodes 22-25.

A few months ago, during my senior year in university, my fellow leaders in the church college fellowship I was involved in decided to make a personality quiz about ourselves. As I went down our list of fun and serious questions, filling them out for myself, there was one question I didn’t really have a good answer to: “When was the last time you cried?” Everyone else’s answer ranged from a day to a month, but I couldn’t actually think of a moment, so I vaguely put “sometime in the last few years”.

Thinking about it again, though, I can in fact distinctly remember the last time I cried, because it was also the single time I cried in the last decade. The night before freshman orientation began, as I laid in bed, I thought about how my dad would fly home the next day, and all of a sudden, tears started falling. I flipped over and buried my head in my pillow, hoping my roommate was already asleep, trying not to think about what was coming ahead or what I had left behind.

Four years later, as I once again find myself in a new city, I can’t help but return to some of those feelings from freshman year, with an additional set of people to miss. Even though I’ve graciously received a lot of time home for the holidays, I won’t get to see some of my closest friends due to travel and work. Losing the yearly structure of school and breaks makes the thought of “When will I next see you?” weigh more heavily on each meet up. Despite having four years to mentally prepare, it’s something I haven’t grasped yet.

Haruka Amami finds herself in a similar situation at the end of THE iDOLM@STER. As 765 Pro’s popularity continues to swell, its idols grow busier and busier, appearing in variety shows, interviews, even flying overseas for recordings. And amidst all of that is one very lost girl. Where did the time spent practicing with everyone go? Travelling together? Chatting in the office? How is she supposed to make sense of this change that emerged so…naturally? She’s been able to face everything with her chin up and a smile on her face, so why not keep doing that? Continuing to give her all in her work, keeping in contact with everyone, dancing with a new subset of faces each group practice. She fights and fights, until she can no longer suppress her true feelings.

Haruka’s wish is selfish. But it’s so grounded, so real. As an idol, she has responsibilities, but as a person, a high school girl who loves and cares for the people around her, Haruka has emotions, desires that bubble out of her. As each person furthers themselves, the group drifts further apart, like points on a circle, becoming more distant as the circle grows bigger. It’s a bittersweet inevitability that contradicts Haruka’s world, leaving her confused and lonely.

I appreciate that THE iDOLM@STER sympathizes with Haruka. It may be idealistic that the members of 765 Pro come back to rally themselves to Haruka, but I think that it’s the fruit of her admirable effort to maintain the relationships she holds dear. “Show must go on”, but the idols learn that it’s okay to pause and look back once in a while. Haruka also picks up something else, too—a greater understanding of herself, and how she fits into her little corner of the world, in the third floor office too small for sixteen people that 765 Production calls home.

Haruka Amami’s dream is lovely. I wish I could dream in the same way.

Thank you for reading!