We Never Learn: A Healthy Approach to Talent and Aspiration

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This monday has marked the beginning of what will be six consecutive weeks of new series beginning in Weekly Shonen Jump, an unprecedented occasion that’s set to include a couple of important milestones in the magazine’s history. Each Tuesday over this period I’m going to be writing a post on the debuting series that week, be it a simple review or something deeper. We start this week with Taishi Tsutsui’s We Never Learn. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Dearest reader, were you ever considered good at something at school? Perhaps even noted as being advanced at a subject, or having it singled out as a ‘talent’ (an admittedly difficult concept, but a useful one for this particular series)? If so, was it something you cared about? Was it something you pursued, or was there another passion inside you, for something else and if so, was it something you were even any good at?

I was pretty decent at academics, at least up to the point where I had to really try, but that’s a different kind of frustrating story of youth. Despite getting good scores in maths, science, english, all that classic school stuff, I only ever really wanted to think about music and art, two areas where I just couldn’t make any headway, whether through anxiety, impatience, or just an outright lack of what people would call talent. I don’t think any encouragement to stick to what I was good at made any difference, and as someone who never made it as far as university, it didn’t really matter. All the same, reading the first chapter of We Never Learn had me wishing that it existed when I was younger, simply because it’s a comic, aimed at teenagers, that actively talks to them about the very idea of not giving up on the things you want to do, even if you’re awful at them.

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We Never Learn is about Nariyuki Yuiga, a student who prides himself on his intelligence earned from diligent and hard work, having to tutor the two girls who exceed him in two particular areas of academia with very little effort; Rizu Ogata, who is better than him at more equation-based topics like Maths and Physics, and Fumino Furuhashi, who can surpass Yuiga at any literary subject without even needing to be awake for most of the class. This might not immediately make sense, but I’m sure you can guess from my indulgent introduction what the twist is here that means they have to be tutored. Rizu wants to go to a Liberal Arts University, and Fumino wants to go to a Science University. These aren’t just the areas where the other girl succeeds, they’re areas these girls are almost completely unable to comprehend.

It’s almost played for laughs. They’re so bad that when doing the same tests two days in a row, they both somehow score *even lower* than they had the previous day. The way their minds are wired to the subjects they’re good at actively prohibits them penetrating the base level of the other. The real hook here, though, is in what happens when Yuiga questions why they’re even bothering when they already have something they’re good at. It cuts them; these aren’t the subjects they excel at, but it’s what they actually *want* to be good at, and another person is asking them to give up. It’s crushing, heartbreaking even.

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This would be a terrible turn in the story, were it not for the introduction of the most important idea of the whole comic: empathy. Understanding what it is to struggle, to try and make something out of nothing, is a crucial skill when it comes to helping others, and we learn that Yuiga himself had to pull himself up from a lack of knowledge himself, and made it through effort and the encouraging words of his late father, who knew how to use optimism and care to encourage his child to grow. This lesson, along with Yuiga seeing how much the girls had been trying, wearing down their notebooks into rags with their attempts to understand these subjects they care about. He understands this, and using an approach of breaking down the core of the things each girl should be looking for in their studies, in a simple, communivative manner, he finally makes headway.

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There’s several moments I could have included, but this one in particular hit deep. Yuiga’s empathetic motivation to help the girls

Because anyone can learn anything, if they’re willing to try and have people teaching them who know how best to actually help them. This almost broke me reading it. It’s a very optimistic message that completely acknowledges the core demographics of Weekly Shonen Jump; teenage boys and girls who are having to make decisions about their studies that will define their futures. Rather than just preaching the values of doing what you want to do, it demonstrates it in a well-paced and enjoyable drama laced with nice moments of brevity inbetween the seriousness. These kids, especially in Japanese society where a parent’s views on your education can be pressure to toe the line and follow your skills into a stable career (the fear of NEETS is real, guys), are being told, by a comic in the most popular comics magazine in the entire world, that it’s okay to strive to follow your dreams, even if your dreams involve something you’re bad at.

I love that.

Weekly Shonen Jump has done something similar in the past, with Yokota¬†Takuma doing a three-week miniseries touching on similar ground, albeit with the awkward propaganda aspect of “you should work as an editor for Weekly Shonen Jump”. This lacks any such misstep. It’s wholesome. It helps that it’s beautifully drawn, incredibly well-written, and refuses to punch down.

It’s almost definitely going to be cancelled. The subject matter is low stakes, it makes a couple of too-obvious plays at fanservice, and the first chapter reads quite a lot like a one-shot. But I don’t care if it doesn’t make it. This first chapter alone has an incredible value, and I hope it connects with its target audience in the same way that it would have connected with the younger me if he’d had the series around to read back then.

Of course it does still have some good old goofs

Of course it does still have some good old goofs

We Never Learn is available in English from this week’s issue of Weekly Shonen Jump, produced by Viz Media, and available on IOS and Android, as well as their own website. The issue literally costs a handful of pennies, and you’d be a fool to miss out.

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3 thoughts on “We Never Learn: A Healthy Approach to Talent and Aspiration

  1. Beautiful review, Maxy! You articulated why this first chapter resonates so much better than I could have put into words. I was very much like the girls in this series when I was in school, and even now honestly – being more naturally talented in one area but desperately wanting to excel in the one I was really passionate about but never being able to close the gap. The way Yuiga’s comments hurt and insult the girls was also painfully relatable, reminding me of conversations I’ve had in the past where people basically told me to give up. The way Yuiga encourages the girls at the end of the chapter with optimism and compassion is a gesture I wish people had given me more often when I was a kid and even recently. We Never Learn’s first chapter is yet another one of those great pick-me up pieces that remind you it’s okay and important to pursue what you really want to do even if you have to struggle. I think it really embodies the ideals of “friendship, effort, and victory” Jump is known for, in a atypical approach to the themes perhaps, but handling the ideas in a more emblematic and resonant matter, at least for me personally.

    I really like just everything about the concept for this series, the characters, the humor, the art, the message, and more, and it’s a shame that you’re probably right in predicting that it’ll get cancelled fast because of it’s low stakes and pandering moments, but damn if I’m not going to cling to any sliver of hope I have for it’s survival. This is the most I’ve been moved by the first chapter of a Jump Start since Mononofu, another series that didn’t last very long ultimately, but darn if it wasn’t a treasure while it did. Basically, I’m just hoping for as much of this series as possible staying at this level of quality as long as possible, a tall order for what will ostensibly be a rom-com, but I believe in that potential all the same.

  2. Pingback: Manga Mavericks EP. 24 - "The State of Shonen Jump (Feat. Maxy Barnard)" - All-Comic.com

  3. Man, I have to admit the splash artwork for this (and it being in Jump) initially turned me off, but your review has got me interested in it again. I’ll be an elitist and say I don’t like how the title was translated. (It should be something closer to “We can’t study”.) But otherwise this really does sound very charming. If it can keep the romance light (I can’t see it completely staying away from that angle as much as I’d like it to), I might actually root for it to stick around.

    Thanks for changing my mind on this one!

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