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Brief Thoughts on the Fan Reception of Oregairu Zoku

23v14ltMy Second Season of Oregairu was Great as Expected, amirite?

Confession time: I still haven’t finished the Oregairu Zoku anime. I do, however, know what happens. The burnout I experienced after spending months translating the light novels prevented me from enjoying the anime on its own terms, so I’ll watch it later when the fuss has died down.

I did enjoy the various lively discussions I had with others about Oregairu throughout its run, though. I think it’s a testament to how well-realised the characters are that viewers inevitably brought their biographies to the discussion. “I was a former Hikki” was a common refrain, especially among fans no longer in high school.

This sequel has resonated particularly with twenty-something-year-olds. It’s no surprise, really – the author Wataru Watari is in his twenties and the later volumes of the light novel are written with a tone of wistful introspection. I get the feeling that Oregairu‘s theme of “we never stop growing up” speaks to those mature enough to be aware that they need to change for the better but still insecure enough to wonder where they are going.

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Through Oregairu, I feel as if I got to know the anime blogging/Twitter circle a bit better than I knew it before. In truth, most of the people who write anime criticism are very young in the scheme of things. I would say that early-to-mid twenties is the average age range. They’re pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the fandom, if the IARP fandom survey results are to be believed. Perhaps the only thing that separates “fan” from “critic” in this context is a willingness to analyse themes deeply, but even then, that’s a nebulous distinction.

This was especially the case with Oregairu, where the themes are so personal that oftentimes it was difficult for me to tell where someone’s thematic analysis ended and self-projection began. Now, I’m not a fan of “objective critique” – that is, the attempt to separate personal experience from critical analysis, but I do find myself wondering how a generally older fandom would have approached this material. Would they have reacted so viscerally to the themes? Or would they have focused more on the way those themes are expressed?

After all, it is not as if Oregairu is telling a particularly unique story. Literature is dotted with stories about loneliness and the perpetual struggle for genuine human connection. Only a few months ago, I wrote about Natsume Souseki’s Kokoroand if I have to be perfectly honest, I think it’s a more profound work than Oregairu is. At the same time, Oregairu speaks to its young, anime-savvy audience in a way that the literary classics don’t.

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Perhaps Oregairu is one of those stories that managed to say the right thing to the right people at the right time. It especially stands out in a market saturated with teenage power fantasies. Oregairu had to speak the language of otaku romcoms in order to communicate with its audience, but I’m glad it made the effort to reach out. That’s way more valuable than literary merit alone.

In the end, it really is a good thing that the series has encouraged so much frank discussion and genuine introspection from its viewers. Even if I didn’t enjoy the series itself, I would have been glad that it exists. I learned a lot about those around me just from talking about Oregairu with them. (On that note, here’s a shout-out to Guy who wrote consistently thorough and thoughtful posts about the series every week.)

So what about me? What does Oregairu mean to me? It’s difficult to encapsulate in words, but two quotes come to mind.

The first is by Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

The other quote is something I wrote in a fanfiction. Readers told me that the story was depressing (and there are things I would change about it if I wrote it today), but I don’t think its outlook was pessimistic. It reflected my own understanding of Oregairu’s themes – that we are good people at heart, forever works in progress. One line, at least, felt important to me when I wrote it:

“Even if it is impossible to truly change, you must always continue to try.”

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Posted on June 30, 2015, in Anime Analysis and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I can pretty much say that Oregairu has been a special show for me!

    You know, these weeks have been a continuous bustle between blogs, reddit Hikkis and twitter hype, and I enjoyed all of it! At times it was difficult to understand the show, but thanks to people like Guy and Nick Creamer (from ANN) I managed to have a better comprehension of it. Of course, even though you didn’t take part in this, I appreciate your work on the first four LNs, so I consider you part of the group that made Oregairu an even more enjoyable experience!

    I’m looking forward to your next pieces!

  2. That utility bit about “speak the language of otaku romcoms” is precisely one thing that a lot of Oregairu critics overlook when evaluating the franchise, and I’m frankly dismayed about when people comment how S1 couldn’t be as serious as S2 (though there are also frankly people who think S2 should have been less serious). For people who consume and critique “high literature,” the tropes and references that Oregairu employs may seem unnecessary at first and distracting at best to its ideas, but for anime otaku, who do not consume and critique “high literature,” these tropes are the gateway to challenging and introspective themes about human maturation.

    • You know, I’ve always been ambivalent about the tropey-ness of Oregairu. There are times when I find it too much, too alienating (this applies more to the LN than to the anime, tbh). It’s also not a series I can casually recommend to people who don’t watch a lot of anime. It’s not badly written, but I would describe it as inaccessible.

      On the other hand, when it comes Oregairu’s pop culture references, not all of them are otaku in-jokes. In fact, most of them aren’t. The novels even make plot points out of Kokoro and No Longer Human, both widely considered “high literature”.

      So yeah, if Oregairu gets its target audience to think about important issues, then more power to it. Even better if it serves as a gateway for writers like Souseki and Dazai.

  3. Talking about Oregairu always kind of puts me in weird place. Even though I said I identified with Hachiman, I realized that I really only identified with his loneliness and self loathing, but I never actually identified with his cynical outlook. Considering much of the series fan is a former “hachiman”, that is, precocious self absorbed teenager who only sees “phoniness” in human interaction, it makes me feels kind of weird.

    • The thing about Hachiman is that there’s a bit of him in everyone, even in people who don’t necessarily act like him. Like you, I never really identified with his cynical outlook, but the general themes of Oregairu do resonate with me.

      I’m with you in feeling a bit weird when other people talk about how they resemble Hachiman, though. It always feels like I’m probing somewhere a bit too personal. Thinking about it, it’s kinda similar to the feeling of discomfort I get when someone takes their relationship with their waifu too seriously lol.

  4. I found this series really complicated for some reason. I just flat out didn’t get it.

    I enjoyed the first season wholeheartedly the characters and the interactions between them being the highlight for me.
    So was pretty excited with the release of this second season as my attempt to start reading the LN’s had found its way into my ‘swamp of thing i must to at some point’

    At first I wanted to blame the show for making no sense but found that the more I looked into it on forums and such the more people seem to have a deep understanding of the unspoken interactions between the main cast. I therefore blamed myself and figured I should just put serious thought into attempting the LN’s again.

    I guess the good side to this was that I fully empathised with the main cast not understanding the Kaihin brainstorms as that’s the best analogy for how I felt watching it this season :’).

    • If you couldn’t make sense of the heart of the series then that the better term to use is you sympathized with the main cast. Since you could not put yourself in their shoes but still felt for them. That is ‘sympathy’.

      Empathy requires you to be capable of having been in that situation before and thus fully be able to grasp completely where they (the characters: Hachiman, Yukino, etc.) are coming from.

      But you are onto something. Part of the charm of the series is that usually people who understand the series are individuals who have gone through the same/similar experiences of the main cast of SNAFU. They can fully put themselves into the lead cast’s shoes (empathize).

      I feel it is very admirable that you have compassion enough to want to make sense of the characters and their motives. Trying to gain understanding into that way of thinking.

  5. I have to interject that not all extraordinary stories have to be vastly original. As long as the stories are approaching a general audience and that audience is interpreting them, pretty well, that is everything. Sometimes I truly believe they can surpass more original works that are perhaps seen as classics or the standard of better content (books, TV series, films, anime).

    • Ah, you misunderstand what I wrote. I don’t think that Oregairu is bad because it’s unoriginal or because it’s not “literary”. I think it’s great that it manages to speak to the right people.

  6. Apologies for joining the party somewhat late (though I suppose that reflects my experience with the series itself, as I only started watching S1 after S2 started)…but what you’ve suggested about the people who tend to really connect with Oregairu does seem to explain why I’ve never really gotten into it. Whilst I wouldn’t quite put myself into the ‘older anime fandom’ yet, I do feel a bit of distance from Nick and Guy, for example. Even though I found their analyses insightful much of the time, the execution — the use of tropes, the way the message is stated so many times but in a way that I would describe as ‘beating around the bush’ — really frustrated me when I was watching the series.

    I do think Oregairu’s themes and messages are really interesting; it’s just that I probably appreciate them better when they’re presented in a different way. For example, I found similar themes in Sound! Euphonium this season, presented in a way that resonated with how I’ve personally encountered them, but everyone else discussing that series seemed to be focused on one thing and one thing only. If I had to put the difference I sense in words, to me, the way Oregairu treats the theme feels a lot more insular than the way I saw it addressed in Sound! Euphonium. Though that might just be because I don’t really empathise with Hachiman or Yukinon, even though I think I understand the issues that they are grappling with…

    • Yeah, that point about Oregairu having great themes but not presenting them in an accessible manner is something I agree with. The series is definitely tailored to a specific audience. I wouldn’t recommend Oregairu generally, even though its themes can be generally understood. It’s a strange case.

      Also, it’s interesting that Euphonium resonated with you a lot. I personally haven’t seen that series, but the anime that best resonated with my experience of adolescence was Hyouka, and I heard the two series have a lot in common (same studio, for a start). I should really get on to Euphonium…

      • Hm…even after a few weeks of really long ‘conversations’ with online friends/acquaintances about it, I still find it difficult to explain what it was about Euphonium that resonated with me. I wouldn’t say that it was about my experience with adolescence (even though I was a band kid, we never had any competition to aim for); rather, it resonated with my experience of living in Japanese society, and with the discussions I’ve since had with friends about that. If you did start watching, I’d certainly be interested in seeing what you think about it.

        • arbitrary_greay

          I finally caught up with Zoku and Euphonium this past weekend, and had a similar experience. Came back to this post because I think I finally found an in on the idea Froggy was going for in the main post: that these stories of teenage isolation do need to be told again and again, continually made accessible to the latest generation. He mentioned Kokoro, and others have made the connection to Catcher in the Rye. Readers of Catcher today range anywhere from intensely sympathizing with Holden or his teacher, to finding the book and its themes completely inaccessible.

          Nearly every new artistic movement grows out of a disillusionment of the youth with the arts of old. The power pop, psychadelic rock, and punk rock music scenes that defined adolescent revolt in previous decades now represent cultural appropriation by the mainstream majority, to today’s generations that find its rebellious spaces in hip hop.

          Some find their seminal story of isolation in Evangelion. Others want Shinji to get in the fucking robot. Some relate to using chuunibyou as an escape from their isolation, and others find the behavior of chuunibyou characters problematic. Chobits and Her both try to explore our attempts to assuage our loneliness with technological facsimiles of humanity. Some think that Monogatari’s characters keenly represent the ways we use performativity to hide our isolation, and others find it pretentious fanservice that doesn’t develop beyond its tropes.

          As society keeps evolving, we will always need new stories to recontextualize the isolation that teenagers keep finding themselves in.

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