By Miki Yosikawa
Hikaru’s bullying problem stemmed from his fears of alienating people if they knew of his violent capabilities and strength. Since he was a kid, he had always gotten into fights for the sake of his brother, and in the process, people started avoiding both of them. As such, he feels guilty and responsible for Hotaru’s lack of friends growing up, which is why he’s so determined to make him some for his high school years. His struggle with his bullies isn’t that he can’t fight back because he’s not strong enough to do so, but because he’s worried history will repeat itself. That people will distance themselves from him, and consequently, his brother. In a sense, his greatest enemy is not the bullies, but himself. He’s so strong, that he’s helpless. He’s so protective of his brother, that they’ve become too dependent on each other as their only meaningful social relationship.
Yamada can relate; he was a delinquent himself not too long ago, and a loner for the bulk of his high school career. His relationship with Ushio is in many ways a parallel to Hikaru and Hotaru’s, though the series doesn’t make the connection overly explicit here. It does make the inclusion of him and Noa in Yamada’s plan all the more fitting, however. Both of them have been bullied and the bully, and understand more than anyone what Hikaru is going through and the lesson he needs to learn. While the duo has all but replaced the Supernatural Studies Club as Yamada’s helping hands in recent chapters, their inclusion here was not only thematically justified, but instantly hilarious. Noa’s delinquent slang in particular has me in stiches every time I’ve re-read the chapter. While it’s a bit disappointing that the Supernatural Studies Club has been increasingly sidelined through the course of the series, the supporting cast is so rich and dynamic that the series can get away with shifting the focus between them all too easily.
The lesson Yamada teaches Hikaru is not only appropriate, but backed with recognizable experience. Yamada tells Hikaru that his problem comes from the fact he’s never known what it feels to be weak. On the surface, that seems obvious. Hikaru has also been so strong, that he’s won every fight he’s been in, after all. But it’s not about Hikaru needing to lose a fight, it’s about him learning to empathize and recognize the feelings of other people. Yamada’s isolation at the beginning of the series came from his inability to trust others after being betrayed by Ushio, and kept people away from him with his reputation as a violent delinquent. Through Shiraishi’s influence, he started to open up to people, and create friends and connections through simply being himself and a good person.
Similarly, Hikaru has always distanced himself from other people by fighting them, both physically and metaphorically. He’s never trusted another person, or gotten to know them. He couldn’t make friends because he thought of himself as too strong, and in doing so, “other”-ified everyone else around him. They were different. They weren’t like him. Hikaru only understood those besides himself and Hotaru as obstacles. His desire to isolate himself from other people, believing he didn’t need to go to high school or have any other friends than Hotaru, coming from a fundamental inability to relate with anyone other than himself.
There was no way that Hikaru could have ever made friends with such a mindset. Yamada recognized this, and put Hikaru into a situation where he would be on equal ground with his bullies. His goal was not to drive the bullies away from Hikaru, but to bond them closer together. The scuffle not only allowed Hikaru to show the bullies that he’s not a weak-willed person by trying to protect them, but also showed Hikaru that his bullies are much more complicated, and relatable, than he once thought.
Most bullies are bullies because they themselves were bullied or have had bad relationships that have led them to take their frustrations out on other people. Hikaru’s bullies were no different. They picked on Hikaru because he wouldn’t fight back them back, but confronted with Yamada’s posse, they reveled themselves to be insecure, frightened things. They were likely bullied once upon a time because they were weak, and the power they held over Hikaru made them feel powerful, and gave them a sense of self-worth. They took it too far, and in the process became increasingly crueler to Hikaru. All the while, the root of the behavior rested in their own insecurities, and how easy it was to make Hikaru a target because of how little they really knew about him.
Yet, despite presumably being a weak pushover, and all they did to him, Hikaru stood up for them and tried to protect them. This made them see Hikaru in a whole other light, and gave them to courage to fight back, and return the favor. In the end, both Hikaru and his bullies were beaten up by Yamada, and in doing so, the power dynamic between them was broken and they were all put on the same level. They were both weak, but they both had more courage in them that they let on, and it is through that common ground, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the other, that they could let bygones be bygones and become friends.
Once again, Yoshikawa has handled a bullying story with a great understanding of the dynamics they encompass and an effective use of her characters. While this arc didn’t explore the subject as thoroughly as, say, A Silent Voice, this was still a perfectly believable story, with a great message behind it, and was overall satisfying end to the Hikaru/Hotaru bullying subplot. We aren’t done with the brothers yet, however. Yamada has yet to figure out what Hikaru’s witch power is, and considering his notable inclusion alongside the rest of the main characters on this week’s full-color cover page, there’s a good chance that Hikaru’s involvement in the story at large has only just began.