“Change happens by listening, and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right.” –Jane Goodall
Sayu decides to take up a part time job at the local convenience store, and Yoshida brings Airi to meet Sayu. Later, Sayu runs into Yaguchi Kyouya, who Sayu had slept with previously. Yoshida manages to convince him to back down, and Sayu’s coworker, Asami, later shares her past with Sayu. Later, Asami notices a vehicle tailing Sayu; her older brother’s come to take her home. Sayu realises her time is probably up in Tokyo, but manages to attend a summer festival with Yoshida. The next morning, Yoshida meets Issa Ogiwara, Sayu’s older brother. After the two sit down to talk and ascertain Sayu’s situation, he agrees to give Sayu two more weeks to sort things out. Sayu later explains to Yoshida and Asami that she ran away from home after befriending a classmate who committed suicide from bullying. Because her mother accused Sayu of what had transpired, Sayu left home and attempted to make it on her own. While Yoshida is initially reluctant to help Sayu, believing that she should face her family problems on her own, in his heart, he also wants to go. Yoshida’s coworkers spot this and assure him that work will be fine, so he accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, where Sayu returns to her school and comes to terms with what happened. Upon returning home, Sayu’s mother remains as cold as ever, but after hearing Yoshida’s words about what a parent’s responsibility entails, she relents and allows Sayu to stay. Yoshida prepares to return home, and Sayu declares that she’s fallen in love with him, prompting Yoshida to reply that he’d be ancient by the time she were an adult. Upon reaching his apartment, Yoshida realises that Sayu had a much larger impact on his life than he could’ve imagined. Two years later, Yoshida remains as dedicated to his work as ever, while Sayu graduates and slowly makes reconciles with her mother. One evening, Yoshida turns down an invitation to hang out with his team after work, and encounters a girl under the same lamppost where he’d first met Sayu. She asks Yoshida if it’s cool for her to stay with him for the night, bringing Higehiro to a close. Despite its provoking premise, Higehiro ended up being continually full of surprises, with a strong message for viewers willing to overlook the fact that such a premise is outright illegal in reality.
At its heart, Higehiro is a story about listening. Yoshida embodies this concept particularly well throughout Higehiro – at work and in his personal life, he listens to what those around him say before making a decision, rather than speaking up all of the time. By listening rather than speaking, Yoshida is able to understand what those around him intend to do, and with this knowledge, he is better prepared to determine what his next move is. The advantages of listening are numerous, and letting other people lay their cards on the table first gives one the upper hand in a situation – knowing someone else’s viewpoints and intents corresponds to having more information with which to make a satisfactory decision. When Sayu enters his life, Yoshida hears her out and determines it’s safer for her to stay with him (even if it is contravening the law), and similarly, upon learning that Issa has shown up to pick Sayu up, Yoshida patiently listens to Issa’s explanation of what had happened, formulates a course of action in his mind and manages to convince Issa that two weeks will help Sayu to set things in order. During their tense conversation with Sayu’s mother, Yoshida is tempted to act, but instead, conducts himself with restraint. Hearing Sayu’s mother express the depth of her hatred for Sayu for the first time allows him to fully understand what Sayu had undergone, and in this moment, Yoshida realises that Sayu’s mother is someone to similarly hear out. By exercising patience, and then replying in kind, Yoshida is able to make a reply that deeply affects Sayu’s mother, enough to convince her to at least give Sayu a chance at a fresh start. Yoshida’s tendency to not speak his mind is initially one of his shortcomings, and while most situations allowed him to tough it out, his coworkers immediately spot how Yoshida oftentimes does not follow his heart, which has led him to regret some of his choices. By supporting him and encouraging him to speak up every now and then, Yoshida’s coworkers also play an instrumental role in getting Yoshida to Hokkaido, where he succinctly makes a case for why Sayu’s mother is the only person with the right and duty to ensure Sayu is looked after until she becomes an adult. The balance of listening and speaking is masterfully presented in Higehiro, and the series aims to suggest that by listening well, one can also speak better to affect positive change in those around them.
Screenshots and Commentary
- After taking up a part time job at the nearby convenience store, Sayu befriends Asami, who provides her with a peer to speak with. The sum of Sayu’s meetings with people who are willing to listen to her play a large role in helping her to open up; Asami had come from a family of lawyers, and against their expectations, she desired to be an author above all else. When she takes Sayu to a spot special to her, it shows Sayu that people in the world do accept her for who she is.
- I was initially surprised to see Airi and Sayu meet so early on, but in retrospect, it makes sense, given that Higehiro is about Sayu’s road to recover. By eliminating the possibility for external drama, Higehiro is able to focus on its core story; in other series, secondary plots can represent a rabbit hole of sorts, complicating things and potentially introducing challenges that may not always be satisfactorily resolved. In the case of Higehiro, Sayu continues to encounter mature and reasonable people after meeting Yoshida, and while they may not know her circumstances fully, they are more than willing to support however they can.
- The whole of Higehiro is about how patience in extenuating circumstances is what leads to understanding, and subsequently, how this understanding corresponds to helping one to find their footing anew. The changes in Sayu are gradual: while she’s found Yoshida and his kindness, her previous experiences lead her to occasionally wonder if Yoshida will cast her out. This concern is what causes her to try running off again after learning Yoshida is bringing Airi to his place, but the reality was he’d wanted the two to meet.
- I ultimately found that the dynamic between Sayu and Yoshida resembled how an older brother might regard a younger sister, or how an uncle would look after a niece. Yoshida and Sayu feel more like family than two strangers as Higehiro progresses; all thought of failed relationships are benched as the story focuses on how Yoshida begins to care enough about Sayu to want her to properly resolve whatever problems had led her to run away to begin with. This aspect of Higehiro particularly impressed: while the possibility to go off the rails was always present, the series was consistently heartwarming and disciplined.
- The further into Higehiro I got, the more I felt bad for Yuzuha, who’s clearly head-over-heels for Yoshida and openly expresses it to him even in the knowledge that his heart is elsewhere. In spite of her own feelings, and her seeing Airi as a competitor, Yuzuha herself is not unkind, helping Sayu to lay low when she’s not quite ready to face her brother and head home. During my watch of Higehiro, I found Yuzuha to look quite familiar, and I finally recalled the rationale for these thoughts; she resembles a coworker from my previous position.
- While Sayu’s time in Tokyo begins running out, she is able to spend a worry-free and memorable evening with Yoshida at the local summer festival. Being with Yoshida gave Sayu the strength to face her own problems, and she begins to consider a future where she does return home to get things sorted out. However, a part of her also worries about being unable to do so, and this is why Yoshida consents to let her stay; he wishes to give Sayu as much time as is appropriate to let her prepare herself, so long as she has a plan in mind.
- After the bliss of attending the local summer festival together, Sayu comes face-to-face with her older brother, Issa. While Sayu’s reactions suggested that he cut a threatening figure, after Yoshida sits down and gets another perspective of the situation, he manages to buy Sayu two weeks in which to sort her affairs out. Contrary to appearances, Issa is reasonable, and after the situation is clarified, he and Yoshida share a cordial relationship, being able to speak openly to one another. This is something Higehiro does well: even the scummiest characters can be spoken with and understand where the lines are drawn.
- I appreciate that this is to be quite unrealistic, since reality is nowhere nearly as kind, but from a narrative standpoint, it allows the story to focus purely on Sayu. After her brother’s arrival, the two weeks timeframe is shorter than Sayu had hoped, but traditionally, I’ve always found that giving people moderate stress oftentimes drives them to perform better and push themselves harder. Knowing she will have to go back pushes Sayu to finally open up fully to Yoshida; she shares her past in full with Yoshida and Asami.
- It turns out that Sayu had always been a bit of a lone wolf at school and despite her appearances, never got along with the others. She befriends a classmate, Yūko, who was similarly introverted, but when the popular clique learns that one of the male students has a crush on Sayu, who always seems so aloof, they decide to go after Yūko instead, who is driven to suicide after the bullying takes an ugly turn. This is no trivial matter: I’d grown up dealing with bullies, and the resolution I found was that they’d been salty about my book smarts. Once I showed them the same book smarts could help them out, the bullies became people I could get along with. Of course, it helped that I also took up martial arts to bolster my confidence, but I appreciate that for some folks, bullying can seem like an insurmountable barrier.
- In the aftermath of Yūko’s suicide, Sayu felt backed into a corner; her own mother refused to support her. Sayu felt like she had no other options beyond running away from home, and Issa found himself unable to help. This downward spiral is what led Sayu to Tokyo, where she exchanged her body for a place to stay during her lowest point. Devoid of any meaningful human relationships and connections, Sayu’s view of the world became distorted, and it was only through a chance meeting with Yoshida that she is able to recover.
- In the end, Yoshida is able to do what Issa couldn’t, and in doing so, earns the latter’s respect. I imagine that Yoshida’s able to succeed here for a few reasons; firstly, as an outsider, he brings to the table a completely different perspective, and since he is so far removed from the challenges that Sayu and Issa had faced, he is able to approach problems in a naïve manner (that is to say, without knowing the nuances, he attempts to help Sayu without worrying about worrying about nuances in her scenario). Secondly, as a hard worker and honest person, Yoshida focuses purely on helping her to find her happiness in a way appropriate for a minor.
- I understand that Higehiro isn’t for everyone: for one, the scenario is about as legal as discharging a firearm in city limits, and many variables are eliminated, essentially giving Sayu a straight shot back home without any serious external impediment. The real world is rather more complex, but for the sake of a story, it is acceptable to abstract out complexities so long as the flow of events lead to a clear message being conveyed. Consequently, gripes about the social and legal facets of the series as being implausible or unrealistic would run contrary to the theme in Higehiro: taking a step back and listening to what is being said. The equivalence of this in games would be complaining that it should be impossible to heal up bullet wounds by ducking for cover and waiting a few seconds.
- Of course, if some folks do demand that level of realism in their anime, that’s their call: so long as no one is demanding I study up on Greek mythology to understand why a given review is the right way of approaching an anime, I won’t mind. Conversely, if someone does reference something only literature or philosophy students would study and suggest that it’s mandatory reading (rather than recommended reading) to understand why a work succeeds or fails, I would count the review as being . Back in Higehiro, on Sayu’s last day in Tokyo, Asami calls Yoshida to report that Sayu’s disappeared. It turns out she’d wanted to check out his office at least once, and got lost along the way, but is otherwise fine.
- In the end, Yoshida follows his heart and accompanies Sayu back to Hokkaido, even taking her to a café of sorts. However, the true challenge lies ahead yet; besides heading home to have her first face-to-face with her mother in over a half-year, Sayu also wants to return to her school, where Yūko’s life was tragically cut short. Sayu had intended on making this visit alone, but upon reaching the school rooftop, finds herself overcome with emotion. With Yoshida’s presence comforting her, she is able to continue on.
- Yoshida’s words to Sayu are similar to mine: he suggests that the best way to honour Yūko’s memory would be to live her life as fully as possible and take the step forwards where she couldn’t. While Sayu doesn’t notice this, the school’s replaced the old railing with a large fence to prevent future suicides; this simple change demonstrates that contrary to what Sayu believed after her mother’s words, Yūko was missed, and her death galvinised the school into taking more active measures to ensure bullying is addressed so it does not lead to another suicide in the future. There’s very little to go on, but I felt that the fence could be a visual metaphor to represent the changes that took place. Thus, to ensure Yūko did not die in vain, Sayu must find the courage to embrace her own future.
- The most trying moments in Higehiro come with the long-awaited conversation with Sayu’s mother. Although Yoshida is tempted to douse her with his drink after hearing for himself how much Sayu’s mother hates her, the more rational, pragmatic side of Yoshida steps in, and he speaks his mind about how a parent has obligations to guide their children along. Yoshida’s speech is a very optimistic and naïve view of the world, but it is strong enough to make Sayu’s mother uncomfortable and forces her to re-evaluate what her next steps are. She subsequently consents to speak with both Yoshida and Sayu, reaching a détente of sorts with the two and agrees to give herself a second chance with Sayu.
- Higehiro‘s denouement allows Yoshida to rest easy, knowing that Sayu now at least has a home to go to while she finishes off her education, and that she’s managed to overcome the challenges that sent her to Tokyo initially. In their last night together, Sayu coyly asks Yoshida if he’s still in for some horizontal refreshment to remember her; after everything they’ve gone through, such a moment comes across as purely comedic, and in typical Yoshida fashion, he declines, saying that he’ll remember Sayu always.
- From a technical perspective, the voice acting and music in Higehiro are of a fine quality, while visually, the anime is more rudimentary: the artwork and animation are consistent, but nothing eye-popping. The appeal in Higehiro lies almost entirely with the conversations the characters share, and here, Issa thanks Yoshida again for everything he’s done. He surmises that, in spite of Yoshida’s protests otherwise, Yoshida surely has fallen in love with Sayu.
- Sayu certainly has fallen in love with Yoshida and asks him to wait for her even after he turns her down. His reply suggests that she might’ve had a chance after all, although this is left ambiguous. One of the more heartbreaking moments in Higehiro comes after Yoshida returns home and finds it empty; he wonders if he’d been the one in need of saving after making some miso soup that tastes nothing like what Sayu had been able to make. Fate will bring the two back together in two years’ time, suggesting that the anime is done adapting all of the original light novels.
- Altogether, I enjoyed Higehiro for its conversations and optimistic messages about recovery even when one hits rock bottom, and how unexpected encounters are able to transform one’s perspectives, as well as how people can help one another. This series is a B (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 of 10), being a consistent journey that managed to traverse a razor’s edge without devolving into a foxtrot-uniform-charlie-kilo par-tay or offer a social commentary well beyond what the story demanded. I will note that Higehiro was tricky to write for, which is why this post is shorter than usual, but with Higehiro in the books, I have a clean slate entering the summer season. The Aquatope on White Sand aired earlier today, so it’ll be time to catch up and then share my thoughts on the series.
Higehiro‘s initial premise existed at the edge of a slippery slope – anime of this sort have every opportunity to get things wrong and send the story down a trajectory of lust and accompanying suffering. However, every step of the way, Higehiro wound up being an immensely heartwarming story about how support for one another is mutual, and how people can help one another out whether or not they’re in love with one another. Meeting Yoshida shows Sayu that people do care for her, and that she should also care for herself. The chance encounter with Sayu shows Yoshida a side of relationships that he’d not previously understood – that falling in love with someone is much more than dating them and physicality. It is a matter of opening oneself to being vulnerable, to share problems and deal with them together. It speaks to the discipline in the writing that Higehiro never devolves into a story about giving in to temptation; Yoshida is driven by a desire to do right by Sayu and himself (as well as a healthy reminder to himself that, in his own words, he prefers older, buxom women like Airi). The end result of Yoshida’s discipline and preferences means that to Sayu, he acts as a caring older brother or father figure, guiding her down a path that she is comfortable pursing, and leaves her better equipped to pick herself back up after such a tragic incident in her past. For this reason, Higehiro proved quite unexpected and moving, showing that in this world, decency often manifests through listening to people and hearing them through wholly before making any decisions – the end result is quite touching, and seeing all of the characters for what they really are through this is a reminder that, given the patience to understand them, most people are reasonable and can be spoken with. While Higehiro does present things in a highly optimistic manner (reality isn’t always so kind, and not everyone can be reasoned with), it is the case that folks who prefer to listen have the upper hand, as those who prefer to talk tend leave their cards facing up.