The Regulars at Anime High Schools: Musings on Student Council Presidency

mayumi saegusa, mahouka, mahouka koukou no rettousei, the irregular at magic high school, student council president

In fifth grade, I had my second experience with student government – my previous experience involved making campaign posters for a boy I liked in third grade – when my friend Betsy decided to run for Student Council President of our elementary school. Together, we crafted the ingenious slogan that would propel her into office: “Don’t get wet-sy. Vote for Betsy!” In addition to campaign posters with umbrellas, and little umbrella-shaped flyers, a friend and I misted her as she gave her speech under an umbrella to the entirety of our school.

Naturally, she won.

Anime tends to up the ante when it comes to student council presidency. The Student Council President is doted upon with more reverence by their respective student body than an actual government representative will ever receive in their lifetime. Reflective of how narrowly-minded and self-centered we are in our teenage years, the school and student government becomes the pinnacle of achievement that one can reach while blithely wandering through their rose-colored secondary school life. It becomes a diorama of cardboard cut-outs with the Student Council President reigning over all.

karen minazuki, yes precure 5, yes precure, karen, cure aqua, student council president

Often, the title is simply used to easily identify how serious or studious we are supposed to perceive a specific character. Children’s series in particular use Student Council President as synonymous with industrious or intellectual, similar to Karen Minazuki from Yes! Precure 5 pictured above. Wherever Karen travels in the school, she is met with hushed, reverent whispers of her name and murmurs of adoration. Karen fits the Student Council President archetype, which acts as a personality shortcut for the viewing audience. It comes at no surprise to anyone that Karen transforms into the “Cure of Intelligence,” Cure Aqua.

ouma shu, shu as student council president, guilty crown

One of the more hilariously mismatched personalities to grace the throne of Student Council President is Shu Ouma of Guilty Crown fame. Unlike the example of Karen, Shu’s judgement has not been shown to be the greatest, although he pulls himself together long enough for one mission, which gifts his friend – née drug dealing, smooth-talking acquaintance – Yahiro Samukawa the perfect window to manipulate the student body into electing Shu.

In Guilty Crown, the character who fits the aforementioned archetype is the ousted Student Council President, Arisa Kuhouin. It immediately acts as a shortcut to her character: rich, studious, looked up to in the same way that Karen is by her respective student body. Things begin to unravel for Arisa when it becomes convenient for Shu’s character – as it is with most events in Guilty Crown – and she is unceremoniously booted from office for no reason other than the fact that the series deemed it necessary for Shu to hold the position. Yahiro kindly provides Shu with a ranking system with which to organize the student body, and Shu implements it following the convenient death of a friend.

Of note in Guilty Crown is that the series is not asking the audience to ally themselves with Shu and his discriminatory practices. Regardless of whether the viewer takes all events in the series at face value, or simply watches for entertainment as I did, we’re not supposed to support Shu in this case. Instead, it is meant to signify a dramatic fall from grace, where he turns on those close to him. While I thought that this particular character arc was far more humorous than dramatic due to its execution, Guilty Crown uses the Student Council President title to precipitate the downfall of Shu Ouma, before his inevitable redemption, and riding a segway into battle.

mahouka, mahouka episode 5, mahouka koukou no rettousei, the irregular at magic high school, mayumi saegusa

Mayumi Saegusa of The Irregular at Magic High School, addresses discriminatory practices similar to the ones implemented in Guilty Crown with a far different framework from the series as a whole. She fits the initial archetype, with students bowing, tittering, and blushing at her mere presence. Additionally, much like Guilty Crown, her presidency seemingly gives her absolute power over the school. In a world of “terrorism,” warring ideals, and inequality, it falls on Mayumi as president to deal with all of these issues.

The Irregular at Magic High School reiterates Mayumi’s power by showing that all students default to her divine judgment. When students allied with the so-called terrorists of their world announce their desire for equality, their request is for an equal-opportunity debate with Mayumi and the student council. Unlike Shu Ouma – who is shown shouting about his own incompetence from a rooftop with a low-ranking student Souta Tamadate – the series is not asking us, or its fictional students, to question the actions of their president. Instead, it’s asking us to sympathize with Mayumi and the “necessary evil” of arguing on the behalf of the elite.

A Student Council President, by anime rules, is almost always an elite, tasked with the unrealistic responsibility of holding the student body together. In this circumstance, I found Mayumi’s speech on par with my friend Betsy’s in terms of ridiculousness. The difference is that, while Betsy’s showed that she was one of us – who would not want a president that dances around on stage while being misted by two friends – Mayumi’s puts an exclamation point on the fact that she is above all. Betsy went on to be a crucial participant in student government during our junior high and high school days. While she shared similar characteristics to the archetype, particularly in the amount of effort she put in to both her schoolwork and student government, we never revered her. She was another student, taking on the role of representing us as ordinary students.

5 comments

  1. No mention of the greatest Student Council President in all anime history, Shino Amakusa?

    But it’s a good point that SCP is almost always a character shortcut for glamorous, accomplished , intelligent and almost perfect. Even Shino isn’t exempt from this trope, although she’s sort of a parody of it.

    1. Hehe, I didn’t even get into entire series that revolve around student council members/presidents. ^ ^ That could be another ridiculous post in and of itself.

      Shino is a good example of poking fun at the ideal of the Student Council President. Not a president, but class representative and student council member Yukino Miyazawa of Kare Kano would definitely be my favorite takedown of that image.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I never got involved in student politics and leadership when I was in high school, but I think I did revere my school captains, especially in my earlier, more impressionable years. As I got older, I realised that the school captains weren’t necessarily the cleverest or the most elite students – they were just ordinary people who were remarkable because they were willing to take leadership into their hands. It’s a distinction that’s lost in anime for sure.

    1. I had a few friends in student government while in high school (including Betsy, whom I mentioned in this post) and I admired them not specifically for their positions, but for the immense amount of work that they put into organizing events. As you said, they were ordinary people made remarkable by the fact that they were willing to take on that often tedious workload. Most, at that point, were doing it for a good extracurricular activity to put on a university application. ^ ^

      Thank you for the comment!

  3. Dear aj,

    Real -life Japanese student councils actually have power to approve and fund student clubs, which are a vital part of student life there. So there is a grain of truth in all these fictional depictions of powerful councils, and by extension, powerful presidents.

    Re Mahouka: Mayumi does get a significant amount of respect owing to her status as a daughter of one of Japan’s magical families in-series, although I have heard rumours of how being a family member can be double-edged.
    Also, how do you find Tatsuya as a character? There’s definitely quite a few mysteries surrounding him, especially the scars on his body and his abnormally fierce desire to protect his sister at all costs.

    Full English lyrics for LiSA’s Rising Hope:
    http://www.lyrical-nonsense.com/lyrics/lisa/rising-hope/#page=page-1

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