「南極人って噂が一人歩きしてるみたい. / でも, 結局, 南極人って歴史もルーツも謎だよね.」 (Nankyokujintte Uwasa ga Hitori Aruki Shiteru Mitai. / Demo, Kekkyoku, Nankyokujintte Rekishi mo Roots mo Nazo Da yo ne.)
“Antarcticans Are Like Walking Rumors. / But in the End, the Antarcticans` History and Roots Are a Mystery, Too.”
We finally have a formal introduction for our newest student, Sassassul this time around, and she’s absolutely charming. Not only is she incredibly cute, but also has a mature, refined voice that matches well with her studious and level-headed personality. It’s neat to see her deal with the hardships that come with being an Antarctican snake woman cooly despite odds stacked up against her race. As an Arab American, it’s easy to relate to having to forced to explain yourself on behalf of your ethnicity for people and classmates who didn’t know better. It gave me a warm feeling to see Sassassul explain the facets of snake people to her class without getting bitter or fed up with it like I did. Even if no one really learns from things like this and just walk away with the conclusions they had when they first asked how your race/ethnicity does this and that, it shows a level of maturity in Sassassul’s character to remain calm yet cautious about what conclusions people draw from her heritage.
While the episodes that came before only devoted small portions of the run time on delving into race relations, a majority of this one focuses heavily on how society coexists with snake women despite the degree of prejudice that is acceptable against snake people. In an ironic twist for a society that stresses total equality, Himeno’s fear of snake people and Sassassul is derived from a classic horror film with a racist agenda to transform snake people into body-shifting predators (On a seperate note, who the hell watches a freaky, gory movie like that with their little kid?). It’s astute for the series to have Sassassul think critically of the media she consumes throughout the episode as she reflects on the action movie she watched with her friends and walks Himeno through everything the old horror movie got wrong about snake people. It’s one thing for the racial implications of the universe’s media to just show up for the viewers to dissect, but it’s another for some of the characters like Sassassul and Kyouko to be increasingly aware of the limitations that a society like this could have for civil rights.
It’s also interesting how the series in general handles the role that media consumption plays in racial identity. The formation of prejudice through pop culture and media condemnation of snake people mirrors how much of our real world perceptions of race and hostility can come from mass media. This particular episode goes beyond just the historical context of race in cinema, and approaches how anyone can run into a series of racialized messages just through the act of channel surfing. As Sassassul combs through TV, the commercials she stumbles across are for products that would be incompatible for snake people like beauty supplies fit for human-like skin and such. Whereas people with darker complexions don’t have the same issues as people with snake skin, it’s hard to find beauty products that apply well to darker skin in your average department store.
On an overt level, this episode explores TV news coverage on terrorist attacks and crime with Sassassul becoming more heavily guarded after an Antarctican attack on an American boat. Even from a distance, there is still tension in Sassassul’s presence in public as people are on-edge both from the possibility of being attacked and the possibility of someone committing a hate crime on her. The news of the attack is spread throughout every screen in town to solidify the double bind of whether they want to truly be a bastion for equality or promote discrimination and prejudice against exotic races. Again, this is an easily relatable situation that I’m very familiar with, only with the “Please don’t be ____, please don’t be ____,” mantra in my head to ward away whatever prejudiced jumps to conclusion people arrive at. It’s easy for me to blend in, but the more I explain myself, the deeper hole is dug in people tying my ethnicity to whatever popular news story demonizes said ethnicity.
It’s continually selfish of me to apply a Western context to this series, especially since the series comments on Japan’s issues with immigrants from surrounding countries, but it’s hard not to relate the diverse yet regressive society in Centaur no Nayami with the political landscape in America and the West. The double bind of whether to truly be a nation of freedom and equality or make the playing field more advantageous for those who aren’t in the minority is something that occurs within both sides of the aisle. It’s more obvious to see where right wing politicians stand on which race should reap the least benefits, but more centrist left wing politicians are prone to using the idea of racial unity as a platitude used to shut people up when they want to acknowledge the rampant inequality. Despite the tug-of-war between liberals and conservatives, there’d be some shared unity between the All Lives Matter folks on the right and the I Don’t See Race folks or those who aggressively push for solidarity on the left in using absolute equality as a way to avoid the discomfort of approaching different races or discussing how difference affects how the law, media, and public sees specific races. It has a similar bearing on Centaur no Nayami‘s universe where much of the obvious racism is discussed in hushed tones or internal thoughts, but the prejudice is felt more clearly in the ambivalence it shows towards how snake people should be seen or treated.
Apologies for bringing too much politics into the episode review, but Centaur no Nayami is the most impossible series to discuss without diving too deep into its political commentary. And to me, I feel like it’s better for it because it does stimulate some discussion on what bearings race has in society. Much like how Sassassul wants to watch the horror film as a way to enjoy and critique its qualities, the show’s messages can be embraced fully or taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I’d like to thank you for your patience as we move further into the anime and examine how it approaches the topic of race. I do hope, however, that we’ll get some more cute SOL scenes with Sassassul where things’ll be easier for her.