A comprehensive review, commentary and personal musical ‘thoughts and impressions’ post on Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Spoilers present until the ‘Musical Aspect’ section.
A comprehensive review, commentary and personal musical ‘thoughts and impressions’ post on Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Spoilers present until the ‘Musical Aspect’ section.
If there is anything that can be argued to exist in all entertainment, that would be the concept of strength. Viewers and creators alike are so enamoured with this notion of power that it is given all sorts of twists. A cornerstone of the action genre is multiple battles of strength between protagonists and antagonists, and these occupy the climaxes of the story. Strength here is usually portrayed as a pure manifestation of physical strength of good triumphs over evil.
“Animals naturally form packs.
Carnivores form social hierarchies within their packs. Those that fail to become alphas harbor the burden of failure until they die. I’m sure the herbivores feel guilt as they sacrifice their comrades to evade their predators and live on.”
Hikigaya Hachiman, Episode 2
The social hierarchy is a curious thing. It represents a natural form of order whenever a cluster of individuals is brought together to govern and live in the same place. It is certainly not confined to the teenage age group, though it is more prevalent and holds more invisible authority over those more emotionally susceptible to concepts like conformance, the ‘norm’, and the ability to ‘fit in’. Even as we grow beyond childish, unjustifiable social alliances then that bedeviled our teenage existence, and we laugh, adulthood brings certain realities and societal expectations that are merely a macro-effect of what we experience in school. Except that it looms over us like a dark cloud we try desperately to ignore as we go about doing ‘adult’ things like finding a job, trying not to get scolded by your boss and paying your bills. We feel strangled as a prior life of undulations as we knew it, be it grey or rose-tinted, evens out into a monotonous never-ending straight line. Even if we know that we can be our own person – which were the cornerstones of concerns during our younger years – we are restricted by duties and responsibilities.
Greetings people! Welcome to a series of posts that is based off the anime known as Yahari Ore No Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru, also known as My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. SNAFU offers a rich, realistic, and thought provoking social commentary into school life which many identify with including me. Hence, I thought that it would be apt to share the many life lessons that one can reap just from a single episode of SNAFU, and my personal thoughts on these. Minor spoilers ahead!
This is my first post in a new segment I have started called ‘Musings of an Asian girl in an Asian society’, where I aim to discuss social phenomenon or social issues from the perspective of an Asian girl living in a rather conservative society. My idea for this segment mainly comes from the large cultural differences between Western and Asian culture, and I also find it interesting to see how different or similar perspectives can be even if we are large fans of Japanese/Asian culture.
I refer to CheesyJ‘s post On Love, Reality and Fiction, an academic musing (which you can view here) on the topic of the phenomenon of developing romantic feelings and/or affection for fictional characters. In recent years, otaku’s proclamations of wanting their union with fictional characters to be recognised officially have garnered international media attention. CheesyJ refers to merely but two of such individuals, amongst a small but growing community of people who think the same way. Society’s reactions have been largely negative. The less open-minded lash out at the alleged ‘abnormality’ of these individuals and relegate the blame to the ‘poisonous’ ability of Japanese soft culture to change the fundamental way romantic relationships are constructed, no doubt an unduly harsh accusation. Even some of us who are lovers of the same entertainment medium (anime, manga, Japanese visual novels) would raise their eyebrows or shake their heads at such a proposition. Personally, my concern lay with the fact that this was yet another piece of news undermining the already precarious social position that Japanese soft media and the presence of otakus in society occupy, subjecting a community who merely genuinely appreciate Japanese media and wish to pursue our interests (though manifested in different ways according to the individual) to inordinate levels of scrutiny by the predatory public eye. This smacks of a species of discrimination or bias that other kinds of interests or hobbies do not have the misfortune of being prey to.
Being inspired by CheesyJ’s post, I decided to pen down some of my thoughts on this issue, as well as address some of the points he has brought up. In his article, he explores some of the possible origins of this phenomenon: the information age changing notions on love, sexuality and relationships and the evolution of our relationship with media, just to name a few.
Indeed, all of these factors may have some part to play, but the liberalisation of sexuality notions and the possibility of being able to practice them in society is an undoubtedly major push factor. Homosexuality, bestiality, and other less conventional forms of sexualities have been in existence in histories of civilisations and conquerors, no less unique to any nationality, though mostly shushed or described as an ‘affliction’ of sorts, inviting pity or thinly veiled disgust. Due to fear of being unaccepted in a more restrictive society, any ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ romantic tendencies were more likely suppressed and killed in the crib in preference for heterosexual union and society’s more approving glances. By analogy, it will not be too far of a leap to contemplate the possibility of attraction to a fictional character and being in love with him or her being in existence since time immemorial, and not a novel idea (pun unintended) that has only gained traction in this highly globalised and modernised world. Yet, in a time where the only fiction existed through words and plays (the latter which could be played off as being attracted to the actor or performer him or herself), such ideas could not have developed further. As motion pictures and the medium known as television came into existence, the lines between reality and fiction become much more blurred. With notions of freedom of belief and practice of sexuality becoming widespread and a form of entitlement or a fundamental cornerstone of human rights and dignity, it is no wonder that unconventional ways of living have began to ‘surface’ from the depths where they have stayed, hidden and afraid of being discovered, for so long.
Next I come to the crux of the issue – is it really possible to ‘love’, or develop feelings of affection for a fictional character? CheesyJ zeroes in on this in his post and argues that fiction is derived from imagination, which is made out of ideas gleaned from what we experience, in reality. In fact, he shows that the relationship between reality and fiction is circular, as “the imagination is the interior process by which we document, remember and interpret our world”, thereby shaping our perspectives and how we essentially view reality and interpret those experiences to be. In other words, fiction may shape reality as well, and reality to us is merely a form of subjective perception as our minds and imagination act as a filter, and there is no ‘objective’ form of reality. He also illustrates the phenomenon with the example of moe. (I am afraid I may have summarised his arguments too briefly here to fully give him credit, but see his post for a more detailed discussion on these points.)
Despite the circularity of the relationship between reality and fiction and their origin, however, I believe there still lies a notable difference between the two. Assuming rationality here, a person is vastly limited in the amount of ways he or she can interpret reality. In fiction, it is possible for us to see what we want to see because of the mere fact that it is created – even in fiction, we subconsciously choose to see and love only characters that appeal to our emotional sense or trigger feelings of affection and disregard the rest. There is, literally, room for imagination about how a character will behave and interact with you, the real person, as you, the audience, ultimately control all the ways of interpreting a character. In contrast, in reality, there is less room to subjectively select what we want to experience because of the constraint of other factors that are more difficult to ignore, unless you are a believer of the sheer power of will and mind and its ability to change the signals that our five senses send to our brains (which undoubtedly, doesn’t actually exist in every living moment, but under immense pressure or a product of survival instinct.)
Yet, the question isn’t really resolved unless we tackle the really controversial core of the issue: are the feelings that one may feel for a fictional character really ‘love’ or are they actually a lesser form of affection? It is true, as CheesyJ argues, that attraction can arise from various reasons that could be attributed to our own subjective views, coloured by our imaginations. In fact, that we are individuals attracted to not the same person (or character) presents a very strong argument for that presence of the subjective fiction. However, this only relates to attraction and – merely – feelings of affection. A fictional character is limited in his or her ways of presentation to the viewer. I agree that it is possible for one to experience both sexual and emotional attraction, for example, feelings of desire, for a character because the way he or she behaves and looks can trigger such reactions (clearly, its creators also know this). However, the nature of the character, being fictional, allows one’s imaginations to run wild in bringing the character out of its created context, and this is likely to be done in the way that presents the character in line with one’s subconscious biases and preferences. In other words, a character may be the perfect manifestation of a partner in a romantic relationship, but this may be only due to one’s subjective conscious shaping and moulding him or her into who or what one wants the character to be and to represent.
We return to the analogy of a relationship between two people in real life. All that has been described in the above paragraph undeniably governs the initial stages of a relationship. Yet, that is not love. Love is a more complex state of being or emotion that is hard to define, and may be constantly evolving. However, what is clear is that love also involves seeing and accepting the inconsistencies that exist in human nature and unpredictability of change in the circumstances surrounding a relationship that would impact, whether large or small, the nature of the relationship and the people in that relationship as well. Even slightly wavering from one’s principles or doubting them would constitute change. However, this will not be experienced if one party is a fictional character. The character will not ‘experience’ anything nor will the character react and adapt to any change in the surrounding circumstances. The person, in that situation, will still continue to take in external stimuli which will mould his or her perception little by little, even if he remains a staunch hikikomori for the rest of his life. With one party changing and the other not, ‘love’ will not be for long.
Whatever emotions we experience in every moment we live are in no doubt, real, as they are a reaction that is borne from who we are. However, it is one thing to call these emotions real and another to say that it is possible for it to develop into a complex notion like ‘love’, especially when we seek to bring its standard to a high one like romantic love for another person and/or being in a romantic relationship. Having said that, technological advancements have made the development of visual novel characters with the requisite artificial intelligence to respond to external commands in a sufficiently realistic, humane way a distinct but upcoming possibility. This question can only become a more difficult one to answer, and it remains to be seen whether a future would arrive where a relationship with a fictional character can be accorded the same respect as a relationship with a real person.
I thank CheesyJ for writing a great original post on this topic that has given me the inspiration to write this, and has given me permission to reply to his post in a post instead of a comment. What I have written contains my personal opinions which come out stronger towards the end, but I like to think that I only arrive at this conclusion through a logical thought process and I try to minimise as much subjectivity as possible. Do leave a like and/or comment if you like what you read or if you want to share your thoughts and I’ll be happy to discuss any of this with you (: All in all, I had tons of excruciating and painfully awesome fun generating and organising my thoughts on such a serious subject matter. Hope you guys enjoyed reading! Off to write my next Top Anime post 😀
Now that I have completed my spoiler-free review, its on to the juicy parts and what I really feel about what has transpired throughout in the series. Our three main characters’ actions and the decisions they make warrant particular scrutiny, and more often than not, they make me (us) wonder, would I have done the same thing as him/her if I were in the same position? I believe there are plenty of arguments that support or detract from what the characters ultimately chose to do, and herein lies the crux of the series and how controversial it can potentially be.
*contains spoilers from this point on*
There probably isn’t any other way to go about doing this other than evaluating the resolution or conclusion to this series. Haruki realises that he is in love with Touma, and it is painful especially the way they both realise their love for each other too late, and how they just are dying to cling to each other for one more desperate moment, before they are separated by Touma flying off to a country thousands of miles away with no certain promise of their meeting again. In their moments of desperation they throw away all their inhibitions and embrace each other, like they are each other’s oxygen, at the airport. They kiss each other like there is no tomorrow (pretty justified here though) in front of a crying Setsuna, the ‘loser’ of the love triangle. I remember my first thoughts at this undoubtedly cruel and jarring scene – how could they do this to Setsuna, who loves the both of them, to showcase their love for each other so selfishly, like a literal slap to her face, when they know Setsuna is so in love with Haruki? How could they bear to hurt her, when they also care for her?
But wait a minute. Is Setsuna the real pitiable one here, or is it really the starcrossed lovers torn apart, a situation that has developed and only arose undoubtedly due to Setsuna’s selfishness in the first place? After all, Touma is the one who left, and Setsuna is the one left behind. She is in the best place to console Haruki, who clearly also cares for her to an extent (just not as much as Touma). And it is clear she would continue doing so despite knowing that Haruki’s heart belongs to another, and Haruki in all his weakness and emotional vulnerability from loving and losing Touma, leaves Setsuna the best chance she has had so far, really, to enter Haruki’s heart once and for all, to be the the one who heals him.
But what of Haruki’s feelings towards Touma? You may ask. Surely you can’t expect their feelings to be so weak that Touma’s position in Haruki’s heart would be so easily usurped by Setsuna, merely because of Touma’s physical absence, especially given that heartbreaking display of love in those final moments. However, this is Setsuna we are talking about. Setsuna, who has demonstrated tremendous amounts of patience and unconditional love despite knowing of Haruki and Touma’s true feelings. She would no doubt continue to stay by Haruki’s side, and since Haruki never drew those lines so clearly in the first place there is arguably lesser doubt that he may do so now, especially when Setsuna is the only lifeline he holds now in this disastrous state of affairs with the trio torn apart, and because of his feelings of guilt toward her.
So whose fault is it?
It is now apposite to consider the question of who is most blameworthy for causing this unhappy ending, which is probably the worst ending within realistic confines without pulling the oft-used cliched plot development of somebody suddenly dying in a car crash or coming down with a bout of amnesia, commonly used in certain dramas.
We may all first point to Setsuna, since her actions had pretty much resulted in this mess. She had actually realised that Touma and Haruki were developing feelings for each other, so she forced herself between the two by confessing to Haruki immediately after the school festival, knowing that Haruki would accept her in his confusion and having yet to have time to sort out his own feelings. By not flaring up at Haruki and/or Touma for Haruki’s behaviour of skipping out on her birthday party just to see Touma and eventually the exposure of the truth of Haruki’s emotional (and perhaps physical) infidelity towards her, she puts herself in a position where Haruki can’t leave her because of the guilt he feels. Her kindness and confession to Haruki that ‘it was all her fault’ on that last train ride to the airport was a very smart move. We may very well be looking at one of the most manipulative female mains in pursuit of romance, ever.
However, isn’t Setsuna admittedly the most real character in this anime? What is wrong with self-preservation and wanting to secure one’s own happiness even at the expense of others? If we are the ones in her position, standing at the periphery looking in at two people and always being the ‘outsider’, what is to stop us from taking active steps to ensure that we still ‘win’? We know real people who are so hopelessly in love can never be noble and selfless enough to truly walk away. Setsuna is the manifestation of our deepest and darkest desires to turn the situation in our favour whenever we can, and whenever the information asymmetry especially to our advantage, clearly the case here with Setsuna, who realised where everybody stood in terms of relationships first.
Moreover, aren’t Haruki and Touma equally at fault here? If Touma had done the confession right at that time she had with Haruki, she would have gotten Haruki then and there. The secret kiss she gave him then meant that she had already realised the truth and depth of her feelings – yet why did she not take action, especially when she was already, there, first? To be honest, watching that scene and realising at the end that things would have changed if she just had the courage to do that, makes me endlessly frustrated. Yet, this is also in character for Touma, the cold, lonely tsundere who comes to terms with her own feelings a little later than the average girl (i.e. Setsuna). If only she broke through her character and had the courage there and then … but we would have White Album 2 anymore.
As for Haruki, a particularly easy criticism to level at his behaviour would be his denseness in the entire situation – how could he have not known who he truly loved? However, this is easier said than done. We must recall that the relationship between the three of them was very tight; we saw how three different individuals from different walks of life and carrying different emotional baggage come together, align their goals with each other, be honest about their pasts and create tons of memories together. It really couldn’t have been easy for Haruki. He did also sense that Touma had feelings of more than friendship towards him, but those were fleeting guesses which never got much confirmation from Touma because she is also extremely good at hiding her feelings. It is no wonder he continued to stumble forward, blindly in the hope that he would grow to love Setsuna and within the comfortable bubble that Setsuna had already constructed for him.
But since Haruki is actually the one choosing the girl, it becomes easier to push more blame to him. After all, he was really, terribly bad at managing his feelings – skipping Setsuna’s birthday just to see Touma, even though he knows he owes Setsuna a lot, kissing Touma right in front of Setsuna. I frown at disapproval at all these actions, but I admit that it was just incredibly bad timing overall. Put the guy in a different anime, and he’ll probably be a whole lot more likable.
Who do I support?
After all that, its a wonder when I say I actually support Touma x Haruki. However, I find myself continually defending and supporting Setsuna, who definitely does not deserve hate, but maybe pity. Perhaps this is also substantiated by the understanding that more often than not in real life, the girl who takes on Setsuna’s approach will probably be the one who ‘wins’ in the end. I say this from experiences of people I know; the conclusion may very well be very different or even the opposite for some. For me, Setsuna is too real a character for me to discard as an ‘antagonist’ – she is not at fault, and neither are Touma and Haruki for that matter.
I realise my rant has become somewhat logical and objective, but I hope you guys see where I am coming from. Please feel free to share any thoughts you have, especially if you have seen WA2!