Ok, deep breath. After Being Rejected I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway, aka Higehiro is a surprisingly solid adaptation of a light novel series with a fairly dubious premise. As of episode 9, it is also a show that should come with some definite content/trigger warnings.
In addition to spoilers, content warnings apply after the jump for discussions of emotional abuse, statutory rape, attempted rape, bullying, and suicide. I may also be swearing a bit in places.
To be fair, alert viewers will pick up warnings along the way, although not for the specific issue that prompted this post.
Yoshida is a 26 year old Salaryman who confesses to his older supervisor over dinner. Rejected, and quite drunk, he staggers home to find a high school girl sitting under a lamp post. In a fit of chivalry, he offers to take Sayu in and give her a place to stay.
OK, as I mentioned above, this is a highly dubious premise and it seems this is the anime season for it. Fortunately, and despite Sayu’s previous experiences with what has to be regarded as statutory rape, Yoshida simply isn’t interested in Sayu that way.
Sayu is so inured to these experiences that she explicitly offers sex on more than one occasion, which Yoshida turns down fairly hard. There is a lot of fanservice in the early episodes as a result, enough to be a deal breaker for many viewers in my experience. To be fair much of what would be considered fanservice for Sayu is presented in ways that the viewer is intended to be repelled by.
Yoshida however is, at least for the moment, still heavily in favour of older women preferably with, ah, more developed chests than a high schooler. He may be better than most men, but he’s still a man.
The Developments Over Time
Over the course of the next several episodes there is a slowly growing network of relationships involving Sayu and Yoshida’s coworkers who discover Sayu’s presence in Yoshida’s life.
The biggest worry thus far has been that the core relationship between Sayu and Yoshida would tip over into romance. It hasn’t yet, but if it does I will flee this series screaming in a heartbeat. So far it’s a largely protective paternal/fraternal relationship which has allowed Sayu to regain her balance, and start seeing a way to chart her own course.
This is also a series which is rather good at subverting initial impressions of characters. One of Sayu’s former “boyfriends” turns up and is initially a complete jerk, including an attempted rape with bonus blackmail, but later takes a hands off and protective stance.
More importantly is Sayu’s brother whose initial appearances as he came looking for Sayu were filled with foreboding but is actually Sayu’s strongest, and possibly only, ally in her family.
The Progressive Warnings
There are a lot of subtle clues in the first eight episodes that Sayu’s home life was terrible. Even as Sayu was developing the courage to stand on her own again, the mere suggestion of returning home inspired terror.
Then there was episode 8 Summer Festival. This episode is superbly written to work on multiple levels. At one level it was really warm, fluffy, innocent stuff of a young girl enjoying a summer festival and getting to look cute in a yukata.
On the other hand I was screaming inside.
As I asked on twitter, Sayu is how old and hasn’t been to a festival at all in something like 10 years? And she’s never even had fairy floss in her life, ever? What the hell was the home life that she fucking ran away from like?
By this stage I, and I suspect several other viewers who are not familiar with the light novels, were suspecting full-on abuse.
We were partially right.
The major content warning for suicide is ahead.
Episode 9 is simply called Past. Once her brother is fully introduced, and turns out to be a decent sort, Sayu sits down with her friend from her conveniences store job and Yoshida to tell the full story of why she ran away.
Essentially emotional abuse at home in the form of always being the wrong child who could never do anything right, and was always being told so by her mother, led to Sayu being the pretty loner at school. Mostly by choice.
Until Yuuko befriended her.
But whilst Sayu had social status and appearance from her family, Yuuko didn’t. So when the bullying over Sayu rejecting a confession from one of the jocks was started by the other girls, Sayu wasn’t the target.
This bullying got bad, really bad, and Sayu swore to stand by her first ever friend no matter what. Only Yuuko couldn’t handle it, and couldn’t handle that defending her was causing Sayu to never smile.
Unable to handle the building stress, Yuuko waits until Sayu comes to the roof one day, tells Sayu to smile again, says goodbye, and jumps.
Seeing this more or less breaks Sayu.
Then her mother essentially accuses Sayu of killing Yuuko.
This is when Sayu runs away, initially with her brother’s help. Her increasing sense of worthlessness keeps her running when the money provided by her brother to put her up in a hotel runs out. Including throwing her phone away.
The Warnings We Did (and Didn’t) Have
OK, as mentioned above there was considerable foreshadowing of how bad Sayu’s home life was. When an episode is called Past in a show like Higehiro, I expected things to get nasty.
So in that sense, the show leading up to this point was a giant trigger warning for parts of Sayu’s background.
Yuuko’s story, for all that it was well told, and for all that I could see where it was going during the episode, was not foreshadowed in any way in earlier episodes that I can remember.
For me that’s a flaw in Higehiro. I had a safe childhood, bullying at school notwithstanding, so many of the key issues in Higehiro aren’t triggering for me. I was still watching parts of this episode slack jawed in shock. Past is a brilliantly written and executed episode.
But this level of bullying and suicide are triggering for many people. To have them dropped on the viewer with relatively little to no warning is not a good thing in my opinion.
I don’t know what the answer is here. I’m just uncomfortable with it even as I remain engaged with Higehiro as a story.
Noting the warnings and concerns above, Higehiro has been delivering solid, insightful, character work from start to end. So long as it doesn’t tip into a romantic relationship between a 16 year old and a 26 year old, it has a decent chance of sticking the landing to be one of the best character dramas we’ve seen in anime for a long time.
Question of the Post: Have you been watching Higehiro? If so what are your thoughts on the show to date, and the handling of Sayu’s backstory?
 Because I’m not typing out either title in full more than I have to.
 Sayu has been homeless for a while, and has essentially been exchanging sex for a place to stay, often with significantly older men. Given her age, I have to regard this as rape.
 If I must.
 But not all of it. There’s at least a couple of gratuitous scenes that didn’t need to be there, including in the OP.
 No real mention of the father yet, but at minimum he was silent whilst this was happening.
 The aftermath of dunking Yuuko in a toilet and flushing it is shown. To her credit Sayu does not flinch away. At all.
 Which, yikes. See earlier discussion of the emotional abuse at home.
 I am willing to admit that I may have missed signs along the way. If so please let me know what they were so I can rewatch and correct this post accordingly.
 In case you haven’t seen me say this before: Life began at university, and I actively repress earlier memories. Primary and High School were things to be endured, not celebrated.
 If you happen to know from the light novels that it does cross that line, please don’t tell me. a) There’s a chance that the anime will end things differently and b) Even if it doesn’t I’d rather find out for myself.