Hachiman Hikigaya firmly believes that youth is a farce, a false ideal accompanied by failure and deceit. So when he turns an essay explaining his values, he is sent to the Service Club as a newly appointed member as punishment. The only other member in the club is Yukino Yukinoshita, an intelligent and beautiful girl…with an overwhelmingly blunt and brash personality. Together, they help high school students with their problems, from making cookies to sports training to reviewing manuscripts, all while trying to force Hachiman to reevaluate his cynical beliefs.
My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected or Oregairu is not your average high school rom-com. Instead of an male protagonist falling in love with the first female love interest he runs into, we have a complete cynical pessimist who meets a disagreeable ice queen. Oregairu isn’t a story about a glorified high school life but a more realistic version of what students typically encounter in their teenage years. Through the Service Club’s activities, Hachiman and Yukino take the requests of other high school students to help them with their own troubling dilemmas, to which certain people may find extremely relatable. Unfortunately, for those not swayed by the messages or themes the novel presents, it can be hard to get invested into the story or the characters.
Hachiman Hikigaya leads the novel with his essay reflecting on his high school life and to summarize, he hates the idealized version of high school youth. Through his various experiences since middle school, Hachiman has been branded as a loner and an outcast to all social interactions; enough to the point where he doesn’t even care about how the class regards him, even if they acknowledge his existence in the first place. He’s given up on trying to fit in, so instead he quietly observes the social cliques that inhabit his surroundings. And when they do interact with him on some slim chance, he gets so nervous that he messes up, looking even more awkward and pushing him farther and farther into his role of a misfit outcast. Hachiman is a very relatable character to those who empathize with his situation, but to those people who don’t understand where Hachiman is coming from, it can be hard to fully like the character.
From the other side of the spectrum, we have Yukino Yukinoshita, a girl with both superior intellect and beauty. With an air of flawless conduct and mastery over all skills, she’s an absolute perfection. And it is that perfection that creates a fatal flaw in accordance with her personality. Instead of Hachiman’s case of having no outstanding features, her impeccable abilities causes Yukino to become ostracized from her classmates. Yukino represents those individuals who are troubled by their gifts and talents. Talented individuals cannot run away from their own gifts as it is a crucial part that makes up who they are. If they lie to others about their own abilities, that action is the same as rejecting your own self and your talent. Yukino’s personality, despite how cold and unforgiving she may appear, is the core of this belief and supports the themes of the novel.
Our main two characters aren’t the only ones with teenage dilemmas. Other classmates have similar social world problems themselves and the method Hachiman and Yukino uses to assist them is through the Service Club’s activities. Each chapter presents a new individual in which the focus is on their problems and how Hachiman and Yukino approach the situation. A couple of characters includes an ditzy girl with troubles fitting into her social clique, an outlandish boy with an extreme interest in his delusional fantasies, and a timid yet delicate-looking boy training to become better for his sports team. If we were to take these characters and categorize them as archetypes, we would have the air-headed girl, a chuunibyou, and a trap character. While the characters do fit said archetypes, the author, Watari Wataru, grounds these characters with the dilemmas I said previously, making them very familiar both real-life experiences and anime tropes.
While the high schoolers have a level of concrete structure to their character, the guidance counselor Ms. Hirasuka pales in comparison drastically. After essentially bullying Hachiman into the Service Club, she doesn’t do much aside from making references to old manga, going on tangents about unsupportive men, and threatening to punch Hachiman for mentioning her age. There are a couple of paragraphs of social commentary from Hachiman and Hirasuka’s banter but in comparison to the deep thought Watari Wataru put into his main characters and chapter-focused individuals, Ms. Hirasuka is a disappointment.
“I guide students here who I believe are in need of change. Think of it as the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Or would it be easier to understand if I just called it Revolutionary Girl Utena.”
The story is told through the perspective of an observant Hachiman. Alongside the conversations that takes place between characters, Hachiman will interject with his own observations and reactions. His internal thoughts convey both Hachiman’s perception of the world in his eyes and his own worth in regards to others. His thoughts emulate the same snark his personality has and it can come off as extremely harsh and mean, especially when talking about people he believes he can’t get along with. The novel reflects the same level of harsh insults one can expect from a realistic high school setting, especially if the main point of view is a observant outcast like Hachiman.
“Hayama apparently didn’t see Miura as a someone fearsome. From what I could tell, he regarded her as a friend who was as outgoing and affable as he was. This was exactly why I didn’t understand the guys on the upper rungs of the food chain. No matter how you looked at it, she only acted that way because she was hanging out with him. In my presence, she would have killed me with a single snort.”
Unfortunately during the parts where conversations are happening, in some situations it isn’t particularly clear on who speaking at the moment. In the Japanese language, there are multiple usages of the word “I” depending on the gender and social status. In the English translation,”I” is used very frequently throughout the dialogue so conversations can be hard to follow in some scenes with three or more characters in it.
Hachiman has as tendency to spout references along with his internal commentary. I should note that these references are primarily focused on Japanese pop culture so Western readers might miss out on the full context. Luckily, the English translator was kind enough to provide a Translation Notes section in the back of the book.
The illustrations were drawn by Ponkan8. Ponkan8’s signature artstyle changes further down the line for later volumes but for this volume, the artstyle is rather inconsistent This ranges from the front cover’s simpler-looking character design to a comical chibi depiction to an illustration shaped by the usage of white and black. However, I give the English Translation praise for the additional work done on the side illustrations like the guidance counseling surveys and Hachiman’s report, as they add more flair to the characters.
My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected‘s first volume sets overall tone and plot of the novel within the first couple of chapters. Oregairu presents issues and dilemmas that typical high school students have throughout their teenage years and its relatability to real life is what makes it such an attracting novel. High school isn’t as beautiful as some people might think, and the cast of characters reflects that idea entirely, no matter what kind of personality one has.
Rating: Highly Recommended
For more thoughts on the English Translation of My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected, check out the article below.
Author: Wataru Watari
Translator: Jennifer Ward
English Publisher: Yen Press