Horimiya Portraying Vulnerability

[Keywords] Horimiya and Vulnerability

Horimiya is available to stream on Hulu and Funimation


My friends love to use the phrase “secondhand embarrassment”.

It’s that empathetic feeling of discomfort you get when you watch somebody else get flustered. You get it in real life when your friend accidentally calls your waitress a “sir”. You clench your teeth because their mortification is just contagious, and you just want for everybody’s benefit to rewind the last thirty seconds of conversation.

And, to a lesser extent, you can feel it for fictional characters. When they inadvertently repulse their friends, when they’re conned into some goofy scheme, or when they just fumble the most basic of tasks. And while it’s not fun for everyone to watch, some shows seem more-or-less built on those situations. Their protagonists openly flunk social situations for five episodes running until they finally get their head on straight for once in their miserable life.

Sometimes, you can twist that into great, self-deprecating comedy. Other times, it’s the core of a difficult drama.

Horimiya leans into it for another reason entirely.

And it’s exactly why I’ve never once felt uncomfortable watching or reading it.

Universal Discomfort

Horimiya is, above all else, a show about making yourself vulnerable. Not for a lark, or to manufacture a conflict, but in the name of personal growth.

And that’s so, so hard for so, so many of us.

Just look at me. I put my thoughts out there for anyone on the internet to read, sure. But it’s a very curated, thoroughly-edited version, distorted through the lens of fun games and colorful cartoons. I get to go back and strike things from the record and choose what I do and don’t put out there. Nobody has to know how many times I’ve re-written a thought to cushion it just so. Even a username is something of a buffer between you and me right now.

It’s safe.

Horimiya showing Emotional Distance
Social Distancing: Safe, But Occasionally Unhealthy

And the thought of putting myself out there in any other capacity is terrifying. I admire the podcasters and streamers on our network who week after week will record conversations as they happen – or, even scarier, perform live. There’s only so much editing you can do with that, and it’s the biggest reason why I’ve only joined them twice so far.

But the reality is, so much of that fear just lives in our own heads. As the common wisdom has it, nobody usually thinks much of your issues in comparison to their own.

Still, hearing that and internalizing it are two different things. Living inside your own head 24/7, you’d never know for sure how other people see you. And unfortunately, the real world condemns us to do just that.

Fiction isn’t bound by the same rules.

Closing the Gap

In case it isn’t given away by the title – a portmanteau of its protagonists’ names – Horimiya is never about just one person.

It’s about people, in the plural.

Sure, the two title characters are in the center of things, and the show kicks off with them in focus. Dropping their “model student” and “brooding” archetypes to show more rounded, personable humans gives a solid hook.

From there, it’s a cycle of seeing how each character presents their own personality, then watching as they choose to let different people in their lives in on what they aren’t always presenting.

Slowly, cautiously, and judiciously.

But hey, that’s how you build trust – both with others and with yourself.

Horimiya showing Friendly Aggression
“Friendly Aggression”: as sincere a sign of any of genuine closeness.

That’s my favorite thing about Horimiya, to be honest. Fiction loves to make big, dramatic gestures. Sweep the audience off their feet with a climactic confession or relationship-fracturing argument.

But “all at once” just isn’t how these things tend to work.

And it’s not how they work in Horimiya.

Instead, author Hiroki Adachi concerns himself with the quieter details. The wholeof Chapter 13 (as shown in Episode 3) is dedicated to one of those silly thing kids do. They put their palms against each other to see who has bigger hands. They get a little flustered, they comment on a double-jointed finger, they share a little laugh.

It’s obviously not about comparing digits. The whole sequence is screaming an aesop about accepting others’ imperfections and feeling comfortable with your own quirks and so on. But that’s also the whole point of the series, and it’s not delivered as a beat-you-over-the-head monologue. In a relative rarity for anime, it’s very show-don’t-tell.

The audience gets it, the characters clearly get it, and that’s enough.

Strength through Weakness

It’s odd how, the more you know about a person, the harder they are to describe.

Ask me about someone I just met at a party, and I can rattle off their name, professioon, and a hobby.

Ask me about someone I’ve known for a decade, and where do I even start? It feels disingenuous to boil a person down to three sentences.

And, fourteen volumes in, Horimiya has accomplished that for so much of its cast. Yes, Yuki is bubbly and wears too-big sweaters to make herself more endearing. But she’s also trying really hard to constantly be the resident mood-maker, and has a bit of an inferiority complex, and and and. We get about ten different layers to her over the course of as many volumes of manga, and she’s billed as supporting cast.

It’s the benefit of shows like Horimiya that go light on their plot. Instead, they thrive on character moments, which are chock-full of their personal tics. And the more these characters are willing to open up to one another time and time again, the more that those can shine through.

It’s why I’ve never felt like I’ve known a group of fictional friends quite like I have this one. I understand why they stick together and support one another, and what they value in one another.

And why they’re completely willing to lovingly tear each other apart.

Nobody will to tell it to you straight quite like your best mates.

It’s encouraging to watch them improve both within and without, chapter after chapter.

That is, up to a certain point.

After that, it can just become… pleasant. It’s not that there’s no conflict within the cast. It’s more that they’re so darn trusting of one another that the series can’t get away with cheap misunderstandings.

It turns out, making yourself vulnerable often enough and thoroughly enough can make a relationship nigh-invulnerable to anything short of an emotional earthquake.

That’s why I ultimately stopped following the manga version so closely. I love checking in on these characters every now and then, for sure. But ultimately, I trust that these kids are getting along just fine now. Watching them week-to-week feels a little redundant.

So I probably won’t watch a second season of Horimiya if they make one (though I hope they do). I know where it’s all headed from there.

But for now, it’s a delight to watch them open up all over again.

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