Monday, June 27, 2016

Azumanga Analysis: Kaorin

Of the students, Kaorin is definitely my least favorite.  She's awkward, and primarily defined by her crush on Sakaki.  On the other hand, she's at least more interesting than Nyamo (in my opinion, anyway).  The huge difficulty in analyzing her is that she's almost never doing anything that doesn't involve acting like an idiot in front of her crush.  We simply don't get to see her at her best, or know anything much about her.

Most fanfiction writers who pair like to pair her off with Sakaki, making it so that she achieves her lofty goals of catching her classmate's attention.  Why do people do this?  Maybe they feel sorry for Kaorin.  Maybe they just like gay fanfiction.  Or perhaps they identify with Kaorin, because her struggle reminds them of times in their past when they were too afraid to get what they wanted.  Maybe by giving Kaorin what she wants, it'll feel like a cathartic way of having that thing the fanfic writer missed out on.

But you know where they aren't getting this pairing from?  The show.

I mean, holy crap, Kaorin is the dictionary definition of awkward.  Do you see how she acts in front of Sakaki?  Sakaki is too reserved to do much about it, but do you really think she doesn't see how ridiculous Kaorin gets?  Kaorin is forever staring at her in class, and always freaks out if it looks like someone else is attracting Sakaki's attention.  She says weird things all the time, too.  Like when they were about to go on the third summer vacation, and apparently the thing Kaorin says to her when she arrives is something Japanese wives say to their husbands right after they marry.  And the folk dance, when she won't let go of Sakaki's hand?  What is Sakaki supposed to think about that?

The absolute worst was during the three legged race in the second sports fest.  Let's count all the ways Kaorin makes a fool of herself. 

1. freaking out when Sakaki is drafted into the event.
2. growling at her best friend when Chihiro suggests she could do the race after all.
3. making panicky promises of trying her best before the race starts.
4. completely losing her mind when they win.
5. suggesting they remain tied together afterwards.

I'm a bit suspicious that it's this event that causes Kaorin to be sent out of Yukari's class for the third year.  Yukari was standing right there when 1 and 2 happened, and possibly more.  I can't help but imagine that Yukari said to herself, "that girl is messing up the mojo of my best athlete.  She's definitely not staying in my class."

Before you start saying that Kaorin still has a chance, imagine how you'd feel if someone acted this way in front of you.  While Sakaki is generally too contained to react much to anything not extreme or cuteness-related, keep an eye on her when Kaorin is acting a fool.  She notices.  Also, it's kinda funny how at the beginning of the second semester Kaorin is saying how nice it is they're in the same class again, and then Sakaki is all like, "yeah", then immediately walks away.  I lol'ed.

Deeper than this is the issue of why Kaorin is attracted to Sakaki.  Kaorin is obsessed with Sakaki's shell, that is, her coolness.  Kaorin barely knows that Sakaki likes cats.  She doesn't know how dramatically obsessed with them Sakaki is, or that Sakaki wants to be a vet, or that Sakaki hasn't the slightest interest in being cool -- any apparent coolness on Sakaki's part is unintentional, a way to hide her inner self, or a side effect of her cuteness obsession.

In one episode, Tomo and Kaorin are arguing about whether coolness or cuteness is better, with Kaorin firmly on the side of "cool."  In a later episode, however, Sakaki admantly tells Chiyo that it's "stronger" to be cute.  And Kaorin never finds out Sakaki's opinion.  Even worse, the somewhat dense Kagura is the first one to find out Sakaki's struggles with kamineko, and how much all cats refuse to return Sakaki's affection.  And at the end of that episode, Kaorin walks up to Sakaki in an arcade, only to assume that Sakaki plays racing and shooting games.  She walks away before noticing that Sakaki is holding stuffed cats. 

So how would Kaorin feel to know the real Sakaki?  She's spent so much time being obsessed with Sakaki's exterior, that it's bound to be a shock if she ever discovers how weak and uncertain Sakaki really can be.  And who knows what would happen if Kaorin ever found out about Chiyochichi?  Knowing that her crush thinks a flying, orange cat-like being is Chiyo-chan's father would certainly make Kaorin raise an eyebrow. 

What makes this particularly heartbreaking is that Kaorin seems like a decent person whenever Sakaki isn't around.  She can make costumes, having made both the mascots for the culture fests.  She's also the first person shown attempting to make friends -- she invites Chiyo to eat lunch with her.  Clearly Kaorin is a nice, socially competent person.  The stupids only attack when Sakaki is nearby.

Actually, let's get back to Kagura.  Did you know she's Kaorin's rival?  As much as Kagura isn't attracted to Sakaki, she has a very similar goal to Kaorin.  That is, to befriend Sakaki.  And Kagura succeeds where Kaorin has failed, becoming the last member of Sakaki's circle of friends.  What makes it worse is that Kagura accomplished this by the dumbest means possible.  She (1) approached the most reticent, socially uncertain of the girls and (2) continually talked about things Sakaki clearly doesn't care about -- sports teams and mountain bikes -- while (3) disrespecting the things Sakaki does like by doodling on nekoconeko and smacking cats.  Kagura never appears to realize she's doing 2, and only half realizes that 3 isn't a good idea.  Yet she's in Sakaki's circle, and is Sakaki's companion for their graduation trip to Magical Land.  Sucks to be you, Kaorin.

This brings me back to my Nyamo/Yukari assertion about natural skills and personal confidence being the two reasons why anyone succeeds at anything.  Kaorin seems to have decent natural skills in sewing, design, and friendliness, but she is entirely lacking in self-drive and initiative.  She drifts through high school, just kind of hoping that life brings her and Sakaki together, without putting any real effort into accomplishing this goal. 

Indeed Kaorin's first interaction with Sakaki (when attempting to invite her to astronomy club) is remarkably similar to Kagura's (when declaring to Sakaki that they are rivals), in that they both tried and failed to initiate interaction with Sakaki.  The only difference between the two is that Kagura doesn't let apparent failure stop her from trying again.  If Kaorin hadn't given up, Sakaki would have joined the astronomy club, changing both the nature of their relationship and indeed, all of Azumanga.  After all, she was the first one to approach Sakaki, and Sakaki clearly wanted companionship from someone, and was too introverted to know what to do.

But alas, Kaorin apparently felt helpless, and could only hope for outer circumstances to bring them together.  While "going with the flow" has its moments, all water flows downhill, and Kaorin's lack of confidence ultimately is what ruined her chances.  By the end of high school, Sakaki (and certainly Tomo too) knows how awkward she is and has lost any interest she might have had in close friendship.  Kaorin just never believed in her own ability to affect her life circumstances.  Of course, if she did, she'd almost certainly realize how stupid she was in front of Sakaki.

This is all laid out very clearly in the New Year's dream episode.  Kaorin dreams that Sakaki has rescued her, and upon waking, attempts to go back to sleep and return to the dream.  And where was she supposed to go that day?  To the temple, to go hang out with the real Sakaki.  Kaorin's insistence on going back to the dream indicates that she prefers a fake but achievable Sakaki to the aloof, real one -- the one she actually has to try to have a real friendship with.  The one who is more than just a hero who comes in on a white horse and saves the day.  Someone with insecurities, passions, and obstacles.  Someone who is nowhere near as perfect as Kaorin seems to think.

This isn't just a matter of Sakaki either.  Kaorin never takes initiative to change the direction of her life.  Like, when she is put in Kimura's class.  Not only does Kaorin never consider that she might have done something to upset Yukari, but she also doesn't take any action to stop Kimura from being attracted to her.  She's just concerned with enduring her final year.  Honestly, homegirl had lots of options.  We know that Kimura doesn't like boys or Osaka, so clearly Kaorin could have wrapped her bust in gauze or athletic tape, or worn a boy's uniform to school.  She could have reported Kimura to someone, or stopped speaking to him, or gave him an insulting nickname, refused to be class representative, or just taken any sort of action that would have discouraged him.

One interesting thing of note is that while Sakaki and Yomi have bigger boobs than Kaorin, Kimura never reaches obsession level with them.  Clearly Sakaki and Yomi have personality aspects that make them less appealing.  Sakaki is guarded, and Yomi is never unwilling to defend herself.  If Yomi had been the one stuck in his class, you better bet he wouldn't get away with labelling a garden with both their names.  Kaorin really needed to put up a shield of some subtle kind to make it very clear she's not putting up with his crap.  Instead, she's a nervous, timid, vulnerable girl...the exact thing that Kimura likes.  She's making herself a victim by being unable to take action or ask for help, and therefore collects a predator.  It's seriously scary how self-victimizing Kaorin can be.

Heh, what Kaorin really should do is lean back in her chair, put her feet on her desk, and say, "So Kimura Sensei, when your daughter grows up, don't you want her to have a teacher just like you?"

Kaorin had every opportunity to be close to Sakaki.  She was the first person to approach her, she's friendly with all the other Azugirls, she owns cats, and she's invited to every summer vacation trip.  One interesting thing of note is that despite astronomy club interfering with her being able to go on these trips (as well as keeping her at school when the Azugirls are going home or hanging out), Kaorin never quits it.  She acts as though astronomy club is something like fate, without realizing it's not something she has to do.  Why is this?  Does her mother want her in a club?  Does she think it improves her chances for college?  How bad does she want Sakaki if she's not willing to take any action to get her?

Again, Kagura is the more successful rival.  Despite her own club, ambitions, and dumb methods, Kagura is far closer to Sakaki.  Kaorin, in the meanwhile, doesn't even know that Sakaki is shy.  She clings as hard as she can to a false image of Sakaki, making no attempt to learn who the real Sakaki is.  Then there's the question of whether or not Kaorin is actually gay.  I'm reluctant to label Kaorin here because we don't know her well, but she does seem to like guys.  There's a shot of her at the folk dance where she seems happy to be dancing with a boy.  She also seems to like Sakaki for all her masculine qualities, both real and imagined. 

And that's why they'll never be together.  Kaorin doesn't know Sakaki and she doesn't try.  She clings as hard as she can to the image she has in her head, because that image will give her all the things that the real Sakaki won't or can't.  And she can never act a fool in fake Sakaki's eyes.  By now, real Sakaki's figured out that something with that Kaorin chick just ain't right. 

I kinda wonder about Kaorin's past.  Probably nothing especially bad has ever happened to her, given that she's on the whole an optimistic person.  On the other hand, she's immediately attracted to Sakaki's protective nature.  Clearly Kaorin feels vulnerable in one way or another, and she wants someone to protect her.  Maybe Kaorin is especially sensitive, and it's this sensitivity that makes people like Kimura drawn to her.  She thus knows she's missing something.  What she thinks she needs is protection, but what she really needs is a greater sense of confidence in herself.  She, like Nyamo, is better off than she thinks she is. 

Again, it's Kaorin's awkwardness and vulnerability that makes fans like her.  Those are also the things that determine she hasn't the slightest chance with Sakaki.  She's also in danger of letting her life get out of her control; if Kaorin never takes initiative in any aspect of her life, she'll continue to be pushed along by general Japanese culture.  Granted, Kaorin is competent enough to have a decent life even despite her "go with whatever's handed to you" nature, and that's not the worst personal philosophy to have.  It's just that if Kaorin never switches gears from "endure" to "achieve", she'll never do anything particularly remarkable with her life. 

Y'know, people compare Yomi to Nyamo a lot, but quite frankly Kaorin is more likely to turn out like Kurasawa Sensei in the end. 

My favorite Kaorin moment is when she and Chihiro announce they've made Chiyo's penguin costume.  It's the one moment where Kaorin is competent, happy, and showing a personal talent. My second favorite moment is when she's picking flower petals at the beginning of the second year, because this action sums up her character all too well: she's trusting the arbitrations of fate, while all along never realizing that she had control.  Psst, Kaorin.  If you want flower petals to give you what you want, pick one with an odd number of petals.  Picking an even-numbered flower means you'll always land on "loves me not."

Let's think of some potential endings.  Kaorin -
- has a decent, boring life, at the end of which she feels disappointed.
- suffers through a career of continually being taken advantage of, due to her ever-enduring nature.
- suffers a personal tragedy because her vulnerability makes her weak to predators.  This causes her to question her entire life and make poor choices.
- learns to be stronger, and becomes a hardworking careerist who ends up making a real difference in the business where she works.
- becomes an astronomer.

Despite the negativity of some of my above potentialities, Kaorin's adulthood actually has a pretty good chance of turning out well.  It hinges on whether or not she can actually see herself the way she really is, and that is the catalyst which will determine how her life goes.

Kaorin's ending: ----- High School Nostalgia -----

For the time being, Kaorin follows societal expectations.  She does well at college, gets a decent job, and works hard at it, doing good and being paid well.  After an awkward time of flirtation and dating, Kaorin is proposed to by the cute guy in the corner office.  Kaorin briefly wonders if this is what she really wants, but she goes ahead and gets married.  They have three kids, all boys, and Kaorin ends up staying home to raise them, because she never felt that attached to her job anyway.  She becomes more or less like her own mother, except very sensitive to her kids' needs.  Despite being a good mother, Kaorin grows more doubtful over time, feeling like something is missing.

Then their high school reunion comes up (I have no idea if this is a thing in Japan, but if it isn't, let's just say that Tomo or Chiyo decided it would be a good idea and organize it themselves), and Kaorin sees Sakaki again.  All the old feelings come up, and Kaorin bemoans her fate.  But as Kaorin watches Sakaki, she finds out that her former crush is a vet, and that everyone besides her knew of this dream in high school. Kaorin suddenly realizes that she's never really known Sakaki at all.  Because she's fairly reasoned and doesn't suffer from any Yukari-brand self-delusions, Kaorin is able to look back at her past and see all the wasted time and awkward activity that held her back.  She suddenly realizes that she's never at all asked herself what she wants out of life.  Sakaki's known for years what she wanted, while she's never put much thought into it at all, only doing what she's "supposed" to.

Kaorin goes to her husband and insists that she wants a change, that she doesn't want to be just a housewife.  Because the boys are now all in school, she insists on going in to design, and ends up creating mascots, as well as complex costumes for famous singers.  Her family is supportive of her in these efforts, and Kaorin is put into a tough cycle of working on her dreams and caring for her family.  Kaorin knows, however, that it will all be worth it in the end, because she's finally making her own decisions.  Her story ends with seeing Sakaki in the distance one last time, and she says quietly, "Thank you, Sakaki.  Thank you for everything."

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