“Animals naturally form packs.
Carnivores form social hierarchies within their packs. Those that fail to become alphas harbor the burden of failure until they die. I’m sure the herbivores feel guilt as they sacrifice their comrades to evade their predators and live on.”
Hikigaya Hachiman, Episode 2
The social hierarchy is a curious thing. It represents a natural form of order whenever a cluster of individuals is brought together to govern and live in the same place. It is certainly not confined to the teenage age group, though it is more prevalent and holds more invisible authority over those more emotionally susceptible to concepts like conformance, the ‘norm’, and the ability to ‘fit in’. Even as we grow beyond childish, unjustifiable social alliances then that bedeviled our teenage existence, and we laugh, adulthood brings certain realities and societal expectations that are merely a macro-effect of what we experience in school. Except that it looms over us like a dark cloud we try desperately to ignore as we go about doing ‘adult’ things like finding a job, trying not to get scolded by your boss and paying your bills. We feel strangled as a prior life of undulations as we knew it, be it grey or rose-tinted, evens out into a monotonous never-ending straight line. Even if we know that we can be our own person – which were the cornerstones of concerns during our younger years – we are restricted by duties and responsibilities.
Yet, prior to actually reaching adulthood, such worries that surface during our school life will always seem larger than life to us at the point. It is admittedly difficult to take a step back and look at the larger picture so to speak, because it is all we have known thus far. Thus, it is both normal and even natural for us in our teenage years to be devote our time and energies to unwritten social rules, be it following them, challenging them or mocking them.
In this episode, the focus on Yui Yuigahama represents the obvious example of a ‘typical’ teenager, one who worries about playing the ‘right’ role in the social group. Her awkward, bumbling attempts at explaining herself highlights the difficulty of articulating her behaviour of conformance to unwritten rules, most of which are actually laughable when explained out loud (and probably signals at how ludicrous their existence is, something we may not understand right from the start but only after a certain degree of reflection). Yet, her heartfelt, well-meaning intentions strike a chord in our hearts, making us feel ah, we’ve all been there before.
In contrast, Hikigaya seems a lot more impressive with the way his monologue at the beginning of the episode is phrased, as an evident way to set the tone of this episode. However, we must note the way that Yui’s behaviour which he observes in this episode, despite a way of conducting oneself that he has always disagreed with and probably puts himself on a high pedestal with regards to it, still affects him. It moves him to take some sort of action by trying to stand up for Yui, but the candlelight that he attempts to be is snuffed out even before the wick has started burning by a deathglare given by the perpetrator, Yui’s social group leader and popular arrogant school girl Yumiko Miura. This throws a little doubt on Hikigaya’s earlier proclamation – his view no longer seems like an ultimatum, and he certainly is not the mocking, entirely cynical teenager he is leading us (and himself) to believe.
No doubt narrative-wise Yui represents a foil to Hikigaya’s values on social navigation, though it still remains to be seen how much emphasis this side of the story would be given. It would be slightly predictable and disappointing, however, if this were to form a core of the story. After all, what makes SNAFU stand out from other high school youth-centered romantic comedy are Hikigaya’s blunt and direct social commentaries, and retaining that aspect is key to differentiating itself in a genre that is already quite saturated.