This would be my reaction to you if you told me the art and character designs in Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru are ugly.
But I wouldn't actually be surprised. There are two major off-putting factors when it comes to OreGairu on face value: 1) it's yet another pretentious light novel romcom adaptation and 2) the character designs are not cute. It just goes to show that you shouldn't judge a novel by its cover (literally!) and OreGairu is a series with a lot more substance than what it initially lets on. The seemingly sloppy art style merely contributes to this. It takes the focus away from the visually pandering element of most anime of its genre and emphasises the twisted nature of the tropes that are explored within this series. Like the story, the art isn't always pretty and ultimately it rings as incomplete and half-done when viewed as a whole, but that in itself is an interesting and striking effect. Far from sucking, the art in OreGairu actually makes the series better.
The atmospheric element of anime - the aspect created through art and visual direction - is often neglected in most pieces of writing that attempt to analyse a particular anime. The only occasions when the art seems to deserve special mention is when it is particularly striking, like in Bakemonogatari, or when the direction is controversial, like the rotoscoping in Aku no Hana. I admit that I often focus most of my attention on the literary aspect of anime rather than the visual aspect. For all that, it's a subject that really interests me. How does the art in OreGairu work alongside the spoken narrative and contribute to its overall effect?
I'm not very well-versed in the visual arts, so I thought I'd let a more knowledgeable friend of mine take over for this post. AquaJet (see her tumblr ) is an experienced artist and has for a long time been influenced by anime art. When she told me that she really enjoyed the visual aspect of OreGairu, among other things, she kindly offered to write about her perspective on it. To me, it's fascinating because it opens up a different way of reading into anime. We shouldn't take the visual narrative for granted!
From here, I'll let her writing speak for itself.
OH, YEAH, SPOILERS FOR OREGAIRU IN THIS POST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
First off, let me just put out there that Hikki is a loner because of how he is socially awkward. Many animes have a tendency to praise the loner character but do a shitty job in portraying it. These "loner" MCs technically do have good friends, but the MCs are generally poops and try to make it seem like no one understands them and try to do everything on their own (i.e. a certain boy dressed in black from a video game anime). OreGairu, however, is very unique with its portrayal of Hikki's behavior as a loner.
I kid with my commentary. But these are screenshots from the first episode so you know right off the bat that Hikki doesn't talk much to others. He may pause and look back but it's obvious that no connections were established. He was too busy contemplating on whether to help the first girl but someone else took the spotlight. (This actually happens a lot with Hikki.) The other example was a bit cruel. I hate it whenever I think someone is calling for my attention but then it turns out to be for someone else. It's actually worse for Hikki because he doesn't have friends and he knows that but he still turns around, possibly hoping that a person was looking for him.
It doesn't matter what any loner says - they are the way they are because they had an expectation or ideal and then they watched as the world shattered it to pieces so to prevent that pain from happening again, they cut the roots and try to hide behind a shell. In Hikki's case, he avoids any sort of social interaction which prevents him from establishing a simple friendship with others.
It's very ironic to say that the show is a romcom because it's far from that. The MC himself is just too closed off. Most people wouldn't want to be Hikki's friend because he's pessimistic, cowardly, and hard to talk to. The show's two main females, Yui Yuigahama and Yukino Yukinoshita, serve to highlight this fact. Yui is a socialite who isn't confident in herself, while Yukino is somewhat of a loner but has much more confidence in herself. When it comes to friendship, Hikki responds negatively to them both but in different ways.
Let's start with Yui. It's obvious after the first episode that she has feelings for Hikki because she tries to bake cookies for him; however, it's not as obvious until the end.
I mean, look at the shape of that cookie.
Yeah, so she isn't that much of a great cook, but what did you expect? Practically 98% girls in anime find and cook their food from Hell's Kitchen. Anyway, these cookies are her feelings of thanks toward Hikki because he saved her dog. At this point, Hikki doesn't know it's her dog that he saved but he gladly accepted and ate it.
How very sweet of him. Even though Hikki isn't very nice or honest with his words, he is very kind. However, he doesn't like "nice girls". In fact, he considers women to be his enemy and even has an infamous monologue about why he hates nice girls (It's in episode 5, in case you want to skip and see it).
In the scene where he turns down Yui (not in a romantic waythere's no passionate confession in this specific episode!), the animators did a spectacular job in how it's presented. Please note that this is after Hikki finds out that he saved Yui's dog and feels as though she's only hanging around him because she feels responsible for his loner behavior.
Let's break down these images. image A shows Hikki's hand. Notice how it's held in a tight fist, mainly to show he's frustrated. There's also the fact that the animators have decided to NOT reveal his eyes (They do in image F and show a close up of his face after image G but I cut his close up for a reason). We know all know too well that the main protagonist's eyes in anime are very expressive and are shown whether it's in silly chibi form or in detailed realism. It's usually the side characters or people who hide their feelings that typically have their eyes hidden. His eyes are not shown in either Image C or D but you do notice that his smile changes into a frown. If you paid any attention to Hikki at all, you'll notice that he doesn't smile much and when he does, he comes off as creepy (or silly-looking). I think this creates a stronger impact because you know Hikki is hiding something, not just because his eyes are hidden, but because he's showing an uncharacteristic smile that he can't hold up. He is not like Yui. He cannot smile and betray himself.
In Image B, Yui walks towards Hikki but then stops at a certain point. This anime likes to put in a lot of images for the distance between characters and this frame is one example of it. Normally when you're close to someone or even pretty good friends, the distance between you and your friend is closer than the distance between you and a stranger. This is a subconscious move that you make based on the amount of trust you have in that person. If you feel intimidated or cautious then you will be at a distance and if you feel unthreatened or safe, you will be close. At the distance Hikki and Yui are in, they appear as distant acquaintances but that's not all that's portrayed in these frames. They make it seem as though there is some barrier between them which there is. Hikki has always been the type of person to keep his distance from others and Yui is no exception. This is the anime's way of saying that Yui tried to get close but since Hikki didn't allow her to get any closer, she ended up getting hurt and leaving.
Even when they make up in the next episode, it is only resolved because their relationship has "reset" and all previous strings attached are cut. This puts a big strain on whatever relationship he had with Yui and is a big turning point for Hikki: after this point, he fails in helping people.
All the people he helped before this point appreciated his help even though it might not have been popular with others. During the summer camp arc and cultural festival arc, he wasn't as successful as his first attempts. He couldn't help a little girl regain her friends or give confidence to an incompetent chairwoman. This mainly has to do with Hikki's lack of faith in people and distorted view of the importance of social interaction.
This makes me wonder if Yui and Hikki can even be considered friends by the end of the anime.
Now that we're done with Yui, let's get on with Yukino, the loner. Yukino and Hikki aren't exactly on equal terms because Yukino does make a friend by the end of the anime while Hikki had only accomplished making an acquaintance (and Yui doesn't count because she may consider him a friend but he does not consider her one). However, Hikki feels a connection with Yukino which is why in the first episode, he asks to be her friend. Yukino ends up declining this offer, mainly because she doesn't know or trust Hikki.
It would be unwise for Yukino to be friends with Hikki in the first place mainly because Hikki has kept a certain ideal in his mind of her-she is perfect, beautiful, and never lies. The anime's visual interpretation of her as she is first introduced to Hikki is quite interesting and very revealing of Hikki's thoughts and character without him saying anything.
Yukino is sparkling in both images and it also seems as though she's part of another world. This is Hikki's vision of Yukino, a terribly bad ideal to have of her. Her angelic look in the second image is actually pretty (I have seen better animation from Hyouka but this is decent). She is talking to Hikki about how she, a gifted student, is responsible for helping the "lost lambs", meaning Hikki. It's meant to be an ironic interpretation. However, before they engage in one-on-one chatter, Hikki is carefully taking her in. The first image is of her in a small bubble. She is very beautiful, very colorful, and very fragile. One of the things I admire about this anime is that it does take a realistic and logical action. In later episodes, Hikki realizes that Yukino does lie and she is human. He even admits to being enchanted by her which is something that he doesn't easily admit to.
Hikki's acquaintance that I mentioned earlier is none other than Yukino. Hikki has had some growth throughout the series but fundamentally, he hasn't gone as far as Yukino has. She does have a friend and a really valuable one. It should be no surprise that she and Yui have become great friends. This serves as a foil for Hikki. It's the fact that he doesn't allow anyone to become his friend and makes no attempt to establish that intimacy. He's so conditioned into believing that he misunderstands people's intentions that he's very cautious of social interaction. The wonderful thing about Yui and Yukino's friendship is the fact that they do care for each other and they show it.
Of course you can say that it's harder for Hikki to become friends with these girls rather than for them to be friends. I would say you're half right. Of the male cast, there's only three (maybe two) who are significant enough for Hikki to call his friends; however due to his personality, he finds it hard to connect to those people. There's also a cultural aspect of Japan. Rarely, do you see males and females becoming close friends, the only exceptions are when they are in a group of five or so people OR they become a couple. This is why in many anime, same-sex friendship is very popular (and can be interpreted as Yaoi/Yuri because their intimacy is often better than heterosexual romance). So the problem with Hikki is that his culture and personality is what prevents him from making friends with the girl leads.
Despite all the negative things I'm saying about Hikki, I actually adore the boy very much but I can't let my rose-tainted glasses gloss over how he really is. Hikki is a kind person who does his best to help others even though it doesn't always work out. And even though it's small, he has progressed and changed a little. It just wasn't enough.
Don't be fooled between the last two images. They have a sudden change from short to long sleeves so they're NOT from the same episode. I actually like these shots because they show Hikki's progress. In the first two images from the first episode, he's so far from both Yui and Hikki. There's nothing connecting them other than the fact that they're in the same room, all sitting down on chairs. In episode six, Yukino and Hikki give presents to Yui. I was a bit surprised when Hikki actually bought something for her plus, he's not as far away from the other two. (LOOK THE TABLE FROM THE BACKGROUND). Finally in the last episode (yes, 12 is the actual ending of the anime. Episode 13 is kind of an extra), they're all together, sharing the table. It's a big difference from the first episode, wouldn't you say?
If you ever decide to rewatch this series, take note of how far or close the characters are from each other in the anime. It's actually interesting (but I may be the only one that notices these things). Please tell me your thoughts about the series because I'd like to hear them~!