Was it worth the two-year wait?
My overall impression of this volume is that, yes, this is definitely building up to some kind of climax. It’s just stretching out the development really slowly. Almost everything of note happens in the last 40 pages or so, which is par the course for the Oregairu LN.
In this volume, Hachiman, Yukino and Yui all take baby steps towards change, but in the end, they still need an agitating presence like Haruno to blow apart their relationships and force them into making a move.
The volume ends with Hachiman running off to “save” Yukino, leaving Yui in tears.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let’s backtrack and talk about the start of the volume.
The story picks up where volume 11 left off, with our main trio outside the aquarium. Hachiman is keenly aware that there are things left unsaid between the three of them. It’s awkward at first, and Hachiman overthinks every damned little thing, but in the end, they have a pleasant conversation looking back on everything that’s happened throughout the series.
At this point, Yukino even opens up a little bit, and mentions that she wants to go into politics and business like her father, but she’ll need to convince her mother to take her seriously for that to happen. Haruno, the eldest daughter, is the one tasked with the responsibilities. Yukino is just “the other child.”
For the first time, Hachiman finds the courage to ask her more about her family situation. This is a big moment, for everybody.
Yukino says that she plans to have a proper talk with Haruno about it. Then she plans to move back into her parents’ house (remember that she’s been living alone in an apartment for all this time) and ask her mother to listen to her. “I have to start by finding out what she thinks for certain,” she says. “This time, I’m deciding it through my own will. Not because somebody told me to, but because I came to this conclusion on my own.”
She confronts Haruno in the very next chapter.
Haruno is still at Yukino’s apartment when they return. She’s been drinking, but apparently she’s not drunk. According to her, no matter how much she drinks, she can’t get drunk.
In typical Haruno fashion, she wriggles her way out of answering Yukino at first. But when she realises that Yukino is serious about what she wants to do, she mutters, “So this is your answer.”
Then she says, “I’ll help you out.”
Haruno insists that she’ll help Yukino try to convince their mother. “She won’t change her plans so easily,” Haruno explains, “so you’ll need time, right? I’ll say my piece too when the timing’s right.”
And so (with Yui’s help) Yukino moves back into her parents’ house.
And then life goes on.
Yukino’s subplot is put on hold until the very end of the volume, and so from this point onward we see other characters take the stage. At this point, the secondary theme of this volume emerges: The “distance” between brother and sister.
This is shown, firstly and most obviously, through the relationship between Hachiman and Komachi. As you may remember from the anime, Komachi is taking the entrance exam for Hachiman’s high school. In volume 12, we find out that she’s managed to pass the exam. Congrats, Komachi!
At first, Komachi tries to carry herself like an adult. When she’s nervous about finding out the results, she tries not to show it. Hachiman senses that something has changed about their relationship – the siblings are beginning to drift apart.
But then Komachi finds out her results and she can no longer hold her emotions in. She cries and clings to her brother, the same way she did as a child. “The day we siblings drift apart will come,” thinks Hachiman. “But today isn’t that day.”
This is what the relationship between siblings is like, and it’s impossible for Hachiman to project those feelings onto anyone else. Iroha calls him out on this later, when he claims to see her as a little sister. “You should stop doing that,” she says. “No girl likes being treated as a little sister.”
This conversation is played off in a light-hearted fashion at the time, but Iroha’s sentiments come back to haunt Hachiman in the end. When he insists that he’ll “help” Yukino, even when she says that she can handle things by herself, Haruno points out how inconsiderate he’s really being.
“Are you playing the big brother again?” she asks him, cuttingly.
To that, Hachiman can’t really say anything.
The primary conflict in this volume centers around the high school prom. This is a hare-brained scheme that Iroha cooked up after watching American movies, thinking that she’ll get to be the prom queen. She brings this request to the Service Club, and although Yukino and the others hold some reservations about Iroha’s motivations (“Is she really doing all of this for herself?” they wonder), they eventually decide to help her out.
At first, I thought that this would lead to a retreading of earlier conflicts in the series, where Yukino tries to organise a large-scale event by herself and encounters problems. Anticipating this, Yui tells her from the start: “Don’t overexert yourself.”
As it turns out, there are no problems from Yukino’s side. No, the problems actually come from Yukino’s mother herself.
Yukino’s mother is, let’s say, one of those “concerned parents” types. She’s literally a member of the parents’ association. She wants to halt the prom because she finds it too “scandalous.” Literally all of her arguments are stupid, but she never changes her mind. She just smiles and pretends to listen to you and then gently reprimands to make you feel like the bad guy.
Yukino, who is obviously used to her mother’s style of argumentation, insists that she’ll be able to negotiate with her mother. Cut to the next chapter, however, and we find out through a phone call with Hiratsuka-sensei that Yukino has failed miserably at the task, but we’re left hanging about the details. According to Hiratsuka-sensei: “I’ve been compelled not to tell you. It’s Yukinoshita’s wish not to tell you.”
Then she asks, “Do you still have a reason to help out with the prom?”
This is the big moment for Hachiman. Even if it’s against Yukino’s will, does he still have a reason to help her, to rush to her aid?
He thinks that: “All of my reasons are linked to work, the club and Komachi. Even if I change the words and the way I say it, I realise that everything ties back to that.”
Haruno called his relationship with Yukino a “co-dependent” one, but for him, that’s not a reason either. “Co-dependency is the structure of a relationship. It’s not an emotion. It could be used as an excuse, but it could never become the reason.”
After thinking about every emotion in his heart, after squeezing himself dry, there is only one feeling left. A feeling that he cannot, does not want to verbalise.
But I have to say it, he thinks. If I don’t, nothing will progress.
And so he says, “I promised that I’d save her one day.”
Trite, hackneyed words without any rhyme or reason. He hates saying them.
But Hiratsuka-sensei accepts his reason. “Come immediately,” she tells him, so he leaves right away.
Yui waves him off.
“If you go to her, things will work out,” she insists brightly.
As soon as he’s gone, she bursts into tears.
There are three cryptic interludes inserted at different parts of the story. Each one is apparently told through the point of view of Hachiman and Yui. Fans have already attempted to translate these, and you can find them on the Oregairu Reddit or 4chan or wherever.
In the first interlude, the writer (Hachiman?) admits: “I don’t want something genuine if it’s only going to be cold, cruel and sad.”
The second and third interludes appear to be written by Yui. In the second interlude, Yui discovers a photo of Yukino and Hachiman from Destiny Land. She notes: “It would be cruel to ask her feelings. It would be cruel to say my feelings. But I’m scared of knowing his feelings. And putting the blame on her would be the cruelest thing of all.”
And in the third interlude, she says: “I couldn’t blame everything on her. Just like she depended on him, I depended on her. I was the one who pushed everything on others.”
Everyone is afraid. What does it mean to move forward? What will happen when the status quo finally shatters? I think of this situation as a love triangle, but it’s also deeper than that. I think that this story is about the basic fear of being emotionally vulnerable.
There are little signs scattered throughout this volume that, despite the fact that they have known each other for a year, there are basic, essential things that these characters have not grasped. They are still afraid of asking personal questions. And Hachiman has never once touched the key for the Service Club room.
How will these trio of misfits truly break out of their shells and learn to relate to each other? Volume 12 completed the setup for this conflict. In volumes 13 and 14 (which are set to release at the same time at an unspecified date), we’ll see where the dice falls.
(Photos of the illustrations are from this imgur folder uploaded by dvdtely.)
EDIT: Added some clarification about the second interlude. Commenters are right – it appears to be told from Yui’s perspective.