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.
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.
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.
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.