BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.

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Oregairu 2 – 12

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Haruno gets the ball rolling from the get-go this week, calling into question Hikki’s efforts so far to find that mythical “real thing” he spoke of tearfully to reconcile with Yukino and Yui after his fake confession to Hina.

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Things seem back to normal for the three, but a tension remains, one that’s probably intensified by the presence of, say, Iroha, who is now all but an unofficial member of the club, while the balance between Hikki, Yukino, and Yui, was delicate before she showed up.

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The normalcy with a film of tension continues when the club gets Yumiko and Saki as clients, both wishing to make chocolate for the impending Valentine’s Day, a day when people typically give chocolate either out of obligation or affection to the recipient.

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Iroha uses her resources and the other school they worked with before to share resources and organize a big chocolate-making workshop. The girls cook with varying degrees of success while the guys taste.

Here, after a previous incident in the episode where Iroha seemed flattered Hikki didn’t consider her younger than him, Iroha seems similarly flattered when he praises her cooking skills, but hides it with another rapid-fire rejection before shoving a spoon in his mouth. Their push-pull, along with Kaori’s promise to make Hikki chocolate this year (likely out of obligation), paint the picture of a Hikki who’s more popular than ever.

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Then there’s Yukino, who seems increasingly nervous and flustered around Hikki, and both panic when they both touch the same bowl. Their behavior is plain to see, especially to Yui, who can’t mask her discomfort with the moment of closeness between the other two.

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Things get increasingly awkward throughout the workshop, especially when Haruno further stirs the shit, Orihara Izaya-style. The elder Yukinoshita bemoans the fact the three youngins before her are “boring”, and questions both the existence of the “real thing”, and calling into question Hikki’s resolve to achieve it.

As he eloquently puts it, Haruno is always there to remind him of things he’d rather not think of, just as another older mentor in Shizuka is less aggressive and cynical in her meddling. The olds are sitting around watching the youngs, and they want something to happen. I can relate!

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The cake is taken when Yukino’s snooty mom shows up in her Toyota Century in traditional clothing to scold Yukino for being out so late doing who-knows-what and expressing her fear her daughter’s on the “wrong path” to the future.

She claims to want Yukino to live her life, but maybe that’s something she told herself before Yukino got to the point where she actually would, a time that’s is already here. She can’t help but want to set her straight, no matter how intrusive it looks.

That puts Yukino on edge, and also increases the awkwardness between the trio, all three of whom, we must remember, are still, with just one episode left, trying to figure out who they’re supposed to be, and what happiness is supposed to be…and still struggling mightily.

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Oregairu 2 – 11

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Okay, so last week we weren’t quite witnessing an omiai, but rather a party for Yukino, with family and friends old and new assembled. But it still creates the rumor that she and Hayama Hayato are going out. And Hayama Hayato is supposed to be “Everyone’s”, in the way exceptionally handsome and talented school idols are.

Iroha knows such rumors could open the flood gates of girls “testing” Hayato for openings, as she most effectively demonstrates on Hikki. But Miura Yumiko is not amused. If Hayato is the King of the School, she’s the Queen, and while to a degree a king belongs to his subjects, Hayato is hers, and she wants to get to the bottom of this upsetting rumor.

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Only all they can get out of either subject of the rumor are unsatisfying answers. While the idea of these two going out feels ludicrous, it’s not like are privy to their every move, either. But let’s say they’re not and move on, because that’s what everyone is going to be doing soon, either to liberal arts or sciences.

Which one Hayama chooses could help everyone figure out what he’s going to do with himself, and who he’s going to do it with, but he volunteers no information to Hikki upon being asked. Turns out Everyone’s Hayama is No One’s Hayama.

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When the Service Club shows up to help Iroha rearrange a room, Yukino and Yui don’t only see how Iroha acts towards Hikky when she thinks they’re not behind him (they are), but the alumnai who show up to help include Haruno, who doesn’t know anything more about Hayama’s future plans.

Making Hikki walk her home (not a bad deal for Hikki, really), she shares in the growing frustration with not knowing the path Yukino and Hayama will choose. But she does know Hayama was hoping Hikki would ask him like he did.

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The next day there’s a marathon, and after we see Yui’s adorable “Ganbatte!” face, we see what Hikki planned with Saika: the tennis club holds the field back to let Hikki run alone side by side with Hayama. Hikki tries to capitalize on the emotionally vulnerable state of someone at the halfway point of a long trial to get more out of Hayato…and he succeeds!…sort of.

Faced with Hikki’s smug assertion Hayato has been using Yumiko as a shield against other girls, and telling him if his goal is to keep them away, he should choose the Sciences, Hayato tells Hikki he doesn’t like him, and they could never be friends, because as much as he’s tried to be equals with him, he can’t help but feel inferior to Hikki.

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Hayato may be able to find another gear and win the footrace, as the setting of high school is his wheelhouse, but he doesn’t think he’ll win the battle he wants to against Hikki. Not necessarily the battle for Yukino’s heart, but something more abstract: the battle to find “The Real Thing.” High School is ultimately just practice for such a thing.

In thanking only Iroha and Yumiko in his victory speech, Hayato quells the rumors about him and Yukino. Then Hikki heads to the nurse’s office to tend to his skinned knee, and Yukino is there, having forfeited her race. She insists on dressing his wound, which puts the two in direct contact and even within kissing distance at the perfect time of day, but understandably (and somewhat infuriatingly), neither can pull the trigger.

That’s not all bad though, because these two, plus Yui, are in a good place. And it seems all three will be going into Liberal Arts, so they’ll be together at least a bit longer.

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At the after-party, Hayato formally apologizes to Yukino for getting her mixed up in the rumors, and when he has him alone, Hikki declares he doesn’t much like Hayato, either, something hardly anyone’s ever said to his exalted face, and almost seems to make him happy.

But Hayama Hayato, the one with seemingly all the choices in the world, stalwartly refuses to choose anything, no matter who it may confound hurt, calling it his “self-satisfaction.” It’s a fence somebody like him, with his particular lot in life, has decided to continue standing on, and it’s hard to judge him for it.

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