“You are both extremely excellent students. Your grades and living habits are flawless. Eventually, you’ll both become capable people who will heighten this school’s reputation even more. I look forward to it.”
It’s a trope of anime to portray high school administration as cold, aloof and mechanically bent on setting students on “the right track”. With typical recourse to half-gendo-glasses Kare Kano paints this one Kawashima-sensei’s administrative functionality as a suppressor of love, love being the general premise of the show. Others have noted that Kare Kano stands out because it subverts the cliché that all overachieving class representatives are prickly assholes lacking terribly in empathy and invigorating youthfulness! I do enjoy the show in this respect – it provides a fresher, deeper perspective into the (more or less) “complicated” psychologies of high school students and their particular personal histories.
What Kare Kano seems to be indicate of, however, is a certain mentality of the role of the student. The role of the student is to study, to achieve, to perform up to the discursive status quo of your socioeconomic class, race, gender, age, ability, and so forth. This the show addresses clearly. Miyazawa and Arima challenge the administration, stating that they have the ability, the agency, to subvert the institutionalized, coercive norm that has established irreconcilability between academic and nonacademic life; apparently, they can do both.
In one sense, Kare Kano misses the larger picture because our protagonist duet uses their agency not to combat the hegemonic ideology of the student, but, on the contrary, to reinforce it by raising the standards to which students deemed as “excellent” (see opening quote) must meet. Now, not only must you conform to the overly-rigorous academic standards in order to fit into the ideology of the exemplary student, but your social life must be teeming with youthfulness. Briefly, yet in more complicated terms, this is when hegemony appropriates counter-hegemony (when does fighting the system actually hurt us more than them?)
So, on the one hand, perhaps you could say that Miyazawa and Arima did an excellent job of using their agency to fight the suppressive ideology of the student by making visible the fullness of their identity – they’re not merely “students”, but individuals as well. And on the other hand, you could say that the two only made the ideology of the student that much worse.
This is the larger mentality which the show is indicative of – the intent not to rewrite the boundaries of discipline but merely to contract them. Kare Kano is so very acutely aware of the larger discourse in which it is involuntarily situated because it does not bring the ideology of the student fully out of the dark. Why? – because Kawashima-sensei’s consequentialist rhetoric (nonetheless pertinent) on “the future” and “your goals” is, incidentally or otherwise, a diversionary tactic which curtains the hegemony of educational institutions by placing blame on students instead of the institution. Thus, the more leftist answer is educational reform – install “critical pedagogy” (please, don’t get me started -_-’) in order for “students” to become more than mere “students”, those passive receptacles for academic knowledge which instill in youth this problematic ideology of institutionalized identity.
So, where’s the practicability of all this, you ask? For the most part, I can only extrapolate and provide some basic data:
Nor does this graph alone say anything, but let’s pretend that near 100% of the age group 15-24 is comprised of students. It’s also important because, apparently, Japanese high school freshman are 15 upon entering, and through a series of convoluted causalities would explain the huge jump in suicide.
Given, these are statistics from 1992. Kare Kano, the manga, was published in 1995, the anime was produced in 1998. There’s really no reason for me to try and get all “scientific” based on such deplorable evidence (alas, my tongue is not of the runes!), so I’ll just say that an overly-intense Japanese work ethic is the cause for a number of youth suicides every year. One way to prevent suicide is to, well, make school a bit less suicide-inducing for Japanese students. Recently, the Japanese government initiated a counter-suicide white paper to reduce suicide by 20% within a decade. The referred to article states:
“The White Paper exposes the traditional approach in Japan of ignoring the issue altogether and presses for the kind of basic research into causes that is standard in most developed nations.”
This alleged “ignoring [of] the issue altogether” seems highly reminiscent of the anime we were just discussing – how Miyazawa and Arima merely try to prove themselves worthy of the institution’s status quo instead of trying to change the institution and its coercive status quo. That could count, if not as “ignoring the issue altogether”, then “ignoring one significant cause of the issue.”
Kawashima-sensei is surely not a pernicious conservative whose aim it is to destroy the lives on his liberal students. Perhaps I’ve portrayed him that way, but I’m certain that he has his own ideology and personal history. He’s probably from the war era, when times were tough, when, perhaps, love was secondary to financial security – love is indeed a sociopsychological privilege (more like burden?) of those affluent enough not to be worried about how many children it will take to farm your fields when you’re not able to anymore. So Kawashima-sensei’s “consequentialist rhetoric” is very important – unless you change the very structure of the global economy, you should indeed be concerned over the future of your financial security. Here is the main ethical concern of discourse (or as some scholars like to floridly call it, semiotic demand setting): should we be concerned with the immediate or the long-term? How do we reconcile the two? By directing discourse towards the suppressive features of Japanese pedagogy we then label the positive aspects of such pedagogy as “diversionary tactics”. On the flipside, ignoring your financial future in favor of high school rabu rabu could indeed ruin the rest of your life (possibly leading to suicide!). Whatever the most pragmatic answer is, I think the first step (and in related scenarios) is to be aware of the extent of the situation and all its possibilities of development. The first step, at least for me, is political consciousness.
Back to the damn anime
Does Kare Kano directly address most of the aforementioned stuff? No (nor any other anime I’ve seen). The anime is a love story about two high school students overcoming obstacles that impede their love, it’s not about complex social theory. I don’t think the anime sympathizes with Kawashima-sensei as I have. That makes the anime that much more shallow – it’s an empathy based on cliché binaries of good and bad. The anime does not present complex and problematic ethical questions, but merely an easy way for the viewer to relate to the typified struggle of high school romance. Finally, this is not to say that all I have just excreted is false – cultural texts are always situated, involuntarily or otherwise, in political and ideological terrains. Blah blah blah, watch the show, it’s enjoyable!
 Why does this remind me of leftist rhetoric on recycling? – try and reduce trash before you think of expensive and sometimes ineffective ways of moving trash around.