Moments of 2015: The Sounds of Youth, Dreams and Expectations

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As if it weren’t already obvious from the post title, right?

Truth be told, this was probably the most difficult choice I’ve had to make for this list. Going by what I’ve blogged about over the last twelve months, I’m sure that some of you will be surprised that my AOTY isn’t Aldnoah.Zero. I considered it, but only briefly, for even I have issues with the show that I simply cannot overlook. The other contenders have featured far less in my writings this past year, but only because I have been unable to muse about them until now. WORKING!!!, after all, only just ended, and SHIROBAKO has unfortunately taken a backseat because I simply did not have the time to read through all the interviews and 2ch threads that I want to tackle. If any of these three series had been completed in 2014, it would definitely have taken last year’s AOTY crown with ease. In particular, I was very close to choosing SHIROBAKO, which was a delightful—if slightly exaggerated—representation of what it takes to get an anime made.

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These two materials books together weigh about 5 kilos…
I haven’t even had time to flip through either of them…

But in the end, after contemplating what I got from my favourite series over the past year, I kept coming back to Sound! Euphonium. The main reason for this is that Eupho is the most realistic presentation I’ve seen of an aspect of Japanese society that is best understood through experience. It’s something that I’ve discussed with different Japanese friends over the past few years, and which I tried to explain in my first editorial on the show. A conversation a few weeks later finally gave me a term for the issue that I see at the heart of Eupho : ‘societal expectations’. It was behind the club voting to “aim for nationals” despite not actually caring (at the time); it was behind Aoi’s decision to quit the club to focus on university entrance exams (as it had been for Kumiko’s sister); it also played a part in the question of who was going with whom to the Agata festival. And most importantly, it was the core of the conflict over whether Reina or Kaori should play the trumpet solo.

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I doubt that what I’m getting at is clear even with these examples, so let me give a few that lie outside of the show. The societal expectations of Japanese society include ideas such as ‘success means going to a good university and finding a steady, white collar job after graduating’, not leaving before your boss leaves, even if you have no more work to do, sending a new year’s greeting card to everyone in your work place, even the people you barely speak to, and hiding your real feelings and putting up a front. The latter is probably akin to striving to be ‘politically correct’ in the West, but the overall issue involves far more than that.

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I should note that Japan isn’t the only nation with such societal expectations—we have them in our own societies, even if we might not be aware of them. A few weeks ago, someone I know raised the opinion that Australian society has some of the most complex and frustrating expectations that he’s ever encountered. But these expectations are so much a part of our lives that I’m not sure I could elaborate on what some of them are. Personally, I really felt them a few years ago, when someone close to me questioned the choices I had made in my life so for. So, for presenting this issue in a way that reflects this reality—as a feeling that’s hard to describe, but which makes you want to scream and try to break out of those shackles and do something different—Sound! Euphonium is my Anime of the Year.

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About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

4 Responses to Moments of 2015: The Sounds of Youth, Dreams and Expectations

  1. Frog-kun says:

    Ahhh that feeling. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something I feel really keenly. Eupho was interesting because its portrayal of the band was very nuanced: on one hand, the atmopshere had a laid-back feel, especially in the early episodes, but on the other hand, the weight of expectations was constantly felt.

    This resonated with me on a personal level because as a music student the weight of expectations was always on my shoulders. I didn’t have the stereotypical “Asian parents”, but I did put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to perform well. I was the school’s lead violinist from the first year I started playing, but I screwed up my VCE solo exam badly. Music ended up being my worst subject, grades-wise. After that, I never picked up the violin. I felt too ashamed of myself, because everyone around me had this expectation that I was a good player. Only years later did I have the heart to pick up the instrument again, and now I definitely suck. But there are no more expectations these days, so it’s fun again.

    In contrast to my experience with the violin, playing oboe in the concert band was never any stress at all. Our band just mucked around and never participated in competitions or anything. So in that respect, Eupho was very different from my high school concert band experience. What was your band like?

    A few weeks ago, someone I know raised the opinion that Australian society has some of the most complex and frustrating expectations that he’s ever encountered.

    Is it ever? In some ways, it might even be more frustrating than Japan. Japanese people don’t really expect the same things from foreigners as they do from themselves, so my experience of Japanese societal expectations is different from how a Japanese person would experience it, but from my understanding, it’s expected for people to work hard. In Australia, it seems more important to achieve all the same results without looking as if you’re working hard. It’s like a badge of pride to say, “I did no study but somehow I did well!” I’ve never been able to understand why people go to such length to perpetuate the myth of the lazy genius.

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    • karice says:

      I’ve focused more on the broad expectations at the level of a society in all my discussions about Eupho this year, but you make a good point that it’s also linked to expectations that we have of particular individuals. For me, rather than Eupho, the series that really made me think about that again was KimiUso, because I felt that I understood what Kousei meant when he attributed his trauma not to what happened with his mother per se, but to a combination of that and that pressure that he had felt as a performer. I was never at his level, but I do remember and regret one competition where I underperformed — I was playing really well, and probably would have won…had I not slipped up really badly and completely missed one important, held note. Unfortunately, that was the last competition I ever took part in (and I chose to go with other subjects for my high school career), so I never found out whether I would overcome the mental challenges I had with the expectations that my teachers and others around me held about my music ability. So I can’t say I know exactly how you felt, given that you tried to go one step further than I did, but I do understand what you mean by the sense of shame.

      I’m glad it’s fun for you to pick up your violin again now. It’ll be another week or two before my piano is ready for playing again, but I’m really looking forward to it!

      My band was…perhaps a bit more serious than yours? Our music teacher chose lots of fun music for us to play (John Williams and Les Miserables medleys, The Simpsons etc), but I think we may only have ever entered a competition once. And it was a general performing arts competition, so it might actually have been just one of the singers from our school musical production (my school was known more for our productions than for anything else). But it’s been so long that I don’t really remember! In any case, what our band–or bands, emsembles and choirs, rather, since I was also in a few others–practiced for was half-yearly concerts where we would show our parents what we’d been working on. We were also responsible for the music at the yearly awards night. So there would have been a little bit of pressure on the solo parts, but other than that, it was more like your experience than Kumiko’s, probably.

      Is it ever? In some ways, it might even be more frustrating than Japan. Japanese people don’t really expect the same things from foreigners as they do from themselves, so my experience of Japanese societal expectations is different from how a Japanese person would experience it, but from my understanding, it’s expected for people to work hard. In Australia, it seems more important to achieve all the same results without looking as if you’re working hard. It’s like a badge of pride to say, “I did no study but somehow I did well!” I’ve never been able to understand why people go to such length to perpetuate the myth of the lazy genius.

      That’s true. I think that’s why it took me so long to sense what those expectations were (towards the end of my three-year stay in Japan). With regards to Australia, I think that there are a number of things going on; either that or I’ve been out of school for too long, as I don’t really remember really encountering the “myth of the lazy genius” issue you’ve described. (Though I’m not surprised it exists, really!) Though perhaps that’s part of the issue that the people I’ve spoken to talk about: such as what you need to do to get into the public service (know people, or pay someone to write your selection criteria). There are also hidden conventions about what you can and cannot say, and things you should do. With Japan, at least the frustrating conventions and expectations are widely acknowledged–such that people are taught that they have to follow them. In Australia, they’re just not acknowledged, which is probably why it seems worse than it is in Japan.

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  2. sikvod00 says:

    In Australia, it seems more important to achieve all the same results without looking as if you’re working hard. It’s like a badge of pride to say, “I did no study but somehow I did well!” I’ve never been able to understand why people go to such length to perpetuate the myth of the lazy genius.

    Pop culture in the states also perpetuates this lazy genius myth. It’s just cooler and more “sexy” to effortlessly achieve great things. Lots of media portray the genius as being care-free, relaxed and idealistic. But the hard worker basically has a type A personality: uptight, goal-oriented and ultra-competitive. Being a try-hard is looked down upon.
    Which is so weird because outside of that, the U.S. generally views hard work as a big virtue and the key to success. Now of course there are problems with that. We have lots of the “by your bootstraps” and “personal responsibility trumps all” mentality, which is quick to blame the poor for their failures and rejects government assistance. Asians here are sometimes called the “model minority” because they shut up, work hard, and don’t complain about anything. That’s the view anyways. It’s slowly changing; I know karice had tweeted a link to an article related to that.

    The societal expectations of Japanese society include ideas such as ‘success means going to a good university and finding a steady, white collar job after graduating’, not leaving before your boss leaves, even if you have no more work to do, sending a new year’s greeting card to everyone in your work place, even the people you barely speak to, and hiding your real feelings and putting up a front.

    Yes, I believe this is the mindset many Asian-Americans have and it does pay off. So now Americans also expect them to be over-achievers, lol! Despite their success compared to other minority groups, they’re fairly absent from leadership positions and almost non-existent in politics.

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    • karice says:

      Hm…maybe it’s just the Americans (and people who fit in in the US academic culture) that I interact with, but the impression I get is that they accept that the only way you’ll get anywhere is to work hard and keep driving yourself. All the people I know who thrived there basically had to tone themselves down when they came to Australia, whereas others much prefer the more laid back lifestyle that we seem to have down here, even in the more stringent institutions. Another interesting indicator is that doctorates aren’t particularly valued here compared to the US: Masters degrees are good value adds, but if you have a PhD, it typically means that you’re heading into academia, or you’ve just taken four more years to start your real career…

      That said, I can sense some of what you’ve described in how people talk about certain famous people and/or companies, like Steve Jobs and Apple…

      Yes, I believe this is the mindset many Asian-Americans have and it does pay off. So now Americans also expect them to be over-achievers, lol! Despite their success compared to other minority groups, they’re fairly absent from leadership positions and almost non-existent in politics.

      Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. That said, perhaps a lot of Asian-Americans just don’t want to get into politics, because it’s full of the nonsense that we just hate dealing with?

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