Studio: Project no. 9
Director: Manabu Kamikita
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
Higehiro, or After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway, is the kind of synopsis that immediately puts me on edge. Whatever your tastes, anime has a track record of objectifying and sexualizing underage characters like I have a habit of using words I don’t understand injudiciously. It’s the kind of premise that you read and tune into half expecting it to all implode before your eyes.
Higehiro gives away most of its secrets by the time you finish its paragraph of a title, but I can’t address the series as a work without first delving into its potentially controversial nature, and explaining how it could go horribly wrong. Yoshida is a 26-year-old office worker who has been pining after his boss, Goto, and is solidly rejected. Turns out, she’s been seeing someone for five years, and neglected to mention that to her coworkers and the colleague who asked her to dinner. On his way home from drowning his sorrows in booze, he comes across Sayu, a high school dropout who offers herself in return for a place to stay. To my great relief, Yoshida declines, but lets her stay the night regardless.
After Yoshida turns down her advances once or five times, they come to an agreement that she earns her keep through household chores. The two strike up a unique relationship, not quite romantic, platonic, or familial, but poignant nonetheless. While the series flirts with Yoshida being tempted by having an attractive girl throw herself at him, he’s actually a decent human being who does not have sex with a minor. It’s a shame that the bar for decency is that low, but at least he clears it with relative ease.
What ensues is a cute slice of life with a raunchy sense of humor and a good head on it shoulders, following a couple of people in difficult positions who have accidentally found themselves forming a genuine connection.
Higehiro’s presentation is immaculate, though while I compare it in the title to a film by Makoto Shinkai, it’s not quite on the level of Your Name or any of his other works. They go for the same soft lighting, easy and pleasant line art, and otherworldly good compositing, though they’re not the same. Perhaps inspired by is the better word for it. I feel comfortable saying that if Shinkai were to develop a TV anime, it would come close to this.
The character designs are all grounded and charming, managing to stand out despite most of them looking as though they could reasonably be real Japanese people. The series has its moments of ecchi and fanservice, and it certainly excels on those fronts, but it doesn’t need those scenes in order to succeed. Most fanservice anime use a viewer’s gratification as a crutch, as opposed to leaning on the strength of their stories and characters. The scenes accomplish what they set out to do while not detracting or distracting from the particularly good writing.
The music runs the gamut of anime melodrama and slice of life comedy, with a nice variety of touching tracks and lighthearted moments. Nothing has quite stood out as exemplary in the first three episodes that have aired, but music has never been my forte.
Higehiro’s visuals do most of the labor in immediately communicating that this series is not intended to be unrealistic escapist fantasy, despite a pretty high concept for a show of this genre. These characters are endearing and pleasant, for the most part, and while sex appeal was a consideration in the design of the female characters, it wasn’t the sole priority. If you came here for another ecchi harem affair, you’re more than likely going to be disappointed with what you get. However, if you love sincere stories about people forging strong bonds, you will not go away empty-handed.
Thus far, we’ve seen Yoshida and Sayu establishing their relationship and living situation, building a repertoire, how Yoshida gets along with his coworkers, and working out the kinks of a grown man suddenly taking in a teenage girl. Complications are bound to happen, but Yoshida is wholly unprepared for the task he’s taking on.
For one thing, Sayu seems to have a heap of emotional baggage; it’s still unclear why she ran away from home, or why her parents are apparently glad that she’s gone. She’s quite spoiled, Yoshida observes that even after six months on her own, but she’s cavalier about trading her body for lodging. She’s at least been doing it long enough to be completely nonchalant about the transaction.
The interactions between Yoshida and Sayu are the driving force behind why you should watch Higehiro; they have some spectacular chemistry. A lot of that can be chalked up to the hard work of the animators making them so intensely human and expressive. Sayu’s seiyuu also deserves a fair share of the credit, Kana Ichinose manages to hold this intense bubbly energy that conceals a lot of pain and trauma. She sells this character well, especially in how she believes Yoshida is this saint for treating her with the barest shred of decency.
The rest of the cast hasn’t received a proper chance to win me over, but I like what I’ve seen. Yoshida’s friend and confidant, Hashimoto, expresses just the right amount of concern as you should if your good buddy told you he took in a teenage girl on a whim, but he’s become supportive of the strange decision. Goto, Yoshida’s boss and crush, has been giving me very big Mami from Rent-A-Girlfriend vibes, as her behavior when she thinks he has a girlfriend is suspicious. It’s just that she doesn’t know that the reason his shirts are ironed and he’s leaving on time is because he accidentally acquired a live-in housekeeper, not a girlfriend.
There’s been small interactions with Mishima, Yoshida’s junior at work, which gives me some small hope that the writers are interested in giving him legitimate romantic options outside of the woman who’s leading him on and the minor. Still a small and intimate focus on Sayu and Yoshida, but slice of life succeeds on the strength of its characters and chemistry, and Higehiro goes above and beyond.
I’ve already addressed that the story’s premise could easily be problematic. Furthermore, I hate that the word ‘problematic’ became a meme and can’t be used as serious criteria to determine if a piece of media contains troubling elements. So far I think that the series has handled the sexualization of a minor well, though I know the moment I praise Yoshida as a moral paragon, he’ll reveal he was just waiting for Sayu to turn eighteen. The problem with getting a review out in time is that you often have to make statements that are destined to come back with a vengeance.
I don’t think that they’re sexualizing Sayu solely for the viewers’ gratification, though that’s part of it, rather to give us an impression of what Yoshida is experiencing. He’s a good guy with enough of a backbone to resist temptation, and if they don’t convey that he’s experiencing temptation, then the message falls flat. It’s hard for visual media to communicate that sense of struggle, so they need to make us understand that Yoshida finds her attractive, but he’s a good enough guy to not take advantage of her.
Sayu has a nasty habit of still flirting with him even after he made his disinterest clear, but she expressed that it comes as a habit, likely from the other guys she stayed with. These are two people who are in a kind of relationship that they have no experience with, so getting used to this is taking some slow but steady progress.
From what I’ve seen, the showrunners are handling this sensitive material gracefully, and they’re trying to push Sayu away from being a romantic interest. To properly push her out of the consideration, they need to gradually tone down Yoshida seeing her in a sexual light. As the episodes go on, you can see that it is happening as both of them acclimate to their current position.
Higehiro is a good mix of that slice of slice with some romance and some real heart, and if you’re still mourning the loss of Horimiya, it will be able to fill that hole in your life. Spring 2021 might not be able compare in sheer power levels to Winter, but Higehiro is one to watch and its competition isn’t scarce. Making use of some excellent character design, line art, and compositing, Higehiro is a delight for the senses while being able to scratch my itch for some sincerity and a lot of laughs.
It could have waited a bit longer in production to clean up its rough movements and in-betweens, but its aesthetics are competently done regardless. With that in mind, I can recommend Higehiro if you like slice of life and are looking forward to a series that takes it on with a mature twist. I’ve mentioned Rent-A-Girlfriend already, but I can see this as a step further in the depth of the content there. If you’re sick of anime set in high school, congratulations, you found the one where the only teenager is a high school dropout. Entertainingly Fine.
Now that Spring 2021 has kicked off, expect to see a few more reviews headed your way. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the anime I’m reviewing and the ones that didn’t make the cut on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, and you can follow the blog so you get notifications whenever a new review goes up. Thanks for reading.