Hello all. Today I will be talking about how the hit anime series, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (or Oregairu), masterfully explores the mind of the cynic through the character of Hikigaya Hachiman. Not only does it explore how the cynic thinks, but, through the two seasons it has run for, I have come to understand so much more about why the cynic thinks the way they do, what can create a cynical mindset and, as a result, what the cynic truly desires.
Cynicism and the cynic
In its extreme sense, cynicism is a general distrust of other people and society, people’s motives and social values. It is ultimately the belief that everything people do is motivated by self-interest and self-gain. Taken to the extreme nothing, even the most seemingly innocent actions, gestures and emotions, is sacred. However, in the more normal sense, it’s like having a nice conversation with a shopkeeper: you might, for a fleeting moment, feel a certain affection for them, a kinship, just two apeople getting by in their everyday lives; fleeting of course because this feeling is almost immediately moderated by the understanding that good customer relations is a very good business strategy.
Now, going from this definition, it’s clear from the beginning that Hikigaya is a hardcore cynic: He hates society, and sees himself, with apparently great pride, as being a loner by choice. He has clearly been disillusioned by it due to the social experiences he has suffered throughout his life, and has reacted in the long term by simply rejecting human society completely, and only takes part in it in order to survive. All he sees in other people and groups is some form or another of low behaviour motivated by base human instincts like survival, greed and fear.
In almost everything he sees, he will look beyond what we see on the surface, breaking through the ‘facade’, and sharply exposes whatever social mechanics are at work. He goes through life diligently observing from a distance and deconstructing everything he sees in front of him in an attempt to reveal any twisted, selfish behaviour is behind it. In fact, the greatest amusement the show has to offer us lies in this ability as time and time again Hachiman points out many a situation that the average person has observed, and does it with such clarity that I can’t help a part of me cheer cheer out in triumph as it was articulated better than even I ever could.
Why is this?
Cynicism and the fight for survival!
The truth is, we are all a little cynical. We all have a basic understanding that people are inherently flawed as a species, and, while we try to be good and noble and uphold our values, we are ultimately selfish and basic creatures driven by one desire or another. As a result, people don’t always tell the truth; people deceive one another; people use other people for their own ends, harming, or maniuplating them in the process. Of course, people can be selfless too. They can be generous and kind and loving, and most of us understand and respect our values.
But cynicism is not interested in this side of the human condition. Cynicism is there to protect us, to stop us naively and gullibly placing absolute trust in the people we interact with and the social systems we occupy. If our senses provide us with an environmental defence, think of cynicism as providing us a social defence. When the cynical side of us sees through a situation, we have, in a way, saved ourselves from potential abuse, embarrassment or pain. We have triumphed against danger, and made it to safety. So when Hachiman cooly breaks down some event happening before him we, through him, get to live out a sense of invulnerability, a “you can’t catch me” feeling as we gleefully skip through the social obstacle course Hachiman encounters every day.
And here lies another piece of the puzzle of the cynic’s mind.
A constant state of fight-or-flight
The cynic lives for that feeling mentioned above. By breaking down and analysing what he sees, the cynic is able to achive a feeling of absolute saftey, as opposed to a false sense of security that naivity offers. The cynic, in taking this desire for safety to the extreme, takes nothing at face value, and treats everything like some sort of fight or deathmatch. Take his advice on avoiding people who try to contact you through text/email as an amusing example:
This is how it’ll go down. At 2 am, I’ll reply with “Sorry, battery was out!” or “Sorry, looks like I was in a dead zone!” You’ll have them cornered every time with those lines. Source – myself.
Or the more conceited example where Hachiman makes a realisation about bullying-victim Rumi’s situation at a kids’ summer camp:
“I see. This girl’s already given up. They say the world changes when you change, but that’s not true. People judge others based on stereotypes and impressions. Loners will be judged as loners forever. If you try to do something and stand out, they’ll just use it to bring you down. It’s an iron rule of the rotten society of children.”
“This is how it’ll go down…You’ll have them cornered every time with those lines.” “If you try to do something to stand out, they’ll just use it to bring you down”. For cynics like Hachiman, the social world is a place of survival, not friendship or emotions. Even things like values are nothing but strategies used to better one’s own position, as we see him hiding behind a shield of naivety and innocence that stops whoever is trying to contact him from accusing him of ignoring their texts.
Cynics are like eggs
Behind the cold-hearted, calculating facade, Hachiman only stays the avoids social interactions because it hurts him. At his soft, yolky core is somebody who wants friendships, something to be a part of, and even love. After all, we see time and time again Hachiman have to hold himself back from coming closer to people, especially girls, when he interacts with them, analysing the situation to death like some sort of defensive mantra. So what’s wrong? Why not just dive head first into the social world and enjoy it for what it is? There is a conflict here.
The trouble is, Hachiman actually is looking for connections that are completely genuine and honest. It doesn’t take the viewer long to realise that Hachiman wants the comfort of friendship just as much as the next person, but he avoids it because the risks are too great. Making friends requires him to lose his cold, invulnerable position – his God’s eye view – and open up to people. Again, and again, until he meets people who are right for him. The problem is that the risks are too great and, simply put, not worth the effort.
He has tried before, and does not want to try again. Plagued and restricted by his understanding and social experiences, Hachiman lacks the trust to open up to people.
Cynics never give up!
Yes. Hachiman has before now delved into the world of people a few times. Naturally, throughout his early school days. But this didn’t go too well for him. In fact, his social lifespan has consisted mainly of rejection, being bullied, and exclusion from social groups. The social world has rejected him so much throughout his early life that he has grown frustrated and hurt and rejected it back. Why? Becuase it is both the safest and most positive move he has available. At least he’s not giving up, eh?
“’I can change,’ means adjusting to that shitty, cold-hearted and cruel world. It means admitting defeat and subordination.”
“I choose the way of the solitary bear, which does not form packs. The bear finds no anxiety in living alone. He is proud. He is a lone wolf… In my next life, I want to be a bear.”
Hachiman has indoctrinated himself with the belief that being alone is what is best for him. By proving that the social world is actually rather depraved and animalistic under the surface and a place where people deceive themselves and each other to ‘make it work’ by observing and deconstructing it on a daily basis, he can avoid the feeling of loneliness and, instead, become a ‘lone wolf’. Therefore, he won. He uncovered the lies and deception and found the truth. He got out.
Consclusion: hope for cynics
Ultimately, the cynic will only be satisfied by good relationships that satisfy their needs. But can we ‘cure’ cynicism? Of course. I mean, it would be silly to rule it out. But within reason – remember the example with the shopkeeper earlier? Cynicism is an important and vital part of us that will, and should, never cease to exist completely. The thing is, before Hachiman realises it, he forms the bonds that I think he has always wanted. He has found friendship in its most genuine form. He is learning to open up to these friends, and yes, the even the possibility of romantic love is on the horizon. He is begining to feel a base level of warmth towards his fellow person. I feel that this counts – Hachiman is becoming happier and more fulfilled as a person. But has this ‘cured’ his extreme cynicism?
Not really. He’s still cynical as all hell. Besides, I don’t know if I want him to change just yet 🙂 .
Thanks for reading. If you liked, leave me a like, and if you have any thoughts on the post, comment in the section below or contact me on my blog email listed in the about page. I’m trying to improve my writing at the moment, so do let me know what you think. I’m going to do a follow-up post on cynicism and PTSD, some thoughts I had and definitely talked about but want the opportunity to explore specifically and with more clarity, as I was unable to do in this article due to its length and range of topics.
See you all later 🙂