Let’s try something new, order-wise. I did consider just posting the “Post-Episode Thoughts” as its own editorial, and linking to the rest of the notes. Tell me what you think in the comment section!
It finally hit me late last night, when last episode Yukino said that maybe they should stop taking new cases, and Hikki asked “Then what have we been doing all this time?” He was talking about his and Yui’s effort to maintain the club as is, and the rejection of it by Yukino. As a result of the deteriorating atmosphere in the club, and to still feel as part of it, Hikki has gone to help Iroha.
What did we have last episode? The funniest episode that most resembled the first season. A mostly setup episode, with an in-episode cloying atmosphere of dealing with soft social power, by Yukino on Yui and Hikki, by Iroha on Hikki, and Iroha and her Student Council getting absolutely crushed by the other school’s president. You don’t need to shout at people or use physical violence to control them, and the atmosphere. Then again, isn’t that one of this show’s main themes?
Now it only remains to be seen how much Hikki did or didn’t change since the Cultural Festival Arc last season. Will he help Iroha, or will he help her help herself?
Post Episode Thoughts:
This episode opening and then continuing with banter, first between Hachiman and Komachi (I’d like to call him “Hikki” here, but they’re both Hikigayas), and then between Hikki and Iroha was a small little thing. It showed how Hikki can be when he doesn’t have his barrier up, when he has relations he doesn’t have to question why he has them and can just act secure in the knowledge they’d be there. But of course, as we’ve seen when Komachi was angry with him, it’s exactly this closeness that motivates him to work in order to ensure the relationships can keep on going.
The move to Totsuka and Yui is obvious, where Hachiman tries to help others, he’s unable to accept others’ offers to help him. He comes off as closed, as “cool”, but it’s masking an insecurity. He has a hard time opening himself to others, not realizing that others’ approaches are actually offers for aid, of the sort he himself asks for before stepping in, or even without them (such as taking the load off of Yukino in the Cultural Festival or helping the little girl who was ostracized in the first season).
But all of this quiet setup, of how Hikki deals with people, is a lead up to the double core of this episode, of Hachiman outright admitting for the first time that he’s not cool, he can’t necessarily solve others’ issues, but it’s only a mask, a mask that’s capable of effecting change, but not enough, and a mask that has responsibility – both for its successes, and its failures. Hachiman started the show “knowing who he is,” knowing his role in regards to the rest of society, as outside and above it, as one who isn’t emotionally affected, and who can pass judgment.
But now, Hachiman is lost. He’s lost because his actions hurt people he cares about, because as Hayama told him, those other people are just like him, unsure of themselves, with a difference between the outside and the inside. And no, that doesn’t make them liars, just people who are trying to do the best they can to help people while not being hurt, who help as much as they can, while understanding that both actions and lack thereof will lead to people being hurt. Is it your responsible to make your friends happy? And if you try to make them happy but it hurts them, is it your responsibility as well? This is where the reintroduction of Tsurumi Rumi mattered – Hachiman’s gambit should’ve worked, yet here is the yet lonely girl he “helped”, so what is all his effort for?
The other big part was where Yukino and Hikki talked past another, and all they needed to do was stop and listen, for a single moment. Each sees the other as capable, of being able to succeed on their own, as not needing emotional support. Each tells the other how they see them as an ideal, unlike their own weak selves. All they need to do is stop, listen, and realize how they are all too similar, how they need one another’s help and acceptance, how both of them seem so strong only because they’re afraid to break down. But admitting it, admitting that the other can’t help them more than they can help themselves (and they don’t see themselves as worthy of help, or of providing help), will be the final nail in the coffin of ideals.
Yukino throws back at Hachiman his old words to Hayama, of not needing to make the effort to repair a relationship, and that if the relationship even needs effort to be maintained, then perhaps it’s not worth saving. But the hallmark of a relationship isn’t what can strain it, but whether we’ll take the effort to fix it. The misguided idea that “a true relationship” is one that’s never strained and is always easy is how one ends up alone, and afraid to open up to the world. It is how one ends like Hikigaya Hachiman and Yukinoshita Yukino.
Both of them are so busy admitting how weak they are that they can’t hear the other side is asking for support, for warmth. In the wise words of Hikigaya Komachi, “In times like this all you need to say is “I love you””, but they’re not close enough to say such things, because they demand such closeness in order to say the words that can create it. A sad and lonely loop. Admitting their own weaknesses to themselves, and then to another are the first steps in maturing past this step, but it’s a long road yet. Now the question is whether Hikigaya Hachiman is willing to change, at long last, to take responsibility for his happiness, for his relationships with his friends. He’ll have to force himself, but not for the sake of others, but for the sake of others as it is for his own sake.
Thoughts and Notes (As I Watched):
1) Home, Sweet Home:
1) “What I want the most is your happiness! And we’re out of detergent, so buy some on the way home.” This is the most cutesy sort of discussion, which I usually see in RomCom movies, between a married couple. Take it as you will. I’ll just take it as a way to show just how (not romantically) intimate Komachi and Hikki’s relationship is, and what people seek for in romantic relationships, for them to truly become your family.
2) “Oh right, mom wants you to order the chicken.” A rare reference to MC’s parents! No, it hasn’t come as far as either hearing or let alone seeing them, but a reference to parents beyond Yukino’s actually existing. Zomg. It’s so weird/sad that anime is this weird “parents don’t exist” sort of place. You could get a lot out of relationships with them. Then again, it’s a show about having to fail resolving your problems on your own, hee hee.
3) “I love you, Komachi.” Well, Hikki always looks like a creep. It’s those dead eyes. More seriously, note how he’s actively trying to cheer someone else up. Is this the real Hikki, as opposed to how he is at school, because he doesn’t have to hide himself in fear of being hurt? Nah, they’re both really him – the him he is when his guard is down, which is trying to cheer up close ones, and the him he is when his guard is up, which is trying to help others by drawing even farther.
1) “Again, why did you ditch me?” after she specifically said “Let’s go to the club together.” Take a hint, Hikigaya Hachiman. Girl doesn’t want to feel her social connections growing apart.
2) “We should’ve taken this task together as a club,” Yui’s talking about Iroha’s current request, but perhaps also the old one, which the club took up, but certainly not together. Continuing with lines that contain more than one meaning, “Yukino is all about overcoming obstacles like this,” meaning helping others such as Iroha find their place, or over their own club falling apart? The two conflicts aren’t all that dissimilar, especially if you focus on how Iroha’s real issue is bonding with her Student Council and other people more than merely dealing with this specific event.
The most important part of this scene though is, as is often the case, dealing with how people actually change, how Yukino might have changed, or rather, how Yukino’s relationship with them had changed. There’s also realizing the fact they might have made a mistake before, that they might not have understood their friend’s desire as well as they would’ve wanted to. But of course, it’s not translated to actually realizing they should talk with one another, including her, directly.
3) “We can’t do much, so at least we can let Hikki do as much as he can!” – A mirror to what was said in episode 2, with how they let Hikki take it all on himself, and also references what Yui said back then, and earlier this episode – “I’ll let you do it, but I’ll worry.”
3) Helping Automatons:
1) Hayama is telling Hachiman he’s more than his image, that he actually makes decisions and isn’t some automaton who reacts to outsiders based on some given script, one decided by his social status. There’s a tendency to view ourselves as free agents and others as acting based on their “natures”. Hayama is saying that if anyone always helps others here, it’s Hikki. And then Hayama passes the baton of taking care of others to Hikki, another request, one that isn’t just about the school, but about helping a person.
Hayama is also saying he doesn’t stick his nose in if he’s not asked to, is he making light criticism of Hachiman doing more than he’s asked to, or is he insinuating that if Hikki asked him for help, he might give it? He did once, but because Haruno asked him to. Or perhaps, he’s just saying it because it came up, free of subtext ;-)
2) And in the end, Hikki still got the bag from Iroha, after running after her. A metaphor for cleaning up after someone else, of working to take their load, even if they don’t ask for it. Now you just gotta apply that to Yukino, and take the load off of her even without her asking.
4) Communal Stupidity:
1) Yeah, asking the little kids over before actually deciding what you’re going to use them for. This really is how planning meetings go, wasting everyone’s time and patience ;_;
2) “We should discuss solutions where we can all contribute!” – “We’re running out of time.” – “You’re right, we should discuss that too!” GAH.
3) “Now that we’ve calibrated our expectations of the grand design, let’s have a functional discussion of the creative aspect today.” – Oy, mate, we here to run a Christmas event, or paint the friggin’ Sistine Chapel?
4) Right, incorporating all the solutions into one event, a jazz choir musical band event where the singers exchange presents between the audience sure sounds like it’d work.
Hm, it just hit me. Tamanawa is a kid, just like everyone else, right? He is afraid of making decisions. He’s afraid to shoot down ideas, and to have his ideas shot down. He’s afraid of the social conflict inherent in these situations, so tries to avoid any actual decision-making. Or maybe he’s just an ass who likes to hear himself talking. Who knows. Also, his “let’s incorporate everyone’s ideas”? Very similar to Hachiman’s “make everyone happy” solutions’ lip-service.
5) And here we see, again, the result of making the solution the goal, instead of actually thinking of what it’s supposed to be solving – a musical movie is a fine idea, but it’s no longer a community event for Christmas for the elderly. This is what happens when the method and the artifacts it generates become more important than the situation you’re there for.
5) The Mask:
1) “Did something happen?” – Hikki is missing an offer for help, because it’s not phrased as one, and because it doesn’t come from the one person he can accept help from, his own sister. People don’t help when they’re not asked, and people also turn down requests for help when they’re not the one who did the asking.
2) “Cool? I only try to act cool. Stubbornly clinging to the ideal self I’d created in my mind.” And season 2 continues with actually spelling out what had always been there, and which people stubbornly clung to the surface ideas, to not see, Hikki’s insecurity. Of course, this is making Hikki more relateable, and in some ways, cooler – always doing the right thing naturally is much less impressive than throwing yourself out there and trying in the face of your insecurities and fears.
However, as seen by not taking Totsuka’s offer for aid, and every scene in the club this season show, Hikki’s not that good at acting cool either. Hikki, like everyone else, is all too familiar with shrinking in the face of tough decisions, such as opening up to others. It’s easy to see his aloofness as “cool”, but he’s just hiding. Hayama told Hikki something similar, that from within, people aren’t like that, it’s just a mask.
His final wondering about others’ faces, is he wondering whether having a mask rather than sharing his vulnerabilities is ideal, or whether having a mask that others can’t confide in, and which brings forth sadness in others, not ideal?
6) A Logic-Free Intermission:
1) “If it’s that easy scoring points with you, then I don’t want them.” – Paraphrasing Groucho Marx’s “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”? Or perhaps contrasting it with Komachi, which helps further paint Iroha’s character as a younger-sister one, rather than a romantic interest.
2) Without Tamanawa, things actually progress, but it’s still Hikki who’s making all the shots, rather than Iroha and the rest of the Student Council actually stepping up. So much for being a “helper”. And then Hikki says as much.
3) “Are you into younger girls, senpai?” – A younger girl such as Iroha. Note that his focus is again, on the “younger sister” type, not romantically, but as a sort of relationship of guardianship and closeness. Not how Iroha hears it though. “Why are you treating me like a pest?” – Even the banter is reminiscent of Komachi’s banter with Hachiman. Then again, no one else banters with him.
4) Tsurumi Rumi smiled, when Hikki did nothing more than share space with her, but now that he’s trying to “solve her issues” for her again, when he sends her off to deal with kids her own age, she’s not happy. But perhaps it’s what’s needed. At least the lesson is that warmth can be shared simply by being next to one another. It leads to the following line, where he questions whether he succeeded, and whether he’s obligated to keep trying.
7) The Truth:
1) “Even with my old methods, I managed to save some things, but it’s not enough. What is my responsibility? I still haven’t found the answer to that.” – This might be the most important line not only in this episode, but in the entire show’s run, in both seasons, up to this point. This is about Hachiman trying to find his place in the world, to find out who he wants to be, but taking into account how who he’ll be and the actions he’ll take will affect others.
Hachiman knows he can help people, but just getting things done is the equivalent to “acting cool”, it’s not enough. He can do things for others, while others get hurt, while those he’s helping get hurt, or that he himself gets hurt. He can help others, but he can mostly solve their superficial issues, their “acting cool”-level, without resolving the underlying issues, so they’re left with loneliness, with sullen looks when they think no one is looking, or forced cheerfulness when others are looking.
And he’s responsible. Does he wish to act to help that surface level, or would he rather do nothing at all and not take on the responsibility of having failed to help and perhaps having made things worse? Who does Hikigaya Hachiman wish to be? How much is he responsible for others when he fails to act, and how much when he does act? How much should he let others be their own people, and how can he interact with people without taking their agency away from them? Does he have to keep interceding on Iroha and Rumi’s behalf indefinitely once he intervened once? Hikki is asking himself the most important question of all, of who he wants to be with others. He’s not God, he’s not even cool, so who exactly is problem-solving Hachiman, if you take these away?
2) “You didn’t lie. I stand corrected.” – This is cold, this hurts. Yukino is telling Hikki he should’ve trusted her. She’s not saying, but she’s insinuating that he should’ve also asked for her help or input. His reply is one that is very rules-lawyery, “I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell you the truth.” The reply you give a stranger, not a close friend. So Yukino responds in kind, and you can see how far apart they stand, two school friends, two club members, when there’s no one else around.
Also, remember how this episode opened, with Yui asking whether Yukino wanted to be Student Council President. Likewise here, it seems Hachiman has made the same mistake again, of leaving Yukino out when he thinks that’s what she wanted, but perhaps what she really wanted was to help, perhaps even work alongside Hikki.
3) Hikki doesn’t need Yukino’s permission, but he wants her approval. Being given the stranger treatment, about how she has no responsibility or control over him, how he shouldn’t ask her, is the result of him keeping her at bay (and thus what he deserves), and it hurts. It probably hurts the most knowing he’s responsible for this rift.
8) Mirroring’s a Bitch:
1) “I only do things alone because I’m alone (meaning, not because I had a choice), aren’t you the same?” and she tells him exactly what he said before, that she only acted as if she could do everything, like she understood everything. And here we see the final lynchpin for “Yukino is just like Hachiman.” Each of them sees the other as one who is self-sufficient, self-assured, who can do things. Heck, Yukino said to Hachiman he can do things on his own, and resolve everything. Except, right this episode, he told us he can’t, and it’s all a lie – both the alone, and the self-assuredness, and actually getting things done. Everyone sees everyone else around them as capable, and themselves as unsure, but everyone else is just as unsure. Even Hachiman, and Hayama, and Yukinoshita. They all need someone to lean on.
2) “If this is all it takes to tear us apart, then maybe we weren’t all that close to begin with.” This is terrible, because it’s exactly what Hachiman told Hayama in the 2nd episode. Hikki told Yukino he’s not in the club only to look over Yukino and Yui, and it’s true, he’s there because he actually cares about them, and the club – he’s there for himself. And now he sees what he couldn’t accept when Hayama came to him for help, that people actually want to be close to one another, and it’s the striving that is the true core of the relationship, more than over some nebulous “reasons” to strive.
3) “You don’t have to force yourself to come anymore.” – And this feeds into what I earlier referred to as the most important part of the show thus far – does he want to be one who puts in effort, or does he want to be one who’s “cool” and “unbothered”? Hikki’s forcing himself to come to the club, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to. That sort of false dichotomy is what he accused Hayama and others of before, not understanding that this is the true effort of relationships.
Not understanding? No, afraid of admitting it, because that wouldn’t have been cool, and would’ve forced him to open himself up. So, what responsibility does he have for his, and his friends’ happiness?
Shorter Notes / Asides:
- Opening with a shot of the club, our home base, our home, or so we wish. And of course, each person being focused on their own thing.
- With the new character designs, ex-loner girl really looks like the youngest generation of the Yukinoshita family, eh? She’s also the only one here who frankly and directly asks for instructions, unlike all the older kids.
- “Doesn’t jazz resonate more with Christmas?” – I guess the Japanese know Christmas even less than my Israeli self.
- Yeah, someone sure did turn up the heat in here with all dat Totsuka–service, as far as Hikki’sconcerned.
- People learn. After Hayama dressed Orimoto down, she knows not to speak badly of people, to gossip about them, in front of them.