「美しさって、諸刃の刃ナノであった。 水に生きる水人、陸に生きる山人ってまんまじゃん。」 (Utsukushi-sa tte, Moroha no Yaiba nano deatta. Mizu ni Ikiru Mizu no Hito, Riku ni Ikiru Yama no Hito tte Manma jan.)
“Beauty Is a Double-Edged Sword. Water People Living in Water and Mountain People Living in Mountains Really Are Just That.”
Our second episode of Centaur no Nayami continues to examine race relations through a cute monster slice-of-life, but cuts more to the core of how characters within the universe make sense of interacting with races outside of their inner circle. Much of this comes from the second half of the episode, which has the main three girls interact with waterfolk, starting with a flashback towards a visit to a mermaid school. Its interesting to see how out in the open the mountainfolk and waterfolk classes are about exploring each other’s differences.
Rather than being overly weighed down by the expectations to stay proper and modest about racial differences, this episode looks at how the deeper curiosity of teenagers conflicts with the law of the land. Administrators and the student council president of the waterfolk school are going with the program by trying to settle the students down and kept the floor shallow enough for the mountainfolk to walk on, but the student body of the academy are as weirded out and morbidly curious about the mountainfolk as they are. For a world where monster people are common, the features of each are exoticized by one another with Himeno’s body and legs being the subject of heavy fascination with waterfolk. This is shown through the mermen ogling her thiccness, but also through what waterfolk aspire to be if they could walk. One commercial sells prosthetic legs that resemble a four-legged centaur body geared towards waterfolk. While the push for equality made such a mechanism possible, it also creates an issue of whether this could be offensive to centaurs, who have their own fair share of issues with their body image as a result of their horse bodies. Even though we’re talking about mythological creatures, it gives me the vibe of what appropriation in Western context would be like. Is it acceptable to fixate on the activities and body parts of a perceived race, or does it come off like mockery? Do mermaids wanna be a centaur, but not really wanna be a centaur? It makes me curious about what the history behind centaur and waterfolk were like because of how the prosthetic centaur legs and Himeno are the subject of desire for waterfolk.
Similarly, the last quarter of the episode follows an interspecies couple as a mermaid contends with wanting these legs. This, along with other scenes in this episode shed light on how despite racial equality, there is still open tension between inclusivity and the differences among races. The fashion magazine segment opens up about how the demand for centaur models has been short enough so for Himeno to be considered one of the few centaur models they’ve had, and the uphill battle it took to get a snake model in the magazine for the snake people demographic. With the interspecies couple, a group of schoolgirls judge the boy who is able to walk for his standards in choosing to date a mermaid. Additionally, there is underlying tension in a moment in the winter when Himeno’s friends use her horse body as a source of warmth after seeing Akechi use Manami’s wings to keep herself warm. It’s neat how much of the tension in the series comes from what’s on the surface; where instead of making everything outwardly racist, a lot of the dicier subjects of race in the series are approached through the context of what characters discuss or interact with. Where world-building isn’t coming along through heavy backstory, but through how these races behave around each other, and why standards in society still have a way of making people feel different even with the push to be the same.
A few side notes: Some of the magazines on the rack are easy to recognize. In particular, there are two Esquire magazines, one with John Malkovich on the cover, and one with Will Smith that they drew cat ears on. There’s also a Vogue magazine, but I didn’t recognize the blonde actress. Additionally, I loved seeing Akechi get some attention this time around. We establish that she’s a playful flirt towards most of the characters, but has a tightly-knit relationship with her girlfriend Inukai. Seeing the two work together to give Nozomi a cosplay makeover or hide behind Manami’s wings was a great way of giving us a general idea on how they interact as a couple.