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.
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 Kokoro, and 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.
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.”