Happy post-Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you all had a good break. I got a nice break from school, and now and getting run over by deadlines. As Douglas Adams used to say, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” And as my production plummets.
So first off apologies in advance – this turned into a gigantic post related to Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo while I wasn’t paying attention (my post on Kara no Kyoukai is in the works and hopefully should be up within the week!), complete with long tangents about random topics. And containing copious amounts of casual spoilers. As compensation,
here’s the full and subbed versions of Innocent Spectra and Augmented Place (by Zwei) EDIT: Seems Oneeyedmanasume’s account got taken down :'( used in the Robotics;Notes anime and visual novel, respectively. R;N is part of 5pb’s Science Adventure series, following Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate, with tie-in’s from both. It’s some good stuff.
Secondly, I highly recommend Sakurasou. Like, very extremely highly recommend it. I think it’s one of the best drama/romcoms I’ve seen in a while, if not ever. While it’s very much like Gintama or Binbougami ga! in nature, since that it splices in copious amounts of seriousness with humor (and fanservice!), I actually much prefer the way Sakurasou goes about it, where the break between comedy and seriousness is not nearly as drastic but much more smooth. Also, the comedy isn’t nearly as “forced” – while Yoichi Fujita (the director of the former two shows) frequently uses a lot of parodies and meta-humor (which I do find extremely funny and ridiculous), Sakurasou makes do with it’s (also extremely ridiculous but surprisingly human) cast and their interactions with each other.
For anyone who is interested in the show (and not already following it), I encourage you go to Random Curiosity to read great episodic analyses of the show by Stilts (who also has written a nice piece about aniblogging). They’re seriously great, especially the last one, which details to extremely great lengths everything I love about show.
So I wrote most of this after finishing episode 8 of Sakurasou and I have to say, it left me absolutely stunned. The anime in general treats an interesting dynamic that’s rarely addressed in shows – namely, the ups and down to chasing your dreams, finding goals, comparing yourself to others, dealing with failures, coping with stress, etc. Very much things you’re forced to learn as you progress through high school and college and, really, life. It’s actually quite cool, because I’ve never seen this type of thing treated before in an anime this way, and it’s just done so…so…well. It’s a great change of pace from the typical messages that lots of anime seem to give their viewers.
What is that you might ask? Well, many shows have the main protagonist as this guy who isn’t interested in much and doesn’t know what to do with his life. And of course he usually has some slight redeeming quality and so attracts girls like flies. But the message that these shows always give (and are usually explicitly stated) is that it’s fine just to enjoy life day-to-day while it lasts, and that not knowing what you want to do in the future is fine – so long as you protect your (female) friends, all is well. A prime example is Rito (from To LOVE-Ru), but this is to some extent true or implied in every harem show.
In fact, it’s actually the default start for almost every protagonist in a whole slew of anime. He only changes once getting swept off his feet by some outside (usually of the opposite sex) force. Never once does he take the initiative to change on his own. It almost encourages viewers that they don’t need to do anything to make their lives more interesting – someone else will take care of it for them.
A show where this “if you want to live an interesting life the responsibility is yours, not someone else’s” concept is actually dealt with decently well is Durarara!!. Which is just a good show in general that deals with a wide variety of interesting concepts.
This is a decent message and it’s all fine and dandy on the outside (also extremely appealing to the undecided angsty teen in Japan and elsewhere feeling pressured to choose a career) – ultimately, however, it is a shallow statement who’s central tenets ring hollow. Sakurasou takes this idea and shows why it’s not a valid long-term solution – or why actually becoming invested in something is a better thing to do than mope around and be bored all the time. And that the responsibility for doing this lies with you, not anyone else. Hyouka actually deals with this issue at great length, focusing on Oreki and crew (KyoAni loves those apathetic shaggy-haired male protagonists, don’t they – I mean, just look at Yuuta from Chu2koi). Maybe I’ll talk about it in a future post.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya also deals with this topic to a certain extent.
Kara no Kyoukai has something to say about this as well, and so I’ll hopefully elaborate on it in my next post.
In addition, harems (and sometimes even shoujo) frequently confuse true, mature, romantic love with infatuation, something that Sakurasou has started to tackle as well (it’s still in progress, so no guarantees, but I like the direction so far).
Furthermore, the friend groups in many shows (with five for some reason being an extremely common number) are often portrayed as being “loose”. Usually, the protagonist will become closer in understanding his friends over time (especially in dramas, this is Key, harharhar…), but that “closeness” of interaction is rarely ever continued for extended periods of time (even when extremely contrived, as in Kokoro Connect, although I do like the show) but instead merely implied; even rarer is it represented realistically. And it is usually restricted to the protagonist and a member of the opposite sex, who frequently becomes a love interest.
Sometimes some sort of bro(s) is/are already present, which slightly mitigates this problem as the viewer can assume that such closeness is already partially established. Just never really fleshed out or explicitly referenced.
Regardless, rarely are deep or meaningful conversations with friends (or anyone for that matter) of the same gender depicted.
To its credit, Sakurasou takes full advantage of its dorm setting to throw in several deep, late night (frequently depressing) conversations where characters are candid with each other, and it does them convincingly. For a college student living on campus, this type of thing takes place on a semi-regular basis (or at least it does for me). No extraordinary circumstances to force bonding – just deep bonds formed through proximity and the willingness to discuss problems with others. The friendship dynamic (give and take, and both lighthearted and deep) is thus represented very well compared to the “happy go lucky” groups (cue slice of life) or the “holy sh*t how do they keep from imploding” groups (cue intense drama).
To be honest, I don’t even think I’ve seen these ideas treated as well in any medium (although I haven’t found much on it, other than the occasional news article piece…which usually gives a lengthy and completely empty response that actually avoids solving the actual stressor, but usually ends up with the writer having a happy ending of sorts – see below). I mean, while I might tear up during like every Space Brothers episode (see Random Curiosity’s posts here) because I have a soft spot for astronomy, Sakurasou legitimately makes me feel for the characters. While I’ve definitely been moved by dramas before (not afraid to admit I cried during every episode of AnoHana I mean f*ck Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai is mother*cking long!), I’ve never felt so absolutely devastated before about having a character fail as I was watching Sakurasou.
Or as touched.
Dealing with the issues presented in Sakurasou (stress, inadequacy, interest, investment, expectations, depending on others, and more) has literally defined a good portion of my late teen years, including my outlook on life, attitudes, and motivations. Especially going onto at college, this is an issue you have to grapple with on a daily basis. As an example, take a recent news article posted to the MIT admissions website about the high-level of stress that comes from going to an Ivy League school (and college in general). It tries to describe the feeling of when you always feel insignificant, as if you always could be trying harder, as though everyone around you is smarter and more successful than you, etc. Sakurasou deals with exactly these kinds of problems. And actually deals with it well compared to the MIT essay. If you read that thing closely, you’ll realize it doesn’t actually answer the questions it poses, but just gives a nice, cute (and geeky) sob story.
It’s also great seeing a character that doesn’t wallow around in self-pity like Shinji or any of his reincarnations, such as Shu from Guilty Crown (at least during the first half),
Haruyuki from Accel World,
or Yuki from Mirai Nikki,
but actually takes action to change his own life. Because the angsty teen thing gets old fast. I mean, it works when you’re at that tender age where you start to grapple with the issue of the Self vs. the Other (I haven’t formally read Hegel, but this concept seems generalizable enough). Personally, Neon Genesis Evangelion actually helped me overcome the paranoia I had associated with social interaction thanks to Shinji, since I suffered from a (much milder) form of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma back in high school. But really, once you mature, the characters just grate on your nerves because you easily find solutions to their problems that are implementable in literally minutes!
Last season I ended up watching a good smattering of not-so-great shows (e.g. Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!, Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai, Hagure Yuusha no Estetica) simply because the main male characters weren’t emo wimps, but people who actually took action and did things! Estetica in general appealed to me (and my real-life anibros) simply because the lead was an alpha male in almost every sense of the phrase.
Sakurasou is a show that grapples with underrepresented and difficult material, does it extremely well, and includes a cast of believable characters (even Misaki and Shiina work within the context the show establishes) with great relationship dynamics. I also love to rant about things.
And with that, I’m signing off! Look forward to Kara no Kyoukai 1 stuff soon-ish.
EDIT: Well, once I finish final projects and either in the interlude before exams get underway or after finals at least. But it’s coming!
I also can’t believe with all this discussion about taking responsibility for your own happiness I forgot to mention Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (The Tatami Galaxy), where this idea is one of the main messages of the show! It’s also a one-of-a-kind show that really puts your sub-reading skills to the test.