Harems are something that tickles my heart in ways most genres can’t. A mixture of dense mains, wonderful girls and the circumstances that bring them together is something I find myself mesmerized by time and time again. The ultimate waifu gauntlet that rises armies of stans and plays on every trope possible, harems are the defining genre that makes friends foes and united the most unlikely of allies. 2017 was a particularly interesting time for harems overall. Two new series starting sterilization months apart. Both following the same recipe, a witty, study smart guy who was used to poverty, given a chance at a golden ticket. Tutor these girls, and everything that woes your family will be taken care of. Of course, I am talking about The Quintessential Quintuplets and We Never Learn: BOKUBEN. One follows Uesugi, Fuutarou, a boy rebel turned study hawk by a fated meeting with a girl when he was young, suddenly tasked with teaching 5 sisters who honestly couldn’t give two fucks. The other, Yuiga, Nariyuki, a guy who was honestly just trying his best for his family tasked with teaching three geniuses….. in fields they sucked at. I really do find it humorous such similar bases existed in stories that came out months apart, that would run over 120 chapters respectfully. So while I read Quintuplets I decided to watch BOKUBEN first, and to be honest, it was a blast I wasn’t expecting.
As before mentioned BOKUBEN follows self-proclaimed prodigy Yuiga, Nariyuki. A once rather ignorant boy turned top-of-class student that was always encouraged to succeed by one person in his life, his late father. His struggling family always on his mind, Yuiga makes it a point to go to college and earn a living that will not only support him but his mother, two sisters, and brother as well. But as many may know, college isn’t free, actually, it’s quite the opposite. Fortunately, there is a silver lining, a reward offered by his high school that guarantees all tuition and fees are covered. A reward that would only cement Yuiga’s success in the world, a reward that would be granted to him only if he completes one task.
Enter literary, mathematically, athletically, geniuses Furuhashi, Fumino, Ogata, Rizu, and Takemoto, Uruka respectfully. A trio of big-brained students that have one flaw, their passion is the single thing they aren’t good at. Fumino is a master of words, bringing teachers to tears with little to no effort. However, due to her mother, she has an intense love for astronomy and wants to live out her life studying the stars even though science is something she struggles with. Rizu’s ability to solve the most complex of problems with precise logic is a thing of wonder, but her out-of-touch personality struggles to understand human emotion, and fundamentally what it is like to be human in general. Added with the love of board games she strives to understand the world of liberal art no matter how foreign it may be to her. Uruka, well Uruka just wants to swim but has to keep her grades up which turns out, isn’t easy for the pool ace.
With trust issues for teachers and tutors alike, the girls are cautiously excited as their new tutor Yuiga as he seems to not only be able but willing to help them reach their goals, not reverting to telling them to study their strong suit as they are so familiar with. Add the fact Uruka is a childhood friend and has been in love with Yuiga, it adds some charm and spice as the 4 slowly build a relationship so strong that by the end of it, got me excited to read the manga.
It is with this BOKUBEN really shines, and in a lot of ways betters the weakness I discovered in Quintuplets. Now I’m not going to dwell on this much, this is a review for BOKUBEN but I do think one of the weakest parts of Quintuplets is simply Fuutarou. For MOST of the series he seems cool and collected, even at times when any normal teenager would be flustered beyond belief (cough cough, the whole first Ichika arc) but time and time again he plays it off, always reverting back to scolding the girls for not paying attention. Generally speaking, his character is flat, obsessed with studying to a point it becomes a flaw. So the first takeaway of BOKUBEN was how honest with himself Yuiga is. He becomes a charter that is more than just a study aid, he develops a strong relationship with not only the girls but teachers and his family alike. The story really breaths time into Yuiga as he struggles with what his goals are, and how he really feels as he time and time again is forced to see others in a different light. BOKUBEN goes far beyond just studying and grades, it looks at hardships of family, death, and loss. What it’s like to be an adult teacher, and upkeep that image at all costs, and ultimately what it means to look in the face of failure, defy it, and overcome.
BOKUBEN is full of funny, charming, and heartfelt moments. By the end of it, I really cared for all the girls as well as Yuiga himself which rarely happens. It plays the tempo of romance well, as Fumino noticed Rizu and Uruka have fallen for Yuiga and she does her best to support them, becoming a sister type to him. But as time goes on finds herself in more intimate moments with Yuiga than the other two combined. This series also does a good job at unveiling new characters but making them relevant, something many harems do poorly. A perfect example of this is Kominami, Asumi an upper-classman Yuiga runs into at cram school in episode 8 of season one. She was the ideal of a throwaway character, someone separate from the harem to have one or two episodes to joke with only to be never seen again. But that never happened, Asumi stayed relevant for the remainder of the season and became a strong anchor for not only Yuiga but others in season 2, becoming an essential part of the story. To add a whole new personality that late in a harem but make them as impactfully as she ended up being is actually insane.
My love for BOKUBEN is not absolute however, there was one very particular thing the series did time and time again I found quite odd. Mizuki Yuiga, the little sister of Nariyuki and elder sister to Hazuki and Kazuki starts out the series as the sister with a strong brother complex. Which is honestly, whatever, we all know my thoughts on this. But as quickly as she came, she went. Mizuki starts out as a presence in the first few episodes but quickly becomes the biggest non-factor in the series. Even as the Yuiga household go to events, run into the girls, or just be out vibing Mizuki is almost always absent which Is just strange. You could omit her completely from the story and I don’t think much would change overall.
“So dear writer, you watched this harem, you praised it, but where’s the venom, what girl did you decide was best girl?” and with that, I simply say, motherfucking Kirisu, Mafuyu. I usually don’t fall for teacher tropes, usually choosing the tsundere over most but my god is Mafuyu something. What starts out as a subtle cold and collective teacher quickly becomes one of the most interesting narratives BOKUBEN has to offer. Rather she is cold, harsh, embarrassed, or drunk Mafuyu is the embodiment of what it means to be best girl, and good lord does she have a lot to work with. The last time a teacher had caught my attention this much her name was Hina and the series was Domestic Girlfriend, and as far as appeal goes, Mafuyu brings just as much game. Sprinkle it her cutesy moments, her mature stance on most issues, and that idol scene (minus the CG, the animation of that scene or horrid but idol Mafuyu, what more could the world want?) she quickly became my favorite, endearing every moment she was on the screen, which was surprisingly a lot.
Overall BOKUBEN is easily a 7, taking key factors that make up the foundation of harem anime but sprinkling its own little additives along the way. The animation overall is pretty mid-tier but it wasn’t much of a bother to make me notice. The sound was bubbly enough to match the pace of the show and overall complimented the themes. I have a few more series lined up I plan on finishing this week, the Weathering With You light novel is one of them and I plan on cracking into the first couple of volumes for BOKUBEN as soon as they arrive. I am thoroughly excited to see where the print version of this story goes since it has been stated the anime took out a lot of arcs throughout the series.
Either way I look forward to being able to write about it, and as always, thanks for the read!