The biggest issue with anime protagonists is their inability to be realistic. Given the way the anime industry operates, the vast majority of screen time is spent exploring female characters. As a result, we often receive generic, boring main characters that have the traits of attracting females and being adverse to confrontation. Main characters are blank canvasses against which the female characters are given ample amounts of time to shine. In steps Hikigaya Hachiman, our eyes through which we see the world of Oregairu.
Hachiman is incredibly cynical. He is pessimistic to a fault. He views the people around him as disingenuous and firmly believes a world where he is alone to be the best possible outcome. He hands in an essay with a joke response and is admonished by a teacher. She decides to punish him immediately. She leads him to the room of the Volunteer Service Club where he meets Yukino Yukinoshita for the first time. While it is not clear at all on the surface why his teacher picks this club in particular, he is forced to join this club that’s sole purpose is to accept the requests of students and enable them to solve life problems. Hachiman has no choice in the matter and with his reluctant acceptance; the tale of the Volunteer Service Club begins.
This story premise sounds fairly generic. It couldn’t be any further from the truth. Oregairu is an incredibly special treat because the characters are so complex. There is seemingly a hidden meaning behind every action and word spoken. The show never spoon feeds the audience any information, mainly because the story is at its core a study of how Hachiman matures and grows through his experiences. There is another important character to this tale and that person is Yui Yuigahama. She joins the club soon after Hachiman does. The interesting dynamic between Yukino and Hachiman is that they are very similar personality wise. Both characters are hurting a lot on the inside, but act completely against their own feelings on a routine basis. Yui is the counterpoint to the both of them. She wears all of her emotions on her sleeve. She is friendly the vast majority of the time. At the beginning, Hachiman perceives this as deception. He has always been rejected by girls. His feelings have never been reciprocated. He has been soiled by his past experiences. They cloud his judgment. He refuses to accept that Yui may have feelings for him. He staunchly believes that she is only being nice because she is nice to everyone. Hachiman cannot verbally admit that he is becoming closer to either girl.
The crux of the show is always the relationship between Yukino and Hachiman. Hachiman routinely uses what are viewed as harmful tactics to resolve the situations the club is faced with because of the other students. He devises a plan to have the kids in his class be mean to a group of elementary school girls so they will ostracize each other and disband and the girl who was previously secluded will no longer feel the pains of it because the group itself will no longer exist. He attempts to help a boy who wants to confess his feelings to another girl by fake confessing before the boy can be rejected by the girl. Hachiman throws himself in harm’s way time and time again. He acts as the martyr. He is always willing to play the role of the villain so everyone can band together to hate him, which takes the focus off the shortcomings of others. These plans are a huge part of the tension between him and Yukino. The root of the problem is his attitude and his view on life. The show is relatable because a lot of people, me included, can agree with him. I understand the dark place his mind lives in day in and day out. He has been hurt by people so many times he wants absolutely nothing to do with his classmates or any other person for that matter. His entire identity revolves around the self-loathing and the feelings of inadequacy.
Yukino is even more complicated than Hachiman. She is a very strong girl and she is blunt and honest. She doesn’t hide the truth, for the most part, and as the leader of the Volunteer Service Club she helps students over and over again. She is complicated because she is not honest with her feelings. Her actions and what she says are not in alignment with each other. She helps people because she wants to hide the fact that she needs a lot of help. It is never explicitly said what this entails, but Yukino is a daughter in a prestigious family. As a result, there are certain pressures that are placed upon her that even the audience is unaware of. Yukino explains to Hachiman that because she was a cute girl growing up, other girls were jealous and she was treated poorly. She lives in her sister’s shadow and her mother has an influence on her that appears to be toxic from the outside. Yukino desperately wants to be saved, but as she sees Hachiman’s solutions, she realizes that he cannot even save himself. To me, that is the true issue between the two of them. She wants him to change for his own benefit because she sees his suffering. Meanwhile, she has to deal with her own issues and the club reaches a point of fake chemistry where everyone chooses to believe there are no problems at all.
I have painted a bleak picture, but the reason why I fell in love with Oregairu is because it shows human relationships and people themselves are not static. It highlights these facts extremely well. Hachiman matures a tremendous amount and it just hits the audience all at once. It is so gradual, but when you realize it, the show’s brilliance comes through. He interacts with more people. He opens up more to his sister. His negative thoughts become less frequent. Hachiman changes because he sees the hurt he is causing to both Yui and Yukino. He never picks a specific point in time and decides to change. It is something that slowly molds over the course of the entire series. His final challenge is finally getting through to Yukino. The last issue is resolving the feelings that have developed between the three main characters. None of them want to disrupt the balance. No one wants the group to disband. They all wish they could freeze time and stay inside the confines of the club and share in each other’s lives. However, Hachiman knows, and I think the girls do too, that maintaining the status quo is not sustainable in the long run. Something will break eventually. Oregairu gives you these three characters and all of their pain, and lets you see the beauty of three people working though their relationship together. There is not a single easy answer to be found in the show. That is why it works so well for a guy in his mid-twenties. I can watch the drama unravel and reflect back on my own life. I feel that I am a stronger person after watching Oregairu. Everyone is capable of change. Everyone is capable of learning to love. If a work of fiction can causes these thoughts and these feelings, then it has succeeded, and I couldn’t be happier.