Something that has increasingly come to my attention over the years I’ve spent watching anime is the awkwardness that so very often pervades the interactions between casts of characters. Conversations are often far too polite, stiff even, in spite of the fact that the characters have usually known each other for a very long time. This is most obvious when the cast is made up mostly of female characters. There is a disturbing lack of that light-hearted ridicule that I myself am regularly subject to by my few friends, or observe so often in the friendship of others. And sometimes when a character attempts to turn something another character says or does into a joke, that can often come across as awkward too due to the character on the receiving end of the joke’s aggressive overreaction to it. I’m thinking pretty much every interaction Sunohara ever had with Tomoyo here! And, if you couldn’t tell from the fact that I’m writing a post focusing on the very subject, that’s something that bothers me somewhat.
Now, that isn’t to say that a cast of characters who know each other well enough to know that it’s OK to have a bit of a laugh don’t exist, they’re just something of a rarity! I always felt that Persona 4 and Steins;Gate had a great rapport going on between the characters. They could all tease one another ‘til they were blue in the face, and were so darn entertaining I could quite happily settle for spin-off shows that involve them just hangin’ out! But what else I liked about these two groups of characters is that it was really made obvious that they only ridiculed one another because they were comfortable enough in each other’s presence to know it was acceptable- as soon as the situation shifted and a level of maturity and tact was required, the laughter immediately stopped and they were all there for one another. So not only were these relationships entertaining to watch, they were incredibly touching too.
Now it’s difficult to pinpoint why exactly it is that casts of characters like the two mentioned above are so rare, and instead why there’s an excessive mountain of characters that treat each other like strangers when they’re supposed to be close friends… I guess the staff on board the production of a show is one possible factor. Obviously if a director, someone working on series composition, or script-writer believes it is inappropriate for characters to make a joke at another’s expense, that will translate into the show itself, and if that is the case, it’s important to then consider why there is such a multitude of anime production staff out there that believes it unfitting for characters to have those kind of interactions. Now I’m tempted to put that down to the kind of culture they belong to- the Japanese are notoriously polite people, so perhaps relationships like the ones that can be found in K-ON and Kimi ni Todoke, for example, are more commonplace than the kind of relationships in both Persona 4 and Steins;Gate and that is reflected in the amount of times they’re presented in anime? Or perhaps, in such a male-dominated industry, it is commonly believed that us women really do treat each other in that overly-polite manner that is so often seen in anime? Perhaps all this nice-ness is just a result of men acting on pre-conceived gender stereotypes? Yes Ty, if all else fails, blame men! On the other hand, characters who treat their friends in such a stiff, excessively formal way can also be found in shows where women have had some kind of a say in how they behave. To illustrate, Reiko Yoshida helped write out scripts for Aria, K-ON and Tamayura, three shows with an almost inconceivable amount of niceness between characters! So the sheer number of friendship groups that treat each this way could be the result of a culture difference after all… I mean, just take a look at some cartoons of Western origin, I can guarantee you won’t find such insipid levels of loveliness. I mean, did Toph and Katara ever sit down and discuss how lovely the weather is and how wonderful friendship can be over cups of tea and slices of cake? No. I don’t believe they did.
In any case, all this unnecessary formality is something I’m not sure I like- I just can’t help but feel that being able to have fun and laugh at one another from time to time is something that’s pretty important in a friendship- it indicates how secure you are with the people in question as well as how well you must all know each other to push the appropriate metaphorical buttons without taking it too far successfully. You know, I’d even go as far as to say, without being able to do this, true friendship isn’t even possible, which is why anime friendships that lack a little banter, where characters are insufferably nice to one another, just feel forced and fake, and that’s not at all fun to watch, not really. I suppose it can be considered somewhat of a novelty- as do all things you’re not accustomed to- but after that wears off, you’re not left with a great deal- ‘cause how can you grow attached to a group of characters whose behaviour feels so artificial? And if you can’t grow attached to a group of characters, you’re not going to care what happens to them as the show progresses, and if you don’t care about that, why bother even watching the show in the first place? A bit of banter between characters can also make you feel closer to them in that, if it originates from something the character on the receiving end has done since the show’s beginning it is, essentially, an inside joke you’re made a part of, you can laugh alongside the characters and really feel as though you’re part of the group yourself, that you can share in their trials and tribulations, etc. So you see, characters that can have a good chuckle at one another’s expense are important, not just in garnering a few giggles off of the viewers, but for these reasons too, and it’s definitely something I’d like to see more of in the future.