Anime isn’t like reality: High school days edition.
Compared to other forms of media, Japanese animation has always had a penchant for teenage protagonists, and the rising popularity of slice-of-life-genre anime means that every TV season in Japan has multiple shows depicting characters in an ostensibly ordinary high school setting. But as we’ve seen in the past, anime and reality can sometimes be very different things, and that’s true for anime and real-world high schools as well.
Internet portal My Navi Gakusei no Madoguchi recently polled 114 anime fans who’re currently in college, meaning they’ve all had a complete Japanese high school experience. Researchers asked the survey participants what scenarios they often see in high school anime that don’t really happen with actual high school students, and the following four responses were the stand-outs.
1. High school students who live by themselves
Whether because their parents died, remarried, or moved overseas for work, many anime protagonists have their own private residence, which helps to facilitate regular clandestine visits from flirtatious members of the opposite sex. But in reality, you’re about as unlikely to find a high school student with his or her own apartment in Japan as you are in the U.S. or any other developed Western country. “Unless it’s in a boarding school dormitory, I’ve never seen or heard of an actual high school student living on their own,” said one respondent.
2 The student council wields incredible power
While youth is idolized in Japanese society, authority almost always rests with those with greater experience (and thus age). That goes double for high school administration, as the students are gearing up for their college entrance exams, which are eminently important in a country where employers place a great value on the prestige of the school where an applicant obtained his or her higher education.
So really, the situation presented by many anime, in which the student council has the ability to make significant decisions regarding school rules and operations, is pretty ridiculous. “I was a member of the student council,” recalled one survey participant, “and we didn’t have much actual authority.”
3. Rooftop escapades
Setting a story in a school is a double-edged sword for anime creators. On the one hand, having all your characters in the same place makes it easy for whatever characters you want in a scene to bump into one another or quickly assemble. But on the other hand, it also makes it impossible to give your characters much privacy for solitary reflection, intimate conversations, or other such impactful story beats.
So the go-to solution is to set such scenes on the roof. This even gives you the bonus benefit of using the color and conditions of the sky and surrounding scenery to highlight whatever emotion you want to convey, pairing flittering cherry blossoms for wistful romanticism or gathering storm clouds for impending troubles.
However, one thing a rooftop scene doesn’t provide is added realism. “You often see anime characters run up to the roof when they’re upset about something, but in my school we weren’t allowed up there,” replied one participant.
But hey, teens break the rules all the time, right? Sure, but a rebellious streak isn’t going to help when “the schools lock the doors to the roof,” as another respondent matter-of-factly explained.
4. The school is filled with handsome guys and beautiful girls
“There just aren’t that many good-looking people in a real high school,” pointed out one survey participant. If you were judging only from anime character designs, you might think that Japanese high schools were filled with individuals with perfectly styled hair, flawless skin, and professional athlete or model-caliber physiques.
The truth, though, is that in Japanese high schools you’ll see acne, gangly limbs, lingering baby fat, messy hair hastily combed after oversleeping, and all the other awkward aspects of the human landscape to be observed in a group of teens whose bodies are still finishing the awkward transition from childhood to adulthood.
Of course, while that visual awkwardness is a more or less universal part of the process of growing up, it’s not necessarily a pleasant one. Working in a medium in which the creators have complete visual control, it’s not hard to see why anime artists would want to smooth out some of the rough edges of adolescence, helping foster an atmosphere of coolness for viewers who’re currently teens themselves, and providing a bit of happy nostalgia for older viewers. Pretty much the same thing can be said about everything else on this list, as each serves to raise the dramatic stakes and/or give the characters more immediate control over their own fates, which makes for a more satisfying narrative, if not necessarily a more realistic one.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where his own high school days were also very un-anime-like (except for the fact that he watched so much anime during them).