Hikigaya is a loner boy who has no interest in socializing. His science class essay describing how ridiculous youth and socializing is lands him in his teacher’s office and the “Service Club” shortly after. Hikki meets Yukino, an intelligent and strong girl who shows very little interest in him but loves to help people, in this club. Together, with the people they collect along the way, they grow through the service that they provide through the club.
Hachiman Hikigaya (or Hikki, as labeled by Yui) is not quite in touch with reality. Our main character often talks about how logical or handsome he actually is, all while doing things that make very little logical sense and not being particularly handsome. At least his sister is honest with him by telling him he is. What Hikki does not give himself enough credit for, however, is how empathetic he is. Hikki will spend a whole two or three minute monolog convincing us or the other characters that he does not really care about society or the people around him, then turn around and sacrifice his social standing and the relationships that he has (that he claims he does not) to solve problems in other people’s lives. His whole character feels riddled with these contradictions. Contradictions such as him saying that he stays out of the way of people because he bothers them. But even that is being caring and conscious enough of others to show up on some kind of empathy radar, as twisted logic as that is. In short, Hikki’s love language is acts of service with a hint of masochism and this drives the plot of the show and his interactions with the “Service Club”. I give myself a lot of points for that analogy.
Yui Yuighama is my SNAFU comfort character. If she was a juice, she would be the sparkling grape juice that people get for special occasions. You would rather have your glass full of that sparkling juice than pretty much anything else because it gives you that celebratory feeling. Her bubbly personality really lit up whatever room she was in and I was just so happy whenever she entered the scene with her trademarked, “Yahello!” Aside from being the classic happy pink haired girl that fits my personal anime preferences, she felt like the emotional driver of the show. I know so many people think that this is Hikki’s show but coming to the series with fresh eyes, Yui is easily the most impactful character. Where most characters struggled to deal with their emotions or put their feelings into words, she regularly confronted Hikki or Yukino about what they were doing. Because she was willing to confront her shortcomings, she had some of the best (and most painful) development. I won’t sit here and tell you that Yui is the deepest character but you all know me, happy pink girl go brrr.
Yukino Yukinoshita is the female version of Hikki who got bullied by her family AND her peers. I got the impression that she wakes up with the same emotionless face in the morning that she goes to bed with, like what I imagine a psychopath does. I really liked Yukino’s character in season one. It was clear that we had an emotionally frozen character and that she was going to grow along with Hikki, with the help of Yui. What frustrated me quite a bit was how reduced of a character she became in season two and three. I am not sure if they forgot what her personality was or that she could have dialog, but it felt like they gave up on her character. It also felt like she gave up on herself. She hasn’t even gone into the workforce and she already had the personality of someone beaten down by twenty years of a forty hour work week denying their hopes and dreams from even coming to fruition. I wanted the Yukino that fought with Hikki at every turn because his ideas were bad back. I wanted the Yukino that felt the need to get a jab in whenever she could back. That was the Yukino that I knew and loved.
Sensei, oh Sensei. Our overly involved teacher that kicks off the events of the show plays a surprisingly large role in our story. Shizuka Hiratsuka (Sensei) sees that Hikki is in a place where he will not grow to be a valued person in society. Ever the great facilitator, she beats (yes, sometimes literally) into him that he cannot continue the way that he is right now. She forces him to join the “Service Club” and makes sure that they are involved in any event that comes by the school. Sensei is interesting largely because of her investment in Hikki. I have to wonder why someone who is so loved by the students took it upon herself to take the most disliked person in the class under her wing. Loneliness really feels like the most obvious reason. Sensei always talks about how she is approaching thirty years old without a husband or a family. I think there was a sense of projecting her younger self either on Yukino, and hoping that Hikki is the one that can change Yukino’s trajectory from being on that closely mirrors her own. The relationship that she creates with Hikki feels like one where they often bounce emotional processing off of each other, although Hikki bounces more off of her than the other way around. Sensei has an air of mystery around her that stems from that lack of emotional involvement. We know that she is lonely but we know very little else about her, other than she drives a really fancy car. The questions that we have about her add to the intrigue and make her a solid addition to the cast.
Iroha Isshiki is our dangerously flirtatious underclassman that joins the cast in season two. I make no effort to hide that she is my favorite character and for those who have not watched the show, this matters. There are many girls competing for Hikki’s hand in dating. Iroha is secretly very cunning and aware of everything going on around her, but her obsession with the image that she upholds as a cute and harmless girl cloaks a lot of her wit. It was such a breath of fresh air not only to have a character who holds herself back for a specific reason that she cares about, but also that when she wants to that she is easily the most aggressive character in the show. There are several times that Iroha jokes that she is selfish but this is largely true. She pushes for what she wants, she usually gets it, but she leaves enough room for people to get out of the situation if they truly do not want to be there. I think you can expect her to spice up the show when some of the characters get a little too content with what is going on in their lives.
I could write three or four more sections about characters that I enjoyed in this show. Aside from the dynamic between our main characters, SNAFU really enjoys a cast that is deep in humor, pain, and growth. It is hard to keep the review the length it needs to be when there are so many characters that should have their praise sung.
I will say only this to express my displeasure, I felt robbed at the end. However, this has very little impact on the emotion of the show. I just felt the need to make that known.
I do not know how this show escapes the harem trope being applied to it but this show is really just an emotional and thought provoking harem show. It feels wrong to even whisper the word harem around this show, however. Sure, everyone loves Hikki even when he doesn’t always deserve it, but there is so much more than that. We get the excitement and the anticipation of a harem type show and the fulfillment of a well developed show. The characters build relationships with each other by learning about each other over time. They hurt and break each other’s trust only to work towards getting that back. The pain that the characters go through in their efforts to become independent, attract each other, find their way in life, and more is incredibly relatable and well done. When we see these emotional betrayals and growth, it feels like we are friends inside the room who are taking in those emotions from the room. These are fantastic characters with real human problems that they need help with and other characters who are just as young and lost in life as the people they are trying to help. With the development of pretty much every character in the last two seasons, the tension between the goals of each character really comes through and sits heavily on the show. It feels like a little kid asked you to sit with them at their little kids table. You know, the one where the seats are just barely big enough to support your weight so you spend the whole time wondering if you are going to break something. We have these heavy concepts creating all this tension on the show that we assume, based on the first season, was never supposed to deal with anything so heavy, but does a great job at supporting the load anyways. So once we get up from the table we feel really good knowing that we spent quality time with people we cared about and there was no catastrophic falling of your person the short distance onto the floor.
One of the opening monologues by Hikki boils down to “Youth is an illusion created by hypocrites.” I think it is important to discuss this because this, like so many of the other Hachiman observations, feels incorrect. As I reach the one third mark on my life, I grow quite tired of pessimists and victim mentalities. Simplifying a beautiful time in peoples’ life is so reductive and unneeded that it almost feels unworthy of discussing. But the beauty of SNAFU is that both Hikki and everyone else knows that he is not really right. He is called logical but no one likes following what he says. He feels smarter than other people but he still looks to change based on what they say to him. So while so many people on social media will post his contextless quotes, the show alludes that he is wrong and his ways must change if he wants to move forward. I think this whole idea was beautiful and difficult at the same time. So much of the show was dialog with two meanings, speaking about what is actually happening right in front of them, but also speaking to the heart of the relationships that characters are having. It makes sense that so many people think Hikki’s ideas seem smart to people who share his sentiments. The simple amount of time that is given to his dialogs makes it seem like the show is arguing for what he says when, in reality, it is saying the exact opposite is true.
At some point in your life, you likely knew someone who sacrifices themselves to help others. They forgo sleep, time, and energy to make sure that they fulfill requests of others, knowing that they will suffer for their actions. It can seem valiant at times, but a look behind the curtain is little more sad than noble. I quickly realized that Hikki idealizes this kind of behavior. He claims that his methods of solving issues are “results first” and overall more efficient. But, as we move through the show, we realize that this kind of self sacrifice is rarely justified. Why? Because the sacrifice rarely helps people be more independent, solve the long term problem, or leaves people with an outcome they are satisfied with. On a personal level, it feels like something that people who are highly empathic need to learn about themselves and manage, almost like an urge. There are times that friends of mine, like Nick Mo. or Katy, clearly hurt themselves in order to support friends. That is hard to watch when they don’t have to do that. It is a conflicting feeling to point it out or ask them to stop because they clearly get a sense of fulfillment through their sacrifice, but it so obviously brings them and the people that care about them pain.
As someone who loves romance, the phrase that drove me nuts growing up was, “I just need time to work on myself.” At its root, this statement is attacking a perceived codependency. Codependency was a huge theme in the second and third season of SNAFU, egged on by Yukino’s sister. She accused our three main characters of being codependent on each other, stating that it was unhealthy and not genuine. I personally take issue with what codependency means today and how it is used. It is true that our characters used each other’s skills to solve problems and improve themselves, but this felt far from codependency. All of our characters were functional members of society before they met each other, which almost immediately rules out worries of codependence. True codependency is when basic functions of being a person are impacted by not having access to someone. This could be someone who has no ability to manage finances without a partner, or someone without an ability to get to work or the store without a driver, that is codependency. Reliance on someone is very different in my mind. I rely on Nick Mo. to edit my reviews because otherwise they would be 23% less funny and I would ramble. I rely on my brother to carry on the family genes because I can’t find a date. Sometimes we have to rely on people not because we can’t do something, but because what we could do alone is simply nothing in comparison to what we can do with the help of others. There are cases in the show of characters who push back about the relationship between our main three being codependent and I appreciate that. It makes it feel like there is not only a lot at stake in the relationships that we invested in, but that there are other influences that are invested, just like we are.
Ever since I joined the workforce, I rarely turn down an opportunity to decompress. Usually anime is how I decompress when I get home. I take off my belt, my tie, and my socks. I slide into my slippers and sink into the wooden chair I stole from my dining room set. Lately I get home and turn on My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, naturally. Season one is a lighthearted and monotone pacing where we glide through our episodes. It doesn’t feel like we are particularly going anywhere and it doesn’t feel like we will end any time soon. We simply fly over the heads of our characters, watching them stumble as they navigate their youth. Moving into season two, the entire tone shifts. We dropped the comedy for a heavy dose of drama. But we also dropped our sense of endlessness. It becomes clear that something will happen. We aren’t sure what, but even the characters seem to understand that things cannot simply be as they are. There must be a resolution, but we aren’t sure when we will get there. Had I not known that the show was three seasons, I might have thought this resolution could have come at any time. It felt like it was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but no one wanted to say it. Come season three, I was dying for a resolution. I knew what the outcome was going to be, Hikki knew, Yui knew, almost everyone knew. I just wanted them to say it. This really felt like it dragged the third season on, like how my dogs won’t let go of the tug toy after being too tired to play. So I end up just dragging them around for two minutes. I just wanted to let go of the tension and have it be done. Not because it was bad, but because the play had run its course and it was time to rest.
There is an important time gap to acknowledge between the seasons of SNAFU. The first season came out in 2013, the second came out in 2015, and the final season came out in 2020. Naturally, there will be a bit of a jump in quality from season one to season three. Season one is a very comfortable animation style but it feels awkward and uses the heavy black lines that we could expect from anime from that time, but not from many things in the past four or five years. Characters feel very simple and we never get anything that impresses. Season two rolls around and we get a complete facelift. The animation feels modern and the heavy lines are dropped. Each character gets a bit more detail and everything is rounded out so Yukino’s cheeks can no longer be used as a ruler. Season three was very similar to season two, despite being five years later. I have two major things that I didn’t like. Both of which I just know people will roll their eyes at. I really did not like Hikki’s character design. It did its job, but man did he scream “depressed son of the hunchback of Notre Dame.” His eyes were dead and varied so much from the rest of the characters that he could have been teleported in from a different show. It may seem obvious that the main character has to stand out, and I think Hikki was created intentionally despicable, I just never got over the weirdness of his character. The second thing I took issue with was the walking animation. Randy and I were watching the second to last episode when we got a shot of Yukino walking away from Hikki. I had to pause the episode and point out how ridiculous the walking was. Her body moved in a ‘V’ shape and nobody walks like that at all. I realized then and there that several points where the walking was awkward, unnatural, or otherwise wrong put me off. While these seem like small issues, they seem much bigger when the show does not give you much to look at. I can understand why as well. This is a very emotion heavy show with lots of creative and important dialog, but when you have such a normal world and events are underwhelming, there is something left to be desired.
Imagine a world, just like any other. We get a pretty standard school setting, complete with a band of popular kids, nerdy kids who like to be dominated by assertive girls, and teachers overly involved in the lives of their students. But I wanted to be interested in something. The characters go to a camp that feels barren and lifeless. There is a school dance that looks like twenty people attended. The school trip feels rushed over and skips over elements that could tie into the story later. I could never really find a reason to care about the world. Even when another school was introduced into the show, I never cared about them or what they did for the show, or didn’t do… The new school simply existed and, largely, that is how the world feels, that it just exists. Depth of character is great but it feels like we traded any trace of an interesting world for it.
I think that we all have unique memories that, despite being a bit mundane, stick with us forever. Many years ago there was a storm that knocked out the power to our house in the middle of the night. I remember that my mom and brother were sitting on the couch with candles lit in the living room as my dad walked in from the kitchen and I walked out of my room. There is nothing that I could point to and say, “This was exceptional for [specific reason]”. But I likely won’t forget it for the rest of my life. The music in SNAFU feels a lot like this. Slow strokes of the piano keys, the quiet slides on the guitar, and the emotion that comes with them will likely stick with you years after you watch it. There is a tension that is created in the space between the notes that highlights not only what is happening on the screen, but also the double talk that dominates the show. You can tell yourself that the notes that are being played sound happy all you want but the way that they are played asks you if that statement is genuine. Sometimes the answer feels like a yes, but most of the time, it feels like a no.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||6||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||5||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||6||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||3||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||2||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||1||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||3||3|
After being forced to participate in the “Service Club” by his teacher, Hikki is forced to confront his ideas through serving others. He meets Yui and Yukino and the three of them spend their first two years of high school navigating the emotional roadblocks that come with being young, searching for self, and genuine connection to others. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is a tension filled drama that speaks to the heart of these issues, with comedy mixed in. Season one is a little rough around the edges in comparison to modern animation, but I would encourage anyone who likes romance and drama to stick around for the next two seasons to watch a really interesting cast grow and find themselves.