Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei – A Families Prestige


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Anyone who has watched a moderate amount of anime may be aware that the vast majority of series and films focus on characters from fairly affluent backgrounds – many may not be rich, but their houses are spacious, and they do not seem to worry about where the rent or food money is coming from. In fact, one of the key aspects of anime is relative lack of working class or poor families and individuals, whereas most series may focus on, or include a number of characters from established families with significant wealth and prestige. The worlds of school centred anime like Mahouka Koukou no Reittouse engage with the complex nature of family, and its place within Japanese society, by presenting multi-faceted representations of ‘family’, and family life. The ‘ie’ household (extended family based on patrilineal descent) as interpreted by the Meiji Government quickly became a matter of state concern in establishing a modern nation, but it only exists because of the force of ideology and power promoting it; it is a dream of what a family should be, rather than way it is. The state views the family as a unit that conforms to acceptable social and cultural norms, reinforcing state ideology. It is essential to have a solid family structure in place in order to create society, and to engender the values central to state ideology.

Family relationships in anime like Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei are noticeable in their absence, and much like examinations and studying, their presence in many series and films is implied rather than explicitly shown. Home life in particular is sparsely shown, with characters spending most of their time with the clubs, social groups, or other activities involving the school and its grounds. And although the trappings of a healthy family life are present – large houses, bento boxes, and occasionally dinner – they aren’t as important as the daily rituals of school life. While the family was considered the primary agent of socialisation during the Meiji period, by the middle of the Showa era (1926-1989) the care of children transformed from a family duty to the duty of the educational system, with the school clock regulating the timing of family lives and calendars. Family in this context becomes increasingly problematic, on the one hand it is expected to produce and socialise the next generation, but on the other, school is now central to the everyday life of Japan’s youth, with family becoming less important than social groups and school clubs.

We know very little about the main characters families in Mahouka, and for the most part we are simply told that they are either older established families, branch families, or in the case of Mizuki, a family that conforms to the image of the salaryman, white collar lifestyle. Much is made of the ten head families, those with powerful magics, and significant influence over Japanese society; in essence, they are the Zaibatsu of Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei’s world. As mentioned in a previous post, Tatsuya and Miyuki live a comfortable life, with a fairly substantial house, and without any financial issues to speak of. We assume that they are from a prestigious family – confirmed to be the Yotsuba family – and the complete lack of family contact demonstrates the fractuous nature of this particular family. Rather than the perfect ‘ie’ household, we are presented with a family that holds magical powers above all else, thus we can assume that Tatsuya has largely been discarded due to his weak abilities (partly confirmed by the Butlers comments in this weeks episode) and is therefore of no further use to the family, despite his other powers and knowledge.

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Within this series we see upper-class families, those with power, influence, and prestige, not as generous groups working for the benefit of society, but as dangerous entities that will do anything to maintain their position. Furthermore, the dismissal of their families background, and unwillingness to listen to, and obey the family elders suggests that for Tatsuya and Miyuki, the idea of ‘family’ is a destructive one, something that has to be reworked to fit in with their current lifestyle. Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei throws into relief the underlying ideology surrounding the ‘Japanese Family’, presenting moralistic attitudes towards to the idea of family, whilst simultaneously ignoring the family in a traditional sense. The family is a process where everyday discursive practices and descriptions by professionals and others are intertwined, and through this process, the discourse of the familial ‘can be understood as a form of social action through which aspects of social life not only are assigned meaning but are also organised and manipulated, that is controlled’. The state’s discourse of the family, and the ‘problems’ or ‘pathologies’ of contemporary families – e.g. shoshika (falling birth rates), bankonka (delayed marriage), koreika (ageing society), jido gyakutai (Child abuse), domesutikku baiorensu (domestic violence) kaiteinai boryoku (family violence, from children to parents), hikikomori (shut-ins who remove themselves from society and stay confined in their rooms), and parasaito shinguru (‘parasite singles’) – become ways of manipulating and controlling the place of the family in society.

By focusing on the school and the social lives of the characters instead of their family, not only is anime reinforcing the central importance of the education system to the state, but it is also contesting the hegemonic ideal of the ‘Japanese Family’. The dream world of Mahouka creates a space within which the ideals and central importance of the family as a social unit exist, while simultaneously contesting the idea of a single all-encompassing family unit that every social group must conform to. The Shiba siblings create their own family unit, existing on their own – albeit through the money that the Yotsuba family provides – and by attending First High School they can briefly escape the pressures that their family places on them, whilst also creating another family, one that includes their friends and acquaintances at school. The ideal family does not exist within Mahouka, and what little we have seen of the Shiba’s family suggests one that manipulates and deceives to maintain its position, throwing away anything considered a failure (Tatsuya). Family in the traditional sense is not portrayed as caring and loving, but instead as cold, and hard – rather, it is the family created through the school and its varied activities that counts far more. But even here, the Shiba’s are cold, even distant towards many of their classmates and other members of the school population – they are distant, even dismissive at times, seemingly content to maintain their family unit of two.

The school system in Mahouka, despite its many, varied flaws, and place in the maintenance of social inequality along the lines of magical power is ultimately the best place for those with these powers to mingle and interact with one another. The school is central to many characters lives; it is a space for experimentation and challenging long-held beliefs and attitudes – although there are always those who wish to reinforce social and cultural divisions. Tatsuya and Miyuki can exist as they are because of this school system, and there are those who are given the opportunity to mingle with members of the Ten Master Clans in a way that would arguably be impossible in any other situation. As with many other school centric anime, the school and its varied clubs and activities creates the right circumstances for numerous surrogate family units to be created and bond. Instead of blood relations, it is a family made of those with similar views, ideas, and even difficult circumstances and family lives.

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About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

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