What’s missing from our header image this time? If you’re having a really hard time answering that question, then you’re experiencing the phenomenon that underlies my revelatory moment this year. I watched Bamboo Blade with TheKittyMeister (I’d seen it before) and she helped me realize one of the reasons I like the show so much, something I’d never thought of myself. Something I’m in a much better position to notice now…
The answer, by the way, is that the teacher is gone. Didn’t notice? Don’t think it matters that much? Tell, me why is the music instructor in Sound Euphonium not a main character, despite his decisions shaping the entire plot? Answer? Because he’s a force of nature, a thing to be dealt with by the main characters. He is that because he is a teacher, and not a student. In anime, teachers are the characters that exist for the other characters to exist around.
Now that’s a blanket statement. Obviously not all anime — but that is similar (pardon the topical joke here) to saying “not all men.” Anime is perceived — even sometimes by its creators — as something for juveniles. Now, that’s not really OK, but we deal with it. We (I’m speaking of American weebs here, your experience my differ) learn enough about Japanese culture to see this and that and the other, and just suck up certain things. The lack of widepsread focus on teachers is one of those, and likely one most people don’t think too much about.
But. You know. I am a teacher. So I notice these things sometimes. Bamboo Blade was something I watched before I became a teacher, so I needed a kick in the butt to notice but…
It’s great at talking about teachers. In fact, the whole show is predicated, originally, on a teacher being so poor he can’t afford food. I’ve been there. I’ve eaten crappy frozen catfish every night for a week because I bought it, I couldn’t afford to buy something else. When people joke about grad students going to parties for the food, look at their eyes. If there’s a little strain in there, they know what they’re talking about. They’re not actually joking, they’re laughing at something shitty.
The show’s a comedy, of course, so it’s all fun, sort of, but it’s vaguely uncomfortable. The students all joke about how ha ha he needs money, Oh, he just did that for the money, but he’s going home and not eating sometimes because he needs fucking money. The joke isn’t that he’s a penny pincher — the joke is that his students are so oblivious they can’t comprehend that a teacher could need money badly. As above, this is actually one of those jokes where we laugh because what else are we going to do? In my time teaching, I’ve discovered students know almost nothing about the circumstances of the teachers who run their classes for them. That’s not actually the fault of the students, of course; it’s the fault of a general cultural misperception about the whole profession.
Now, you didn’t come here to listen to me get on a soapbox. I’m trying, instead, to get you into my head a little bit when I started re-watching this show. I’d just started teaching again after eight months of unemployment. Kitty taught for years as well, so we both know that kind of life. And the students wandering past paying no attention to the teacher who maybe can’t afford gas? That happens. And this show. Where the hell did this show come from, to do that? I can’t seem to find anything about the author, but I know the same person has written some seinen stuff. So maybe that sense of writing for working dudes who are reading manga instead of, I dunno, saving for retirement? Maybe that transferred over to this stuff.
All I know is I had this moment of startled amazement that anyone in a manga or anime had even bothered to portray a teacher as something other than an illicit love interest, object of visual worship, or obstacle to life goals, or basic do-good mentor figure.
(I totally was watching the live action GTO as well, by the way. Different kind of teacher entirely, but still good.)