I’m very often surprised by Ore Monogatari, because for all that it’s a conventional love story on the surface, it could hardly be more unconventional where it counts. I mean, we had an episode this week that was absurdly funny and adorable, a thoroughgoing winner in every respect. Yet it was still overshadowed by what happened in the final minute of the episode. How often does that happen?
That ending, I think, is quite symbolic when it comes to the series as a whole. We have a very likable and entertaining main character who’s not remotely a stock male lead, and a very likable and entertaining female love interest for him. There’s no disputing Takeo is the main character, and the vast majority of the show is built around what happens to he and Rinko. And it works beautifully most of the time, as indeed it did this week. That’s a series, right there.
Yet there’s definitely something else going on here, and I’m convinced it’s not accidental on the part of the author. The real intrigue in Ore Monogatari – and I believe quite deliberately the raison d’etre behind it – is what happens with Suna. By every conventional measure – screen time, title, OP/ED, et al – Suna is the sidekick, the supporting character. Yet the series essentially resolves the protagonist’s arc by the 5th or 6th episode, and it’s the side character’s arc which seems to be what everything is building up to. I’m not sure I can think of another example quite like it. Ironically, Suna’s Madhouse doppelgänger Taichi and Chihayafuru might be the closest thing, but the disconnect is not nearly as strong with that series as it is here.
Still, there’s plenty of conventional comedy and romance here, and even without the ending this would have been an excellent episode. We get our first extended look at Takeo’s sister, who’s been given the name Maki. And it’s coming up on Valentine’s Day, which is one of those anime tropes that doesn’t need to exaggerate reality much – it really is an incredibly stressful time for both guys and girls in Japan, especially teenagers. For Takeo, it means he’s finally going to get “honmei choco” – the kind given by girls to guys they actually like, as opposed to “giri” (obligation) choco (even this is a problem for unpopular boys, as it often comes only from obaa-sans and sisters).
Of course Takeo’s lonely friends don’t think twice about imposing on him to ask Rinko if they can hang out with her friends on Valentine’s, despite Suna scolding them (and Takeo too, for being a pushover) for eating into Takeo’s couple time. This is where we get out first clue that there might be a larger point to the episode, as Suna actually reveals a bit of himself – he tells Takeo he “can’t imagine” feeling so connected to a girl that he’d be thrilled to get chocolates from her. It’s so rare to see actual self-reflection from Suna that the moment is rather striking, even as brief as it is.
The actual meetup is pretty wonderful – both the guys and the girls are priceless. The former are thrilled their ploy to actually get gifted honmei choco has actually sort of worked, and the girls like the idea that their chocolates could make a boy that happy. Takeo can’t stop thinking (and talking) about chocolate, and it appears for a while that he’ll have to be satisfied with the stuff the girls made to pass out to the group. But of course Rinko has something ridiculously elaborate to give to Takeo later, and his Valentine’s dreams finally come true.
But the real headliner is Suna. It’s simply impossible not to wonder about this guy – what makes him so seemingly disinterested in exploring his own feelings? For one of the very few times in the series we get a sense that he’s not satisfied being a spectator in other people’s lives, that some part of him wants more but for whatever reason refuses to pursue it. Valentine’s is merely the catalyst to bring the reaction to the surface, because that’s the time when girls can openly express their interest in a guy. Suna has implied before that the problem was that the girls who approached him talked about Takeo behind his back, but while there’s truth in it that’s surely also a cover. Is he simply afraid of his own feelings, or is there more to the story?
My sense has always been that the real problem for Suna was that he thought all of those girls who confessed to him were interested in him for how he looked, not who he was – that he simply couldn’t bring himself to trust in their motives. Now, remarkably, it seems our long trek through the desert may finally be over – if this ending this week wasn’t a massive troll, we may finally get at least some answers as to why Suna is the way he is, and what it is he really wants. And there seems to be one girl out there who defies Suna’s assumptions about all the girls who pursued him. I don’t know if this is the moment when Suna’s heart is finally unlocked, but I sincerely hope we’re at least going to see why it was locked up in the first place. As much as I like the conventional aspects of Ore Monogatari, the experience of watching it will feel hollow if we don’t get at least that much.