My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu Review (Seasons 1 & 2)Posted: August 28, 2016
My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu is a bit of an odd duck. I don’t recall there being a whole lot of fanfare before the first season aired, but by the end it had managed to find a decent enough of an audience that it got some solid word-of-mouth and got a bit of a cult following. Then when the sequel aired almost two years later, that’s when the audience got really vocal about the show and how good it is.
From what I heard, I knew I wanted to check out the show at some point, but mostly just never had the time. But since it was voted for by you guys, it presented the perfect opportunity to finally check it out.
The way I’m going to do this is that I’m going to cover most of my thoughts on the first season, and then switch to the second one afterwards. Though as I talk about the first, I’ll probably make a few general statements about the second season. The idea is that if you’ve seen the first season but not the second, you’ll be able to hear my thoughts on that while still being able to go into the sequel mostly blind.
It’s actually been a long time since I’ve watched a show after it was finished airing. Usually I get to form thoughts on shows before I see what other people are saying, so it was weird to go into a show already knowing the kind of reception it has. Though it did make for an especially interesting experience with this specific show.
To put it bluntly, I spent almost the entire first season wondering why people liked it so much and waiting for it to get better. Honestly, if the show had not been voted to be reviewed, I don’t even know if I would have finished the first season.
Now before you bite my head off, give me a chance to explain, it’s not all negative.
I wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of the show, I could see why the first season got the following that it did. It’s conceptually interesting on a character front and at the time that it aired it was probably quite a breath of fresh air compared to the usual romantic comedy shows. Not to mention everybody was gushing over Attack on Titan which was airing at the same time, so the contrast of a slower, more character-focused story compared to the big, loud, and dumb popular show that everybody was talking about was probably pretty enticing.
I see it, but it just didn’t grasp me. There were some serious execution problems that threw me off. I didn’t even have a real grasp on the show until the ending episodes. To be fair, that is partially the point, but I didn’t think it was pulled off as well as planned.
The problems started in the very first episode, where Hachiman and Yukinoshita argue about how to fix his attitude. He claims that he doesn’t need “fixing”, and that he should be accepted for who he is. Yukinoshita fires back by basically saying that change is required for any problems to be genuinely solved.
Obviously this conversation is thematically important, but this takes place before you’re even ten minutes into the first episode. On your first watch, it’s easy to just filter at as aimless banter, given how prone Hachiman is to rambling about stuff in his head and how quickly the whole thing gets dropped. There’s barely any emphasis on it. It does establish the characters a bit about where they stand, but it’s so early on that you’re still trying to remember whose name is whose.
Generally the point of a show’s first few episodes is to set up why you should care for what follows. Usually it’s some kind of plot, so you just want to see how that progresses. Other shows are more character-focused, so they broadcast how the characters are going to have issues and develop along the way, a signal that doesn’t get sent clearly until the end of the season. It can also be something as simple as making the theme clear, so you see how the show builds on and plays with it. As I said before, this is what Snafu tried to do, but didn’t quite manage it.
Spend the first one or two episodes introducing the characters and premise, then near the end of the second or somewhere in the third introduce the themes. Or if you’re like ToraDora, introduce everything in the first episode while also making the entire thing revolve around the central theme, rather than a throwaway conversation.
A solution I can think of would be to make the first problem that the club solves push the ideological conflict between Hachiman and Yukinoshita. The second season actually has the perfect example of this, considering that’s exactly what it did. I get that they needed to introduce Yuigahama – who’s the saving grace of this first season, more on that later – but making this conflict clear to the viewers helps the middle arcs have more weight to them.
Which is really one of the core problems I had: the middle arcs do set up for the ending episodes, but as you’re watching them they feel incredibly empty. There’s almost no weight to anything. Things just sort of happen, and you can’t tell what the point of it all is. It doesn’t help that most of the problems being solved come off as really mundane and don’t seem like they’ll ever be brought back up.
Though I will say, the middle episodes did have occasional bits of Totsuka, and his interactions with Hachiman tended to be great. HachimanxTotsuka is the true OTP, by the way.
Which reminds me, I also didn’t care much for Hachiman himself. I don’t think this was much of a writing issue though, just a relatability one. He seems like the kind of character that’s hard to really “get” unless you can personally identify with his mindset and the stuff he goes through in both seasons. At least that’s the impression I get, seeing as the character I actually found myself relating to the most – at least in terms of personal struggles – was Hayato. Though that’s more of a second season thing.
The one aspect of his that I was bothered by was the portrayal of his flashbacks in combination with his current attitude. I always found it weird that the show would regularly show off Hachiman’s complete lack of understanding of social etiquette through the use of comedic flashbacks, yet at the same time have the show revolve around him being socially aware enough to resolve the odd jobs the club gets. The idea is that it’s in really unusual ways, but the last arc established he’s fully aware of the social repercussions of what he does. The intent is probably that he learned from these embarrassing moments, but like most of the stuff in this season the idea works a lot better than the actual execution.
Though while I’m on the topic of specific characters, I did have issues with how Yukinoshita was handled. I get being vague about a character and their motivations, but you at least need to bring attention to the idea that you’re going for that so the audience gets it, or you need to drop some hints about what’s actually going on. The show does almost nothing with her for the first half, and then when it does try to do something, it’s hard to get a clear grasp on.
I get that the relationship she has with her sister is complicated, but I could never tell if she was frustrated with being compared to her and wanted to do her own thing, or if she wanted to be like her but better, which are two very different directions to take a character. It almost seemed like an aspect of her character that should have had its own specific arc to work with, rather than being just in addition to what was already going on in the last few episodes with all the festival-planning responsibilities being pushed on her.
The latter aspect was pretty solid though. The final arc really is the standout of the first season, mainly because it makes the entire season suddenly make sense thematically, as I said before. Though not in a way that felt like that was the grand scheme of things. You know how there are certain stories where there’s some sort of plot twist near the end that makes you rethink previous events or character actions so you see them in a whole new light? It doesn’t seem like it was quite going for that.
I won’t doubt that it probably works a lot better on rewatch, but when you’re seeing this all for the first time, the reaction is basically, “Oh, that’s what they were going for? I wish I’d known that earlier.”
So since it’s hard to get a grasp on the show thematically, the one thing that helps make it easier to get through the show at all – at least for me – was Yuigahama. While you have these two characters brooding and bickering at each other over various things, the simplicity of Yuigahama’s energetic positivity helps balance it out. Though it doesn’t stop all the other issues in this first season from bringing it down, despite her best efforts.
All of these issues made me seriously think about why my experience seemed so different from everybody else who watched the show. Even though I know people generally just like the first season, but love the second, it was still weird. At first I thought maybe it was a translation thing, because if I recall the show was actually simulcasted with a week delay, so a lot of people probably watched fansubs for it. Though I did some comparisons and the subtitles weren’t too far off from each other, so that idea got tossed out pretty quickly.
Then when I looked at who made the show, everything clicked: Brains Base.
The directing in this first season is mind-numbingly boring.
For those of you who don’t know, Brains Base has a habit of adapting shows where a whole lot of nothing happens. Admittedly, not all of these are bad, seeing as some of those are all the seasons of Natsume’s Book of Friends, both seasons of Spice & Wolf, and Princess Jellyfish. But if you notice, there’s a common thread with the good shows Brains Base puts out, which would be Takahiro Omori. He directed those previous shows mentioned, along with Baccano and Durarara.
The studio also put out Mawaru Penguindrum, but Ikuhara was behind that and he seems to be trying to direct something at each and every animation studio.
Almost everything else the studio puts out tends to be forgettable, probably because the staff behind them don’t know how to make shows interesting enough. Shows like One Week Friends, Brothers Conflict, Kamisama Dolls, and Akikan!, and those last two even had action to try and help retain interest.
So realizing that Brains Base were the ones behind the first season just made it all click in my brain. It was solidified even further when I noticed the director, Ai Yoshimura, had never fully directed anything beforehand. It makes sense why the directing is so by-the-books.
When a character talks, make the shot of their face, if more than one are talking, usually put them all in together so you don’t have to change the shot that often, etc. The only interesting thing the show does that I assume isn’t in the source material is how the sign for the club room gets a new sticker each episode. Other than that it’s typically just dull to watch. There was also very little direction given to the actual animation team I’d bet, seeing as how minimalistic or straightforward everything tends to look.
I mean, I can appreciate a show that wants to do stuff without beating you over the head about it like it’s a Testurou Araki or Key project, but the opposite end of the spectrum isn’t really any better. When dramatic scenes come off with very little impact, you just easily shrug off what’s happening.
To be fair to Ai Yoshimura – and also to mostly prove my point about why the directing is the way it is – she got better in her later shows that she was in charge of. She’s doing Cheer Danshi this season, which people seem to like. There was also Dance with Devils, which was utterly majestic. There was a fucking dog chorus for one of the songs.
Admittedly she did Blue Spring Ride right after Snafu, which was also pretty dull, but hey it takes time to get comfortable directing.
But getting back to the show itself, I’ve been railing into this first season pretty hard, and in all honesty I’m not going out of my way to do it. If the show hadn’t been voted for, I’m not sure I would have even finished it. The lack of any passion in the directing really did a number on me.
Which is why I’m so thankful the second season is leagues better in basically every way possible.
That little twist probably didn’t surprise anyone, but I really did go from a season that I would probably not recommend to anybody, to one that I would easily recommend. Though admittedly not without some caveats, but we’ll get to those later, it’s about time I had some positives to talk about.
The change of staff and studio for the sequel was easily the best thing to happen to the series. The director the second time around was Kei Oikawa, who doesn’t exactly have a sterling record, but has very much grown into their own over time. They started with Minami-ke Okaeri (which I believe is the third season) and its following OVA, then did Outbreak Company afterwards, which wasn’t exactly a smash hit but from the snippets I saw at least showed some sense of personal directing style.
His following directing job after that was the second season of Snafu, so his third work if you don’t include the Minami-ke OVA. I haven’t seen the first two shows he’s done, but it’s safe to assume by your third show you’ve gotten comfortable showing your personal style through your directing.
Also, fun fact while we’re on the guy’s directing record, his fourth and newest show he’s handling is This Art Club Has a Problem!, which is also showing lots of fun, comedic directing with the wacky characters. Snafu (especially the second season) may be more about the character development than anything comedic, but the point is that the guy shows some actual passion through his directing, which is basically a necessity to enjoy almost any show.
I mean, you literally don’t even need to get a minute into the second season to see that it has more mastery of tone than the first could ever dream to have. The intensity of Hayato’s confrontation with Hachiman on the roof while Yuigahama and Yukinoshita do their concert performance, completely oblivious to what’s going on as the song plays over the events. Perfect.
Speaking of which, I doubt it’s a coincidence that the new staff decided to redo the last important part of the first season rather than immediately starting where it left off. It really does feel like they viewed the first season as mishandled and wanted to put it in the right direction.
Remember how I said it was weird for the show to have these comedic flashbacks about Hachiman’s past? The second season also makes use of flashbacks, but they’re noticeably not very funny this time around, they’re played far more seriously, which fits much better.
Redoing the big conflict at the start of the new season also helped to set up the rest of the episodes thematically, which as I mentioned before, was something the first season somewhat tried but failed to do.
Rather than having arcs that end with the cast just saying “well that’s over now I guess”, it actually focuses on dissecting Hachiman’s character for the first half before moving on to the main cast in general. Not to mention, even the side group with Hayato and crew get some nice development this season. Well, with the exception of Yumiko, she’s still just sort of there.
It was already nice that the story didn’t just completely abandon those guys, but for the first season they just sort of randomly popped up and didn’t add much other than a bit of comedy from the sillier ones in the group, so the development was a nice touch.
The point is that having the problems revolve around people you know rather than randomly introduced ones leads to better development and just generally more investment in what’s going on. Iroha is a bit of an exception since she gets introduced in this second season, but sticks around for more than just her first arc, and she plays a part in the main characters’ dilemmas too. She’s a lot like Ami from ToraDora, if you think about it.
Also, something I shouldn’t neglect to mention is that the sequel just looks better. Obviously it was made almost two years after the first season, but the art and animation are leaps and bounds above what the first offered. It also helps that the animators seemed to actually get directions at times, so there were some nice moments that made use of subtle body language, like when either of the main girls tugged at Hachiman’s sleeve or when he takes the grocery bag from Iroha.
A lot of these slower shows tend to live or die by their directing alone, because a good director can even make mundane activities seem lively and entertaining. That alone was enough to make the second season infinitely more enjoyable to watch, so throw in themes of characters learning not to run away from the problems and face the scary reality of growing up and you’ve got a pretty darn good show on your hands.
Just not a perfect one.
The first season had good ideas, but either had no idea what to do with them or failed at portraying them well. The second season has better ideas and a much better understanding of how to apply them, but stumbles here and there.
Admittedly, one of the issues isn’t the fault of the sequel in and of itself. One of the things bringing down the second season is, unfortunately, the sheer existence of the first one. Maybe it’s a fault of mine, but it’s impossible for me to split the two despite it being pretty clear the new staff wanted to take the show in a different (and arguably more correct) direction. Every time climactic scenes were happening, I couldn’t help but remember the first season and how it felt like it had screwed up the setup for everything that was happening, despite the second season’s best efforts. It just makes the developments feel too sudden because there was all that empty space in the first season that could have been used to set up for it.
As for issues that the second season is responsible for, which sort of ties into the last complaint, is just how much conflict there was. I get that the first season didn’t exactly help them, but it eventually got to a point where it was nonstop conflict and it actually got overbearing. You need some leeway with drama and conflicts so that there’s time to cool off and relax before the next one, otherwise it becomes the status quo and that gets tiring.
This problem was compounded when characters started doing something I call “talking to the audience”. Basically, it’s when a character says something that’s so vague that it makes barely any sense that they would say it at all within the context of the story, which means the line’s point is just to tell the audience something.
The second season of Snafu actually has quite a few of these, but the one that bugged me the most was Yukinoshita’s line on the water ride as they’re about to go down the waterfall. She asks Hachiman to “save her”, which gives him the expression you’d expect: utter confusion. It’s already an out-there line on its own, but it would have at least helped if there had been some buildup to it. Maybe comments on how he’s been helping other people lately compared to how he used to handle things or such. Then at least the statement entering her mind would make sense, she’s just too embarrassed or something to be specific.
But the biggest problem I had was something more personal: I just didn’t relate much to the struggles of the main characters. The first half is Hachiman learning to face challenges head-on rather than dodging them, which sure is pretty generally relatable to tons of people. You just have to ignore the convoluted solutions Hachiman comes up with which breaks that connection a bit since almost nobody would ever come up with those methods.
The second half however, is about these teenagers growing up and learning about what they want to do with their lives and figuring out how to define themselves and their identities. It’s an admirable struggle to tackle in a show, but it didn’t really resonate with me. I don’t mean to sound arrogant or something when I say this, but it’s not something I’ve ever struggled with personally.
Now you don’t need to have personally gone through a specific struggle to feel for a character and what they’re going through, but the specific, almost mellow approach the show takes to it seems like it expects you to fill in certain gaps on your own. The alternative is that it just isn’t portrayed well, but seeing how many people adore the season I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.
I’m mainly willing to do that because I’ve had an experience where I was on the opposite end when Kokoro Connect was airing. It’s also a struggle about identity, but not in relation to growing up. Iori handles social situations by changing her demeanor and what she says, or as she puts it: she has different masks she wears based on who she’s with. The problem is that she does this so much that she loses sight of herself, and can’t even remember what her original personality is when she doesn’t have a mask on.
Now, the portrayal in that show was more in-your-face and dramatic which would make it more relatable despite personal experience, and it’s not like the show had massive backlash or anything, just some vocal detractors. I do specifically remember people saying that Iori’s struggle was “silly”, though. Which was weird since, again, it’s something I could personally relate to.
I mentioned before that the character I actually related to the most in this show was Hayato, which makes sense since his little debacle is pretty close to Iori’s. He struggles with behaving the way that is expected of him and meeting their expectations. It’s just another reason I’m assuming the lack of connection I had with the main characters is a personal thing rather than a critical one.
It’s definitely an odd position to be in, I’ve certainly disliked shows that a lot of other people liked, but I’ve never really come across a show that seems perfectly fine but just wasn’t for me. It’s been an interesting, new experience.
Except the first season. That thing is just littered with too many issues.
With all that said, let’s never have a vote on what I should review ever again. This took way too long to make.