One of the most visibly obvious trends in anime in recent years is the extremely long and descriptive title. My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute. Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts. More accurately, it’s the product of a tendency in the current light novel industry from which many anime are adapted, and with that verboseness comes a blessing of sorts. For those who want what a particular title has to offer, they need only look at the name, and for those who want to avoid specific shows at all costs it becomes equally useful. You can indeed judge these books by their covers to a certain extent, which is why I initially set aside My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, considering it a low priority.
I have nothing against teen romantic comedies or SNAFUs, but the original Japanese title, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come ga Machigatteiru (translated also as, “My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected”) seems to imply a lot of things which don’t exactly excite me. First, it seemed to hint at this strange cooler-than-school cynicism which you find in a lot of light novel protagonists that I find unappealing, a sort of counter-elitism of the same variety as “the geeks will inherit the Earth.” Second, even though it says the romantic comedy is “wrong,” it still implied some combination of harem/love triangle. When I finally got around to watching SNAFU, I realized I’d been wrong all along. While it contains some degree of the two elements I’ve described, it’s also a clever series which has at its core not so much a good ol’ harem comedy but a closer look at the combination of social and sef-perceptive tensions which can make life as a teenager mentally and emotionally taxing, especially for those who don’t quite fit in, and the help that can come from those who simply understand.
SNAFU centers around Hikigaya Hachiman, a cynical guy who quickly acknowledges how low on the social totem pole he is and how much he prefers to be there. Hikigaya is forced to join a club whose purpose is vaguely to help people out, acting as a last-ditch student-run guidance counseling of sorts. In the club, Hikigaya is joined by two girls with equally Stan Lee-esque names, Yukinoshita Yukino and Yuigahama Yui. Yukinoshita is extremely observant but a little too sharp-tongued for her own good, and Yuigahama is energetic and a little ditzy with a greater desire to try and fit in with her peers compared to the other two.
Just from my basic plot summary I think it’s easy to see why I was a bit wary (and potentially weary) of the show, but there are a number of things which give this anime some solid legs.
First, although Hikigaya is indeed quite the pessimist, and he does have the “screw the popular kids” attitude to an extent, he also shows that he’s aware of what he lacks. He knows that if you have the right attitude you can accomplish many things and reach out to a lot of people, but he doesn’t have that attitude and probaby never will. What his perspective does for him, however, is that it allows him to find people who are similar to him, and to figure out solutions that wouldn’t work for the “average” teenager, but are perfect for those who are below the bar. Similarly, Yukinoshita’s astute assessments make her able to understand a given social situation quickly, while Yuigahama’s propensity for tact and cheer becomes the grease to move the wheel where Hikigaya and Yukinoshita’s personalities would otherwise stifle it. SNAFU really does focus on the theme of helping people who feel ground down by the pressures of their social groups, and at places goes to some fairly dark (though not morbidly or horrifyingly dark) places.
Second, even though there is a love triangle element to the main cast, with Yuigahama clearly having feelings for Hikigaya due to a small event in the past, and Yukinoshita can be seen as gradually developing feelings for him as well, the friendship between the two girls is just as if not more important than the romance. Yukinoshita has no friends, while Yuigahama would traditionally try to ingratiate herself with other girls just to not be caught outside the circle, and so their growing bond becomes an important factor in developing them. It’s to the extent that, even if the series ends with one “winning” over the other by dating Hikigaya, it is highly doubtful that it would destroy the friendship they’ve built up.
Third, when it come to determining who might indeed end up with Hikigaya, the show gives a fair case for both of them. It doesn’t come across as woefully lopsided like in, say, Love Hina. And actually, when you look at the hormonal responses Hikigaya has to those he finds attractive, the strongest reactions seeem to come not from any girl, but from the incredibly effeminate male tennis club member Totsuka Saika. I’m pretty sure this is just another case of a Hideyoshi from Baka Test, a character so feminine in appearance that we’re supposed to take it as a gag, though in this case I suspect he also functions as a way to show how much deeper the connection Hikigaya makes with either girl will be.
I honestly think that this series ended up with a name as excessively long as Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru because someone told the author that everybody’s doing it. As a title, it’s actually quite deceptive, and somewhat ironically doesn’t help a person looking at it to understand what’s beneath the cover. I don’t think it’ll start any trends of intentionally obtuse light novel names, but at the very least it gives hope that if you’re willing to squeeze that lump of coal hard enough that it might turn into a diamond after all.
No guarantees with any other shows though.