Name of Anime: Sakura Diaries
Streaming Site Used: Mystery DVD sale from Crunchyroll
Episodes Previously Seen: none
Sakura Diaries is exactly the type of show that I started this (old) trash project to find.
It’s the type of anime that Japan doesn’t make any more, and I have real difficulty finding any shows that combine this kind of Japanese social realism, eroticism, and hatred of its main character. What few socially realistic shows released recently focus their vitriol on japanese society, not the main character. Shows that hate their main character are rarely erotic in his way.
It’s also a show that is a product of its time, in the same way Birth of a Nation is: it has profound ethical problems in the content that almost nullify any attempt at real criticism beyond, “This show is bad and its writer should feel bad.” But we’ll give it a shot.
So, there’s this guy. For reasons that will be obvious in a minute, I’m gonna call him Rapist-kun:
He’s a ronin, meaning he failed his entrance exams into college, and so is living with his cousin who’s in love with him while he tries to lust after a beautiful woman he met whom he attempted to impress by claiming he went to the nearby prestigious university.
Anyway, this episode begins with Cousin-chan confronting Rapist-chan:
Because he “attacked” her the previous night while drunk.
And after showing the audience this important sequence of shots–
–Cousin-Chan forgives him, as long as he’ll go on a date with her.
I’m not going to spend enough time analyzing how fucking awful that plot point is, because frankly, if I did that, this post would be longer than our entire “Best of 2015” series. In short: all of the core ideas of rape culture are present in this one interaction. Claiming drunkenness as a motivator/excuse for inappropriate behavior, and the implication this is an expected part of masculinity, is the least worrying part. Much worse is the sheer trivialization by Cousin-chan of the (what I sincerely hope was just an “attempted”) assault, something that is barely motivated by her character traits. The implication that a lack of consent is somehow less egregious because the character “wanted” the assailant is a cancer on modern culture and media.
The crowning moment of “this is bad and you should feel bad” is this line later on in the episode, when Cousin-chan explains why she didn’t “mind” the assault:
I can’t even. Fuck it. Fuck this show. And fuck it, moving on.
So Rapist-kun calls up the girl he really likes:
And she wants to meet him after class. This spawns the most graphically sexual part of the episode, where we are treated to his fantasies about this girl. (I’ll call her NotOTP-chan).
This is followed by the the only interesting part of the episode: A random dude catches Rapist-chan air-groping.
Any show that respected its protagonist (or that wanted to prioritize the viewer’s aesthetic pleasure) wouldn’t have taken such delight in showing how buffoonish (look at the facial expression on Rapist-kun’s face when the salaryman sees him) and embarrassing the main character is.
This theme is exactly what is missing from modern MC-kun shows: despite representing the same sexual politics as in modern animes, this show blames the main character for his character flaws, rather than celebrating them.
Anyway, the episode ends with Rapist-kun being caught by Douchebag-san (who has realized that Rapist-kun’s not really a student, but can’t prove it yet):
Douchebag-san drags him to karaoke with NotOTP-chan. At karaoke, Cousin-chan sees Rapist-kun. OH MY!
And yes, this happens too, because this show is in a strange “have your cake and eat it too” mindset.
There’s nothing this scene adds except voyeuristic pleasure, and it’s still in the middle of a show that doesn’t seem to like or respect any of its characters.
This show is not trash. But it’s bad. The simultaneous eroticism and critique of that eroticism explains why the casual, brain off viewer finds this sort of thing less problematic than, say, Gate.
This show reminds me that ronin are a much less common protagonist in anime today than they used to be. This probably reflects anime’s long journey down the path of examining ideas from other anime, manga, and light novels rather than exploring the actual society of both the creators and the viewers. The other explanation for this is that the entrance exam/ronin situation is a uniquely Japanese issue, making the shows less marketable overseas. That does not, however, explain the frequency of Japanese high school students in modern anime.
What makes Sakura Diaries so strange is that is reminds me of something else that I’d almost forgotten: most high school animes feature characters who never act like actual 14-17 year olds; they are hyper competent (Praise Tatsuya-sama), or they are so heavily archetypes (or moe, depending on whether you think those are the same thing) that they are barely characters.
Sakura Diaries is a show about an 18-year-old jerk with terrible ideas of masculinity and gender roles, a habit of dishonesty, and an almost utter disregard for the thoughts and feelings of others. He appears to be motivated by a sense of social shame, not any real appreciation of others’ emotions or intrinsic humanity. He is, therefore, an actual character, and a reflection of some of the social realities of his environment.
That’s not saying this is a good show. For how long this show is, the characterization varies between thin and nonexistent. Its pacing is terrible–just fucking awful. This is episode seven, but it only has enough plot for half an episode, and should have been episode four (at the very latest) of any properly structured show. Making a character look bufoonish is not enough to hide the fact that this show shares far too many of its protagonist’s problematic ideas about gender, entitlement and sex. And most reminiscent of modern trash, this show does nothing to show why Cousin-chan feels anything. The idea that, because you are a main character, you are owed females who fall for you without any reason, is the idea that became “MC-kun” in modern anime.
Rather than improving on Sakura Diaries‘ issues, anime took a different turn. Welcome to the NHK and Watamote! are this show’s spiritual successors, embracing a new kind of main character as flawed, one that reflects another Japanese social phenomenon (NEETs/hikkikomoris). But the majority of the medium seems to have taken one of Sakura Diaries‘ worst ideas (sexual entitlement based on plot importance), and sanded down the creepiness of the main character (often using denseness, so that the main character doesn’t understand that every female he encounters is throwing herself at him) so that they could begin to celebrate, rather than mock, the character’s “flaws” and unfortunate narrative. The result is MC-kun.
But MC-Kun doesn’t make me nearly as uncomfortable as Rapist-kun does. Also, the pure formula the MC-kun protagonist allows for means that newer shows can have much better pacing. So I guess I’m defending Infinite Stratos. FUUUUUUUUUCK
So I guess I’ll go rewatch that now. (Charlotte x Laura for life!)