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Club Cult Circle

May 17, 2010

The way clubs are presented in most anime series, I get the feeling that students in Japan are highly encouraged to join at least one club while you’re in high school or college. We never see a character say “Eh, I don’t feel like joining a club. I’m just going to go home after school and play video games or something.” Granted, a lot of series have plots that hinge on characters joining clubs, but there always seems to be a major push for characters to hurry up and pick a club. If a character is hesitant and can’t choose a club to join, that character always has a friend that’s encouraging them to join some club or another.

From what I can tell, it’s like there’s a social stigma placed on not joining a club. If you don’t hurry up and join, there’s something wrong with you.

Assuming that there’s something correct about my conclusion, you could look at Tatami Galaxy as something of a critique on this mindset.

The main dude in Tatami Galaxy is in some sort of time loop where he repeats his first two years of college. With each loop he joins a different club at school, and each choice results in a different disaster that effectively fucks up his life. Each time he joins a club he meets up with devil-surrogate Ozu, and his interactions with Ozu always result the above spiraling disaster.

The first three clubs that he joins are fairly normal: the tennis club, the movie club, and the cycling club. The catch is that the fourth club he joins isn’t really a club. He ends up becoming  a “disciple” of a nutjob older student (who happens to be the god of relationships seen in the first episode) who wishes to train someone to perpetuate an ongoing feud with another nutjob older student (who happens to be the president of the movie club seen in the second episode).

He didn’t join a club, he joined a cult.

The fact that we built up to this episode,and the fact that the main character actually tries to escape from having to join a club at the beginning of the fourth episode, leads me to believe that Tatami Galaxy is trying to say that there’s something wrong with trying to force people into joining social groups just for the sake of keeping up appearances and artificially forging relationships with other people.

With each episode of the series we see the main character given the chance to forge a relationship on more natural terms. He meets a girl, Akashi, and gets along well with her. More often than not Akashi is only nominally a part of the club he’s currently attending. More likely than not, he would have met Akashi regardless of what club he joined. From what we can tell, the only way for the guy to escape from his repeating hell is to resolve his relationship with Akashi in some way.

The only way for him to escape is completely unrelated to the cycle of joining clubs, and joining said clubs is the very thing that keeps him tethered to this vicious circle of events. I don’t think the series would turn the act of joining a club into such a damning decision if it wasn’t trying to criticize the system. I don’t think the series is trying to say there’s something inherently wrong with clubs in and of themselves, but the idea that one must join a club in order to create meaningful relationships (The way the main dude goes on and on about how it’s the only way he can meet his “raven-haired beauty” is telling of that conditioning) isn’t exactly healthy.

The fact that the only normal relationship forged in the series is born outside of that system is proof that one doesn’t need to follow established lanes to get what one wants.

So yeah, I’m curious to know if there really is some sort of social stigma placed on people who choose not to participate in clubs and the like, of it it’s just a silly idea born out of watching too much anime.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2010 3:02 PM

    I don’t know if it’s looked down upon to NOT join a circle, but it is the primary social mechanism after high school and before work. Really, getting to college was such a pain for Japanese students, and college itself so easy, that there’s little reason for them not to.

    Besides, they’re well-trained to gravitate to groups. In junior high school you MUST have a club, and in high school it’s highly encouraged.

    Great thoughts! :)

  2. Landon permalink*
    May 18, 2010 10:26 PM

    So someone raised over there could look at it all and say “Hey! Aren’t they just conditioning us to think and behave in a certain way! What’s up with that?!” I’m just happy there’s some validity to what I’m saying outside of “I watch too many anime series with people in clubs.”

  3. May 20, 2010 8:40 AM

    Social integration is one of the cornerstones of Japanese culture. The language does it part to reinforce this; there’s little need to curse to offend people, simply speak abruptly and ignore the social hierarchy. Our culture instills individualism to the point of rudeness – witness the person blasting their music with subwoofers – and by comparison, Japanese culture may seem uptight or a little too regimented. After visiting Tokyo, I can say that it might not hurt them to lighten up a bit, but then again, Americans might do well to relearn some basic social skills.

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