The Aria series occupies a special place in many anime fans’ hearts, for good reason. It truly is a wonderful show. I thought about it today while watching Tamayura, another series by the same creator.
I’m only up about half-way through episode 2 of Tamayura, and they introduced a couple of very nice male characters. They are masculine, energetic, flirtatious and yet good, nurturing people. Seeing men portrayed in this way made me realize how seldom it happens in this genre. Usually men just don’t exist, leaving the focus on the female characters and the female world.
Female world is the right term. Interchangeably, we could use the old Japanese concept of the Floating World, a metaphor Aria conjures directly. Once again, Aria is an all-time great series, and the analysis that follows shouldn’t be seen as an attack on it. Partially this is because Aria and Tamayura have men in them and portray them positively.
Unfortunately, shows like Azumanga, Keion, Hidamari and, yes, Yuyushiki don’t, so they’re more culpable. Culpable? What the fuck am I saying?
Time for a history lesson!
For whatever reason, the rise of agriculture (or any system where people stockpiled food) has led to patriarchy. Not this generalized, ephemeral “patriarchy” that feminists tend to complain about, but a real social structure where women were considered subhuman property. Indeed, daughters were often used in trade for livestock and other material goods.
So we have some market incentives in play. And whenever that happens, we get people trying to blow smoke up each other’s asses, which is where the whole “floating world” thing comes in. The “floating world” is a subset of “mysterious, other-worldly, insanely desirable woman” schtick. Of course, women aren’t especially mysterious or other-worldly; they’re primarily composed of meat, along with substantial amounts of bone, as well as some void spaces and patches of liquid and other stuff.
Who wants to buy that, when you can get the ephemeral nymph? This being the shape of the market, the “floating world” is marketing hype. It’s the Reality Distortion Field, and the women are the iPhones. But along with the positive hype comes the flip-side: you are lacking! You have a need only this product can fill! Order now!
Being wanting is the human condition, sure. But what we’re looking at is a destructive, multi-millennia marketing campaign that has deeply worked itself into the minds and feelings of basically everyone. We end up with unrealistic roles for ourselves and others, norms which are both unattainable and degrading at once. Women are burdened by supporting a mystery that doesn’t exist, while men have to somehow be worthy of sheltering that nonsense ideal.
And then there’s the shadow these archetypes cast on each other: women take on the weakness and fragility that men seek to suppress, while men take on the coarseness and meat-reality that women try to hide.
Sorry for the gender studies 101 blather, I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page. The point is that while these shows do good in providing soothing, floating feelings by allowing us to enjoy the characters’ feminine world, there is a constant unspoken implication that the masculine side is dirtying, stressful, mean.
For me, at least, this negativity has built up over time, watching these shows. I love the healing genre, I love much of femininity, and the worlds presented in these works. But seeing these good men in Tamayura, I was struck at once. I felt a subtle self-loathing slip away. Hopefully, other artists will learn from this and improve their future work.