Life, Motivation, and Sakurasou (among other things)

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.

I mean, remember our little Nae from Steins;Gate? Daughter of MISTER BRAUN? Yea that one. Cute in the anime, but absolutely killer in the Steins;Gate VN (harharhar bad joke). The VN is fantastic, by the way – if the English translation is still floating around out there, I would highly encourage you to check it out!

Well, she’s back. And hella badass moe. I think that’s a thing. Yea, let’s go with it. I also haven’t had a chance to check out the R;N VN (not being totally literate in Japanese and all), but I’ve heard good things about it. The anime so far is also quite good.

And of course, R;N wouldn’t be complete without the “Whose eyes are those eyes” reference from Chaos;Head. The anime’s decent, and the VN’s not bad. I much prefer the bad end over the good end in the VN though (which turns out to actually be quite difficult to get actually).

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.

I totally died during the Fist of the North Star parody. It was beautiful.

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.

Speaking of To Love-Ru (Darkness), Momo’s “Harm Plan” is like the best thing ever. Also, SO MUCH DARKNESS. ‘dem censors.

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.

Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer) is a good recent example of this. Kaito (the main guy) is sort of interested in filming (but nothing too intense of course), is kinda aimless, and he and his friends just sort of hang out (complete with unresolved love interests up the wazoo)… in the summer! Big surprise there. It’s only when a motherf*cking alien crashes into their life (for him, literally) that things start to change. It’s always an outside (and frequently absolutely ridiculous) catalyst that forces things to change.

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.

Shizuo’s a beast. Also, I’ve never seen anyone play chess, shouji, and go (at the same time) the way Izaya can.

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.

I would actually go so far as to say that a majority of Hyouka’s plot deals with exactly this issue. The first few episodes introduce us to apathetic Oreki, who’s talents are then showcased by Chitanda. Irisu then is the major driver that lets him starting to believe in himself and his abilities. After she “betrays” his trust, he recovers over the OVA mid-series thanks to Chitanda and crew. The next couple arcs then highlight what his changed persona does to his friends (notably Satoshi). Finally, it fleshes out the remaining characters and deals with some of Oreki’s own self-realization.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya also deals with this topic to a certain extent.

I mean, a central plot point of the movie was Kyon’s self-realization during his extended monologues. They even had mental imagery to go with it.

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).

For example, on Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun we see Natsume become infatuated with Micchan because he protects her from female bullying (and looks like a pimpstack with those sunglasses). It’s not true love (at least not yet). The dynamic between Haru and Shizuku is closer to more mature love/companionship, but because they’re such oddballs it’s not quite (will it ever be?) there.

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.

This plagues almost all VN adaptations, Little Busters! being the most recent case. I mean, after Riki is finished dealing with Komari (oh god, don’t get me started on how awful that arc was), she just fades into the background.

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.

One example of this “bro” dynamic is in Amagami SS. Umehara is just such a BRO. Like, in every sense of the phrase – he not only does manly things with Tachibana, but also talks with him about relationships and stuff…and frequently shows up for comic relief (as well as to lend a helping hand). It’s implied he and Tachibana are good friends. Actually, on the subject of VN/similar media adaptations, I thought that Amagami SS actually avoided most of the problems present in most adaptations by just restarting the story from the beginning. Well, I enjoyed the show anyways *shrugs*.

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).

Deep discussion very often take place like this.

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.

The despair I felt at having Sorata botch his first presentation was probably greater than that I felt during any scene in Air or Toradora! or Angel Beats! or Code Geass, just to name a few. I might’ve been sad, sure, but the crushing despair from failure while someone else succeeds is something else entirely. I have to admit that I didn’t handle things nearly as well as Sorata when this happened to me (although my reactions were similar). But then again, I didn’t have the friends that Sorata has. Or Mashiro.

Or as touched.

I mean, if they hadn’t switched off this scene as quickly as they did I would’ve been absolutely bawling. The small things like this are always the most touching.

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),

I mean, he was in many ways a Shinji clone. What was a cool part of the show was that this loser actually got put in charge of people. And we got to see how that changed him. Still doesn’t change the fact that Guilty Crown was, to a large extent, Code Geass meets Eva + wtf, with better animation. Plus, Egoist.

Haruyuki from Accel World,

Luckily, Haruyuki was not nearly as bad as Shinji – he mostly suffered from being a wimp and from a ginormous lack of confidence. And he manned up later in the show (somewhat). Also, Kuroyukihime is the bomb.

or Yuki from Mirai Nikki,

Enter full-blown Shinji clone. Oh man, his interactions with others were painful to watch. I also blame Yuno for giving me a yandere fetish.

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.

Akatsuki’s badassery was unbelievably refreshing compared to seasons of the above.

Well, that ends most of that rant. On a random sidenote, looks like my super original Shakespeare quote from my first post has already been reused – and in a much better context too!

In summary:

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.

Also this.

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.

The show probably can also boast the best ramen, purportedly made with real cats…? Moral compass is confused.

6 responses to “Life, Motivation, and Sakurasou (among other things)

  1. Nothing compares to Gintama. Absolutely nothing. Gintama is crack in animated form.
    Other than that, I loved your post. Keep up the good work. XD

    • Well, personal preference there. :P I do have to say I’m a bit biased here since I haven’t managed to sit down and go through Gintama (and Gintama’) seriously – I’ve only seen bits and pieces. What I have seen I’ve liked a lot though, and I was also a fan of Binbougami, which was much in the same style.

      And thanks!

  2. I confess to skimming bits of this article because I’m spoiler-paranoid, but you have certainly added Sakurasou to my to-watch list.

    That said, on the Hyouka note:

    […]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…

    I agree wholeheartedly, but I’d say that Satoshi’s character shows a bit of a trap that this can represent—he gets so caught up in the desire to be interested in something that he doesn’t let himself actually be wholeheartedly interested in anything at all. He wants something to focus on, but can’t decide on anything, so he dabbles; he gets stuck in a rut by his own fears that whatever he does, somebody else’ll do it better. So Hyouka shows us that it’s not enough to just want to be interested in something, one has to actually be willing to commit to something in particular.

    Chitanda can be accused of something similar, but if I had to make up a difference (and this is probably bullshit), I’d say: she does get interested in many specific things—but she does it un-self-consciously, and actually allows herself to commit to them without worrying about how well she can pursue them. Of course, she ends up being somewhat dependent on Oreki in the sense that she never actually does the legwork herself (that I can recall). She provides the interest (or, if you will, curiosity), but she can’t do anything with it. She has to make it infectious and pass it on to Oreki. (Hyouka, I’d say, can also be a study in co-dependence, but that’s another story for another time.)

    Oreki is Satoshi’s more obvious foil, and he succeeds where Satoshi fails because he shares Chitanda’s lack of self-consciousness, at least in a sense: he doesn’t wish to be interested in something, he is interested in something. (At least by the end of the series.) This doesn’t come out first through a desire for interest followed by a choosing of some specific interest; he simply has a specific interest. Heck, there might be a bit of a subtle skewering here of Satoshi’s role in the first few episodes—Satoshi tells Oreki that he has to be interested in something, but it only ends up working for Oreki when his interest is genuine and comes about not through some sort of interest in anything, whatever it may be (which ends up being at least a part of Satoshi’s problem), but through an interest in something.

    I’m not sure how Mayaka would fit into all this (possibly parallel to Oreki in having a particular interest, but parallel to Satoshi in lacking the self-confidence to pursue it entirely?), but this little comment’s TL;DR enough already. My apologies—I couldn’t stop thinking about it!

    • Omg – where to begin? I’d have to say that you actually hit upon several of the issues I was thinking of writing about. First off, before I list anything, I want to throw out the idea that every character is partly each other’s foil, with the dynamic being most strongly seen amongst Oreki and Satoshi. Also that the couple pairings are actually quite good (Oreki and Chitanda are obvious and I love them to death, but Satoshi and Mayaka actually are extremely good fits for each other, which makes the Valentine’s Day arc especially poignant)

      …he gets stuck in a rut by his own fears that whatever he does, somebody else’ll do it better. So Hyouka shows us that it’s not enough to just want to be interested in something, one has to actually be willing to commit to something in particular.

      Hm. You definitely hit the issue that plagues Satoshi’s character – namely, that he had to be the best. As Oreki sort of realizes/reminisces about later in the show, by the end of the series this is no longer true – he just “wants to have fun”, or enjoy life without worrying about competing with others (although this outlook is sorely tested in the Cultural Festival arc). I can empathize with this view, since it’s my own. However, Satoshi’s method for “just having fun” is to be interested in everything but invested in nothing. He fears the ups and downs that go with commitment – he doesn’t want the nerve-wracking anxiety, or the depression from failure, or the jubilation of success, but rather the slight joy you get from just piddling around with something for a bit before you walk off to do something else. Thus, he trades the mountains and valleys for the plains. While this desire to live a nice detached life is somewhat related to the fear that somewhat will do things better than him (that’s what leads to failure, after all), in the end it’s a bit more than that. Sakurasou tells us this is wrong – commitment is a good thing, and living a life with raging storms as well as clear skies is preferable to one that’s eternally partly cloudy. So far, it hasn’t dealt with the issue of competition/comparison itself, but rather taken it for granted.

      Chitanda can be accused of something similar, but if I had to make up a difference (and this is probably bullshit)…

      Chitanda’s actually a pretty tough one, especially once you get later on in the series and small cracks start to appear in her cheery persona. She actually has the opposite problem as Satoshi – she’s interested in everything, but becomes extremely invested very quickly and furthermore does it naturally (compare with Satoshi, who actually reveals he thinks about these things a lot). As for the legwork, she actually does do some background work (e.g. her notes in the opening Hyouka arc, her comments in the film club arc, and her one-episode announcement challenge with Oreki, just to name the ones that come to mind first). And yes, she is dependent on Oreki, but so is everyone else, so that’s nothing special in and of itself (emotionally’s a different story though). Your point on co-dependence is also an interesting one and one I hadn’t actually thought about, and I would be interested in hearing it.

      Heck, there might be a bit of a subtle skewering here of Satoshi’s role in the first few episodes…

      Oh, definitely. If there’s one thing KyoAni knows how to do, it’s small details (in fact, Stilts talks about this in a small footnote at the end of his most post on Chuunibyou 9 at Random Curiosity). It’s also bolstered by the fact that this is a light novel adaptation (actually part of a series!), and using small details to foreshadow is something I could easily see adapted from literature quite easily (assuming it’s good).

      As for Mayaka, I would say she is a nice mix – she’s interested something (manga), invested in it (as evidence in the Cultural Festival arc), but is also quite self-conscious and constantly dealing with the same issue Satoshi is constantly plagued by. She’s in my opinion the one who is consistently the most admirable in this regard – unlike Satoshi, who “gives up” per say, she perseveres. Oreki is a bit exempt because his talent clearly overshadows the rest (but then he has to come to terms with it, which characterizes the first half of the show), and Chitanda turns out to secretly be…well, she says she’s not depressed, so resigned maybe? Anyways, this is also quite the lengthy response – thanks for the food for thought!

      My apologies—I couldn’t stop thinking about it!

      I see what you did there >_>

  3. I really like your analysis of Satoshi’s character, as well as of Mayaka’s. They’ve both got major commitment anxiety, and the main difference I can see is that Mayaka, unlike Satoshi, knows exactly what she wants to commit to. It’s funny how your description of Satoshi’s character makes him seem like more of a representative of that “enjoy day-to-day life (but never actually do anything)” mentality than even Oreki (at least by the end of the series, that is!), and I think there’s something to that. Satoshi wears more of a mask than anyone else. (It’s this that makes him so pathetic to me. I mean it in the non-derisive sense—he inspires pathos. I love the guy.) And if I had a hard time laying my finger on Mayaka, it’s probably because her obsessive perfectionism is almost too familiar to me personally. And I’m glad to see somebody else caught on to that little bit of hope and perserverance in her.

    [Chitanda] actually has the opposite problem as Satoshi – she’s interested in everything, but becomes extremely invested very quickly and furthermore does it naturally (compare with Satoshi, who actually reveals he thinks about these things a lot). As for the legwork, she actually does do some background work (e.g. her notes in the opening Hyouka arc, her comments in the film club arc, and her one-episode announcement challenge with Oreki, just to name the ones that come to mind first).

    Whoops! I stand corrected! I probably have a little too much fun misinterpreting her character as manipulative. She isn’t, really, despite the comparisons with Irisu. Chitanda is a motivator—she sees intrigue everywhere, and I need to give her a bit more credit in terms of her actual pursuit of said intrigue.

    Your point on co-dependence is also an interesting one and one I hadn’t actually thought about, and I would be interested in hearing it.

    Well, I’ve had some thoughts on this for a while that I’ve been meaning to develop more carefully and at greater length, but in (heh) brief: All of the main characters in Hyouka are in some way deficient and incomplete at the start of the series, but what they lack, the others have (at least in part). Their development (and I’m willing to say that they all develop) comes about through some degree of receptivity to each other—Oreki doesn’t just grow because of the situations he’s placed in, but through seeing Chitanda and Satoshi and Mayaka—they develop him.

    But even though Satoshi and Oreki develop each other, they don’t entirely gain each other’s qualities. They do to some degree, but Oreki’s development with regards to Chitanda isn’t as simple as seeing that she has a more colorful view of the world, and then adopting it himself. (This isn’t Mega Man!) Rather, they develop as a group. Oreki and Satoshi grow more aware of each other’s mindset and strengths and weaknesses, and partly end up “fixing” themselves (so to speak) accordingly, but also in part grow better at covering for each other. Each grows as an individual, but above all, they grow as a group. They may be incomplete as individuals, but together, the four of them are complete. Or at least more complete.

    This is what I think the show’s very final moment is about—Chitanda and Oreki are lacking on their own, but together it’s as though they can form a new person or entity, not despite their differences, but because of them. (I realize this sounds a bit like the Aristophanes speech in the Symposium, but I’d at least like to say that what I’m talking about here isn’t romantic (or anti-romantic), in general.) This is what makes the ending of the “Why Didn’t They Ask Eba” arc, by comparison, seem like a sort of mini-tragedy: Oreki’s tragic flaw here is that he’s been too brilliant, but at the expense of the group—at the expense of others. He was not receptive. This is why Satoshi decides he has to reject Mayaka: because he is still too self-centered to give a relationship between them what it deserves.

    So it’s a weird sort of tension between an individualistic mindset (each character needs to develop and grow as an individual and to be more capable and responsible on their own) and a collectivist mindset (quite possibly, none of them will ever be totally independent and totally self-reliant; they need to bear the best interests of their group in mind, and their group will be stronger than any of them individually). Basically what you said about every character being every other character’s foil—I’m just wondering if this might be a sort of radical way of looking at that same idea.

What do you think?

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