Thursday, October 8, 2015

We Were There by Yuki Obata

Title: We Were There (Bokura ga Ita)
Author: Yuki Obata
Volumes: 16 (completed)
Volumes (English): 16 (completed)

Nanami Takahashi falls for Motoharu Yano, the most popular, carefree boy in class. For Nanami, it's first love, but Yano is still grieving the death of his girlfriend who died the year before.

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This post is nothing, but spoilers. Scroll to the bottom for final thoughts if you want to avoid them.

We Were There has an emotional complexity that isn’t always present in manga, while exploring some of the darker aspects of relationships. The series follows Nanami "Nana" Takhashi as a high schooler and into early adulthood. In fact the first thing that drew me to this series was the long time span between the protagonists first meeting and them finally ending up together.

Takhashi is an average teenage girl who falls in love with her charismatic classmate Motoharu "Moto" Yano. His apparent carefree and confident manner draws Takhashi to him and it's not until she gets to know him better that she realizes he's still grieving for his dead girlfriend and isn't as confident or carefree as his appearance suggests.

Of course Yano can't admit he's grieving, due to his overwhelming anger towards his dead girlfriend, Nana Yamamoto. (You may have noticed there are two Nanas in this series, so from here on out I'll be referring to Yano's dead girlfriend as Nana and his living one as Takhashi.) On the surface his anger seems to stem from the way his girlfriend died, she died in a car crash while riding around with her abusive ex-boyfriend. At times, he's quite callous when he talks about Nana, but later when he has a sort of breakdown begging her to not be dead, you realize that his unfeeling behavior towards her memory was a sort of self preservation. His ego couldn't deal with the betrayal and abandonment of her death.

These feelings are compounded by his mom committing suicide shortly after he moves away from Takhashi during his last year of highschool. It's another woman he loves choosing to leave him. This episode is his breaking point and he pretty much abandons Takhashi and everyone in his past life. This abandonment in turn kind of causes a break in Takhashi who never gets over it. It's like her life stopped at the moment he leaves her on the train station and in a way his does too. His disappearance shadows every aspect of her life. One of the saddest things about the series is seeing the emotional damage inflicted on both Yano and Takhashi. Because of this, neither one is able to fully move on.

There are two secondary characters worth mentioning in the series, Masafumi "Take" Takeuchi, Yano's best friend and later Takhashi's confidant and love interest, and Yuri Yamamoto, Nana's sister and Yano's stalker. Take is the steadfast and loyal friend that any sensible person would fall in love with, but this is shojo so of course he's not going to end up with the girl. While there is some competition between Yano and Take, it's not until Yano abandons Takhashi that Take truly pursues her. I liked Take and would have liked to see Takhashi and him end up together.
At one point in the series, he has a revelation that it's better for him to be with Takhashi, not because he loves her more, but that his love won't hurt her, unlike Yano whose love is always coupled with heartache and pain. He truly wanted what was best for Takhashi, and while it might be a bit arrogant to think he's what's best for her, his motives were good. I mean when you see someone you love, pining for someone who has abandoned them and you know you can love them best, why wouldn't you try your best to win their heart?

I felt for Take and I knew he'd get the short of the stick when all was said and done. He probably had the clearest vision of all the characters in the series. At one point in the series when Take discovers that Yano has been living with Yuri (who we'll visit later in this post) during his missing years and Yano's response to his finding out is "If you were on a boat with 2 people and that boat were to sink, who would you save? The one you like more? The one who's prettier? Or the one who's nicer? I would save the one who can't swim. Nana [Takhashi] is strong. She can swim on her own. Yamamoto needs my help." Take fires back saying something about Takhashi drowning and Yano being too obtuse to see it. Yano is obviously taken aback by this information and I think it's what motivates Yano to reevaluate some of the life decisions he's made. It's a scene that stuck with me. I also think that if this scene hadn't happened, that Yano would have continued living in the emotional void he'd created for himself. He never would have made his way back to Takhashi because I don't think he would have realized the damage he'd done there.

So in a round about way this brings us to Yuri. Yuri is probably the most emotionally complex and fucked up character in the series. She grew up with a mother who always put her more beautiful and popular sister first. Yuri lived in her sister's shadow when Nana was alive and continued to live in her shadow even after Nana's death, believing her mom would have preferred her death instead. She couldn't break free from her sister. Her dad abandoned the family while her sister was still alive, so she didn't have any support there either.

She had formed an unhealthy infatuation for Yano before he even started dating her sister. She kind of saw her sister's death as an opportunity to win Yano. They have sexual relations soon after Nana's death and so begins a truly fucked up one sided love story. Yano feels intense guilt over this incident, not only because he used Nana's sister to get back at her for cheating on him and dying, but also because it was Yuri's first time. This part of his past almost causes Yano and Takhashi to break up in high school and it causes a lot of the future drama he deals with.

Yuri pretty much stalks Yano to the point where Yano alternates between treating her with contempt or callous disregard. Yuri, feeling abandoned and unloved by everyone around her, threatens suicide. I don't think she would have done it. I honestly think she used it as a ploy to manipulate Yano into a relationship and it worked. Yano has a bit of the savior complex. It's like he actively looks for broken people to protect. (Who doesn't have a friend like that?) This kind of gives meaning to his own life and I think made him feel like he was somehow making up for not being able to save his mom or Nana.

Eventually, Yano and Takhashi find their way back to each other. This of course is after Yuri finally admits that the reason her sister was in the car with her ex-boyfriend was to finally and completely break it off with him. (Essentially, Nana was trying to protect Yano who had been beaten up by her ex-boyfriend when they first started dating.) I have never wanted to punch a fictional character so much as I did Yuri when she made this confession. What kind of person watches someone suffer (for years!) and withholds vital information that could ease said suffering? It's such a dick move. I guess I should be glad she bothered to give the information to him at all. Giving him this information severed their hold over each other and allowed Yano to not just forgive Nana, but himself as well. In cutting this tie with Yano, Yuri frees herself from the codependent relationship she initiated and you get the idea that she's not only going to be fine, but she'll thrive on her own.

I'll be honest, I had mixed feelings about Takhashi and Yano ending up together. On the one hand, I was glad that Takhashi and Yano were able to deal with the ghosts in their pasts and move forward in a relationship together, but on the other hand I really liked the idea of Take and Takhashi together. I know Take will be fine and he'll eventually find someone, but I kind of wanted his someone to be Takhashi. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to stand it if Yano and Yuri had maintained their relationship, and Yano was only ever going to leave Yuri for Takhashi. He wouldn't have for anyone else, so I guess it's good they ended up together. I also like the idea that second chances are possible and can be lasting. The last volume in this series is especially good and just powerful.

The writing in this series is beautiful. There are some truly profound observations in the series, reflecting on love, loss, and just plain life. The emotions in this series felt authentic and I found it easy to relate to the characters, even those I wanted to shake. It's interesting, because I didn't hate anyone in the series, not even Yuri. I didn't always like what they did, but I genuinely hoped that they all found happiness in the end. Speaking of the end, I loved the ending to the series. It's basically just Yano and Takhashi going through the routine of being together again doing normal things. It was a well earned normalcy and I know I had a ridiculous smile on my face while reading the ending.

Final Thoughts

I loved this series! Its realism will illicit strong emotions from readers, making it difficult to not feel along with the characters during the series. You'll have moments when you might love and hate a character all at the same time, which I think shows that the author nailed the complexity of the human condition. The writing is amazing and I wish the author would write more and it would be translated into English. Given the opportunity, I would read pretty much anything this author puts out. I think this series would appeal to people who liked Say I Love You, Sand Chronicles, or Ao Haru Ride. All of these series deal with some heavy issues and are a bit edgy compared to other series.

On a side note, I watched the two live action movies of this series and loved them! They're a great adaptation of the manga series, and the music is beautiful. If you get a chance I highly recommend watching the movies.

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