Sukitte Ii na yo 01 – Social Outcast and Centre of Attention
October 13, 2012 Leave a comment
Sudden meetings and love at first sight are staples of the romance genre, with girls and women often falling head over heels for the first man or boy who comes along. There are however a few stories that focus on the problems that their characters have, and while there is an element of love at first sight, the problems and issues that these characters have to deal with become far more significant than the romance. Sukitte Ii na yo, deals with a main character who is a social outcast, someone who has both rejected and being rejected by society. There will always be events that for some are easily brushed off, but for others leave an indelible mark, something that follows them throughout life. The impact that such events have largely depends on the event and where it took place, but they are strongest when you are young and learning about the ways of the world.
In numerous anime series we see the character that is a social outcast, bullied by everyone or largely ignored as either boring, or just weird. No one questions whether they want to be this way, or why they rejected the simplest of interactions, instead they are treat as part of the furniture. Mei Tachibana has had to deal with the pain of betrayal at an early age, making her rejected social interaction and viewing the idea of having friends as unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Her rejection of anything to do with friendship is so extreme that no one has even heard her speak during school, and instead either treats her as if she were invisible, or bullies her in the knowledge that she will not report it. Mei is essentially invisible, while also being one of the most visible characters in the series, conspicuous in the absence of her voice and presence.
In many respects to act in such a way and to essentially reject human contact and live as a social recluse may be considered an extreme reaction to something that also appears inconsequential. But, having those who you trusted essentially betray you at a young age, blaming the death of a classroom rabbit on something that may, or may not have been said can be incredibly traumatic. What is particularly interesting about Mei’s reaction to this whole situation is her lack of drama or angst. Instead of being melodramatic and making a massive deal about lacking friends, Mei simply moves on with her life, attending school and working at a bakery. During the opening sequence Mei is going to school, and in order to ignore people she is listening to music, using her mp3 player as a physical barrier to the outside world. Ignoring the jibes and general laughter that is aimed at her, although arguably it continues to have an effect on how she sees herself and the world in general.
The use of an mp3 player as a physical and mental barrier to the world is intriguing. Many of us may travel or walk around plugged into mp3 players, with a soundtrack to our lives playing almost constantly. They become physical walls between people in a world where we are almost constantly walking a few centimetres from someone else, or crowded into rush hour trains like a tin of sardines. They cut us off from the world around us, keeping us trapped in out on fantasy realm filled with sound, and perhaps memories of the past, or images conjured up by the music. This is both wonderful, and also dangerous, by cutting ourselves of from the outside world we may become trapped in a fantastical world, and perhaps become dependant on it. In this respect Mei may be making things worse by using her player as this physical barrier to cut out the outside worlds chatter and noise.
She is reinforcing the image of a girl who neither does, nor says anything regardless of what you do to her. All of this builds up creating an immensely destructive force inside Mei that finally explodes when Kenji Nakanishi makes fun of her. As someone who seems only interested in girls, and is generally sexist, his sudden interest in Mei’s long skirt, followed by his complete dismissal as soon as he recognises her may have been too much. By ignoring everyone and everything Mei turned herself into an easy target for abuse, which into a sudden roundhouse kick which takes out Yamato. Her pain, fear and sadness are plain to see in a vitriolic and physical response, showing Yamato and everyone presence that despite her mute and almost hermit like social existence Mei is still human. Of course, kicking the schools most popular boy may not have been the wisest of choices when girls (and boys) can be incredibly vindictive. We see through her interactions with Yamato that due to her rejection of friendship Mei is socially awkward and clearly cant quite communicate properly with people.
Regardless of his attempts to befriend her Mei continues to reject Yamato, simply telling herself that he, like everyone else in life will end up betraying her. Mei points out something particularly interesting that clearly shocks Yamato, suggesting that people betray each other too easily. She goes on to talk about how schools are always full of people who need a scapegoat, and who, despite claims of friendship will look the other way when things become inconvenient. While this is an overly negative attitude towards friendship and people in general, there is an element of truth in her assertions that people can change depending on the situation, often creating a negative and powerful effect in others. However, it is clear that rejecting all social interactions has its downsides, not least because Mei lacks of a social group whom she can rely upon when needed. When a regular at the bakery she works at starts to follow her home, Mei’s complete lack of social contacts and people whom she can rely upon demonstrates the dangers of rejecting the idea of friendship entirely.
Because her mother appears to work late sometimes (we can surmise that it is a single parent family and that Mei’s father died judging by the picture shown early on) she appears to run out of options. One of the obvious steps would be to call the police, but for someone who is socially awkward and withdrawn the sudden shock of the situation may have been overwhelming. By calling Yamato Mei has partially accepted that there are times when having people whom you can rely upon is necessary – this doesn’t mean that she is simply falling into his arms, but has been pushed by the situation into relying on someone else other than herself or her mother. The necessarily of the situation forces Mei to do something that she otherwise may have never considered, especially as she clearly believes that everyone will eventually betray her. By dropping everything he was doing and coming to see Mei, Yamato has at least demonstrated that her belief may not be entirely correct.
For his part, Yamato is a curious character who is seemingly as socially withdrawn as Mei, although in his case he is incredibly popular and constantly surrounded by girls. What is fascinating about him is his apparent acceptance of everyone, while never actually showing any real emotion. His constant smile and charming attitude is as much a barrier as Mei’s mp3 player, portraying a confidence in himself and a likability that allows Yamato to move smoothly between situations and groups. In many ways Yamato comes across as a far colder character than Mei, clearly demonstrated by the dangerous and almost venomous look in his eyes while kissing Mei. He is evidently a cold and calculating person, who, instead of rejecting social interaction uses it to his own gain by creating a socially comfortable space around himself. He is therefore the exact opposite of Mei, although they are arguably very similar in terms of attitudes towards friendship.
As a shoujo anime the outcome may be obvious, however, with Sukitte Ii na yo, the characters create a fascinating story about the problematic nature of friendship and how it can be as destructive as it is a powerful and necessary thing. Mei is obviously bowled over by Yamato’s sudden kiss (although it was arguably necessary tog et rid of the stalker), and it is arguably because he is the first person apart from her mother and those at the bakery that she has ever properly interacted with in any meaningful way. Yamato is particularly interesting due to his apparently cold and calculating manner, along with his ability to assess the situation and act accordingly. Through them we are seeing that outward appearances can be used as barriers, hiding someone’s true nature or attitudes underneath, away from prying eyes. We have also seen that while you don’t have to be as sociable as Yamato, having those whom you can rely upon in certain situations is incredibly important. It will be fascinating to see how things progress from here and whether Mei maintains her current personality and attitudes despite the sudden kiss and change of circumstances that Yamato’s appearance has brought about.