On Self-Love: Sanrio Boys and Yuru Camp Bucking Societal Norms

The Winter 2018 season was, in many ways, a genuine surprise, primarily so because of the sheer volume of genuinely solid shows that were offered in this first bit of the year. What has surprised me beyond this, however, is that not only did we have a number of shows that I am already seeing as possible contenders for anime of the year, but a number of shows, to my surprise, made some concerted pushes in terms of working to buck some norms (or at least attempting to do so) that are fairly present within the general sphere of seasonal anime. For this season in particular, one theme that stood out to me has been that of self-love/self-acceptance, and this came to me most notably while watching Yuru Camp and Sanrio Boys.

While the two shows deal with this same central concept of coming to love and accept yourself for who you are, they approach it in their own fairly distinct ways, not only in how self-acceptance is conceptualized, but in how it is (or isn’t) explicitly discussed in each show. Despite the fact that the two shows hold distinctly different places in my heart and achieved varying levels of efficacy through their run this season (Sanrio Boys, in my opinion, felt as though it lost a great bit of its gusto at and after the season’s midpoint, while Yuru Camp was a solid hit with each episode), I feel that they both worked hard to at least give a strong push for a message that is sorely needed today.

These last few weeks, I gravitated quite strongly towards Yuru Camp, to the point where it is, if nothing else, tied for my pick of the season. In one sense, this is due to the fact that it matches my personal comfy aesthetic to a T, and it gets some pretty high marks because of that. Hanging out with friends by the fireside, learning to love camping and all that goes with it, doubling at times as a delicious food show that made me pine for a second season of Isekai ShokudoYuru Camp does quite a bit of work to to craft not just a compelling, comfortable cast of characters that is easy to become attached to, but it weaves together a very distinct feel to it that makes the experience of watching it as important as the content of the show itself. But beyond all of this aesthetic and character construction, Yuru Camp also consistently pushes for the idea that you should follow your passions in whatever ways they take you.

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Yuru Camp’s push and constant theme of enjoying one’s own particular approach to one’s passions also invariably goes hand in hand with the love and acceptance of oneself. Though it is not a theme that is explicitly touched on a la Sanrio Boys, Yuru Camp nonetheless paints a picture of characters that are comfortable with themselves. Through this presented degree of comfort, we also have the pleasure of seeing how these distinct personalities change (or stay the same) through the course of the show’s run. Nadeshiko, for instance, experiences a fairly large arc of personal discovery over the course of the season – initially a big dweeb that knows nothing about camping, she develops over these twelve episodes into a big dweeb that knows a decent bit about camping, has begun to branch out her camping style, and among other things, she genuinely loves the hobby. She’s voracious in her new-found love of camping, and her enthusiasm is met with resounding support from her friends in the Outclub, her family, and Rin.

As far as many shows of this genre goes, it’s not an uncommon thread – the new kid finds a club and falls in love with Thing X, finds friends, and is enriched through the experience. Obviously, Yuru Camp is not reinventing the wheel here, but the show also does seem to avoid some of the major pitfalls that similar shows within the genre fall into – for instance, the introduction of completely unnecessary drama in a show or genre that genuinely does not have any real need for it. In not bogging down the show with unnecessary dramatic narrative baggage, Yuru Camp allows itself to progress in such a way that it as a story, as we as viewers, can approach the show in a way that allows us to fully appreciate the joy of discovery and of one’s passions.

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This essence of joy is easily seen through our bubbly, ever-enthusiastic character of Nadeshiko, but I would argue that Yuru Camp presents an even more compelling view of this joy through the time that it spends focused on the character of Rin. Our other major anchor character, Rin is serves as, in some ways, a balancing character for Nadeshiko, bringing a more calm and composed, but equally joyous, personality to the table. While much of the show does revolve around Nadeshiko’s forays into camping with others, most of the time that we spend on-screen with Rin is during her own solo camping expeditions, which is fascinating, given the general club activities anime formula we discussed briefly above. There are several points in the show where, briefly, Rin is asked to join the Outclub, because if they have one more member, they of course are given the coveted status of a full club!

Given the number of shows that inevitably come to the conclusion of getting the solo loner character to join up with a group, you’d think that Yuru Camp would likely follow suit, but it does not. Rin refuses, not out of any sense of animosity, but because she isn’t terribly interested in group camping – her passion lies in going it solo.

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Again, given the general way that shows within this genre seem to go, you would think that Rin’s refusal to join the club would result in a redoubling of efforts from the club members to recruit her, but it does not. Her desires are completely respected, and there’s no pressure to try to get her to join. There is an understanding that they are all approaching their passion of camping differently, and that there is no one way that is “the right way” to do it. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a perspective like this in the club hijinks genre of anime, especially due to the fact that so often solitude is seen as something that people will be broken of if only they just got out of their shells and became social butterflies.

Here, a want of solitude is not seen as such. Rin does enjoy hanging out with Nadeshiko and the others – she goes group camping a few times, keeps in touch with them through sending texts and photos, etc – but she also just genuinely appreciates time alone. In a similar fashion, it is not until the end of the season that Nadeshiko attempts solo camping. For the entire series before then, Nadeshiko is always camping with others, largely because she just enjoys the social aspect of camping. In both cases, these distinct preferences for camping are respected by all parties.

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In effect, Yuru Camp posits that both solo camping and group camping are perfectly valid, and by extension, that actively enjoying either the company of others or solitude are also both perfectly valid ways to live one’s life. There is no real need to seek others out, or to find solace in others, for one’s way of life to be validated. This is not to say, of course, that the idea of someone like Nadeshiko finding common ground and shared passion through the Outclub is something that should be looked down upon. For her, that is one major way that she finds joy and comes to discover things about herself that she might not have found otherwise.

Through this group environment, she finds a deeper sense of self-love and acceptance. In much the same way, by presenting a scenario in which the more introverted Rin is not judged for her desire to mainly do solo camping, Yuru Camp also is able to showcase the immense joy that comes from her time by herself. Through saying very little of this directly in the show itself, it gives the genuinely refreshing message that you should be free to like what you like, and that you should be fully comfortable with yourself in following whatever your passions might be – there is no need for validation from others for you to have a fulfilling life, hobby, etc., but if you do find comfort through that, then more power to you.

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While Yuru Camp does not openly engage much in dialogue regarding self-love and acceptance,  Sanrio Boys, on the other hand, is quite explicit in how it handles the bucking of traditional norms in the pursuit of one’s own happiness. While the show is first and foremost a glorified advertisement for the Sanrio Company, showcasing popular characters such as Pompompurin, My Melody, and Hello Kitty, the show (or at least the first half of it) puts in serious work to address issues of toxic masculinity, loving oneself and one’s passions, and living your life without regard to harmful societal norms. It’s far more competent than it feels like an advertisement show should or could be in that respect, and the ways in which it works that narrative in is honestly refreshing.

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Similar to Yuru Camp, Sanrio Boys falls into the “cute guys/girls doing cute things” category of shows, and it is definitely not bringing anything particularly groundbreaking in how the genre will be handled in seasons to come. The core idea of guys finding the power of friendship together and doing it in a more distinctly shoujo style is nothing new, but having a central, initial focus of the show revolve around explicit discussions of whether or not it’s okay for guys to like “girly things” certainly feels like a welcome change of pace, even if it is almost assuredly not the first show to address it. A major aspect of the show, and what is essentially the central mantra of the show for a good half of the season, is that it is okay for you to like what you like.

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The show’s focus on the protagonist Kouta and his struggles to accept that he can still be a man and like cute things, specifically the big, fluffy character of Pompompurin, is not just a struggle of liking what you like, however. There are, of course, shows like this that feature their casts being ridiculed for their passions, but working through the hate that is sent their way. For Kouta, however, this particular brand of repression has become so deep-seated that for quite some time, it has affected his ability to fully come to terms with and accept himself. In typical heteronormative fashion, any slight suggestion that he might like anything Sanrio-related would be met with an overwhelming refusal. However, through coming to know his classmates and fellow Sanrio Boys Yuu and Shunsuke, Kouta comes to finally wrestle with his demons and come out on top, finally being open about his love for big, cute mascot characters.

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In a way, this does follow the sort of formula of the outsider kid finding acceptance through a group, but in this case, the reversal of the ostracization that Kouta experiences previously in life due to his interests feels almost like an initial necessity to facilitate Kouta’s healing process. Being among a group of friends that is not necessarily the cure in and of itself, though. Being among friends that encourage him to love what he loves, and by extension, to love himself, is the push that he needs to fully work within himself and tackle his inner demons.

In being able to accept that he can like what he likes and not be ashamed, Kouta is also able to accept himself without being ashamed, as well.

It’s genuinely uplifting to see, and it’s honestly a shame that it is one that seems to fall by the wayside once the second half of the show kicks in, making way for typical school festival or club training camp hijinks. Regardless of the fact that the breaking down of traditional societal and gender norms does not consistently carry through the entire show, it is still encouraging that the attempt was made at all.

A lot of talk was tossed around that the Winter 2018 season was definitely a “comfy” season, and I am inclined to agree. However, with shows like Yuru Camp and Sanrio Boys, as well as others we did not get to here, such as A Place Further Than the Universe and Violet Evergarden, it was a genuinely uplifting season, as well. Though not all of the shows that fall under this comfy, uplifting framework address these ideas of self-love, it is greatly heartening to see that there are still strides being made to encourage folks to live their best lives, and to find peace with themselves.

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