Guess what, people? Summer has come upon us! And you know what summer means in the world of anime? Yup, pool/beach episodes! Technically, this episode of Toradora! came out in the winter of 2008, but who cares.
Primes: Know what else? My very first post on Curiously Dead Cat included an image from this very episode!
Nice! (You just really like Toradora! images, don’t you?)
I decided that I’d be in for “silly fun” when I watched the preview of this episode last week, but on top of being that, this episode also tackles some important issues revolving around body images. While it doesn’t conclude on the body-positive note that I was expecting, it’s certainly a very real episode that brings the problem of self-esteem (mainly in Taiga but also observable in Ami) to the forefront.
Primes: And thus Toradora continues to defy expectations and to hit some surprising thematic depth for its romcom genre.
Pool day makes the girls in the class nervous. Sighs…it’s always the girls, right? But that is pretty reflective of body standards in reality. Here comes the first question: is this a fanservice episode? Given that boobs and butts obey real world physics and the general tone doesn’t feel all that erotic, I think it’s safe to say no. Even with Ami being Ami-chan in her purposefully chosen swimsuit and an “oh darn, my boob is floating away” scene? Well, I’m not sexually attracted to girls both in real life and anime, but I highly doubt that one can get much of a voyeuristic thrill from this episode.
Primes: I better watch what I say in this post since I’ll be responding soon to a tag for Cactus Matt’s “Build a Harem”! (And given that literature is a key part of the “Anime x Lit Crit” theme, kudos to your “Build a Harem” post for working Lord Byron into it!)
Ahaha…you really should watch out then. And I haven’t really read Byron’s poetry, but damn, his trope…
Seriously, though, that’s a really neat observation about this episode. It’s worth noting here the difference between a subversion and a deconstruction. Toradora 7 flips around our expectations of fanservice, so that as you say it’s not particularly erotic even when we might expect it to be; it does nothing however to break down the concept of fanservice itself, to make you question what fanservice really is. This makes it a subversion of the idea rather than a deconstruction. For my money, the best deconstruction of fanservice is Elfen Lied, which throws so much at the viewer that would be fanservice in other series (if not downright hentai) but which in EL explodes the whole notion of what fanservice is and what it’s for.
Anyway, I agree with your assessment of this episode.
I still haven’t seen Elfen Lied, but yeah, Toradora! as a whole is pretty subversive without being a deconstruction.
Speaking of voyeurism, perhaps it’s time to revisit that film theory article I read for class last year – “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” by Laura Mulvey. One of the main arguments in her feminist examination of popular film is that films are dominated by the glorification of some figures who are meant to be identified with, and the objectification of others. In other words, the audience would see themselves in the male heroes (narcissism), and see the heroines as sexually arousing objects (voyeurism).
Primes: I’ll speak candidly here, with no offense intended or taken with respect to anyone who has a different take on this. I think Mulvey’s got a point. As a straight, cisgendered guy, I know both the experience of viewing an attractive woman, and also the experience of reducing a woman to an object of viewing. They’re not necessarily the same thing, though they can be. Speaking personally, when I allow myself to view women with that objectification frame of mind, after a while I find it seems to inhibit my ability to enjoy interacting with women. I start to feel distant, emotionally cut off from them. Conversely, if I view the woman as another subject, I begin to enjoy her full presence: mind, appearance, and personality all included. It makes for a richer experience.
I mean, maybe I’m beating a dead horse here, but it really does go back to Martin Buber and his “I-It” and “I-Thou” relationships. Similar to what we discussed with the Toradora stalker in the previous episode.
What, then, are we to make of anime girls, who are not conscious subjects in their own right—just cleverly-constructed illusions of subjectivity? They’re not real, so does how we treat them matter in the same way or to the same degree that it matters how we treat real people? It sounds to me like Mulvey would say it does, though I defer to your knowledge of her theory.
Well, Mulvey certainly didn’t talk about anime (it wasn’t all that popular in 1973 after all), but I agree that she would think it does. Her main argument isn’t that it’s unethical to treat female actresses as objects anyway, but that the idea of representing women as spectacles is inherently problematic. Media doesn’t have to feature living people to have impacts on real life. We as bloggers can all attest to that, especially since most of us have written a post about the impact of anime on our lives at some point (hmm, looks like I haven’t, so I should change that soon).
With this frame of thinking in mind, I think what distinguishes this episode from a good old fanservice episode is the fact that we’re made instead to relate to the heroine, who is being sexualized not by the animators, but by the perceptions of herself and peers within her world.
Primes: Bingo! Wow, you are really helping me appreciate this episode a lot more!
I’m happy to hear that! This episode kind of resonated with me. Just give me a moment to talk about how relatable Taiga is here! The episode revolves around her shame and panic, and I’m sure half of the girls who watch Toradora! have experienced similar worries at one point in their lives. It might be easy to think that as usual, Toradora! exaggerated everything, but let me tell you, it’s all so true. Isoflavone from soy milk? I’ve totally been there…(spoilers: it’s not very effective). Swimming class shame? I don’t know how common it is, but the girls in my class used to hold competitions/tests to see who can hold pencils in their cleavages… Scary place to be in.
Primes: Wow… I got nothin’. Can’t think of anything in my adolescence that held a candle to this.
Haha, don’t blame ya.
The next question then, is how the anime handles this self-esteem issue? Taiga’s breasts are at the centre of the narrative because Taiga, Ami, Ryuji, and the boys within her class all take notice of it. Funnily, the object she cares most about – Kitamura – doesn’t notice it at all due to his lack of glasses. After Ryuji’s hard efforts making breast-enlarging pads for Taiga and much of Taiga’s sulking, one of Taiga’s fake breast ends up floating away, resulting in even greater humiliation when Ryuji has to be the one to stuff it back for her. It was one hilarious scene. In this sense, you might say that the anime pokes fun at a teenager’s overly-dramatic worries about appearance. Ami’s ridiculous inability to drop her “Ami-chan” act in front of all her fans only adds onto that. It looks like she’s not yet able to live up to her new goal, but such a goal’s going to take time.
Primes: It will take time for Ami, and in my view even at the end of the series she doesn’t have a 100% transformation. But hey, she’s human. To me, this adds to the texture of the series that I find enjoyable.
Yeah, devilish and fake as heck Ami would be more enjoyable to watch than goody-two-shoes Ami.
But back to the topic of body-image. I must ask – are Taiga’s worries all that silly? Surely, anyone would be as self-conscious as her if they were singled out for having tiny boobs in a photo displayed for all to see? And let’s set aside Ami’s taunts because she’s just habitually mean, but the guys who start wanting to become Taiga’s fans as soon as they observe her “boob growth”? The problem is definitely not in how you perceive yourself alone, and I did kind of wish that someone would tell Taiga it’s okay to have small boobs by the end of the episode. Perhaps Kitamura’s oblivion conveys that in a way, but still. Maybe Toradora! reflects that we do live in a shallow world…(too pessimistic, Moya!).
Primes: Her worries are not silly at all. I think that Ryuji’s response is the closest we get to a really good one: He doesn’t straight up tell Taiga that she’s fine as she is (which, in all honesty, I doubt would have ended well for him anyway!), but he goes out of his way to make her as comfortable and happy with herself as possible. Granted that his method of doing so (“bogus boobs” as Minori calls them) leaves something to be desired, it’s still a step beyond what anyone else does. So I would posit that in this case “it’s the thought that counts”.
You’re right that it’s not a neat and tidy Aesop’s moral about body positivity. That would have been a good thing to do, and yet I feel in this series specifically it would have undone some of the beauty that the series has built up. It would have been too perfect in a story that’s all about being imperfect.
That’s a nice way to put it. Perhaps I’m already used to finding morals in mainstream anime, be it shounen or shoujo, though any moral that you’d be able to correctly predict really wouldn’t be as interesting. I suppose Toradora!’s cast will have to struggle until the end (and possibly beyond?).
Well, I still enjoyed this episode and enjoyed talking about it.
Primes: Me too! 🙂 Cheers!