Oregairu is a curious series because it manages to make me laugh at myself while simultaneously forcing me to confront my own lifestyle choices. It’s far too easy to initially dismiss Hikigaya Hachiman as a pessimistic misogynist who makes edgy remarks, which would be unreasonably far from the truth and an unbearably surface-level judgement. The anime only covers a fraction of Hachiman’s many thoughts, past memories and reactions to situations that ultimately end up stripping away much of his personality simply due to time constraints inherent to anime. During my journey reading the light novel series, one of the most poignant realizations was the slow realization that Hachiman was not as edgy as his actions or thoughts indicated. Similarly, his many references in the novels add an extra layer of depth which shed light on the type of media he enjoys and give more insight to the kind of person he is. After finishing the ninth volume of the series and reexperiencing his request for “something genuine,” it's quite easy to understand why he reached the conclusion he did and to wish for this. However, it seems like once again, his greatest adversary is himself.
One of the major themes in Oregairu is the willingness to accept change[a]. Yukinoshita Yukino started her change arc, for better or for worse, around the time of the culture festival when she decided to stop following the footsteps of his older sister Haruno. Yukino’s wish is to obtain something that neither Haruno nor Hachiman have, she wants to construct her own happiness. Unfortunately, an early consequence of her arc is her increasing codependence of Hachiman for salvation and is missing the point of establishing her own personal responsibility. Yuigahama Yui is similarly fighting against her ingrained personality which is willing to put others before her, to learn how to accept her own selfishness. With Hayama’s gang, she will float to the sidelines and echo anything Miura says like gospel because she is afraid to overassert her existence. However, she begins to realize that she must change in order to stop suppressing herself and have more agency with her own feelings. On the other hand, Wataru-sensei juxtaposes these mistaken evolutions with mistaken intentions[b].
Hachiman is desperately fighting to maintain a persona throughout the series. He constantly is reinforcing his ideal persona of being a loner despite the current situation evolving around him. His hypocrisy is obvious and while comical, it serves to highlight one of his fallacies and a major theme of the series. That is, the unwillingness to change as well as misconstrued change. The paradoxical battle between selfishness and selflessness in which you dance the line between overexerting yourself and not doing enough. In the end, forcing them to reconcile with genuine change versus natural change that is impossible while being hyper-aware. During adolescence you unquestionably change regardless of whether or not you acknowledge it. We are not the same person we were a second ago, let along a year ago. The constantly evolving life we are a part of forces us to change and adapt to better suit the environment and sometimes this can be detrimental while other times being beneficial. Oregairu explores the idea of personal change as well as the stubborn resistance to change, juxtaposed to the eagerness to change for all the wrong reasons.
“Hikigaya Hachiman is a loner,” “Yukinoshita Yukino never lies” and “Yuigahama Yui is a nice girl” are lies that Hachiman consistently would try to convince himself of in the series. This is because he is inadvertently creating a world with scenarios he understands. He believes Yukino to be a strong-willed girl who is capable and does not need others, and for that reason, hurts her. He believes that Yui is a nice girl and the kind words she offers are simply sweet lies. And for that reason he hurts her. He persistently believes he is a loner because he knows nothing else. On a bridge one winter evening, Hiratsuka-sensei tells Hachiman that he is good at calculating, but is unable to comprehend emotions. This is because Hachiman has constructed a reality with stereotypes and believes he can read between the lines of everything because he has convinced himself that reality follows his rulebook. If Hachuman changes, the rules will contradict themselves and his understanding would crumble. In a sense, Oregairu doesn’t tear down these stereotypes as much as it recontextualizes them. Hayama is a popular guy who gets along with everyone, but he isn't a “nice guy.” Zaimozuka is a wacky chuunibyou character but is oftentimes the one who is the most understanding. Hachiman slowly begins to have his world unraveled as he experiences various events that shed light on his misinterpretations and ultimately lead to him questioning his “self” that has since grown complacent.
Hachiman’s unwillingness to change is inextricably tied to his preservation of the past, as a twisted self-defence mechanism. He wishes to remain stagnant because he likes the character he appears as, so he recontextualizes his past and present experiences as comedy. During the immediate aftermath of his request, he notes how his breakdown into tears was completely unlike himself. This is because he, and many of us, have subconsciously constructed an ideal image of who we are. This is who we understand, and in doing so, we are able to live with confidence knowing who we are. However, the problem is when we encounter something that comes out of left-field and challenges our image. Him clinging to the loner image shows how he is not confident in who he is outside of that. Ironically, Hachiman is the least genuine of any of the Service Club at the time. This stubbornness to avoid eye contact with reality is attempting to subvert the inevitable and rejecting change for the sake of this is mistaken understanding.
After coming home after his request, Hachiman is lying on the floor confessing to Komachi how “onii-chan is having an identity crisis!” Komachi stares at him, scoffs, and satirically explains how “People who keep talking about having identities tend to be the ones without an identity of their own.” (Zoku, ep 9) Hachiman’s unwillingness to change is the result of his lack of confidence in his true self. Hachiman the Loner is a misconstrued figure that represents the ideal Hachiman who could forget the past and ignore the present. Preferring to recontextualize his past “emotional landmines” by laughing them off and playing himself as the fool. This is what leads him to follow a self-destructive path for the sake of others since he does not regard himself as important. Hachiman might crack jokes, but his reasoning is entirely self-deprecatory and he is dancing the line between depression and indifference. In avoiding the present, Hikigaya Hachiman is avoiding change and simultaneously avoiding acknowledging his mistakes. He is both stagnating and sinking lower as a result of this stubbornness. However, he is slowly forced to realize the issue at hand and will likely realize his request for “something genuine” is only possible by first taking off the mask. Masquerading as 8man and pretending to understand everything will lead to destruction, so let’s hope we change trajectory soon. Godspeed.
I was laying in bed awake around 4am unable to rest and found myself thinking of Oregairu. Oftentimes the themes of this story will force me to look at my own life in a different light due to how it manages to hit uncomfortably close to home with its analysis on society and people. I hold this series in high regard because of this since I’ve used my interpretations of the series to reflect on my own life and use it as a means to better myself. However, I’m still a loner and still think of myself as one. Realizing the conundrum Hachiman finds himself in feels like an eerie foreshadowing of my potential future where I might be forced to break down my current understanding of myself as the present changes. And then I begin to wonder if I understand anything at all and if altering my “perspective” is more a tool to appease my conscience or if I might be more aware than I’d like to think. Personally I find myself leaning towards the latter but it might be self-gratification. I doubt I understand as much as I have convinced myself yet I have surpassed ignorance, leaving me naked in the line of fire. Sometimes I wish I could go back to ignorance since I’d probably be happier not being so hyper-aware and analyzing my life late at night. But then I remember, I probably could never have understood Yukino without crossing that line so I guess it might be worth it in the end.
A certain day in May, while the storm of winter lingers outside, I sip some lukewarm Earl Grey,
[a]forced change vs natural change
[b]stopped editing here 5/9