REVIEW: Hitorijime My Hero

Hitorijime My Hero | ひとりじめマイヒーロー
Release: 2017

Here it is, the gay teacher-student romance you were never sure if it was legal to ask for. Hitorijime My Hero combines the plots of two BL manga (“Hitorijime My Boyfriend” and “Hitorijime My Hero“) to tell the story of not one uncomfortable romantic pairing, but two, with a star-studded cast including a teenage “delinquent” (intentional scare quotes), a predatory math teacher slash vigilante street fighter, a derpy prepubescent best friend, and a total bitch of a human being with zero redeemable qualities beyond being an ikemen.

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…and other killer teacher-student pickup lines.

All right, for better or worse, we’re doing this. Let’s talk about the gay.

IS IT GAY? 10/10

Hitorijime follows two separate m/m couples, and there are several on-screen same-sex kisses.

So, yeah.

(There’s more to say. Don’t worry. We’ll get there.)

HITORIJIME MY PLOT SYNOPSIS

Masahiro Setagawa is a teenage gangster, but not exactly by choice. Despite his cool, bad-boy appearance (by anime standards, okay?!), he’s been bullied and harassed into becoming a low-level lackey for a local band of ruffians. His mother, an implied sex worker, drinks too much, parties, and even brings strange men home all the time, so life’s not stellar. Young but jaded, Masahiro doesn’t believe in heroes. But lo and behold, a hero appears: Kousuke Ooshiba, who roams the streets beating up gangsters as a hobby. So impressed with Kousuke is he that young Masahiro becomes his devoted underling.

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Fast-forward several years, and Masahiro’s a high school student now. Kousuke, who has been away for some time, returns to town to take a position as a math teacher at, you guessed it, Masahiro’s new high school. Incidentally, Kousuke is the older brother of Masahiro’s best friend Kensuke, though while Kousuke is tall, cool, and criminally violent, Kensuke is a peppy loudmouth shrimp whose hobbies include animals, food, and friendship. Both brothers live in the Ooshiba household, which gives adult man Kousuke an excuse to tell the cops when they ask him why he’s always hanging around a bunch of 16-year-olds. Kensuke also has a male love interest, a trash-human going by the name of Asaya Hasekura, but let’s hold off on that for now.

Or not, because rather than delving right into our headliners, the first several episodes follow Kensuke and Hasekura instead. The two were childhood friends, but a younger Kensuke had broken off a friendship with Hasekura when he found out the latter boy was moving away (for some reason, he takes this very personally). Now, Hasekura is starting with them at the same high school, so Kensuke worries that things are going to be awkward. Boy has no goddamn idea.

Hasekura, now a pretty boy chick magnet despite being a stone cold bitch to everyone that isn’t Kensuke, advances to reestablish ties with Kensuke. Kensuke, who feels guilty the mean things he said as a seven-year-old or whatever, resolves to rekindle their friendship. Plot twist: Hasekura doesn’t want friendship. He wants sex, specifically with Kensuke, and demonstrates by kabe-don kissing him and telling Kensuke he can choose to either sleep with him, or cut ties forever. This casual assault shocks Kensuke, who insists he doesn’t have any idea what Hasekura wants from him (because who really knows what Hasekura could have possibly meant when he said he wanted to fuck). When Kensuke dismisses the kiss as a bro-to-bro prank, Hasekura demands he let him touch him for five minutes. Kensuke agrees, assuming allowing this absurd molestation will conclude the matter and resume a normal friendship. Nope. Hasekura forcibly kisses him again, and Kensuke shoves him away, again.

Containing perhaps just a single drop of human decency, Hasekura begins to wonder if maybe he shouldn’t have been such a douchebag, but never actually apologizes – instead, Kensuke apologizes for not understanding Hasekura’s feelings, and proclaims that he really doesn’t want to lose Hasekura’s friendship again. They make up. They make out. They’re a couple now.

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Option one, onegaishimasu.

Hasekura spends the rest of the series being jealous of Masahiro and Kensuke’s other friends, throwing tantrums when Kensuke even mentions their names, and generally being a total dickwad. Whew. And we haven’t even gotten into the teacher/student territory yet.

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Okay, we’re back to Masahiro and Kousuke. Masahiro is more enamored with his newly returned mentor than ever, relishing every head-pat he can collect. Kousuke does actually notice that Masahiro gets a virtual boner every time he walks in the room, and in a grand display of maturity, tells Masahiro that he’s gotta get over it, because Kousuke obviously can’t return his feelings. Masahiro is crushed, but when Kousuke sees a girl flirting with Masahiro at school, he decides the next appropriate course of action is to corner Masahiro in the hallway and kiss him. Whoops, that’s a lawsuit.

Things get dramatic when Masahiro’s old street gang finds him, and bullies him back into subservience. Back in his vigilante street fighting days, Kousuke had once beat the shit out of them, so they want sweet bloody revenge, and plan to use Masahiro to lure Kousuke to them. Masahiro isn’t cool with that, but also isn’t cool with getting the snot beaten out of him, so avoids Kousuke. Kousuke is worried about Masahiro, so in another overwhelming display of logic, breaks into his apartment. Literally, he smashes open the glass balcony door (fuck you, man, they’re poor!) to seduce Masahiro. Then, when the street gang shows up, he methodically beats up like a hundred thugs. (Don’t give him too much credit. Despite wanting to kill him, the gang fights strictly as gentlemen: one at a time, no weapons, and frequent smoke breaks.)

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…okay.

Right, so Kousuke’s a hero again, and Masahiro is still madly in love, and now it’s mutual. The two enter a relationship. With the threat of criminal violence now buried in a hundred comatose bodies, now we need to focus on the actual obstacle for these love birds: that this relationship just might qualify as statutory rape, so there’s that, and also Kousuke is Masahiro’s teacher, and teachers aren’t supposed to bone their students. As an added bonus, Kousuke makes the minimum possible effort to hide their relationship, which means he’s chill with macking on Masahiro in public spaces, and all of Masahiro’s school friends, if not the entire student body, know about what’s going on.

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Masahiro is emotionally devoted to Kousuke, which means when the fear that Kousuke could be fired or arrested is too much to bear, he tries to end the relationship.

It doesn’t really work. They exchange rings and kiss. Fin.

HITORIJIME MY BEGRUDGING ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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I want to start out by saying nice things about this series.

Masahiro is a kid of rather interesting parallels: a cowardly pushover who is also, technically speaking, a gangster. A cool appearance flourished with piercings and rings that hides a guy more interested in listening to his friends’ problems and being the mom of the group (as he is forced to do with his own wayward mother back home). He can act pretty mature and level-headed, but is internally anxious and is desperate for a sense of belonging. It isn’t that any of these attributes along makes Masahiro unique, but it made him both flawed and likeable. Even his occasional emotional outbursts and nearly episodic dramatic running away from his problems (literally and metaphorically but mostly literally) weren’t enough to dampen his character. Beyond the exaggerated sentimentality and romantic rubbish, it was easy enough to imagine a kid like Masahiro existed.

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Is anyone gonna tell him they’ve got Uber in Japan now? Someone’s gotta tell him.

The secondary uke, Kensuke, was also acceptably adorable. Normally, hyperactive and comically dense is a marriage I can’t stomach in protagonists, secondary or otherwise, but for some unfathomable reason, I didn’t hate Kensuke.

We’ll get to the dumpster fire of Hasekura and Kensuke momentarily, but I will point out with moderate intrigue that the couple seems to be “out of the closet”. Their friends know that they are dating, presumably everyone else does, too, as girls who previously flocked Hasekura back off once the couple is realized. More than that, their buddies offhandedly acknowledge the relationship. The fact that Hitorijime validates gay relationships openly is pretty cool, when so many yaoi stories still rely on secrecy.

The art of the series is also lovely. The character designs were distinct, attractive, and had personality. The background music set a nice tone without being noticeably cheap. Scene cuts and directions were interesting and emotive. For a BL anime, it seemed like a solid amount of work went into Hitorijime‘s creation.

Okay, that’s that.

HITORIJIME MY WHAT THE FUCK

Yes, we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room (that admittedly I’ve in no way been ignoring until this point. There’s an elephant. In the room. Please god, someone do something.) We have in one corner a teacher molesting his student, and in another, a teenager being emotionally manipulated into entering a sexual relationship by a peer.

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Let’s be fair: Masahiro clearly likes, admires, and has genuine romantic interest in Kousuke. All things considered, that’s totally believable. Kousuke develops an interest in Masahiro – fine. If we’re going there, we’re going there, because we have to also be fair about one more important thing: this is a romance fiction playing out a common romantic fantasy. I don’t think anyone, even the original mangaka, would have expected us to take this story as a political diatribe on acceptable teacher behavioral conduct.

But the series teeters between allowing it to breathe just a silly romance fantasy, and evaluating the inherently troublesome scenario too seriously. It isn’t that the problematic elements of a teacher-student relationship are never addressed. They are. But the issue is that those who bring up concerns are villainized. For instance, one episode centers around another boy in Masahiro’s friend group, Shige, who is so shocked to find out that Kousuke and Masahiro are dating that he blurts out that it’s disgusting. We are led to believe that his insensitivity makes him a bad friend, and the issue is resolved when Shige’s real feelings are uncovered: he just thinks Masahiro is so cool, and Kousuke is a dork who isn’t good enough for him. Additionally, Kousuke’s adult friends once berate him in front of Masahiro, threatening to turn him in for seducing a kid, which will cause him to lose his job or worse. But it turns out that they were only testing Masahiro’s commitment to Kousuke, which he passed when he stammered that he was the one who pursued Kousuke so everything is his fault.

Onto our second pairing, it’s never really clear that Kensuke even has romantic interest in Hasekura. His blushes are mostly reserved for moments of shock or surprise at Hasekura’s romantic aggression. While he acknowledges that Hasekura likes him, Kensuke’s own interests are summed up with a clumsy and vague “you make my heart pound.” For all we can tell, Kensuke, when given the ultimatum, entered the relationship so he wouldn’t lose Hasekura as a friend.

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This screenshot represents the chemistry between the pair: a literal dung-beetle

As the problematic elements of Masahiro and Kousuke, Kensuke’s relationship with Hasekura is similarly dismissed. Not only does no one step in to defend Kensuke or validate his feelings when Kensuke flounders over Hasekura’s ultimatum, they practically gaslight him into thinking the misunderstanding is his fault. Even Masahiro suggests that maybe Kensuke backed Hasekura into a wall by not giving him a clear answer one way or the other. It would have been satisfying to see Kousuke, the alleged hero, take an older brother role and punch Hasekura in the face give him a sternly worded lecture, but instead, Kousuke just laughs and encourages Masahiro to stay out of it.

Nor does either relationship really resolve its innate issues.

Masahiro and Kousuke’s primary conflict is that Masahiro is afraid of getting caught, which would result in Kousuke losing his job. Masahiro’s anxiety and self-blame is so strong that at one point, he nearly quits school because he thinks that would absolve Kousuke of any crime. Kousuke himself doesn’t have much sense of self-preservation. He is fine kissing and hanging around Masahiro in school hallways, much to Masahiro’s clear discomfort. This leads to a short break-up. But rather than promise to keep his hands off him until he graduates, Kousuke has them exchange rings in the finale. It is yet unclear if “but he’s my wife” will hold up in either in either the school administration’s internal investigation or in court, though.

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Kensuke and Hasekura make no progression beyond the excruciating establishment of their relationship in episode 4. Hasekura is consistently a shitty asshole to everyone who isn’t Kensuke, which I guess is intended to be comedic, but instead makes him seem like a psychopath who plays Kensuke like a fiddle while his real self is utterly devoid of human empathy. Kensuke never once calls Hasekura out on his bullshit, and Hasekura never says a single thing that isn’t bullshit. Even when Hasekura is implied to be intuitive, and de facto confidant to Masahiro’s problems, Hasekura seems to enjoy Masahiro’s suffering in the rare moments he feels anything at all. Hasekura was so unlikable and the relationship with Kensuke so soggy with creepiness, that I’m not sure what the creators wanted us to get out of it. The best explanation I can come up with is that by starting the series off with the mega-cringe relationship, by comparison, the teacher-student relationship seems remarkably healthy.

Romantic fantasies are varied and often less-than-politically-correct, whether it’s a teacher-student or “beautiful asshole who hates everyone but me”. These tropes have their place in fiction, and I don’t mind following the intrigue of relationships I’d never support in real life, because fantasy is fantasy is not reality. But the disconnect comes when these scenarios are played out just seriously enough for the fantasy to waver, which makes it difficult not to judge them by real-life standards. It was too hard for me not to be concerned about Masahiro and Kensuke, characters of whom I was genuinely fond. It was impossible not to worry that they were being taken advantage of because the series itself gives a nod to the idea, before pulling it out from under the audience’s feet with no sound counterargument.

FINAL REMARKS

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I’ll be upfront, in case I have been too coy until now: not my thing.

The series was better done than I expected it to be, but its moments of thoughtful sentimentality almost made it worse because they highlighted the serious problems drilled deep into the romances the series tried to sell.

However, the fact is that my opinion might have been different if I watched it as a teenager. If I were in high school, or at least if I were more nostalgic about high school than I presently am, I am confident that I would have enjoyed this series more than I did, because I would more naturally identify with the students instead of the adult characters. But as a grown-up human with zero interest in reliving high school in any way, the distasteful premise was a solid no-thank-you.

WHERE TO WATCH IT (LEGALLY): Amazon Prime

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