My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong As I Expected, Vol. 4

By Wataru Watari and Ponkan 8. Released in Japan as “Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatte Iru” by Shogakukan. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

I think I have to come to terms with the fact that the pacing of this series is going to be glacial at best. Much as I have been clamoring for a bit less isekai and a bit more real world in my light novels, I’m pretty sure that other slice of life books must have plots that move faster than the main one in OreGairu. That said, the author is clearly settling in for the long haul, and I’m not sure if I’m just used to him or if he was less appalling, but Hachiman was not nearly as punchable this time around. He’s still a cynic and misanthrope of the worst order, but his analysis of group dynamics, once unpacked from his own mindset, is very clever and not entirely wrong. He works best when paired off with Yukino, who is very similar to him though I think they’d both rather not admit that. As for Yui… I want to give her a hug and send her to a different series.

Despite Komachi starring on the cover, she’s more of a supporting character this time around. The premise, which is actually quite a good one, is that over summer break the teacher gets the Service Club and its auxiliaries, as well as the Cool Kids group, to help supervise an elementary school camping trip. While they’re there, they notice, as often happens with a class of students, that one girl is being shunned by all the others. Hachiman sees her attempts to power through it and be cool and uncaring as Yukino; Yukino sees her desire to be one of the gang but awkward failures as Yui; Yui just sees a sad young girl she wants to help. That said, the attempts to try to fix the group dynamics are somewhat terrible, and it’s only after Hachiman comes up with a clever but incredibly cruel plan that things are even vaguely helped. And even then you aren’t sure if it did any good.

We get a bit more development of Hayama and his group here, and see he has a past with Yukino that I think makes him a bit jealous of Hachiman. And yes, Saika is here as well and we get endless accounts of how attracted to him Hachiman is, which I’ve come to accept is simply never going to go away. But as always, the best reasons to read the book are the prose, particularly Hachiman’s twisted narration, which can be utterly hilarious, brutally on point, or just plain pathetic – sometimes all three at once. In particular, his strange desire to tell stories of his incredibly pathetic childhood, with only the occasional “this happened to someone else” attempt at a cover up, borders on the needy. But it’s what makes this series compulsively readable, and it’s another good, solid volume for this series. That said, the only major plot development happens on the last two pages. Perhaps that bodes well for the next book.

My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong As I Expected, Vol. 3

By Wataru Watari and Ponkan 8. Released in Japan as “Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatte Iru” by Shogakukan. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

In many ways this third volume of OreGairu actually moves backwards: having seen Hachiman seemingly blow up his burgeoning friendship with Yui in the second book, much of this third one consists of he and Yukino trying to get Yui to return to the Service Club, if only as the teacher demands a certain number of people in the club. They are impeded by Yui’s hurt awkwardness, Yukino’s inability to really interact with people normally, and above all Hachiman being who he is. The point of this series to a degree is amusing the reader with Hachiman’s narration and analysis of himself and others, and I am frequently amused. But I do hope that eventually we get some sort of deconstruction of this mindset or attempt to take it apart, because it also reminds you how incredibly annoying this kind of guy really is. For someone in their late teens, Hachiman must seem awesome. He frequently exhausts me.

Yukino, on the other hand, does get quite a bit of attention devoted to her as well, and we start to see a few reasons why she is the way she is, first and foremost being the appearance of her older sister. Haruno is bright, vivacious, communicative, and seemingly nothing whatsoever like Yukino… except Hachiman, who is quite clever in ways that don’t involve himself, realizes is a false front. I’m not sure if Haruno is meant to be a villainous character here – she doesn’t actually seem to be secretly needling Yukino as you’d expect if she were, and the delight over Yukino having a boyfriend seems genuine, false front or no. Yukino is also more apparently making an effort to get closer to Hachiman, though because of who he is and who she is, this doesn’t go far at all, even with Hachiman’s sister trying to set them up.

The book ends with a “bonus chapter” that is the novelization of a drama CD included with the volume, but you get the sense that if it hadn’t come with a drama CD the author would have included it anyway, as it’s in no way irrelevant. By the end of the story Hachiman and Yui have made up and gone back to baseline, they’ve all had a cute birthday party at a karaoke place, and Hachiman has had romantic thoughts about his cute male friend Saika about 80,000 times, which has gotten less amusing as the book go on, and I wasn’t all that amused by it to start with. That said, there are also some very funny jokes here as well – I loved Yui completely misreading Hachiman’s present to her, as well as the brief narrative from Shizuka’s POV, showing that the teacher is every bit as bad as the students who she’s trying to rehabilitate.

The main reason to read this is still Hachiman’s first person snark and the jokes. But so far if I wanted to read a series about a quirky cynical narrator and a frosty socially awkward brunette beauty, I have the Monogatari Series. I’m hoping that in the next book we try to do a bit more with these people than just circling each other warily and grudgingly getting along.

My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected, Vol. 2

By Wataru Watari and Ponkan 8. Released in Japan as “Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatte Iru” by Shogakukan. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

In many ways, this second volume of OreGairu does not have a heck of a lot going on. There are school ativities and discussion of career plans, as befits high schoolers. There is the Service Club and their attempts to help people, which features two cases this time around, both of which are solved relatively quickly. But that’s appropriate, as the problems are very much those of typical high-schoolers – feeling like the odd man out in a group of friends, and trying to find a way to pay for higher education. They’re also solved relatively quickly because both Hachiman and Yukino are both amazingly intelligent and observant, and normally they’d be praiseworthy. But they aren’t, mostly because of the reason anyone would read OreGairu in the first place: to read about these horrible, broken people lacerating each other with words.

I read this book right after reading Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, and the contrast between narrative style is mindblowing. Hachiman’s cynical bitterness overflows every page, and his defensive asides only serve to make him more pathetic and yet strangely endearing. His insight into human nature, particularly the way that high school students interact around each other, is high-level stuff, and if he was looking for a career at all I’d suggest he move in a direction where he could use those talents for the better good. But his crushing apathy and disaffection ensures that this isn’t going to happen. Yukino is similar to him, though without the outward self-hatred. I say outward because this second volume shows us that there is a topic that really upsets Yukino and cracks her jerkass facade, and that’s showing family issues in her face. Clearly Yukino’s issues are family-related just as Hichiman’s are peer-related, and I have no doubt that future books will explore this in agonizing detail.

Thank goodness for Yui. I feel a little bad for her, as much of the time she feels like a character from a far more cliched light novel trapped inside this series. But she’s desperately needed to offset the bile coming from her two clubmates, and her relatively normal reactions to everything show off both how intelligent and broken Hachiman and Yukino are. She’s also tied to the accident at the start of his high school life, something he is now aware of, and this culminates in a stunning final scene where she gives him a perfect opening to get closer to her and possibly lead up to something more, and he just shuts her down as callously as possible. This series would never work if Hachiman’s attitude was fixed as quickly as this, so the pushback was expected. But it’s beautifully, heartbreakingly written, and you feel bad for Hachiman while wanting to kick him in the head. And Yui needs a hug.

That said, the actual plot is mostly irrelevant for this series, which runs on snappy dialogue and clever characterization. It’s not a happy, feel-good series at all, but it’s absolutely worth a read for light novel fans.