Welcome To My Life by racer
The first volume of the Yahari Ore no Seishun LoveCome ga Machigatteriru series, to be called Oregairu from here on (although it’s been called Hamachi as well; remember that?!), was published in Japan in 2011 by Gagaga Bunko. I don’t think anyone would argue that the series didn’t achieve success as a story – its first animated adaptation aired two years later and a second, much better looking season came out yet another two years later, in 2015. There were games based on it for the Vita and some comic adaptations as well.
In July 2012, when the anime was announced, the only impression it made on me was “another light novel adaptation with a long title”, which, considering the average quality of those, didn’t make me watch it. I think I might have seen the first episode, but, in the end, decided not to follow it weekly (probably because of Yukinoshita being an awful person). After reading all the praise it got from people who have been checking each episode out as they were airing, I watched the entire first season in one sitting as soon as it concluded. Let’s say for now that when the second season was announced, I had no doubts that I would be watching it week-to-week. And so, not long ago, when the first novel was published by Yen Press, I decided to buy it.
If I wanted to sell you Oregairu and had to do it in the shortest time possible I would describe it so: “A high school misanthrope gets forced to join a club which helps students with their problems. Each task to solve fleshes his antisocial character out a bit more”. It’s based on a simple structure, then, with clearly divided story arcs in which there are “Characters of the Week” that each have a problem to deal with. The protag is a people-hating nerd, so the results of his work are less than ideal, though.
And his name is Hikigaya Hachiman – one fitting for a hikikomori, which he’s pretty close to mentally. Hachiman is a social outcast who could actually count how many times in a year he spoke to anyone at school. He is far from a grim or unlikeable person, though. Although completely aware of his sad place in life, he has a great sense of humor – autoironic, but sometimes doing an extreme one-eighty into narcisistic territory and then immediately back into misery. Lines in which Hachiman curses normies only to suddenly hint that he’s aware of how much of sour grapes he is – that’s a classic Oregairu move. Add to that an occasional traumatic-slash-hilarious flashback into his awful school life or a rant about how his mental defense mechanisms work to imagine the kind of character Hachiman is.
The novel is written in first person, the classic way to write a character study, letting the reader have a look into the protagonist’s mind to understand him better. It’s definitely a fun read. It’s stuffed with quippy dialogue, lewd jokes (as expected of an LN protagonist), lines pointed at the main character and dumb puns. And, since Hachiman is the kind of person for whom socializing isn’t an option, he’s also a gigantic erudite, therefore Oregairu is full of what nerds like the most – reference humor. Some of the jokes are callbacks to incredibly obscure stuff that even a Japanese person would be dumbstruck by. Thankfully, the English edition has a translation notes section at the end, explaining who the hell Matsushima Tomoko was and whatnot. Oregairu is written in a very characteristic way that you might have encountered before in some more literary-minded works by nerdy Japanese writers. If you’ve read Cross Channel, you should feel at home reading Oregairu. This kind of story is difficult to render into English, which makes me want to congratulate Jennifer Ward, the translator, for doing a great job.
Hachiman is indisputably the hero of his story and I think the number one question the reader will be asking oneself when reading is “Will he change into a less of a cynical social pariah?”. Then again, the other characters also make me look forward to next volumes. The plot wouldn’t even start without Hiratsuka-sensei, who, after Hachiman writes a piece for her Japanese classes containing a line “You normies can go die in a fire”, makes him join the Service Club, which turns out to be a place where she gathers problem children for her amusement. She’s also there to make 90s references (they’re “giving away her age”, as Hachiman says). If Oregairu has a heroine, it has to be Yukinoshita Yukino, the bitch queen (“ice queen” doesn’t half-describe her), who nonetheless is a very impressive person – hypercompetent, wise and always honest, for better or for worse. And friendless because of it. Who knows, she might become more dere than tsun at some point. Also, she looks completely different in the later novels and the anime. The other member of the Service Club is Yuigahama Yui – the owner of an Oregairu Name surpassed in ridiculousness only by Watari Wataru, and a sweet, though stupid girl, trying to get over her excessive need for acceptance. There’s also Totsuka Saika the trap (who makes Hachiman think that loneliness made him bisexual), the class clique of haughty normies and Zaimokuza Yoshiteru the awful light novel writer (nobody likes him).
After the proper novel, there’s an afterword by the author, saying that being reclusive in high school is nothing to be regretful about. There’s an aesthetic to being a social retard, one that isn’t worse than the life of a socialite. But, after a few lines, he says “Or not. I hated it!”. He flails from one side to another. Is it good to be a pariah or not? Is Hiratsuka-sensei, who insults Hachiman for being lonely, right? In the end, Watari doesn’t know. Neither does Hachiman. Because Watari Wataru IS Hachiman. Also, it says in the afterword that Hirasaka Yomi wrote a blurb for the Japanese edition of Oregairu. Not surprising, considering Haganai is a less serious Oregairu.
I’ll return to the anime for a bit. Not many anime titles can call themselves memorable – very few of them are even discussed years after they aired, most are forgotten as soon as they end. Or earlier than that. Oregairu, though, clearly stands out among other anime. It seems to me that with passing time, the story of Hikigaya Hachiman is only getting more popular. The second season of the anime was widely anticipated, and the second game was released just recently, years after the anime. Hachiman regularly comes up when anime watchers are asked about their favorite male characters and his awkward struggles with high school are talked about occasionally even now, in 2016. Today, he is pretty much a legendary figure, almost a patron saint. Why? I would say that Oregairu belongs to a genre that I would call “relatable stories”. Stories destined to sell, because they know exactly who they’re for – the traditional audience of anime and light novels: teens and adult nerds. What’s more, they’re going for the “I’m the same as you are” appeal, which is pretty much The Way to create a popular story. It belongs on one shelf with series like NHK ni Youkoso or Watamote, autoironic portraits of broken nerds and the disgusting contents of their minds, although it’s a much less hard-hitting story. Much of the success of Oregairu comes down to narcissism – people like seeing mirror images of themselves. Remember Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai and it protagonist, Keima the unapologetic, confident nerd? Wasn’t that a hit? I have to admit that I bought Oregairu v1 partly because I gave in to the hype. When the novel was released, everyone was talking about it and reliving the time when they watched the show. I did too, and now that I finished reading it, I feel a little disappointed. It reminded me that Oregairu isn’t the legend that it’s sometimes made to be. It’s just a light novel with some boob jokes.
So, is Yahari Ore no Seishun LoveCome wa Machigatteiru worth your attention? YES. I might not like it as much as everybody else, but it definitely is. Should you read the novel or watch the anime? (It covers the first volume in three episodes) A tough question. I’m leaning slightly towards the anime, but only because it’ll take you less time to get through those three episodes than read the book. How are those two incarnations of one story different? The anime is more comedic in tone – the parts when Hachiman and Yukinoshita exchange insults at the beginning are played for laughs in the anime, while they’re not pleasant to read at all in the novels. Or at least that was my impression. Poor Hachiman, everybody treats him like shit. Also, the anime does away with most of the intertextual references in Oregairu. You won’t hear any jokes about Jashin Oonuma there.
The series is still ongoing in Japan (11 volumes are out as of now) and their translated editions are supposed to be coming out in several month-long intervals thanks to Yen On. Have you preordered volume 2 already?