Social Society in Manabi Straight

Since I’ve decided to go back and get some old posts out of my draft queue, I’ve resurrected this post since it surprisingly piqued the interest of someone. In this case, it’s a little socioeconomic look at Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight and it’s possible tie-in with an essay speculating on American culture. Does it work or not? Well it’s not like I will get comments anyway.

In 1995, the political scientist Robert Putnam published an essay titled Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. In it he describe America’s declining social capital through things like decreasing voter turnout and lower membership in civic organizations. The title itself comes from decreasing membership in bowling leagues while there is a rise in the popularity of bowling. In other words, bowling became a fun thing to do rather than a reason for a group of people to get together.

He sees improvements in society like the increase of women in the workforce and other demographic changes making little difference to counter this trend. Instead, he places the blame on advances that have individualized life outside of the workplace.

Manabi Straight is set in the year 2035 where decades of declining population have had a considerable impact on life in Japan. High school attendance has plummeted to a point where schools are closed and merged with others.

A decline in participation in civil society is also apparent even within the limited scope of life at the Seioh Private High School. Nearly all aspects of life have been individualized to the point where the students’ personal organizers are more like personal entertainment devices. There is also a tremendous amount of apathy regarding how the school is run at the beginning, which has all of one member.

One of the things that drew my interest in all of this was the way the changes in society that came about because of the declining population. The consumer culture that is apparent by mobile devices has to be maintained by lower-wage service sector workers. What better source than teenagers then to replace them and other lower-level white-collar workers? Thus, the taboo against not attending high school must go away.

The gender disparity in the schools probably goes along with a gender bias in employment. Presumably this means that Boys can leave middle school and slot in as low-level salarymen making a ton of money for a 15-year-old. While girls take over sales and other service jobs that are not necessarily desirable but make them a bit of money. Though it probably isn’t enough to entirely justify abandoning the education system, so some actually go ahead and attend high school.

The civil society angle enters the picture because there suddenly becomes a massive segment of the population who have never really learned about government or society in a classroom setting. There’s also minimal incentive to force even the high school students to learn this because they can just go off to earn a decent sum if things get too boring for them.

So ultimately, with the youth of the society of Manabi Straight dealing with the decline in population by becoming focused mostly on personal entertainment and/or making money. Social society also takes a bit hit because government just seems like a distant entity that does some stuff that doesn’t impact students, and working in a team only seems to come from employment. Going to school became something fun to do for individuals and small groups rather than a reason to gather together.

Am I reading too much into this? Is there anything similar that you may find interesting in another series? Are there any other instances of social decay that you can relate to?

4 thoughts on “Social Society in Manabi Straight

  1. See, this is a cool post. I focused a lot on the students and the idea of Manabi’s “vision,” and how she caries it out. I never really thought about the factors leading to the world of Manabi Straight. It’s interesting to think about it from the sociological standpoint.

    When an anime give you a world filled almost entirely with female students, you usually just think, “Well, it’s anime.” But the idea that all the boys can get better jobs more easily than girls (and therefore, the male/female unbalance still exists), justifies the world presented to us.

    Very nice post. I count Manabi Straight as one of my favorite anime. Thanks for revisiting it!

    • Thank you, that’s probably the first time one of my posts has been called “cool”. The character aspect has a wider appeal and liked Manabi’s ability to create things out of sheer force of will.

      Since it is set in the near future, that also seemed radically different from now, I really wanted to think of just how realistic it could be. There’s just not a whole lot of work that goes on in creating a larger world than the main cast’s small world these days.

  2. Very nice post. and something the blogosphere needs a hell of a lot more of – posts about Manabi Straight (which I consider to be one of the greatest anime of all time). You are not over-thinking things – Manabi is rife with deeper meaning that it lets on, and through it’s spectacular writing and fully realized worldview it proves that it did not send this message by accident.

    It has been said in the past that Manabi is truly a show about government, and how it takes a powerful leader in order to convince the people that they need to be a part of something.

    Back in 2008, I made a point to continually compare Barack Obama to Manabi, and even had a banner once of the two of them side by side, and the reason is that both of them were leaders who inspired an apathetic ‘nation’ to use their voting powers to actually support their country. Just as Manabi somehow got all of the girls at school to participate in the school festival, Obama inspired voters to come out of the woodwork and voice themselves in what was I think the biggest election of all time (?).

    And both of them accomplished this simply by teaching people that life is brighter and more hopeful when you fight. Most people don’t see themselves as having a battle to fight, even though they are discontent. Manabi made people first realize their discontent with high school and then rectify it, while Obama first gave people the hope to believe that they could fix the problems that they saw in their country, and then led them to take the first steps. For that, I greatly admire both of them as leaders.

    • The worldview is indeed one of the best aspects of the series. Instead of simply setting for a concept like “moe girls in an all-girls high school of the future” it is much deeper than that. I have no idea if this actually translated as far as the making money part, though I’m afraid it wasn’t.

      I would only go as far as saying the show is about government in that government is a reflection of the society it comes from.

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