Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer 2010: Seitokai Yakuindomo

While I have never been one to witness the organization in action during my three years as a language assistant in a Japanese middle school, the seitokai (生徒会, "student council") plays a vital role in the development of leadership amongst the student body by providing an outlet for students to improve student life through administration and constant feedback from other students.

In other words, it's a teenage board of directors. Student-run government. Hard work.

Suffice to say, real student council meetings don't involve a shadowy organization of manipulators (Utena, Medaka Box) and likely don't involve accidental fan-service scenes or breathless confessions during some of the paperwork (Seitokai no Ichizon). If they did, my guess is that there would be more volunteers and candidates for student-council work. In reality, it's just another club for students to be involved in, so it's also another target for anime shows to focus on.

So far this year, we've already seen one student council get turned on its head with the introduction of a female president in an all-male school converted to a co-ed school (Kaichô wa Maid-Sama!). However, it's a bit surprising to see that the opposite scenario has already been animated for the next season in the form of Seitokai Yakuindomo ("All Those in the Student Council"). It's now time for a male to enter the female-dominated student council at Ôsai Private Academy.

"Domination" is probably too light a term to describe the student body at Ôsai—the ratio is almost oppressive to the point that it's surprising this isn't a harem anime. Our male protagonist Takatoshi exits the train turnstiles as the lone male representative in the hundred or so females going to school, only to be singled out by the members of the Ôsai Student Council for not adhering to the rules of the school uniform.

It's under the puffy sakura blossoms that we meet the trio. The student president Shino is diligent at following the rules, but lacks reserve and knowledge about the opposite gender, leading to ditzy stereotypical declarations about males. It doesn't help that the lighthearted secretary Aria adds fuel to the misconceptions with her own dark jokes behind a smiling expression. The only real knowledgeable one in the group is Suzu, a half-pint genius who has to put up with the perception that her lack of height makes her appear to be a kid...even though she fits the pattern with childish actions.

The only thing missing in the Student Council is a vice-president, and that is where Takatoshi is shuffled into the plot, having to learn from the others about the places and rules for the academy. This makes for a slow start to the series, especially since the yonkoma style that the manga follows is followed so closely. The comedy comes in short bursts that barely last fifteen seconds, so the flow from scene to scene is not necessarily smooth, but this may correct itself as the school year unfolds.

However, it is the comedy itself that doesn't quite help Seitokai Yakuindomo in the end. The status of the Council makes all of the things floating in their heads come to the surface, but Shino and Aria are dense to the point of disbelief when it comes to self-censored humor from prophylactics, masturbation, and "health education". Takatoshi, unfortunately, doesn't help his cause as the straight man of the bunch, as his comebacks and punchlines are so quiet and helpless that it makes him sound...bored. He makes Kyon look like Prince Charming. Suzu might be the only gem, as the "Suzu-Head" shot with her barely in camera frame is a hoot.

Ennui is not exactly the sort of image I would want the anime to portray regarding the Student Council, but I sense repetition. It seems that the success of past shows that take place in ordinary school meeting rooms has caused others to want to copy the pattern, and it's really not working yet. Perhaps the comedy threatens to become robotic in the future, as the give-and-take is easy to witness in the first episode alone. For now, Seitokai Yakuindomo needs a little guidance from the teachers.

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