The big theme of this season has been the power of words. Back at the start of the first season, Yukino, Yui, and Hachiman all used words as barriers to protect their true selves: Yukino used her dry wit to keep others from getting too close; Yui agreed with anything and everything her peers said to keep her place in the “in group”; and Hachiman used his words to remove himself from high school society—to place himself above it as the only sane man in an insane world.
So it's no surprise that putting their feelings into words has proven to be perhaps the largest obstacle in their quest to find “something real”—especially Hachiman as he understands how ephemeral they actually are. Hachiman's words have been his weapon—his tool to reinforce his pessimistic worldview. So now, when it's become necessary for him to put his true feelings into words, they never feel right, failing to capture the raw emotions within him. And as he continues searching for the perfect words, it terrifies him when others use words that they believe describe his feelings—words like “codependency.”
But luckily, Ms. Hiratsuka is there to lay down the adult wisdom. There isn't one single word out there to describe his feelings. What lies in people's hearts is more than that. Emotions are comprised of many words—often contradictory ones. And while you can label such feelings as “love” or “hate” and not be wrong, there's nothing to say that you can't use as many words as needed to explain exactly how you feel. And should words falter, actions are well-known to speak even louder. The most important thing is to try and not give up.
After with this realization, Hachiman is finally ready to convey his feelings to those he cares about most—starting with Yui.
With a directness that shocks Yui, Hachiman puts it all out there, basically telling Yui he's in love with Yukino. Of course, she already knows this—and he knows she knows this. But the important thing now, at the end of their relationship, is to make things clear and completely unambiguous so that they can move on to something new. After all, as anyone who has had an unrequited crush can tell you, if things aren't made clear, nearly any word or action from the object of your affection can be twisted by a desperate heart into the most wonderful-yet-cruel of emotions: hope.
This is what has been torturing Yui this season: the hope that things might turn out in her favor—even though she's long since figured out that Hachiman doesn't feel the same way about her. And while Hachiman is unable to say the direct words “I'm sorry, I don't like you that way,” he is able to convey this feeling in a way that she can understand and accept: with the soul-crushing words “you don't have to wait.”
While Yui has been upfront with herself and others about wanting it all, she is mature enough to know that she can't get it all—especially when it comes to Hachiman's heart. That is why she is willing to settle for friendship with Hachiman and Yukino as they begin a new romantic relationship. She truly cares for them (and they her) and so would rather bear the pain of being rejected—as well as the jealousy from seeing the two of them together—than not be in their lives at all. And yeah, knowing it's never going to happen—and accepting that—really hurts. Luckily she has her family to hold her while she cries.
And then comes the climax of the series.
At the start of season one, Hachiman was content with doing nothing—well, nothing except watch the world burn from atop his high horse. From there, he started getting involved with the lives of those around him but only when he had a suitable excuse—i.e., “it's for the volunteer club,” or “because my sister asked me to,” or “because I need to take responsibility.” It's only here, at the end of his character arc, that he's truly able to admit he's doing things because he wants to. After a year of growth, he has learned to see past his pessimistic shield and dream again. So with an endless stream of words at his disposal, he attempts to tell Yukino how he feels—and in the process finally starts to build “something real.”
Over the course of the series, Hachiman and Yukino have had an unequal relationship. Hachiman has fought against her, helped her when she didn't want it, and helped her when she did. But here's the thing: while he has gotten better about asking his friends for support, he has never asked anything of her (well, other than the vague wish of wanting “something real”—which she has no idea how to grant). It's no wonder she feels like she does nothing but rely on him—he's never given her a chance to repay the favor. But by resurrecting the fake prom, he gives her the oppurtunity to save him for once. Of course, he doesn't really care about the fake prom. It doesn't even matter if it fails. All that matters is that he relies on her for once.
But that's just the first step. The core of Yukino's codependency problem is that she gives up her own autonomy and gets nothing for it. She's afraid that in a real relationship she'll give and give until there is nothing of her left. Thus, it's better to be alone and walk her own path. However, Hachiman presents an alternative. He offers himself to her instead—his time, his emotions, and his future—with nothing expected in return. His wish—the one he has been searching for the past few episodes—is only for her to accept his feelings.
With this, Hachiman is offering Yukino a relationship where she doesn't have to worry about giving up her autonomy. He'll give everything he has up front and all he wants is to be with her. Thus, she never has to feel compelled to give him any more of herself than she wants. He is giving her the control in their relationship—allowing her to remain who she is without feeling the need to change or conform to his will.
It's a relationship she couldn't even dream of before—one that offsets her codependence and leaves them as equals, free to do what they individually want, together. And so she agrees, not by using the “correct” words for a love confession but by using ones that ever so awkwardly convey her true feelings.
Now, all that's left to see how this new relationship works in practice and how Yui (and the rest of the characters) fit in to it.
• If the word “love” were enough, we wouldn't need poetry.
• Visually transforming all the negative and positive feelings she has for Hachiman into the word “love”—that's some damn fine “teachering” right there Ms. Hiratsuka.
• Iroha is perfectly capable of being both the good cop and the bad cop.
• I feel the reason Mrs. Yukinoshita and Haruno backed down so easily was due to the simple fact that they realized they weren't players in the chess game Hachiman was playing—only Yukino was—and that he had already won the moment they entered the room.
• When the special credits started rolling, I legitimately started to worry that the series was actually 11 episodes long and not 12 like I had thought.
• I'm very happy with having one more remaining episode to show us how everything shakes out. One of my biggest gripes with a lot of anime is how the climax happens either right before or during the credits—leaving no time for a falling action, much less an epilogue. The only show I can think of that pulled off a last minute ending like that correctly is Full Moon wo Sagashite.