Opposites may attract, but putting them together can result in chemical burns, electric shocks, and explosions. Enter Hachiman Hikigaya, a pessimistic high school student with no friends, no interest in making any, and the firm belief that everyone else's cherished high school experiences are either delusions or outright lies.
Hachiman finds himself coerced by his well-meaning student advisor into joining the one-member Service Club. There he encounters club founder Yukino Yukinoshita, a smart, attractive, walking superiority complex who looks down on the entire student body. These two negative personalities are quick to attract Yui Yuigahama, who's cute, bright, cheerful, and needs the Service Club's help to... bake cookies? Is this a recipe for romance or the precursor for a nuclear meltdown? Will there be cookies, nookie, or a reason for everyone to play hooky?
I feel ill equipped to talk about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU simply because the show talks about school life better than anything I could say. Through the pitfalls and perils of being in school, the show has a handle on what it's like to be the object of scrutiny and ignorance. Even as the characters fumble around, trying to understand each other, we learn that the show values them figuring themselves out more. Even when it's being happy or sad, the cast find themselves learning about an inner reservoir they didn't know they had.
After he's dumped into the school service club (they help other students but I'm not sure it's entirely legal to give students that much power), Hikigaya Hachiman comes to work alongside A Grade student Yukino Yukinoshita and slight ditz Yui Yuigahama to help people. He doesn't want to because he'd rather fade into the background and blend out of school life. However his homeroom teacher, Shizuka, threatens him with more pain than he could deal with if he doesn't join the club (in fairness, he brings it on himself a lot of the time) so he does so under duress. What is wonderful about Hachiman is that he's not afraid to speak his mind. If he thinks you're doing something wrong, he'll tell you. It's just that he also knows with bitter experience that sometimes the best tactic is to say nothing at all. Which is a good thing because otherwise, we'd never have a chance to hear his amazing and somewhat biting stream of consciousness as he explains his somewhat skewed view of school life. Now, he doesn't always get it right but the way in which he's always on the money when it comes to people's foibles is remarkable.
Into this perfect system he's created for himself to protect against the pain of reaching out to people are Yukino and Yui. Of the two, Yui is the more emotional and is prone to outbursts in front of and directed at Hikki (as Yui nicknames him) that let slip her affection for him. Yui is the most honest of the three, trying her best to find the good in every situation and guiding her friends to a more human position (both Yukino and Hikki would rather see things in a more logical light). Yukino works from a very detached place, though she's not uncaring, and a lot of the progress the club makes and the three friends also make comes from her looking at the clients she fields. It's interesting that Yukino is the one who decides whether or not to take on a request since the show is predicated on the weird and sometimes obtuse requests (help a preschooler not be ostracized, help train someone to play tennis) they get. For Yukino, she gets that people are people and no one size fits all but bless her cotton socks, there are times when she just doesn't get people and it's not hard to see why. Going with various societal cliques and requirements in Japan, Yukino is us really. Looking from the outside in, this practices must look strange to her and in such a homogenised culture, her attitude comes across as alof. But of all the people who interact with her, Hachiman gets her the most. He's an outsider because he can't stand to know the highs and lows of school life and for her, her intelligence, drive, good looks, academic record and her personality put her apart from everyone and I do mean everyone. But she treats him with a playful type of scorn where she takes pot shots at his un-likability and his non-status in the school. At first, he doesn't really offer much of a fight back but as time goes on, he comes out of his shell and openly remarks or offers an explanation as to why he's ended up in her sights.
But at the heart of the show it's all about the assumptions people make about each other that drives proceedings. A good example is when Yui thinks that she needs to help Hachiman since it was her dog that caused the accident that sent Hachiman to hospital and set his pattern of non-interaction with school and school people. But as Hachiman informs her, it wasn't that incident that set him down the path, there were other things that did that. In turn, Hachiman makes the error of telling her that she doesn't have to like him anymore now that he knows about her dog being the one he rescued from the car that hit him. Yui tearfully tells him that that's not why she hangs out with him and runs off.
On the other side, Yukino assumes that Hachiman is not talking with her and Yui because he wants to, only that he's doing it under duress. Further to that, she thinks that he's got her figured out and stops him at every turn from forming a close attachment to her. But for Hachiman, it's not about becoming closer, it's about being honest about each other and yourself. Trying to conform to what other people want you to is foolhardy since they're not you and you're not them. These are things that I learned years after I left school (truth be told, I didn't fit in school and didn't have many friends) and if I had known them then, I could have avoided a lot of heartache. But in Hachiman, we see our most honest feelings of being in school laid bare and while it's good that the character is being honest, it comes at the expense of having the emotional growth of being hurt, being in pain and then recovering from it. Hachiman's never had happen to him and needs it if he's going to survive. The same goes for Yukino, she's just at the opposite end of the scale: for her, she doesn't fear the upset because she doesn't know how to recognise it to begin with. The two of them are closer to each other's temperaments than they'd like to admit.
I'm not going to spoil how things turn out by the end of this first season (there's a second) but SNAFU makes a great case for not treating your time in school as a waste, because even in waste, there's merit. Better to make a mess of things and be honest with yourself than to live with the regret of never having known the feeling of it in the first place. I like that the show, which features decent animation and solid voice acting throughout, doesn't go the route of having the cast fall in love with the other. This cast would destroy itself if they fell in love at this stage of the story. So we have more invested in them simply learning to be better people in and of themselves than we do having them end up with someone.
Animatsu's release is decent with the blu-ray transfer looking good and the audio and subtitles being spot on. I like that they're trying new things and while I'll never be a complete convert to high school slice of life and drama titles, SNAFU has all the nicest elements in it to make me stay until the end of the season and makes me want to finish the rest of the series if only to know my three protagonists made it out alive.