In episode six of Higehiro, Sayu’s steady growth hits the worst kind of wall as she discovers that a co-worker is one of the guys that had exchanged a short-term housing for a sexual relationship with her. Suddenly, Sayu’s new world is shaken and she’s fearful and unsure what to do, eventually and almost capitulating to his advances and, indeed, attempted rape.
For those rather unfamiliar with the show, knowing it primarily by it’s extended title, Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway, this story line might be surprising. The series is one of a couple this season—Koikimo being the other—that deals with problematic premises involving an older guy and younger girl, but which are of high quality. The latter is more directly about romance, but this earlier one isn’t without problems either, mostly that while it has something deeper to express, as shown in the entirety of episode six, from Sayu’s ordeal to her sharing of troubles with Asami, and from Yoshida’s and Yaguchi’s uncomfortable confrontation to the both coming to terms with what they’re doing or have done with Sayu, previous episodes have been quick to become the kind of series that defies a very theme it’s trying to emphasize, mainly about the awful and robotic way that some adolescent girls are used.
I understand why Higehiro does it—it’s strangely the “safe” approach, going to a place viewers expect and which many are more willing to accept than a more serious journey which might bore them. Viewers might generally agree that what men have done to Sayu is terrible, but they’ll also enjoy the “male gaze” lingering on her body a bit longer than is needed to prove a point.
It’s unfortunate because the show is so good when it explores the consequences both of Sayu’s actions in getting to where she is now and in Yoshida taking in her. Episode six very visibly tackles the earlier when Yaguchi, in the most trashy way possible, tries to reengage Sayu in a sexual relationship, using the threat of telling others about their past encounters and then assaulting her in a couple of scenes that are among the most tense in anime this season. Two additional scenes explore Yoshida’s resolve in taking Sayu in, the first being when he throws Yaguchi out of his apartment.
The viewer wants to see Yoshida take out all his anger on this trash, to give Yaguchi what he deserves, but during their conflict, the younger man’s words paralyze him. He returns to the problem that Yoshida has been encountering all along, that he’s playing a “hero,” and though he justifies the idea, it’s clearly troubling to him. Yoshida also realizes that even though he’s been a steadying and good influence on Sayu, there’s something fishy and not quite right about taking Sayu in instead of working tirelessly to get her back home. He’s taking something from her as well; it’s not entirely altruistic.
In fact, he explores that idea later while embracing Sayu. She asks, “Why do you try to protect me like this” Yoshida it as first unsure how to answer, and then infers that it’s for a variety of reasons, including likely for himself. It’s a strange explanation, actually, that Yoshida gives to Sayu as he tries to comfort her, not only because he’s trying to work through his actions but also because he is telling Sayu that everything she’s doing is normal and okay. It all mostly make sense, but then it doesn’t, not entirely. Yoshida is speaking a bit in platitudes to Sayu, and is still confused, it seems, about what his role is with her and why it’s okay for him to keep her in his apartment.
The series itself, I think, may have trouble with explaining these ideas in a satisfactory manner. Again, it’s safer and easier to just play up a possible romance between Yoshida and Sayu, almost making more sense than a serious, savior-saved / older brother-younger sister relationship. But when the series is being brave, as in episode six, and the dialogue and actions become increasingly complex and confusing, Higehiro is at its absolute best. It’s weird and off-kilter and real. In real life, Yoshida isn’t old enough nor experienced enough to make all the right decisions or say all the right words; he’s going to mess things up, sometimes even while brimming with confidence. That’s authentic, because this situation, after all, is itself pretty messed up.
Life tends to get messy, sometimes for short stretches (maybe like this journey for both Yoshida and Sayu) and sometimes for years on end. We make mistakes, say things that maybe aren’t 100% true, and rely on meager experience and pride to justify our actions. That’s humanity. And that’s exactly why I appreciate Higehiro went it falls into the abyss of “What is this relationship exactly?”, because it’s then that the series becomes something unique, something special. That’s when it resonates. That’s when this series about an odd and unsettling situation becomes worth watching, because in those moments (thankfully for an entire episode this week), a situation straight out of anime that would likely and should never happen to you or me in real life becomes 100% real. Broken, damaged, and weird, for a bit, it’s 100% us.
And as messy and confusing as that is, it’s a journey that far better than just another cringey, anime romance.
Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway can be streamed on Crunchyroll.