Moe-Mao and a Mobile Suit

Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!, like Infinite Ryvius, isn’t directly about politics but still has a political edge. Leaving aside the campaigning, the referendum and the clashes with oppressive authority, there are also little touches here and there: the left-facing swastika in the eighth episode is one and the above declaration from Manabi herself is another.

Except that, unlike the reversed swastika, those of us who don’t speak Japanese can’t tell who came up with this allusion, as we don’t know if the phrase that Manabi uses is the Japanese phrase used to describe the real Great Leap Forward.

Regardless of whether or not that reference was intended, the scene as a whole isn’t a bad comment on the Great Leap Forward: like Manabi’s plan to rearrange the furniture, it was an unhelpful misdirection of effort (to put it very mildly). Thankfully, Manabi’s plan isn’t put into action, though it plays a part in making Mikan cry; if we adopt the slogan of another story closely related to Manabi Straight in genre, ‘Cute Is Justice’, as a moral statement (and when in Manabi Straight is anyone cute ever really in the wrong?), then making Mikan cry is obviously some kind of ultimate injustice.

You’ll note that once Mikan starts crying the others, convicted of their guilt, return to work.

Anyway, as I said, I can’t tell if the reference is intentional. It may be that the original writers intended the allusion to the Great Leap Forward, the fansub group’s translator(s) translated the phrase literally and, by gracious chance, it came out right. Perhaps both the writers and the translators knew what they were doing. It may even be that the original writers didn’t intend the allusion, and the fansubbers added it – if this is the case, I’d say they were right to do so, because, as far as I’m concerned, when translating anime ‘Allusive Is Justice’. (In the case of anime this is less an ethical question and more an aesthetic one.)

[At this point a link to Mike’s post about competing translation philosophies is obligatory.]

This is why the Palace Athene makes me rage. I don’t really care who decided on ‘Palace’: maybe the official translator lacked a Classical education, maybe the staff of Zeta Gundam actually intended ‘Palace’ – whatever, ‘Palace Athene’ doesn’t make a great deal of sense, while ‘Pallas Athene’ is a relatively common name for the goddess, or one of her aspects (because of some disputed and messy business involving another mythological figure called Pallas). It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, but the fact that some potential extra flavour was lost really gets my goat.

17 responses to “Moe-Mao and a Mobile Suit

  1. Ah yes, the great “Everyone goes bonkers” scene. Mei’s face at the beginning never ceases to make me laugh.

    Though, I believe, the best political reference in GUMS is Manabi’s Ep8 fiery rebellion speech, filled with about every cliché possible, and Mikan&Mucchi in helmets:

    Also, Momoha is awesome. Like, she totally rocks.

  2. Wow political satire, eh? Now I must get around to seeing this one.

  3. @ EcureuilMatrix: Mmm, the speech in the eighth episode (which is, as Lelangir told me, ‘the politics episode’, if any particular episode is) is the most sustained political moment. I imagined that others would have written about it before, though.

    I wonder if the Council’s persistent in ignoring Momoha in this scene partly functions as a comment on the audience’s own ability to overlook her. She’s quite important, but there’s a bit of misdirection in how the show initially doesn’t devote much time to her.

    @ Crusader: Political satire, perhaps, but only with the lightest touch. It’s still primarily a ‘cute girls do cute things in cute ways’ show, though it’s not pure slice-of-life slife as it has quite a well-defined, arc’d storyline.

    Good fun though. A good show.

  4. wow, this post just made me watch the entire episode 8 again on YouTube… like wtf?

    But now that I think about it, Manabi Straight! is in fact mired in politics. Democracy to be exact. Used to think it was more of a Ritsuko Okazaki tribute, but there seem to be some other motive behind the animation.

    Moe politics ftw?

  5. Holy shit, this one really does mirror the great leap forward in a sense (misdirected effort).

    But the GLF was also markedly a failure because of imsufficient resources and proper equipment on hand, but that’s not the point here, is it?

  6. Manabi Straight in some ways is about a sustained political effort. What makes it so not-obvious is where the story’s perspective is rooted–the motivation.

    Putting yourself in the shoes of an equally cute member of the Seioh student body, then the activities of Manabi & Co seems much less personal and much more political.

  7. @ dKiWi: Democracy and voter apathy, I suppose, since that apathy is what Manabi struggles against. As for moe politics . . . real-life politics would probably be more interesting with more moe politicians. The fact that politicians tend to be rather old doesn’t help, I suppose.

    @ xephfyre: I’m not an expert, but you’re right that Manabi’s GLF is even worse than the real GLF, as what she suggests is utterly irrelevant and couldn’t possibly help.

    @ omo: I think I see what you mean, and you’re right that the plot wouldn look different from the perspective of your average Seioh student, lacking a detailed study of what drives the Student Council. Depends how integral we thing the position of the story’s perspective is.

  8. I’m an advocate of an “if the translators put it in there, let’s go with it” approach. So, regardless of authorial intent and such, I like what you’ve done here.

    Trying to come up with a decent response made me think about just how much Manabi Straight! prods at the way things work in my own rather ridiculous homeland. I still need to think more about that before I get into it, though, so you may get a trackback from me at some point. In any case, I wish I knew enough about current Japanese politics to make connections on that front, as well. It just might be research project time.

    Now that I think about it, the episode after the Great Leap Forward is the one in which Mikan wears the Mega Man hard hat. A reference to Dr. Wylian politics, perhaps? The possibilities are endless!

  9. @ Pontifus: Mmm, delicious trackbacks. I know what you mean about wishing one had more contextual knowledge of Japanese politics – I imagine, broadly speaking, that they have the same voter apathy problem that a lot of developed democracies have, but that’s not much to start with.

    And now you have me trying to think of a politician who deserves the nickname ‘Dr Wily’.

  10. Now I’m thinking of Manabi Straight in terms of a documentary. Which probably is a good thing. It is a nice example of social commentary wrapped in the guise of what others call “cute girls doing cute things”. But I feel like I’ve written way to much about the show before hadn.

  11. oioi, glad to see more people putting effort into analyzing Manabi because it’s one of the few shows that really deserves it – even takes the place of what i consider ‘the most important anime ever.’

  12. @ TheBigN: Manabi Straight definitely proves that you can have ‘cute girls do cute things in cute ways’ and use it to tell a discernable twelve-episode story with a political edge. Though I know what you mean about feeling like you’ve written too much on the subject already – I feel that whenever I consider writing another Geass post.

    @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: It’s patently not what this blog’s really about, but I must say I found the ending really affecting, and besides its emotional virtue, the story as a whole certainly deserves attention.

  13. >I found the ending really affecting

    I was infamous for a while because of the fact that after watching Manabi and thinking about it for a few hours I had a nervous breakdown and cried the hardest I ever have in my life. I’d like to think the show taught me things I couldn’t be alive and happy right now if I hadn’t learned.

  14. Thanks for those pictures, Daniel. I’m going to download the show after my exams, since :

    1) I like girls with violet hair;
    2) I also like cute girls;
    3) I heard this was a great anime series.

    I didn’t read the post (spoilers, perhaps), but I will watch the show, and thanks for that.


  15. great leap forward!!!!11

  16. @ 21stcenturydigitalboy: That’s testament to its power, I suppose. And a salutary reminder to anime bloggers that, for all our ‘lol storytelling is SRS BUSINESS’, sometimes storytelling really is SRS BUSINESS.

    @ Michael: Solid reasoning behind your watch decision there.

    @ kielmaru07: That’s pretty much what my own reaction was like when I saw that subtitle . . .

  17. Pingback: The Anime Festival Asia 2008 - Press Conference. A step in the right direction? Looks that way. « Certifiably Insane


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