Monday, June 20, 2016

Azumanga Analysis -- Tanizaki Yukari

Yukari is perhaps the hardest of all characters to properly analyze, because she's the least like a real person.  While most everything she does is fairly natural, a person with all of those flaws and willingness to give in to them at any point in the day is very absurd.  Especially since she hasn't lost her job or been involved in a bar fight.   Maybe Nyamo is serving a good purpose in taking all of Yukari's aggression: she's insuring that Yukari doesn't hurt other people. 

At the same time, Nyamo is a huge enabler.  Yukari is entirely dependent on her.  She requires Nyamo's companionship, immediately assumes she can sleep at Nyamo's house when construction workers are working near her own, constantly needs to shove her superior knowledge of english in Nyamo's face, and needs rides to different places.  If Nyamo would just put her foot down and choose other people to hang out with, Yukari's current life would fall apart -- and she'd try to make Nyamo's fall apart too. 

It's kind of amazing how much Nyamo lets her get away with it.  The story sort of implies that Nyamo sees the two of them as basically equals, as Nyamo, who despite criticizing Yukari's behavior, never calls Yukari a bad or immature person.  And in the spring episode, Nyamo calls them both childish, when she could have very easily only called Yukari childish.  The audience would have no reason to disbelieve her.  By including herself, Nyamo is making a statement about how she perceives her own flaws, flaws which by and large the audience doesn't get to see.  Nyamo, however, does see her own flaws, and thus is apparently incapable of viewing her own life as more advantageous than Yukari's.

Which brings me back to Tanizaki Sensei.  Despite Nyamo not seeing their differences, Yukari clearly does.  She knows that Nyamo is more popular, a better driver, a better athlete, and probably also more employable than her.  Nyamo also has more self-control.  Most of these are fairly small things, or things Yukari could easily achieve on her own if she actually put forth the effort.  Thus Yukari is constantly trying to look better than Nyamo, by means of gossiping about her past, using her english to impress, and pretending her horrible driving is a more adventurous way to live. 

Also, Yukari is great at making excuses for her own behavior.  When she can't remember something, she insists that people should let go of the past.  When she doesn't have something that another person has, she stubbornly calls them bourgeoisie.  When she has a kitten to get rid of, she claims the cat is too young to be on its own.  When the cat escapes, she happily pronounces that it'll be fine.  Basically, Yukari has an excuse for everything she does.  Even if these excuses are flimsy, she'll still have something to defend herself with, almost every single time.  And when she doesn't, she resorts to volume, then violence. 

This is the thing that ruins it for Yukari.  Nyamo seems to think they're more or less equal, and Yukari is clearly angling for any way that she can prove that life's deck isn't highly stacked in Nyamo's favor.  Which perception is accurate?  Yukari's.  Nyamo is clearly in a happier place than her.  Someone as sensitive to privilige as Yukari is always going to notice when the playing field isn't even.  However, it's this inferiority complex that makes Yukari inferior.  Well, that, and Yukari's general laziness, like her willingness to choose video games over being at school on time, and how she's perfectly fine with showing how unmotivated her summer vacation has made her.

But to the first flaw, Yukari is taking Nyamo's advantages too seriously.  Yes, Nyamo is better at sports, but there's no real reason to care about that.  After all, if Yukari had chosen to use her time on athletic training (she's at least no Osaka), she might not have had the time to become fluent in english.  It's all about opportunity cost, and what a person is naturally talented in.  In other words, knowing a foreign language is at least as useful as being good at sports. 

But no, Yukari has to feel superior to Nyamo in athletics both personally and class vs. class.  Yukari is so desperate to try and make others feel bad, that, for example, after the second sports fest she mocks Nyamo's class for losing.  And in the process completely humiliates both herself and her class.  This behavior is constant, and Yukari is perfectly willing to scream in public, force her students to play sports with her at a disadvantage (Team Yukari vs Team Sea Slug, soccer/dodgeball in the winter), and rat out Nyamo's past to her students just to feel better about her own life.  She craves superiority over Nyamo, and also over whoever else she can get it from.

All of this protects Yukari from the truth.  And what is the truth?  That all of Yukari's flaws are self-made.  If she stopped yelling in public, the students would like her more.  If she saved her money, she could have her own car.  If she drove better, she could keep it.   If she thought more about the things she said, guys would like her better.  If she stopped treating people like means to ends, she'd have more real friends.

The reason why Nyamo doesn't seem to feel she's superior to Yukari is because on a superficial level, they are equal.  They're both teachers that work in the same school and make the same amount of money.  Both of them are good looking.  Both of them have a talent which enables them to keep their job.  If Yukari were kinder and less lazy, the two of them would absolutely be equal.  As it is, Yukari's inferiority complex keeps her firmly in the crazy territory, rendering her incapable of keeping any friends other than the long-enduring Nyamo.  As much as she might have remained friends with any of the Azugirls after their graduation even despite her behavior, let's face it, Yukari's too lazy for that mess.

If you will allow a history fan to mention a particular era at the risk of sounding like a crazy person, I have to make a point about Yukari's use of the word "bourgeoisie." She uses it as an accusation, as though she swallows wholesale the myth that every advantaged person is feeding off the poor, and no one can have without taking away from someone else.  This is the exact attitude that leads to things like communism.  When you read about a nation coming to communism, its leaders often encouraged their less educated followers to pillage the local landowners and businessmen, citing them as the cause of all the nation's problems.  It often got to the point where if a person hired someone else, they were accused of being "petite bourgeoisie" and attacked.  I even read about one girl who was targeted because someone paid back a debt they owed to her father in candles, and selling these candles apparently was too capitalist.  In an ultimate form of irony, the destruction of businesses ended up destroying communist economies.

I mention it because I want to state how absolutely devastating an attitude like Yukari's can be.  Her jealousy against people like Yomi and Chiyo for doing things she didn't get to do causes her to go into a violent rage.  All of the girls in this show are based on real attitudes, despite how much they've all been cartoonified.  And the moral of Yukari's story is that when you strike others for their advantages, you don't make yourself better, you only make things worse for everyone.

So that's Yukari's flaws: laziness and self-pity.  However, let's look at Yukari's good points, which she does have.  Remember, the Azugirls did feel respect for her at the end of the show, so no matter how bad a teacher she was, she did enough for them to appreciate her.  Or else their good natures, graduation nostalgia, and Japan's educational culture combined to form good feelings.

Clearly Yukari cares about english.  To an extent she appears to like it as a way to show off, but that doesn't seem to be the entirety of her passion for it.  We see little glimpses of her assigning work, and through these glimpses we get to see how she really feels about her job.  For one thing, despite her behavior and tardiness, she never appears at risk of being fired.  Yukari scolds Osaka for sleeping "while she's working."  She hands out english workbooks and forces students to finish them before they can leave for break.  Yukari can tell when Tomo is copying other people's homework.  Heck, even Chiyo pays respect to Yukari's ability to teach, in the entrance exams episode.  It even seems that Yukari's negativity in class is partially a way to motivate students: in the last summer vacation episode, she scared Tomo and Kagura by telling them it was too late for them to study and do well in the entrance exams.  And then they both studied hard.

Despite all Yukari's issues, she seems engaged and focused when she's actually teaching.  Part of me wonders if, in her past, Yukari had hoped to go travelling to an english speaking country, and it just didn't work out for her.  Maybe her laziness/self-pity combined to make her believe she could never afford it, and that scholarships or other subsidized means of traveling outside Japan aren't within her reach.  I'm also suspicious that Nyamo's family is wealthier than her own.  Probably not that much wealthier, because Nyamo ended up in the same place, but perhaps just enough to engage Yukari's jealousy.  It's not like it takes much.

Yukari's main advantage, as I see it, is that she has exactly what Nyamo lacks: confidence.  Granted, in Yukari's case it's a rotted confidence, a kind of self-regard that's more of a defense mechanism to protect her own ego than true confidence.  At the same time, Yukari expertly dodges all attempts for other characters to ask about her personal information.  Nyamo sweats bullets over her own rumors, but Yukari is able to put in minimal effort and calmly maintain her own anonymity.  Even when Tomo attempts to get information on relationships from Yukari (see: first summer vacation), the teacher expertly dodges the question, completely stopping the most stubborn student in her tracks.  Tomo might get one off on any other person in the class, but Yukari will never be taken in.  Indeed, she's the one most capable of dealing with Tomo.

In the end, Yukari appears in certain ways more socially intelligent than Nyamo.  Yes, I know what I'm saying.  Yukari may not know how to act, but she knows how to defend herself emotionally, which is why she'll never be stomped on the way she stomps on Nyamo.  If Yukari could put her social capabilities to good work, she'd be a real powerhouse.  Unfortunately, the social awareness she has is dedicated purely to self-defense.

Yukari's confidence, rotten though it may be, is enough to keep her going throughout the day.  Despite her problems, she always attacks life with energy and persistence.  And it's that persistence which has enabled her to keep a job at a school with a good reputation.  Basically, Nyamo and Yukari represent the two halves of success.  Nyamo represents natural skill, and Yukari represents self-drive, will, or the ability to go forward despite apparent opposition or obstacles.  They're not the perfect examples of this, but as teacher characters they symbolize two different ways to succeed in life.  I'll be referencing both of these characteristics as I describe each girl in the analysis ahead.

My favorite Yukari moment is when she uses her excuse generating power for good: when she's talking to Kagura after graduation, and she's telling her that her memories are her souvenir from school.  Yukari is of course full of little sayings like this, and she is surprised that Kagura takes it so to heart.  But it's really the moment where Yukari feels the most "teacher-ish", and she's being a proper guide.  For all of one minute, but it's a really nice minute.

Her runner up moment is when she's telling Chiyo-chan and Osaka that they'll be together in second year.  Normally Yukari is too lazy to put much effort into making her students like her, but since she has to set up her classes anyway, why not make the girls feel good about it?  What I especially like about this moment is that she knows Osaka is no good either athletically or academically -- Yukari's main reasons for keeping any given student --  yet endeavors to keep her around anyway.  Sure, Yukari doesn't like memorizing new names, but clearly she at least likes keeping friends with friends, as shown by her encouragement to Kaorin during the first class switch (oh, but we'll return to that subject, we will). 

Though honestly, I have to say both moments are dulled by the fact Yukari doesn't realize how much she can potentially mean to the students.  They like her despite her, and if she only woke up and realized this, she would be in a much happier place.

Predicting Yukari's future, however, is hurtful.  Her bad behaviors are clearly deeply rooted, and Nyamo shows no sign of ending the enabling relationship.  Here's some potentials. Yukari -
- realizes she's capable of more and stops whining. (hahahahaha!)
- gets into an accident, which either propels her into further self-pity or refocuses her life.
- spends the rest of her life in the teaching job, unfulfilled and out of excuses.
- gets promoted within the school system, getting a job as the principal of her school.  Despite her reputation, her approaches see moderate success.

Tanizaki Yukari's ending:   ----- The Worst Ending -----

Yukari spends the next few years of her life living as she does on the show.  One day is like another, one year is like another.  All of a sudden, she finds out that Nyamo is getting married.  Yukari realizes that this means radical changes in her life -- no more rides, no more hanging out in bars, and no more treating Nyamo's house like her own.  She reacts poorly and behaves like a buffoon in front of Nyamo's fiance. 

Nyamo, concerned, talks with her former student Kagura, who tells her to invite the Azugirls to the wedding to help keep Yukari under control.  This Nyamo does.  Tomo assigns herself as Yukari's guardian, and the two have drunken, raucous adventures, which the other girls are able to keep somewhat in check.  Chiyo and Yomi attempt to comfort Yukari by telling her about their successes (more on that as the other girls are mentioned).  Chiyo's works, but Yomi isn't successful enough for drunken Yukari to care.  Sakaki blocks Yukari from drinking too much.  Osaka is there, but her attempts to comfort Yukari are more funny than successful. 

Afterwards, Yukari feels lost and alone.  Unable to cope with being single and behind Nyamo, she goes to major extremes to find men, which are likewise funny and unsuccessful.  Her confidence inadvertantly attracts the attention of an awkward but kind man.  Yukari's wild, persistent behavior causes him to have the confidence to say what he needs to say at his work.  He gets a promotion, and insists on wooing Yukari because of this.  Yukari is less than thrilled about the little dork until she finds out about his money situation.  He makes more money than Nyamo's husband, so she's willing to keep him.  They marry, and Yukari quits her job. 

For a few years, things are alright, and they travel a bit.  However, Yukari's bad habits don't disappear, and over time her husband starts to get more and more disillusioned about her.  Things come to a head when Yukari insists on children, because Nyamo's already working on her second, and they don't have any.  A divorce comes instead. 

Yukari manages to get a job working for Chiyo, but her fragile ego can't handle being divorced, working for a former student, and not having some sort of priviliged position within the company.  Eventually Yukari returns to Japan, where she becomes an english tutor.  Swearing off men, Yukari accepts her lonely life with bitterness, unable to see Nyamo anymore and be exposed to a happy life she feels she'll never have. 

Can Yukari's life get better at that point?  It all depends on how long it takes her to realize that other people aren't the source of her problems, and they're not the source of her solution.

No comments:

Post a Comment