30 Things I Like About My 30 Favorite Anime: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

zszs08aIn this edition of TTILAMTFA (which looks like a terrible program responsible for building death machines), I discuss an aspect of my 28th favorite series, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. This is a series that I just came across by circumstance, and there is one particular character that made it memorable. Unfortunately, no one else in the whole wide world agrees with me on this. It’s my post, so I’m going to gush over them how I want. Got it?

mataro2Sekiutsu “Maria” Tarou

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a wonderfully dark comedy with a few seasons and specials that ran from the fall of 2007 to a conclusion in January 2012. I say that it’s wonderful because it fully embraces the philosophy that there’s no light without the darkness.

For those who don’t know anything about the series, it’s a harem series starring a teacher named Itoshiki Nozomu, which written horizontally is zetsubou (despair). He’s introduced to the audience in the middle of an unsuccessful attempt to hang himself from a blooming cherry blossom tree. He’s introduced to his students slowly, but he manages to accidentally get all of the girls to fall for him in between his despairing about modernity itself. Each of the characters in the class is pretty one-dimensional like a hikkikomori, a girl who is bandaged, the strict class representative-like girl, a stalker, the one who is essentially the only normal girl and that bothers her, etc. Maria, or Mataro as she is called by Kafuka, goes by is an illegal immigrant and the inspiration for this post.

Maria is introduced to the show as a replacement for the real Sekiutsu Tarou. It turns out that he found the idea of selling his entire identity to a foreign girl and her numerous siblings very appealing. So he spends his days sitting naked in an empty box since it’s the essence of being nothing.

The thing that stands out for me about Maria is a point that never seems to come up in anime or manga since they rarely deal with real life issues is that she is inherently a political character. Her role basically isn’t so much to just be a token foreign character (there’s already someone to technically play that role in Kimura Kaere, a girl returning from abroad), but to be commentary on society as a whole. She’s treated very well be nearly everyone around her and given all sorts of things by people from a society filled with excess and prosperity.

Japan seems like a very nice country as a result and welcoming country to her, but her status makes this interesting. Officially, Japan’s population is 98.5% Japanese ethnicity. This is a staggeringly high number that is only really rivaled by South Korea in the developed world. Japan also has a declining population with one of the oldest populations in the world, yet there’s very little in the way of immigration to Japan because of the barriers that are put up. Since Maria made it inside of this system by buying a Japanese identity, she gets the benefits of living in a society where resources are abundant and social connections make it easier to tap into it. This is unlike her unnamed home country where presumably everyone is poor so there is nothing to give to other people in bad situations. Maria even became so indoctrinated at one point that she gave a speech before the diet against illegal immigration.

I’m also going to mention that Maria is voiced by one Sawashiro Miyuki. She seemed everywhere for a time; as is the case for almost any voice actress that reaches a certain level, but I have a definite pantheon of her roles in which Maria definitely belongs.

The Completely Unofficial Sawashiro Miyuki Character Pantheon

  • Celty (Durarara!!)
  • Hakaze (Zetsuen no Tempest)
  • Maria (Arakawa Under the Bridge)
  • Maria (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei)
  • Mint (Galaxy Angel)
  • Puchiko (Di Gi Charat)

Anyway, the long and short of this is really that Maria is a character that made me think about Japan as a country beyond the old “anime is great, so Japan must be a great country” thoughts. I was in Japan for my first visit last month, and even that 98.5% figure above seems low even as I was really just visiting major cities. There’s going to be more on that in December by the way.