Beware. Long personal story ahead that is divided into three posts.
Everybody would most likely have experienced an anime moment play out in real life. It may be more common in those whose lives thus far have been filled with friendship drama, love triangle, or even if it’s just a simple romance. Anime and manga, mediums which encapsulate relatable moments, thought processes and emotions, sometimes aim to reflect the more realistic aspects of life, even if some of that is done in a comedic manner. However, in between realism and anime clichés that are unique to these Japanese forms of entertainment, most anime fans would have subconsciously gained enough knowledge to experience the eureka moment at least once, for example ‘ah, that was a classic high school romcom moment’, or ‘omg, that’s what always happens in shoujo’ as we go about our lives.
I don’t think I am part of the exception, though mostly I put these spur-of-the-moment feelings down to the fact that (a) I must have been watching too much anime lately, or (b) it must have just been my overactive imagination. As such, if you asked me this question a few months before, I would have told you that nope, it isn’t really that possible.
Yet, it was when I started watching Food Wars some time after its completion when this eureka moment happened. As those who are familiar with the show would probably agree, the protagonist’s partner, Megumi, had always taken the secondary role in terms of showcasing her ability to cook. Souma stole the limelight for a good part of the first half of the series, and the Megumi we knew then was just his sidekick. Having low self-confidence in herself, she played the part of the female character that was in awe and wonder of his ability, a cardboard character trope that we have seen all too often.
So when Megumi was asked to take on the role of head chef in their two-person team, with Souma relegated forcefully to the position of sous chef, her feelings of fear and self-doubt played out before me, with a sense of déjà vu and an uncanny resonance of relatability. That fear of carrying the fate of her teammate and her friend who had helped her all along, Souma, and the thought processes that went through her head struck so profoundly within me that I experienced the aforesaid eureka moment.
This post was inspired by the abovementioned Food Wars’ moment, but my story itself contains too many other elements arguably similar to anime that I cannot pinpoint to any particular series. Read on to see what I mean, though beware, as it is a personal story and written in narrative style.
My Personal Story
I have always had trouble thinking on my feet. Whenever it came to Q&A sessions during project presentations and a question is directed to me, my mind goes blank. Whatever seemed logical and reasonable suddenly becomes a mess of sludge in my brain. I find myself unable to think of anything to answer, especially when the question is usually of the sort to point out loopholes in the reasoning, and where a rebuttal is needed to defend the project’s stand. So, what happens in real time, is me being stunned on the spot, keeping silent while my brain tries to work out an answer. As such, usually my groupmates will instead end up answering the questions, because they manage to formulate a coherent answer faster than me.
I don’t think of myself as incompetent, and just merely perhaps a little less adept at the skill of thinking and speaking at the same time. I comforted myself with that, reasoning that since the group’s grade was at stake, it may not be entirely bad to leave the questions to those who could answer, instead of letting lousy me take a chance – and perhaps screw it up. Hence, I depended largely on my groupmates, who either reasoned the same way as me, or if they were nice enough, did not find fault with me given that with the exception of answering questions, I could still do everything properly, including the oral presentation itself. Hence that was still enough to mark me as a ‘reasonably adequate’ group member, and made my brain still ‘marketable’ in the predominant school climate of insane competition, bell curves, and basically everybody clamoring for an A grade.
Then there was one particular presentation where my friend, who silently understood my pain, was helping me deflect questions. He even answered questions for my part when I looked like I was put in a difficult spot. Which was, basically, all the time. It was a particularly grueling Q&A session, and my brain was already mush from standing in front of the room for thirty minutes.
Then my professor directed a question to me. It was a little unexpected given she didn’t direct any question to any particular group member before.
There were about ten incredibly long seconds of silence. The class was so silent that I could hear my heart suddenly hammering very loud in my chest. My palms were breaking out in cold sweat.
Silence. I hate these periods of silence. They take forever.
My friend started to say something. “Professor, perhaps I could help her answer this … “
And then my professor said it. “You can save her this time again, as you have done for the last half an hour, and this session will end. But are you always going to save her? Are you always going to be there to save her? She needs to learn to do this on her own.”
As the class started to snigger and my friend gave me a slightly embarrassed and apologetic, but encouraging glance, my professor turned to me and said. “C, answer the question.”
My heart exploded with shame, guilt, self-contempt, and fear. Shame that I probably didn’t try hard enough. Guilt that I exposed my friend, who was only acting with good intentions, to such a remark from my professor in front of the entire class. Self-contempt that I just depended on my teammates just like that, even though everybody put in as much work as I did, so by me trying to shirk out of my duty to answer questions, I still inevitably end up free-load off them. Fear that if my answers weren’t good enough, I may pull their grade down.
If it was only my grade at stake, I don’t mind doing it. But if it would pull the others down, I was so afraid that I would affect their grades negatively.
My stomach plunged with that thought.
Even though my friend later continuously reassured me that the argument I eventually croaked out tentatively was actually a good one, and though we got a good grade for the project, this remark remained at the back of my mind for quite a long time.
(To be continued in Part 2)