One common element shared by far majority of TV anime is the high school setting. Many of us who watch anime regularly may have long since gotten used to this subtle background fact of life.
Invariably a lot of the material used to make anime are aimed for the adolescent crowd, so high schools are popular settings by extension. But what is high school life like for a Japanese kid? I have no first-person experience, so I can’t say. I imagine for the lot of the non-Asian viewers, that will be the case.
Even if the Japanese education system is a bit of a hybrid between East and West, the focus on entrance exams has long twisted the Japanese education system, on practical grounds, as a means of a guide to some sort of standard of education, a setting of norm. If you did well in school you would have a shot at getting into a good college, and from that a decent job opportunity. If you’re just an egghead, then you will naturally excel in academics and if you end up in academia, all the more better. If you don’t do so well in school, there’s always hard, sweat-of-the-brow work. Or, marriage and home making.
But being an exaggerated means of escapism, anime and manga as I observed it…well, no one likes to be reminded of their day-to-day reality, especially that one big fat exam which torments their collective, uncertain future. Sure, we all can share with living under that sort of stress to some degree, but it’s another story to experience life in a society where that’s everything.
A bit of sharing: at my cram class today the professor decided to do a bit of public service and reminded us the best way to relieve anxiety is to place the impending exam in context: that there is something more important in life than one’s career, or one’s job prospect, or what will happen to us if we fail. Gain an appreciation for life right now; we are probably more fortunate than many others. At the least, not being totally strung out on stress is likely help your exam performance.
But at the same time, this stress is appreciated. It gives you a perspective.
Utopia is where Manabi Straight takes place. It’s a world without that perspective, or I should say, it actually realizes a set of fears many people in Japan should have: that when people graduate, they won’t have jobs; when people graduate, they’ll find themselves holding a depreciated piece of paper because everyone has one; when people graduate, they’ll do the same things people who are younger are doing a better job with, thanks to the future curve; when people graduate, they won’t find a more fulfilling life than before they graduate.
So what does schooling offer them? Why are we spending time milling away when we could be starting our careers today? Just because some people pay you more later on? Perhaps that is counter to the harsh reality of today, but the stress won’t end.
At the end of it all, I guess, the point is that anime is entertainment, but the healing nature of Manabi Straight comes across as the background theme behind all the commotion that we talk about. It’s a calculated effort; a show for freeters and salarymen and just those people struggling with their grinds from one period of their life to the next.