I needed a minute after that one. To say this is a date BokuYaba readers had circled on the calendar is no exaggeration. 6th episodes and monumental events – it’s coincidence, but both seasons have worked out that way. The graduation speech arc is my favorite in the manga and not just mine – it’s Sasaki Norio’s too (and she’d know). You could tell from the comments of the staff and cast in interviews and on twitter that this was a huge moment, one everybody involved was waiting for. It had to deliver and boy – did it ever.
There are many reasons why these chapters are so hugely important, and why they’re arguably the best material in the entire series (albeit there’s a crapload of competition). For me, the main point is this: in animanga we have many good and a few great romcoms, and many good and a few great coming of age series. What sets Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu apart is that it’s a great iteration of both. I would in fact argue that even more than the romance, this series is a chronicle of Kyoutarou’s personal journey (another reason why this is possibly the crucial event in the story). What Norio-sensei elementally gets, though, is that these two facets of the series and inseparable – one can’t exist without the other.
With that, then, it’s no surprise that BokuYaba has probably both my favorite romance and my favorite protagonist (and maybe character) in ongoing manga. And this was the subplot that, for me, stamped Ichi as the best character around – an arc like this just doesn’t happen. It’s raw, it’s painful, it’s devastatingly real. It spares us nothing – no growth or advancement comes without pain, but they taste that much sweeter as a result. I have no doubt that Ichi is more relatable to those of us that are awkward, lacking confidence – but surely anyone with empathy can see how real this boy is, and be inspired by his resilience and essential decency.
There’s no one more dangerous than a teacher with good intentions. It’s easy to dump on teachers who don’t give a shit, but by God, one of them would never do what Maeda-sensei did to Kyou here. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the terror something like this speech carries with it – or to explain that terror to someone who wouldn’t feel it. You either get it or you don’t. You can see the little hamster in Maeda’s head running on the wheel – “I’ll bring him out of his shell, force him to confront his fears”. The road to Hell, indeed. I don’t doubt his sincerity but boy, I wanted to kick this guy in the nuts.
Now, I have to admit to myself – this worked out. But does that mean it was the right thing to do? If a single-parent with three kids spends their entire paycheck on lottery tickets instead of food and one of them turns out to be a winner, does that mean they were right to do it? Maybe I’m too close to it to judge, but I know how disastrously this could have turned out for Kyou. Seriously, if it had gone as badly as it could have, the experience could have scarred him for life. If I were the teacher, that’s certainly not a responsibility I would want on my shoulders.
Who knows, maybe Maeda is some super-perceptive guy who saw the depth of character in Ichi. That he was 2nd in class on the exams is no surprise – we know he’s smart. But to ask this – wow. The thing is, though, that Ichi can’t always live vicariously through Anna if they’re going to be a couple. He has to be selfish – to stake his own place in the world. He wants Anna to look at him the same way he looks at her – not just the love, but sonkei (respect bordering on reverence). The fact is, Yamada sees the beautiful soul inside him and does respect him, but Kyou’s lack of self-respect makes it very hard for him to see that.
He wasn’t always like that, as this episode reminds us. In elementary school he was happy to stand in front of the school and brag on his art prizes. So what changed? Well, a lot of it ties back to that cursed junior high entrance exam (“1503”) – the event that shook him off his foundations and shattered his self-belief. But that didn’t come from nowhere – that failure exploited existing cracks in his self-esteem, like a virus taking advantage of a weak immune system. Kyou’s entire journey since then has been about recovery from that tectonic shock. And it took another such event, powerful enough to shake him off his new foundations – Yamada Anna – to get him moving forward again.
Anna is why he decides to try – he wants to be the guy she can look at with sonkei, and deserve it. The rehearsal is a disaster, an inaudible whisper at breakneck speed (I can say from experience this is exactly what many Japanese middle schoolers do in such situations). She tries to coach him (though she needs either an anatomy lesson or a libido check). He practices in front of his mom (the adoring look in her eyes alone is heartbreaking enough for an entire episode). Mama and Kana desperately want to help, sensing the danger and the importance of the moment. But ultimately this is something Kyou has to face down himself – which is exactly the point.
Ichi even decides to go to a real stylist for the first time – which means asking Mom for ¥5000 instead of the usual ¥2000. He takes advantage of the online reservation system (raise your hand if you’ve had the same thought about how good that is for anti-social people). He writes copious notes for his conversation with the stylist, both to avoid awkwardness and to make sure he gets the cut he wants. But in the end he’s silent in the chair, and while the style looks good when he gets home, it’s totally different the next day (been there, Man), speech day. A hilarious chain of events follows as school as Serina tries her hand at “fixing” Kyou with the help of Adachi’s hair wax.
Eventually Anna (note how differently Kyou reacts when it’s her hands on his hair and not Yoshida’s) puts him back more or less to his pre-stylist self. But then the moment of true disaster – he’s forgotten his speech in lieu of his hair notes. He starts to go to Maeda-sensei to plead for mercy but the latter bull-rushes him to the wings (teachers always get all weepy and heedless at these ceremonies). He’s asked Kana to help, and she’s on her scooter doing her best (including getting an anime-original shipping moment with her takoyaki kouhai, though I do wonder why she wouldn’t know the way to the school she almost surely attended) but it doesn’t seem as if she’ll make it in time.
That panic cut me to the core, just as it did in the manga. But this is the glorious apotheosis of the whole Lucifer Nigorikawa angle – now in a flash we see the brilliance of Norio introducing that element. This is, for me, probably the most important scene in the entire manga. It’s not about Yamada, or about anyone or anything else – it’s Ichikawa Kyoutarou. He has to face himself and decide if he has the steel to get through this moment. It’s his desire to be a man Anna deserves that helps drive him, to be sure. But his alter-ego is right – this is about him. If he doesn’t believe in himself – if he doesn’t love himself more than anyone else – he can’t move forward. There’s so much perceptiveness and essential truth in the writing here that it almost stretches belief. It’s bildungsroman raised to its Platonic ideal.
If you read the manga, you know that the speech was essentially perfect the way Norio drew it. But Horie Shun somehow finds a way to elevate the moment. The other seiyuu have talked about coming to the studio just to watch this being recorded, and you can see why. Once he goes off-script Kyou is speaking both to the graduating seniors, and to himself. He’s giving himself a shot of courage to move forward and do the things he needs to do. Lucifer Nigorikawa is him of course, so in a sense this is really Kyou’s entire character arc come full circle. By God, it’s great – and terrible for the allergies. It was actually the proud little smile from Hara-san (anime-original) that really got to me, for some reason.
I’m note remotely surprised Kyou basically passed out after that. 13 year-old me probably would have too. Anna comes to see him in the nurse’s office, and Kyou is (in-character) more embarrassed about the aftermath than proud of the speech. Paisen has apparently followed her – and his childhood friend Mamiya followed him – and he’s going to take one last swing for the fences. But he swings like the soccer player he is, and whiffs. To Paisen’s amazement, Anna has observed him keenly enough to notice that he loves soccer, and asks him whether he plans to continue in high school. The truth is Haruya has had to give up the game due to injury, but he doesn’t reveal that to Yamada even here, at the end of all things.
I give credit to Paisen for never playing the sympathy card, even here as a last gasp. His affection for Yamada is sincere, as least as far as it’s possible for him to feel romantic affection. I don’t believe he’s a bad guy, just someone who lacks the emotional depth to see beyond the superficial. But he has to throw one last douchebag moment in, lying to Anna and telling her Ichi has given him her contact info. She knows Kyou too well for that and isn’t fooled for a second, and with that the exclamation point is finally appended to Haruya’s failed courtship. She was never into it – for his own sake, hopefully he can get past it.
Not for the first time, Nanpai is a crucial figure in Anna and Kyou’s relationship just by the force of his gravitational pull. In effect, he’s forced her to officially confess to Ichi – of course she knows he’s overhearing this conversation. “My hands are full, and I can’t hold anything else”. Kyou can no longer pretend that her feelings for him are anything but what they are – romantic (and unconditional) love. And he’s faced the terrifying demon Maeda-sensei thrust at him and survived it – bruised, but alive. Getting out of that cot and standing up, walking out of the nurse’s office and staring down Paisen one last time, is Kyou’s way of saying that he can no longer deny his belief in himself. It’s a harrowing journey full of dangers – here there be dragons – but the only path is forward.