Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei 04 – Social Conservatism and an Unequal Society
April 28, 2014 3 Comments
One of the key aspects of this series has been the unequal nature of Japanese society, with those who have significant magical power given high status, privilege and power, whereas those without are effectively pushed to one side and told to make do. The entire premise of a two course system at this magic high school is based upon the idea of magic as inherently superior to every other skill or ability. The persistence of status inequality is a major characteristic of the Japanese social system, and while there are features in Japanese society that emphasise and promote social integration, it is clear that conflicting opinions about the nature of what it means to be Japanese can have major consequences for the level of social conflict in Japan. Within the world of Mahouka, the ability to use strong magic, coupled with the comparative strength of countries magicians with regards to other countries becomes a key means with which the Japanese state creates its vision of a strong, glorious country. In essence the strength of ones magic is of upmost importance, not only to the individual so that they can acquire high status and privilege, but also to the country and a national ethos.
The Japanese education system is of central importance to the state and broader society, somewhere that provides a clear connection between academic success and the quality of future employment. The problems caused by the Third World War, coupled with the emergence of magic and magicians within Mahouka add another element to this education system. Post-war stability seems to have been gained through the harnessing of magical powers, and placing those considered the most powerful at the top of the social hierarchy. Thus, high job security, increased economic growth, and a stable society are inherently linked to the power of magic and how one fits into this new society. These changes have meant that the link between school success and a stable career is no longer certain, and while we can assume top universities retain their connection to job security, without strong magic ability attending one, regardless of wealth or other abilities may be a less secure investment. These changes serve to reinforce social rigidity, and with the focus so firmly on ones magical abilities, there is little room to adapt to changes in the economic and cultural landscapes of Japanese society, further reinforcing social and cultural inequality.
Japan’s education system is based on a meritocratic structure that engenders high competition amongst students, and produces what Ronald Dore (1976) describes as a ‘very expensive intelligence testing system with some educational spin-off, rather than the other way around’. When watching Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei we must realise that the school is not a normal school, rather it is a prestigious school, one where societies elites go to learn and grow their magical abilities in order to further reinforce and expand their families influence within society. There may be a two course system, complete with its own elements of discrimination against those considered to be less important, but they are all largely from well off families. This is one of the key features of school centric anime like Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei, the focus is almost exclusively on the middle and upper classes, although the upper classes tend to appear only when a series is set in a prestigious, or private school. And we rarely see characters from working class backgrounds (The majority of Tamako Markets characters are working class), but they do exist, just not in this particular series.
The Shiba siblings can live the life they have because of their social background, they are ignorant of the issues surrounding the vast majority of society, even when they have had to deal with issues of their own. The ideology expressed by both Miyuki and Tatsuya focuses on the social conservative notion that people should be happy with their situation, and that class fluidity is not something to look up to. There is clear discrimination within the world of Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei, but we don’t see the majority of it because of this series setting. Focusing on an elite school creates a blinkered view of society, presenting an image that is simplistic, while simultaneously complicated. We know of discrimination, we see it between Course One and Course Two – but we do not see the problems that the vast majority of society has to deal with, as we are not shown the world outside of this schools grounds in any real detail. Tatsuya’s assertion that magicians need to be paid well because they have skills essential to society suggests a certain social naivety, whilst also demonstrating his social background as one of those elites.
The discovery of magic was sudden (according to the introduction in episode one), but, by demonstrating magic’s abilities to outstrip conventional weapons and systems, those who wield it can easily increase their social status. In order to maintain their positions the use of an education system that further reinforces the importance of magic, and its absolute necessity to society is beyond doubt. Miyuki’s attitude that people should understand the number of years and amount of effort needed to use magic certainly has its merits. However, such a situation is not unique, everyone needs to put in time and effort to get anywhere, be it with magic, or without. By focusing on the idea that there are those in society who just don’t understand the elite, Miyuki demonstrates her ignorance of society, whilst also dismissing the idea that there are others out there, those without magic powers who put in as much, if not more effort than anyone else with little to show for it, purely because of the way society is governed.
Miyuki is not entirely wrong, especially when we consider the existence of people from lower classes who have had to put in significant amounts of effort to improve their abilities and get into a good school, but it cannot be taken in isolation. We cannot, and should not assume that only those from privileged backgrounds have magical powers, but we also have to look at the social makeup of the school, and understand that these attitudes and ideas are coming from the privileged elite, those who have never had to put any real effort in to get where they are. A significant number of characters that have been introduced so far are from wealthy families including the top ten families Tatsuya keeps alluding to, so they have entered a privileged school from an a high status position rather than working they way up societies hierarchy. But, Miyuki demonstrates how little she really understands about the issues surrounding such matters when following up such an assertion by arguing that people just don’t understand how much effort Tatsuya has put into his own abilities. She contradicts herself, suggesting that one rule applies for Tatusya, while another applies for everyone else, revealing her lack of knowledge and general ignorance of the current situation, and how those without her immense magical gifts and privileged background live and cope with societies current hierarchy.
Such a Social Conservative attitude can arguably only come from the privileged upper classes of society, and Tatsuya’s argument that people deceive themselves with sweet-sounding concepts such as equality is condescending, ignorant, and arrogant. He dismisses the idea of equality as foolish, suggesting that people need to accept their current situation and get on with life rather than push against their social constraints. There is an element of this within Japanese society, encapsulated in the ideas of ‘honne’ and ‘tatemae’ (although the ideas encapsulated within these words are not inherently unique to Japanese society). Honne means one’s true feelings or desires, what you really think, or want to say, while tatemae loosely means the façade, the behaviour and opinions one displays in public. Maintaining the façade is essential, with close-knit cooperation and the avoidance of conflict considered of vital importance to everyday life. So maintaining one’s social standing, and avoiding conflicts becomes a part of daily life, regardless of what one might really think and believe about their self-worth,
The questioning of social hierarchy, and arguing against the primacy of magical abilities potentially destabilises the hegemonic image of society that we are meant to assume exists in Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei. The contradictory nature of Blanche and Egalite demonstrate how complicated society is, and how flawed the image of a hegemonic, cooperative, and happy society really is. Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei is not unique in its image, and ideology, many anime reinforce exiting notions of Japanese society by presenting it as a happy place without any issues such as crime, low income, or homelessness. If we look at the majority of anime, especially those set within a school, we see a highly idealized view of Japan, with the majority of the cast coming from middle, or upper class families. What Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei does is explicitly reinforce this hegemonic image through dialogue that is ideologically conservative, whilst also demonstrating, through the contradictory nature of the characters dialogue and ideas how flawed the whole idea of a hegemonic society where people know their place really is. I don’t agree with any of the statements made in this episode, but what it does do is demonstrate the conservative nature of Japanese society, and how flawed it’s idealised portrayal of a hegemonic and harmonious society really is.