I hate to use the word “perfect” in respect to any anime episode, but I’m hard-pressed to see how these events could have been depicted any better than BokuYaba did so here. It starts with the unending authenticity in Norio-sensei’s writing of course, but the anime has leveled up this season (as has the material, to be fair). And I can’t help but notice that Ichi seems closer to his manga character design (Anna was always pretty close), for whatever reason – different A.D.s and key animators taking on larger roles, perhaps. We certainly know Akagi-sensei knows how to adapt this sort of material.
Those viewers of a certain age and fans of great music of any age will know “Tapestry”, the legendary album by the legend Carole King. It’s a record that you might assume was a greatest hits compilation or a killer mix tape, because basically everything on it is both a great song and a hit single. But it’s not – it’s a studio album that just happens to have nothing but classics on it. And that’s this season of Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu – the hits just keep on coming. There are no lulls, no off weeks. And every time you think it can’t possibly top itself, it’s going to top itself. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.
I’ve been a 13 year-old boy myself, as it happens. And while I’ve never found myself in the situation Kyou did this week (few boys have), I can vouch for the authenticity of the experience generally. And while Norio has never been one, she has been a 13 year-old girl (though she admits Kyou is her avatar in the series), and I’m banking on that side of the experience being pretty damn authentic too. The tumult all those changes have is impossible to communicate – yet somehow this series does. It distills and bottles the experience like milk tea (what an interesting place for Anna to keep that bottle).
Naturally, this whole situation is both an erotic nightmare and a comedy of errors for Kyou. Just being naked in Yamada’s apartment is bad enough. Then she talks to him while his hand is on his junk in the bath (innocently but reflexively, I’m sure). Then he gets out of the bath to find that while she’s left him a change of clothes, they’re her clothes – why would she not just give him her dad’s (well, we now know)? Compounding this problem is that his underwear is missing – which is a twofold issue. Obviously it means he has to go commando in Anna’s sweatpants, but also that she was the one who put his underwear in her tote bag with the rest of his clothes.
Anna is already planning ahead, having brought out the family’s one-bag hotpot kits, but as soon as Kyou gets out of the bath she changes into the cutesy animal PJs Moeko (a wingman even when she doesn’t realize it) gave her (while Kyou slips into his undies). At this point the episode – and Anna – slide into very reflective territory. She’s brought out one of her old yearbooks (which is a gesture to create intimacy with Ichi for sure), but it takes her to some dark places, especially when he asks about the family piano. Anna has tried and quit many things, and while Mama and Papa always made her favorite dishes to console her and encouraged her to move on, she worries that she’s a burden because of her perceived flaws.
I’ve thinking about this a lot lately, but in many ways Anna reminds me a lot of Bakugo from HeroAca. An only child, with a strong-willed mother and a quiet father. Someone who’s been constantly praised over something they had nothing to do with – him his quirk, Anna her beauty and physical stature. Each of them is a classic only child in the sense of being quite self-involved, although their projected personality is obviously very different. Anna is constantly worried about how how others see her, constantly trying to manipulate people and events to fit how they think they should be. And that includes Kyou, of course.
Not surprisingly given their age (she’s a little older, but not much) both Yamada and Ichi are quite innocent about how romance really works. The difference is that he’s quite self-aware about it, to the point of obsessing over the gaps in his experience, whereas she kinda thinks she has it all figured out. You get the sense that this whole bath-apartment episode is an orchestrated event for Anna (let’s not forget how she manoeuvred Kyou into their first date in Shibuya). That date worked out pretty well but she had time to plan it out in detail – this time she’s winging it. She saw a chance and took it, but it starts to spiral out of her control and all hell breaks loose.
His response to Anna’s moment of vulnerability is classic Kyoutarou – he casts blame on himself for any misunderstandings between them and offers her sage comfort about her insecurities. Whenever he has to act without thinking, Ichi’s instincts are spot-on – it’s the thinking that derails him. But then a LINE from Mama unleashes the dogs of Hell, and she’s forced to lie to her mother for (she says, anyway) the first time. Naturally Kyou feels bad about this, but truthfully none of it is his fault – and meeting her parents in these circumstances (and dressed in Anna’s clothes) would be a terrible idea. And there’s a lot else going on that consumes him anyway – like being in bed with her not once but twice.
There’s a lot going on here, not atypically for a series with so much subtext. Anna lets something slip about her dad, that he’s “a bit like…”, but Ichi doesn’t seem to pick up on it. Even with Lucifer Nigorikawa there to cheer him on Ichi still tries to sell himself the idea that he’s just a “normal friend” to Anna – the pretzel logic being that she was willing to let her parents see him at her house. I suspect he knows how ridiculous that is but this self-deprecation is so intrinsic to his identity that he has a hard time letting it go.
Back at school, the cast is off and it’s time for judo – which Anna chooses over dancing, as she’s bad at that (much to Adachi’s chagrin). The school gi are rather smelly, much to Anna’s chagrin (and Kanzaki’s delight). Smell is a theme here, as Kyou has been obsessing over getting Anna’s clothes smelling right when his family detergent is different (this leads to his walking in on Kana, an adaptation of one of the twitter extra chapters). He’s confronting another existential crisis, the changing of his voice – which forces him to contemplate what growing up means for his relationship with Yamada, who he sees inevitably graduating to a more traditional boyfriend.
Anna’s view on this is different than his. For her, Ichi growing up is cool – because she loves everything about him, and wants to experience everything there is to experience. This is another difference between them – Anna has the ability to lose herself in the moment, while Kyou burdens himself with too much introspection at every turn. But he’s slowly changing because of her, and aware of it – she forces him to question his assumptions about life, and about himself. Just as he helps her see things more clearly with his depth of perception about her and their shared world.
BokuYaba is both an illustration of why middle school romcom is such a wonderful subgenre, and why it itself is such a peerless exemplar of it. Again, authenticity – but also the balance between innocence and awareness, exhilaration and embarrassment. Sexual tension at this age has never been depicted with more honestly and less artifice than this series does it. You can’t escape it at that age, but to embrace it narratively without trivializing it or using it for cheap laughs is incredibly difficult – and rare. BokuYaba never looks away from it, but at the same time sees much deeper. That – among other reasons – is why this is such a special series.