relationships

Memories in the Future: Aikatsu! and Family

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“I wonder if you’ve realized that I change a bit every day. I’m at my most beautiful singing by your side.”

– From the insert song, “Wake Up My Music,” first featured in Aikatsu! episode 31

It is not rare for an idol show to touch upon family, particularly when said family is opposed to the heroine in question becoming an idol (hello there, AKB0048). In fact, family plays a role in nearly every idol series I’ve had the pleasure of seeing – and additionally, many magical girl series – although it’s usually to provide an obstacle for a character to overcome, much like Chihaya Kisaragi’s emotional character arc in The Idolm@ster, or the stories of both Nagisa Motomiya and Chieri Sono in AKB0048. In all three cases, family members are not present to offer support, but to give the would-be idol a reason to sing or, in the case of AKB0048, rebel against her family and become a member of a forbidden organization.

These narratives put the position of an idol as something removed from every day life. Even in the case of the school idol series, Love Live!, becoming a school idol automatically puts one in a different position as compared to the rest of the student body. The separation between family or a so-called normal school life, and being an idol is a distinct one. Likewise, the idol is all-to-often forced to sacrifice their family ties in order to become a true idol.

This is not so with the recent idol series, Aikatsu!, and I love it for that. Not only does it make the process of becoming an idol the every day life of its heroines, but it also incorporates family into that same narrative wonderfully.

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Uchouten Kazoku, My Brother, and Me

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“He’s my younger brother. I understand him too. I understand him, that’s why it hurts.”

-Yaichirou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode 8

Growing up, my brother and I were close friends. This was borne of necessity as, for a few years, we were the only children close in age in our neighborhood. As we grew older, other families with children our age moved in; however, my brother and I remained close. Often, both our friends and their parents would comment on how rarely we fought compared to themselves, or their children, respectively. To anyone who met us, we appeared to have a fantastic brother-sister relationship. The reality was often far different than the image.

Uchouten Kazoku surprised me with how well it portrayed subtle familial emotions and relationships within the Shimogamo Family. Opening with the various ways that four brothers, and their mother, are attempting to deal with their father’s death the series – in spite of turns to the dramatic – takes great pains to show the complexity that can accompany one’s feelings for their family members.

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“WAAHH~” Octave and Looking Back

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I was never the first to do anything of my group of high school friends. As we all slowly trickled into adulthood at different speeds, it was the responsibility of whichever person who experienced something first to report back to the rest of us, usually at our cafeteria lunch table.

Therefore, when my friend Jackie became the first of us to have sex, we eagerly awaited her report. Naturally, she struggled with placing an intangible feeling within the limited realm of the English vocabulary. In the end, she described it as something awkward, followed by “the stars exploded.” These exact words stuck with me far beyond what I presume Jackie intended. We drifted apart once we both began attending university, not for any reason other than the standard one of moving in different directions. However, when my time did eventually come, I immediately thought of Jackie’s words after the fact and laughed.

The yuri manga Octave, by Haru Akiyama, presents a similar situation to my personal experience through the character of Yukino Miyashita who, in attempting to understand her own sexuality and what sex means to her, thinks back on her friend Mika’s succinct description of sex as, “WAAHH~”

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“I’m definitely going to eat you up!” Uchouten Kazoku and Relationships as Social Capital

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You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family, or so the saying goes. By placing them side by side, Uchouten Kazoku is able to explore the various relationships forged between family members, friends, lovers, rivals, and business partners alike, similar to how the ever-rotating wheel of relationships between tengu, humans, and tanuki form the series’ background tapestry of modern-day Kyoto.

As it is with most social systems, this Kyoto is separated into multiple strata, with certain groups controlling different areas of the city. Likewise, within these groups there are inevitably the haves and the have-nots, all in a constant state of flux to out-do each other in order to reach the top. From Yasaburou Shimogamo’s perspective, none are as dangerous, influential, or as irresistible as Benten. She seemingly leads a charmed and incredibly successful life, full of wonderful things, and a bevy of humans, tengu, and tanuki all eager to please her.

How is it then, that she is the loneliest, most isolated, and sorrowful character within the series?

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Uchouten Kazoku and the Effects of an Absurd Death.

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“Our dad was one of the well-known, great tanuki of Kyoto. He was respected by many tanuki and with that influence he united tanuki society, but regrettably, several years ago he passed away. He was eaten as an ingredient in a hot pot.”

-Yasaburou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode 2.

I’ll admit, a chuckle escaped my lips as I heard this.

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