Although anime and manga cover a wide range of genres and topics and can be read by people of all ages, there’s no doubt that the main target audience is teenagers and young adults. As a result, schools have been a popular setting for many stories, from supernatural shonens to slice of life shows. ‘School life’ is supposed to be a resource for the characters to: a) be relatable to the audience, and b) have a common setting to meet and talk. This is used not only by anime, but by any medium. Next time you watch a sitcom, notice how the action almost always takes place in the same bars and houses.
Of course, this comes with a few downsides. Sometimes the schools are merely sets and it’s clear to the audience that the story could happen anywhere else. Also, the schools are often poorly handled by the writers.
I’ve noticed that many of the schools we see in anime and manga are particularly bad at being… well, schools. Even when the facility and staff are not part of the main story and have no relevance to the plot, it’s common to see them neglect the education and welfare of their students on a regular basis. It’s common to have characters skipping classes with no consequences, going missing for days or weeks and never having to explain a thing to their teachers, or extreme events happening on the school grounds without raising any eyebrows. This one bugs me a lot. Don’t people ask questions when a certain area of the school is destroyed during a magical fight?
I noticed this when rewatching one of my favourite animes of all time, 90s shonen hit, Yu Yu Hakusho. Pictured above is Sarayashiki Junior High, which the main characters attend during the first few episodes, and which is plagued with problems. From what we see, it’s quite common for students to be part of street gangs that regularly meet to beat each other, and part of the council is aware of it. Teachers gave up on their students long ago, and the principal himself shows a certain degree of cruelty when he finally has an opportunity to expel the protagonist. He is quite happy when telling of the terrible future that awaits Yusuke: being homeless and having no education.
Madoka Magica’s Mitakihara Middle School is another prime example. At first glance, it appears to be an extremely rigorous institution. Even though the characters are 12, they are already solving advanced physics and applied statistics, including a problem that was featured on the Tokyo University Entrance Exam that same year. One would think that, since they put so much emphasis on the education of the kids, the same level of competence would be expected when it comes to discipline…right? Wrong. Mami and Homura have been skipping classes and living a double life for at least a year and nobody suspects anything. When one of the girls disappears during the second arc, there are just rumors that she may have committed suicide, but nothing more. In the very first episode, a teacher is seem rambling to her students about her emotional life and completely ignoring the scheduled lesson.
I’ll give a point to other magical girl series, namely Yuki Yuuna is a Hero and Vividred Operation. Even though their school duties are irrelevant to the plot during most of the series, they actually provide a very solid excuse for the girls absence during classes and exams. Since they are affiliated with a branch of the military, their contacts can alter the rules a little. Teachers are aware of the situation and are ordered to not ask questions about it. It’s even implied that they could miss the whole semester and would still pass with flying colors.
We’re not even touching the series where a distorted school atmosphere is the main focus: shows like Dangan Ronpa, Assassination Classroom, or the Grisaia Saga. Last year’s summer success, Prison School, has exaggerated some of these tropes to the limit for comic purposes, so we won’t count that either
Not everything is bad, however. Some series have shown a pretty consistent school while not being a relevant part to the plot. Cardcaptor Sakura’s school was realistic, responsible, and believable. It felt not like a cheap excuse to make the characters relatable to middle school girls, but as an actual setting for the story. Not only did Sakura attend classes and exams, but whenever she had to escape to attend her magical girl duties, she actually had to escape and make up an excuse-often with Tomoyo’s help.
To end this on a good note, remember that even though the principal and the tutor of YuYu Hakusho’s Yusuke Urameshi hate his guts, they both attend his funeral on the second episode of the series and were deeply impacted by the teenager’s tragic and heroic death.
Note: The featured image of this article is credited to DeviantArt’s user enigma_xiii.
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