A studio change, less material to adapt, and a change in staff turns out to be exactly what this show needed.
The first season of SNAFU was one of my favorite shows of 2013. What seemed like a less-naughty version of Haganai turned out to be a thoughtful commentary on young love and social circles. Sure it didn’t touch upon darker subject matter beyond social rejection, and it had its fair share of romcom tropes and witty jokes to lighten up the mood. But this didn’t need to be the next Welcome to the NHK to be effective. It stuck with the familiar environment of a high school light novel and took a more insular approach, focusing on the character’s inner conflicts rather than the events it took place in. It made festivals, field trips and exams part of the background and made rekindling friendships or destroying someone’s self-esteem the highlight of the show. And all of this was brought together beautifully by it’s memorable cast of characters, particularly Yukinoshita(strict and arrogant, but noble in her intentions), Hikigaya(unapproachable and self-destructive, but humble and lonely), and Yuigahama(awkward and indecisive, but open to having companions).
So when this project got moved to studio Feel, I was extremely worried that this sequel would get screwed. Brains Base didn’t exactly do a pretty job with the 1st season, but Feel was infamous for creating such “memorable” crap like Kiss x Sis and Yosuga no Sora. Furthermore, studio changes had already led to the disappointing Log Horizon 2 (Padding out half as much content as S1) and Psycho Pass 2 (middle finger to the franchise), so already I set my mind that FEEL wasn’t going to do this series justice. Now let me grab each of those words and shove them back up my ass, because BOY WAS I WRONG! Sure it’s only the first 3 episodes, but so far FEEL has put just as much effort into this production as when Kyoani got handed the rights to Full Metal Panic. The pacing is smooth, the tone is balanced, the visuals are surprisingly top-notch, and even the directing holds up considering Kei Oikawa’s lack of experience with drama (Outbreak Company, Minami-ke Okaeri). Props for making Kyoto look as pleasant and alive as it was when I visited there (yes I visited there along with Osaka and Tokyo last summer; kyoto ftw).
Characters have always been this series’ strength, but it adds a key element into their roles that was severely lacking in season 1: Development. The first season was all about introducing our misfits in a typical high school setting and seeing them explore/fix inconvenient social situations. And while this led to interesting stories that helped us understand our characters through their choices, the only ones that went through significant change were some of the clients. By extension, this meant a lot of side characters who weren’t clients were left as enjoyable cliches. That certainly isn’t the case in this season(excluding Saika and Zaimokuza). Hayami’s circle of friends share understandable worries about what one awkward bond could do to their friendship. Hayami himself gets cornered in a situation where the safe way might not solve anything. Haruno and Hiratsuka expand on their roles as the troublemaker and supporter. Komachi’s able to be a window into her brother without seeming telekinetic. And even some of the newer characters like Kaori and Iroha bring a different angle on how to see our main leads, with one opening old wounds and the other opening new possibilities.
Speaking of which, the main trio is what continues to drive momentum throughout this show. Their clashing ideologies and growing relationships aren’t just part of their character arcs, although there’s that too. It’s what connects these varied social situations together, transitioning their social progress into other stories. This is especially relevant here because this time the romance has taken front and center. Apart from dealing with a confession that’s bound to fail, their field trip amounts to some intimate moments between Hikigaya, Yukinoshita and Yuigahama. Their time in this field trip feels much more open than previous outings at the mall or festival, and the result is a strong emotional connection that carry’s on from the climax of ep 12. Which is why the return to their social beliefs becomes painful once Hikigaya chooses to fake a confession to solve the issue between Hayami’s friends. For the first time he’s witnessed his self-destructive solutions hurt others close to him, especially Yuigahama. That outburst of hers that curved from trying to defend his actions to outright crying about them opened possibilities for drama I only dreamed could come from this series. And while several people seem to sympathize with him, I think this marks the point where he realizes he can’t follow this path for long.
So far they’ve not only taken a series I loved and matched its quality in the sequel; there’s hints of it improving on what little flaws it had. It makes me so happy to see these characters again, seeing their rough journey as social misfits, and seeing these drops of change has me excited for what fans have already praised as one of this season’s best shows. I apologize once more for the lateness of this post considering the spring season is already over, so i’ll make these posts more retrospective than theoretical.