Why Are You Not Reading? (vol. 2)

It’s been almost one and a half years of university life. With all its ups and downs, the university lifestyle has sure been one hell of a doozy: Assignments, quizzes, exams, class participation marks, and the will to cheat in all four if your moral compass was forged by Anti-Plagiarism Man himself. Suffice to say, it’s been like a survival horror video game but with the zombies replaced by faster zombies that are capable of speech. Thanks to all the aforementioned commitments, though, I’ve been swamped and haven’t had the time to write except for outside of the obligatory course essays – as is evidenced by my last post.

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Help.

Anyways, with my current hectic situation, I also haven’t been able to watch much anime. I like to binge at least 8 or 10 episodes a night. That’s quite impossible to do unless if I’m keen on flushing thousands of dollars down the hostel toilet. Quite a number of students have done that what with Netflix circumventing the torrent-block on campus. And so, I mostly read manga in my lone spare time.

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Too many failures spoil the batch.

Fast-forwarding to about a week ago, I’d asked a friend for manga recommendations. He told me to check out Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai (Yugami-kun Has No Friends). I was skeptical at first considering the tried and tested naming convention and MyAnimeList’s bipolarity when it comes to quality. Fortunately for me, my friend proved once again that he is indeed a man of culture. I haven’t had this much fun with a slice-of-life series since Bokura wa Minna Kawai-sou (The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior) but, unlike Kawai, I actually learnt to appreciate some things with Yugami. You’ll find out how ironic that is soon enough.

To get started, I’ll have to say that the title pretty much says it all. Yugami Yuuji is a high-school student quite set in his ways. His defining motto in life is, to paraphrase, that friends are for losers and one should be reliant on themselves. To his peers, this statement comes across as very negatively charged, and they deem him to be this aloof troublemaker who lives life with complete disregard for those not directly related to him. Actually, scratch that. Considering all the shade he throws his grandmother; I’d say Yugami is more or less a twisted, almost anti-hero, version of Sakamoto from Sakamoto Desu ga? (Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto). If you’re a big fan of comedy, your interest may have already been piqued with this claim.

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The last couple of nights reading this manga.

Nevertheless, despite the title, the manga isn’t only about the strange Yugami interacting with even stranger side-characters, a la Sakamoto. It’s actually about Yugami trying to avoid all unnecessary human interactions in order to maximize the time he can spend on himself and the activities that he enjoys – as contrasted adequately by the dynamic formed between him and the transfer student Watanuki Chihiro, whose goal is to make some friends because her family has been hopping cities much like the Discrete Mathematics professor has been hopping the responsibility of holding proper quiz contestations. In an effort to rack up good boy points for his daily quota, Yugami inadvertently helps Watanuki settle into high-school life using his cost-efficient and results-ensuring methods. As their dynamic starts to rub off on the both of them, you get a distinct sense of wonder trying to determine the end for this non-edgy, non-romantic Oregairu retelling.

Yugami tries to be a man of little words unless the topics include rakugo, turtles, and baseball. Conversely, Watanuki’s anxiety and, sometimes, comfy-nature driven monologues drive home the subtle discussion on what it means to be friends. Also, yes, you read that right. Yugami is the ace pitcher of the baseball club. As the only other competent player on the baseball team is the probable schizophrenic catcher, Kadota Haruki, Yugami is left to fend for his skills (and his unpopularity) with his defiant attitude being the primary catalyst for the lack of team cooperation in the first place.

That is not to say that Yugami is the only one going around handing out shits and fans, even though he’s the one encouraging most of the flinging. Many well-written side characters go off on their separate tangents of “Wow, I wonder if I was that stupid/complacent in high-school.” (Yes, I was.). You’ve got Kuzumi Wakana, the baseball club manager who serves as the polar opposite of the cute manager-I-want-to-strike-for in most volleyball anime. You’ve got Hayashiyama Masaki, the rival school ace tent-pitcher, who considers Yugami to be his number one enemy, yet Yugami doesn’t even think about him. You’ve got Kaori Momose, who changes colors faster than she can even realize that she is changing colors in the first place. Then there’s also Yugami’s happy-go-lucky cousin who is partly responsible for Yugami adopting the ‘look of disdain’ straight from the album of ‘Anime Girls Looking At You In Disgust.’ These are the sort of characters that really shouldn’t be meshing well in a semi-serious story. Still, they bounce greatly off each other thanks to Jun Sakura’s wonderful use of comedic timing and a very interesting self-cherishing viewpoint of life.

Speaking of cherishing things, that’s the main thing that Yugami has really got together during the run of the series. It is, quite honestly, a quality lacking in many folks, especially when they go about trying to make friends. To truly cherish bonds you have with another, you must first learn to acknowledge and respect the finer things in life and accept that you should be the one most important to you. This wake-up call for a healthy outlook is much in today’s media consumed by wanton hedonism, rampant nihilism, and ever-springing imaginary ism-isms. Enjoy your talents. Enjoy your hard work. Enjoy your hobbies. Enjoy your food. And lastly, enjoy yourself. These points are gradually brought home like a lost puppy during the beat of a midsummer rain. The atmosphere is that of safety and new hope, but with slight tensions still hanging here and there as the assortment of characters learn new things from each other about themselves and truly develop as something more than placeholders for stoic humor.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps or are looking for a comfortable read with a lot of laughs, then I wholeheartedly recommend giving Yugami and his not-friends a chance. You’ll probably end up cherishing it much more than Yugami’s love for rakugo. And, of course, himself.

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And so it says.

One thought on “Why Are You Not Reading? (vol. 2)

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