We Never Learn: BOKUBEN – Episode 1

By: Chiaki Hirai April 6, 20190 Comments
Two girls stand beside a boy who looks shocked. They wear school uniforms.

What’s it about? Nariyuki Yuiga covets a special scholarship that will get him a full-ride scholarship into the college of his choice. Good news Nariyuki, you got it—so long as you can tutor literary genius Fumino Furuhashi and math whiz Rizu Ogata. While the two girls flourish on their strengths, their passion relies on succeeding at their catastrophically bad subjects.

In quintessential harem anime fashion, this is a show about a singular boy meeting several different girls who flirt over the entire cour whether their fascination with each other is romantic or platonic. Thankfully, in exploring adolescent feelings of high school romance, Nariyuki clears the very low bar of “a male protagonist who respects physical boundaries and isn’t creepy around women.” In fact, he’s actually a pretty decent human being. Good job!

Though Nariyuki stands at a position over the other girls, he also isn’t wholly superior either. With the school’s headmaster making it clear he’s not a top student, but a dedicated one, he’s firmly having to work hard to keep up. He’s not treated as some wunderkind handed down from God to bless the two girls, and while he’s doing his best to offer help, he makes it clear that he needs to keep up with his homework as well.

Finally, some good anime.

Beyond that, our protagonist also has a decent amount of empathy and is able to respect Fumino’s wish to go into the natural sciences and Rizu’s desire to pursue social sciences, even if that means it will jeopardize his own odds of success in tutoring the two girls. He establishes a firm platonic bond with both girls in this first episode and pales in comparison to the oft-loathed and accident-prone harem leads of yester-seasons.

But while Nariyuki is a reasonable protagonist, the show is still trained on the heteronormative male gaze. The first episode manages to situationally treat the two girls with respect and avoids any overly sexual situations, but Fumino and Rizu’s bust sizes do end up as the butt of a joke in the mid-episode eye catch. Rizu’s breasts are further used to bolster some sexual tension as she leans in on Nariyuki while they study. The show’s camera work also tend to go low and behind on the girls to tease the potential of an upskirt, but the show doesn’t explicitly go into the ecchi realm there.

These incidents, however play a minimal part in the first episode and I’d have largely let it go if not for the next episode preview that featured the as- yet unseen third main girl giving a healthy grope to Rizu’s breasts.

A redhead reaches out to grope Rizu's left breast. Rizu appears suprised.
I dunno, this feels pretty gratuitous.

Overall, I guess a harem anime is going to harem anime, and there’s not much more I can laud on that. I am, however, pleased to see how the series approaches the concept of “genius” and the importance of how people learn or understand things differently

Though Fumino and Rizu are literally gifted with genius-level intellect of their respective strengths, that gift also becomes a curse since learning and understanding comes all too naturally. All too often, gifted students end up realizing they’ve hit a ceiling and have no idea what to do because they don’t naturally just “get it” anymore. The two girls have hit that ceiling because they don’t know how to comprehend their weakest subjects, which use processes totally different from what they are good at.

In contrast, Nariyuki stands as a generally good student who is dedicated to keeping up by adjusting his tactics to solve problems. He was taught he needed to adapt and work depending on the situation at a young age from his late father, who instilled some really good advice to a floundering elementary schooler Nariyuki.

A young Nariyuki with tears welling up in his eyes. An adult hand pats him on the head. Subtitle: Become a man who’s able to understand people who can’t do things.
Empathy from my harem anime protagonist? It’s more likely than you think.

The animation quality is also pretty good. The show, from opening to closing, has a variety of artistic styles and the visual gags are funny and memorable. I particularly liked the fluid movements during the opening animation and the cute and unique chalkboard ending credits.

One issue I’ll point out in the translation, however, is that BOKUBEN fails to translate all of the text in Nariyuki’s study guides. Admittedly, this is a lot of text for something totally not imperative to the story, but I still felt a little let down that the subtitles overlook just how detailed and tailored Nariyuki’s study notes are to each girl.

A page from a notebook filled with Japanese text. Subtitle: If that doesn't work...
Translation: Furuhashi, you focus too much on individual numbers. If you instead focus on fitting in pertinent formulas, you’ll be able to get through more than you expect!

So, a generally likable protagonist, a pair of animated heroines, an allusion to a larger cast of colorful side characters, and generally healthy study habits. It’s not a bad show. If you like harem anime, you might be pleasantly surprised with this one.

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