Review for My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Complete Season 1 Collection
SNAFU is something of an archaic term really. You wouldn’t expect a piece of World War II slang to be applied to a 21st Century comedy anime from Japan, but the art of translating Japanese anime titles has rarely been a graceful one, with some serious oddities being thrown up from time to time. Cat Planet Cuties, j’accuse! The literal translation as in the end credits for this show is “My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected” which while cumbersome, at least offers a more accessible descriptive of the show’s contents. After all, this is a non-rom-com, which is something of a breath of fresh air, given the emphasis given to romance in many anime comedies, albeit of the harem kind. But it is worth recognising the fact that for many boys and girls as they make their treacherous way through the education system, romance is something that just doesn’t happen, especially when the actual process of growing up tends to send most personalities through the wringer. The unpopular kids don’t get to pair off, the misfits don’t have a chance to get misty-eyed, and the reality of school for many people is a place that they’d rather not be, populated by people, students and teachers alike, that they’d much rather avoid. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU recognises that fact, and crafts its tale around three students for whom love and romance is unlikely.
Hikigaya Hachiman is one disillusioned teen. He has no friends and no ambitions in high school; although you might think missing out on the start of school because of a traffic accident might have contributed to the former. But with a personality like his, an outsider looking in at the ‘hypocrisy’ of teenage interpersonal relationships, and cynical about the motivations of adults, it becomes clear that this boy has a problem. He writes one smartass essay too many for the comfort of his teacher, Miss Hiratsuka, so as an added punishment (after a physical chastisement), he gets assigned to the Service Club. It’s a club with just one member, Yukino Yukinoshita, a rather blunt and straight talking girl with a similar view of the world as Hikigaya, but rather than avoid it, she means to change it. The Service Club is one way of doing that, accepting requests for help from other students and solving their problems, and Hikigaya is the first recruit. It may be contempt at first sight, but this might just be the thing that will rehabilitate Hikigaya. Their first client is a girl named Yui Yuigahama, who needs help with her lack of cooking skills. She’s similarly wary of Hikigaya, but for some reason doesn’t shun him straight away.
13 episodes of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU are presented across two Blu-ray discs from Animatsu. The OVA isn’t part of this release (although I do believe episode 13 wasn’t originally part of the broadcast stream in the UK), and you should be aware that there is a second season as well, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!, which while it has been licensed by Sentai in the US, is yet to be released on home video.
1. And So, Their Mistaken Youth Begins
2. Surely Everyone Has Their Fair Share of Troubles
3. Sometimes the God of Rom-Coms Does Nice Things
4. In Other Words, He Doesn’t Have Many Friends
5. Once Again, He Turns Back to the Path from Whence He Came
6. His Beginning With Her Finally Ends
7. Anyway, Getting No Rest Even Though It’s Summer Break, Just Isn’t Right
8. One Day, They Will Learn the Truth
9. For the Third Time, He Turns Back to the Path From Whence He Came
10. The Distance Between Them Remains Unchanged as the Festival Becomes a Carnival
11. And So the Curtain on Each Stage Rises, and the Festival is Festivaling Its Very Best
12. Thus, His and Her Youth Continues to be Wrong
13. Thus, Their Festival Will Never End
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these Blu-ray discs. It seems that anime distributors are finally getting the hang of authoring these things, as of late, I’ve been seeing less and less in the way of digital banding, the one remaining bugbear about digital presentations of anime. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with strong consistent colours, and the animation is free of compression artefacts and the like. Studio Brains Base were behind the animation of this show, and they took a leaf from KyoAni when it comes to characterisations and imagery. Certainly there is a Chunibyo feel to the character designs and style of the animation, although they aren’t quite as polished and nuanced. Then again, there’s a lot less in the way of idle frivolity in the animation. It’s a standard high school set-up, with agreeable character designs, a recognisable contemporary world design, and strong, fluid animation throughout.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Animatsu.
This is a subtitle only release from Animatsu, and mirroring the Sentai discs, the only option here is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese track, with subtitles locked during playback. The audio is fine, no glitches or dropouts, bringing across the show’s music, dialogue, and occasional moments of drama to good effect. The show gets a couple of nice theme songs, with four arrangements of the end theme, while the incidental music suits the show. The actors are well suited to their roles, with Hikigaya’s voice actor doing a great job in embodying the character’s innate cynicism. The subtitles are accurately timed, but could have used one more pass in proof-reading. I noticed a couple of typos, one of them ‘culprit’ spelled as ‘cuplrit’.
The discs present their content with static menus.
The extras are on disc 2 and amount to the textless opening, 4 textless closings, and trailers for Hayate the Combat Butler, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions – Heart Throb, Haikyu!!, and Is the Order a Rabbit?
I watched My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU when it was originally streamed, but when it came to looking at these review discs, I found that I couldn’t remember a thing about it. And that is exactly the problem with this show, it’s a likeable enough comedy, with a few good ideas to it, but also a few flaws, and ultimately it’s watchable, but eminently forgettable. That shouldn’t usually be a problem, as most forms of entertainment are meant to be consumed and then disposed. Most of my anime collection would come under the label of fun and forgettable, the latter of which can make re-watching a show a rediscovery. The problem here is that My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU sets itself up as more than disposable. With its cynical protagonist, it suggests that it will offer a commentary on modern society and how people relate to each other, that it will have greater insight into how the majority live, not the 1% that usually wind up as anime protagonists. To its credit it does give it a shot, with some wry and pithy observations about life from its protagonists, Hikigaya and Yukino, but ultimately it lacks the strength of its convictions, gets diverted into fripperies and clichés, and really doesn’t deliver on what it promises. And despite it being a non-rom-com, it does occasionally toy with rom-comminess, with the romantic tensions between its main trio of characters obvious and apparent in the second half of these episodes, despite their efforts to avoid them.
The three main characters work well, with Hikigaya the smart-aleck cynic that would much rather avoid the world, the other students, the hypocritical adults, work, and instead much rather revel in his own solitude. It’s his smart-aleck nature that gets to his (occasionally violent) teacher and gets him assigned to the Service Club as a punishment, where he will at least have to interact with one other human on the level of a peer. And in this case, Yukino is definitely a peer, similarly cynical, she’s decided that rather than avoid the world, she’ll change it into a form that suits her ideas of how a world should work. She’s had similar problems to Hikigaya when it comes to adults and other students, faced ostracism and bullying due to her intelligence and unwillingness to play the usual social games, so the two should have something in common, but they still manage to rub each other the wrong way. The control rod for this nuclear reaction comes in the form of the first student that they help as part of the club, Yui, who befriends them both and soon thereafter also joins the club. She’s more of an optimist, even though she too can recognise the difficulties around them as young adults, and her presence helps keeps the show grounded, where it could easily become a philosophical debate between Hikigaya and Yukino.
The first flaw in the show is in the problems that the Service Club usually deals with. They’re often trivial, and lack for dramatic opportunity, which wastes a chance to delve into what the show promises. Yui’s problem is an inability to make cookies, an otaku needs his light novel critiqued, a Tennis Club member needs help with his training, or a little brother wants to know why his sister is staying out late, and so on. Once in a while they get a problem that suits the show’s premise, strange rumours being texted around school, a little girl being ostracised by her peers at a summer camp, and a girl wanting help organising the school’s cultural festival, which allow for cynical observations on human relationships and behaviour, and in which Hikigaya usually finds an unexpected and predictably nasty but effective solution. There really should have been more of this to sell the show’s premise, and I have to admit that it’s during the School Festival arc of episodes close to the end of the run that the show does impress.
The second issue is in the supporting characterisations, which are weak to the point of merely being clichés. The people that the Service Club help, and the other students and teachers that they encounter are so single note that you can’t really see them as characters, just as means to an end for the show’s writers. Hikigaya’s teacher tends to punch him in the gut when he gets on her nerves, but otherwise is constantly lamenting her lost youth and single status. Their otaku client is a full on Chunibyo and nothing else. The tennis club Captain is a boy that is so cute that everyone takes him for a girl, and Hikigaya comes close to falling in love with him. Another girl has a boys-love fetish so strong that whenever she sees two boys in the same room, she has an explosive nasal haemorrhage. Hikigaya’s sister Komachi is a happy-go-lucky single fang girl (an anime staple). Too often characters will appear for a story, and then disappear only to show up so long after that you’ve forgotten them.
The ultimate flaw for this non-rom-com is that it does dabble in romantic comedy between the three leads, setting up the potential for relationship even if it doesn’t in the end go there, and there are moments that you wonder whether the show is forgetting its initial premise and taking the easy route. Worse, it does it in the most contrived way possible, by establishing a shared past between the three main characters that they weren’t aware of. All through the opening run of the show, mention is made of the car accident that kept Hikigaya from starting school with everyone else, and gradually it is revealed that Yui and Yukino are both connected to that incident as well. It’s supposed to be dramatic, it’s supposed to have weight that adds to the character development, but in the end, it does nothing of the sort. It’s false drama that really means nothing to the overall picture.
I think the ultimate rolleyes moment for me came at the end of the run in episode 12, where they are desperately searching for the Culture Festival Committee Chairman so that she can make her speech, and to buy time, a bunch of kids, Yui and Yukino included, get up on stage, put together an impromptu rock band, and proceed to rock the house down, with no rehearsal whatsoever. At this point a great big sign metaphorically appeared over my TV, “We Want To Be Haruhi Suzumiya!”
That’s four paragraphs of whinge for a show that is at the very least entertaining and watchable. The three main characters are quite enjoyable, and some of what this show accomplishes goes towards living up to that initial premise. You’ll probably have a good time watching My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, even if it won’t stay with you afterwards (I didn’t even realise that I hadn’t seen episode 13 before until its end credits rolled), but in the end this show isn’t as good as it wants to be, nor is it as good as it thinks it is.