I hinted at it in the weekly recap…which no one reads:*(, but I’ve decided to push on with a little look to see whether anything interesting can be extracted from Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. It’s been nearly 9 months since the series started airing, so any effects of hype should be out of my system and I can look at this as a neutral.
The Story: Ayase Yuuto discovers that the extremely rich, and extremely popular Nogizaka Haruka is secretly obsessed with anime, manga and pretty much otaku culture in general. The two end up in an ambiguous relationship while trying to keep their secret from being leaked.
The Question: When the series looks at outsiders perspectives of otaku, is it trying to break them down or are they merely serving as reinforcement to its niche audience?
One way to look at this is through three characters and how they are viewed by others. First, Asakura Nobunaga (pictured left), who everyone knows is an otaku. Second, his friend and male lead in the series Ayase Yuuto, who Asakura calls a regular person. Third, the title character Nogizaka Haruka, the secret otaku for the sake of this comparison.
From the first episode, a general pattern is established. Society’s views of otaku are very much aligned with stereotypes, so those classified as otaku are effectively dead and should be shunned for their own good. In addition, those who willingly engage with otaku are considered strange for not avoiding them at all cost.
After Nobunaga is introduced in the episode and he begins talking to Yuuto about the first episode of Dojikko Aki-chan, their conversation is overheard by a pair of girls who describe Nobunaga as a nice guy as long as he doesn’t talk. After Yuuto finds out about Haruka’s secret, she avoids him as she now considers herself a publicly known otaku and feels the need to isolate herself. When finally confronted by Yuuto, her own self-worth has plummeted to the point where she believes she should be laughed at. When he tells her it’s just a secret between the two of them, her self-esteem is restored. Yuuto, for his part is then considered the weird one by Haruka when she later jokes that he could be the weirdest person in the country for the mere fact that he talks to people who enjoy anime.
In the third episode, Haruka once again has to deal with the possibility of her secret getting out when an anime catalog is among the contents of her spilled bag. Yuuto easily convinces the rest of the school that the catalog is his and his status changes from “normal” to hardcore open otaku within the student body. He’s isolated and alone as abuse is hurled at him. However, he comes to realize the level at which otaku are viewed generally.
Haruka, meanwhile, isolates herself in her room and stops eating. She fears a recurrence of the last time her secret got out when she lost all her friends and was forced to transfer to another school. After a conversation with Yuuto, she comes to realize that she fears being alone. She then feels comfortable enough to reveal that the catalog belonged to her all along.
In episode 7, we get a look another look at society’s view of otaku through Haruka’s father. He arrives at Yuuto’s house to bring Haruka back home after she ran away. Her father believes that her being an anime fan is just a phase of someone who is acting like a spoiled child. However, Haruka is finally able to tell him that it is not a phase and that she has genuinely love of her hobby. Once again, he states that she should not be into childish things like anime and manga. Yuuto then states his belief that the feelings behind Haruka’s hobby are the same as anyone else has for their hobby of choice. Then he asks why are otaku are the only ones who are ostracized.
The Answer: As the remaining five episodes tend to drift away from this topic, really only returning as more of an issue of class in the last two episodes than anything, it’s really hard to say it’s doing anything. Notably, out of Nobunaga, Haruka and Yuuto only Nobunaga ends up not losing any friends at school throughout the series and only because Yuuto is the only person he talks to at any point.
It should also be said that the overall content and themes in the series make it unlikely to break out of its niche audience. Therefore, it is unlikely to change opinions in the slightest. Perhaps Yuuto is supposed to be a comfort figure for the viewer in that he doesn’t avoid people simply because of their hobby, yet, it does seem to reinforce a feeling that society is still attempting to marginalize the viewer.