Content Warning: Sexualization of minors, partial underage nudity as fanservice
What’s it about? Twenty-something—really, 26-year-old—Yoshida is an employee at a major IT company who’s nursing a broken heart after being rejected by his crush of five years. After drinking away his sorrows, he encounters Sayu, a runaway high school girl who says they can sleep together… if he lets her stay with him and have a place to crash.
Guess who’s back? Back again? Mercedez is back! Tell a friend… or don’t because I’m back with Spring 2021’s second show about an older man taking interest in a literal teenage child. That’s right: I’m here with you, AniFam, to talk about Higehiro, which is also known as the far longer “Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took In a High School Runaway.” Now, doesn’t that sound like… a series?
No time for staff and all that, though I’ll tell you that Higehiro is a project No. 9 production, a studio known for work on After the Rain and Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. Take that for what you will. For now, let’s see what it’s like, and if it’ll sit in the seventh circle of Hell with Koikimo. I’ll admit that I’m going into this a bit weary of the “male adult/female child” romance shtick, fiction or not. Consider that as we dive deeper into episode 1, “The Teenage Girl Beneath the Lamplight.”
Episode 1 kicks off in medias res with deuteragonist Yoshida on a “date” with his crush, Gotou. Just a few seconds in, Yoshida admits to having feelings for her. But when he asks her to come home with him, well… things go south, in large part because she’s already seeing someone that’s she’s romantically involved with. What does Yoshida do? Well, he gets pissed and goes to drink away his woes with his friend, like one does.
On his way home, he meets Sayu, a runaway high school girl who’s sleeping beneath a street light. Like a responsible adult, he chides her for being out so late, and tells her to go catch a train. When Sayu asks to stay at his place, Yoshida gets angry, and tells her to go sleep elsewhere, specifically because she’s a kid, which like… good, Yoshida! Thanks for meeting the bare minimum, am I right?
At first, I was like, “Yeah, this is actually okay. Yoshida’s not a bad guy: he’s trying to encourage this kid to stay safe, even if he’s a bit brusque about it!” Then Sayu offers to let him sleep with her in exchange for a place to crash. In fact, the subs specifically have her say, “I’ll let you do me, so let me stay.”
Then they pan up from his crotch because where else is the camera supposed to start? On his face? Oh, no, no, no, of course not, silly anime fans! We gotta start with the bepis! Don’t you know that Higehiro is a rom-com?
To his credit, Yoshida is immediately put off by Sayu’s request, and declares that he’s not sleeping with a little kid, which at least shows a level of awareness that was completely missing from Koikimo.
In the end, Yoshida still takes this still-unnamed teen back to his place, simply to keep her from sleeping on the streets. And to my utter surprise… that’s all that happens. When Sayu tries to initiate something, he rebuffs her and like… he doesn’t do A Bad. He doesn’t do A BAD!
Thus, we have the foundation for Higehiro, which… is still a lot.
A lot of the “tension” in this episode comes from Sayu pushing herself onto Yoshida, who is pretty clear about not wanting to sleep with, as he declares, a little kid. I don’t think the latter is wrong because full-ass adult men absolutely shouldn’t want to sleep with children. Instead, a lot of my frustration with Higehiro came from Sayu, and how the creator of the source material wrote her.
I said this in Koikimo, and I’ll say it again: it’s exhausting to see teenage girls portrayed in this manner. The series really makes Sayu out to be some sort of woman when she’s, at best, 16 or 17. I know I distinctly felt like a child until I was 20. Worse, the camera really loves to pan over Sayu, especially when she’s half-dressed. There’s loads of scenes where her breasts are on display, or where her legs are focused on.
I found every instance where Sayu’s even teasing Yoshida about sleeping with her to be really offputting, especially since Sayu’s use of her body is distinctly different from a lot of teenage girls in anime. But once again, my critique is more about the creator of Higehiro, in large part because I don’t think we can blame teenage kids for sexualizing themselves in a world that does most of the grotesque labor for them. Teenagers, but especially teenage girls, live in a horrific world where their bodies are currency: I can’t blame a child for believing that their worth is such when that’s the constant, blaring message.
In my opinion, Sayu regards her body as a tool. In fact, Yoshida even calls her out and says that she can’t just use her body (and sex) to try and get a place to crash. Sayu’s feelings towards her bust and hips are distinctly uncomfortable to viewers, specifically because she’s a kid.. But… I actually think that might be the point: you’re not supposed to be comfortable with how Sayu has been encouraged, because of her situation, to behave.
In fact, you’re supposed to feel a very adult worry, which Yoshida exhibits and which I hope Higehiro will remain aware enough to develop. I really want to see this become a series where an adult helps a teenage kid realize that they’re a child, and shows them how they should be treated. I’d really like Yoshida to become kind of a big brother mentor to Sayu even. I think that’s a series I could actually find a lot of worth in. But I can’t quite trust Yoshida enough to not turn this sexual eventually. I’m just really hoping they don’t.
And by they, I absolutely mean the author of the novels and the staff of the show. Wikipedia does list the genre of the light novels as “romantic comedy,” after all.
The animation for this is actually quite nice. I found myself really attracted to how nice everything looked, though it’s nice in that late-2010’s”it’s so nice it’s actually kind of average” kind of style. Even still: Higehiro’s far from an ugly show, though there’s a few noticeable animation errors in some close-up shots of Sayu’s eyes.
The scoring is nice too. There’s lots of strings and piano trills when Sayu and Yoshida are in his apartment, which makes it feel more like a home for an uncle/niece or brother/sister than an outright room for a romantic pair. It’s actually unexpectedly nice, but I think once again, I’m comparing Higehiro to Koimono, which was bland as saltine crackers and Sierra Mist with no fizz.
Admittedly, and unexpectedly, I did find it engaging, and hope that it actually will subvert my expectations. I know that the light novels certainly have an audience, but it’s not me. Just like with Koikimi, I can’t tell who’s the audience for this. Research tells me that Higehiro is targeted at a cishet male audience, which… yeah, that’s tracks.
Even still, are there not cis, straight men who would be discomforted by Sayu’s sexualization, and her almost innate tendency to leverage sex and sexuality to get… ah, my list tells me food and shelter? Forget the tired diatribe of “How would you feel is this was your mother? Your sister? Your wife? Your friend? “ Are there not men who would think of this happening to any kid and be put off?
I’m actually going to keep watching Higehiro with hopes that the series will say something smart about sexualizing teenage girls, especially in Japan. I’m not sure it will, but… well, something in me is willing to give Higehiro up until episode 3 to get it together.