Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Oregairu)


So covering every single episode of this show ended up being too hard for me. Instead, I will use this show as my first official review with a new review format.

For more information on Oregairu, check out the ANN entry for the show.

What it’s about: Hachiman Hikigaya is fed up with his generation’s idea of “youth”, being caught up in every moment as if it could be the next big moment in their lives. Writing an essay saying that such youths should just “drop dead”, he gets sent by his teacher to the Service Club as punishment. There awaits Yukino Yukinoshita, well-known to be the school’s most beautiful girl, who has established the club to help out people with their troubles. Their first client, Yui Yuigahama, who wants help baking cookies, also joins their club as they try to help out more people. Key word: try.

Because asking a group of social misfits to solve social problems isn't exactly a recipe for guaranteed success.

Bottom Line: Oregairu has all the typical ingredients of a high school romantic comedy, except it got cooked in a broken oven, so things do not turn out quite like one would expect. The end result is far from bad, though; instead, we get a show that has refreshing moments of brutal honesty and allows its characters to develop in nice, subtle ways. Grade: A-

Full review is after the jump.



Full Review

Story: The alternate English title, displayed during the ending credits, is “My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected.” This title is quite fitting for the kind of story this show is: it’s got all the ingredients of a high school romantic comedy, except it got cooked in a broken oven, so it came out “wrong”. That said, the actual end result is far from bad, as I am sure for many people, a “wrong” rom-com would be preferable to standard rom-com fare if only for a change of pace.
Oregairu’s story starts off slow, being mainly “problem of the week” episodes. I covered the first four episodes and each one does have interesting elements in and of themselves. Later episodes improve on this, though, by presenting longer arcs of 2-3 episodes to give the show more room to explore its stories.

The true strength of this show, though, lies in its characters, and how they are shown to develop throughout the show. Hachiman takes the lead here, in that we get to see the story primarily through his eyes, and while his resistant-to-change personality keeps anything that happens in the show from having a profound effect on him, the show allows the changes in him to be more subtle, coming out in the way he relates to the people around him, and on how they relate back to him. Both Yukino and Yui also go through changes, and the show works it all in a way where it feels natural instead of forced.
A couple of background characters have more important roles than others, such as Hayama, the popular “nice guy”, and Shizuka, the teacher that oversees Hachiman and the Service Club. They, among others, provide some great moments, particularly with Hachiman, and really help develop the story even further. Other significant characters include Komachi, Hachiman’s surprisingly normal (read: neither overly-adoring nor overly-antagonistic) little sister, and Yukino’s older sister.

Overall, even if the story uses clichés in its setups, it does well by not playing things out in a clichéd way. The problems presented in the show are not cleanly resolved, and the characters involved do not always come out the better for it—at least, not obviously. This does mean that, sometimes, how a story plays out might not be what is the “right” thing to do in that circumstance; this is not so much a show to learn life lessons from, as it is a show to see how life plays out in the given circumstances.

Story grade: A-

Feel: (Note: here, I will cover things related to the show outside technical aspects and outside the story itself, such as comedy, atmosphere, and the like.)

Oregairu may be a romantic comedy gone wrong, but it is still definitely a comedy, and there is plenty of comedic material within. To start, there’s Hachiman’s internal monologues in which he ruthlessly dissects aspects of high school society, perfect for those looking for some cutting social commentary. Many characters also provide plenty of comedy, such as Saika, a boy so effeminate that even Hachiman can’t help but have confused feelings towards him.

Beyond that, the feel of the show works out for what it is; it knows when to let the mood relax so that the characters and the audience can reflect on what has happened.

Feel grade: A-

Visuals: (Note: this section will look at art, animation, and character designs.)
Brains Base’s animation isn’t much to speak of, and there are definitely times when it will come off as of questionable quality. The character designs are overall good, avoiding overly cutesy designs to avoid clashing with the nature of the show… though there’s plenty of cuteness to be found, even if it’s mostly in one of the males…

Visuals grade: B-

Audio: (Note: I’m not really good at noticing background music, so in this section I’ll look more at voice acting and opening and ending songs.)

Voice acting in this show is solid. Takuya Eguchi provides just the right tone of voice for Hachiman’s monologues, Saori Hayami is effective as Yukino, and this is yet another great performance for Nao Touyama, a seiyuu who’s been getting more roles lately, as she does a great job in capturing the many moods of Yui.

The opening song, “Yukitoki” by Nagi Yanagi, is one of my favorites of the Spring season; it’s a fairly straightforward song but it has a very nice voice and melody to go with it. The ending song, “Hello Alone”, done by the two female leads, is also solid; special mention goes to a more subdued Yui solo “ballade” version done for one episode that was quite fitting there.

Audio grade: B+

For Christians: (Note: this section will look at the prevalence of Christian themes, as well as potentially objectionable content.)

This is not a show with obviously Christian themes. There are some themes that can be applied to Christianity (for example, TWWK of Beneath the Tangles talks about “do-overs” by looking at episode 6), and the nature of the show does allow for a good look at a number of these themes. It’s a case where you can probably find them if you look hard enough; after all, this show is actually a decent reflection of real life.

Objective content is surprisingly minimal. There's swearing in both the subtitles and in the use of a couple of English swear words even in the Japanese track. Sexual fanservice is almost non-existent, though, only going as far as showing off some of the girls in swimsuits in one episode—and even that isn’t done nearly as provocatively as more fanservice-heavy shows do it. For those uncomfortable with depictions of homosexuality, there’s also Hachiman’s attraction towards Saika, though it’s mainly played as a joke.

As I mentioned before, probably what is most “objectionable” is simply the fact that, because this show plays out more “what would these characters realistically do” than “what should the characters have done”, some of the ways Hachiman goes about solving problems are not necessarily the “right” ways. It’s best not to view Hachiman as a role model for how to solve social situations. That said, the show does not try to pass off Hachiman’s decisions as “right”, either, and shows that even after what he’s done, the problems are not necessarily solved.

Sentai Filmworks's rating of TV-14 is actually a bit on the conservative side this time around. I'd consider it a "light" PG-13.

For Christians grade: B

Final report card:
Story: A-
Feel: A-
Visuals: B-
Audio: B+
For Christians: B
Overall: A- (note: the overall grade is not an average, but a grade for the show as a whole)
Personal thoughts and score: (Note: personal scores reflect not only the quality of the show itself, but how the show resonated with me, and can differ quite a bit from my “review” grade. Taking a cue from Spinal Tap, my personal scoring system goes up to 11, and is scored to the tenths place.)
This was one of my favorites of Spring 2013. It’s a show that has great social commentary, great comedy, and great character interaction and development. I also enjoyed watching a rom-com play out in a way that is different from how they normally played out. All in all, I might not have been able to blog through this whole series like I initially wanted to, but it was still one of the most enjoyable shows I was able to watch this year.
Final score: 10.3/11.0 – Excellent show, and one I definitely would love to see more of.

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My Teenage Romantic Comedy SNAFU is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.

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