「男らしいって、なんだ？」 (Otokorashiitte, Nanda?)
“What Does It Mean to Be Manly?”
The way they so realistically escalated the bullying of Luou until it crescendo-ed in physical assault and school-wide humiliation was one long gut-punch. As frustrating as it was seeing Junpei spectate, I can’t hate him for doing so. It is so typical of teenagers to be self-absorbed and afraid to lose their social standing. Especially for Junpei, having previously been on the receiving end of bullying, he is not about to put himself back in the firing line.
It would be so easy for them to heroify Junpei in magically gaining shounen-manga level confidence, saving the day for Luou-kun. Kudos to the mangaka for going the realistic route- exploring the pain, self-preservation, and guilt that are part and parcel of the teenage experience, making this such a mature series. Even in Junnpei’s indecisive in how to save face while assuaging his conscience (and saving his dubious standing with Miyako). Which, unfortunately in middle school, you can’t do both-you either save the unpopular kid or your reputation.
That long pause when Junpei mediates on his father’s portrait was so pregnant with meaning and did far more than dialogue would have. Luou-kun makes Junpei take a hard look at himself, examining what his father meant by “manly”. It’s probably for the first time in his life digesting what that loaded term actually means versus swallowing the image reflected onto him by the men around him. That is the hallmark of growing pains, when teenagers stop blindly following their elders’ examples and begin to think about what values to set for themselves.
Luo’s fight or flight mode when Junpei and later, the bullies, looked ready to lay hands on him makes me wonder if he had been abused. Godai mentioned before about a severe dance teacher, which makes me wonder if he suffered physical punishment at the teacher’s hands.
I wonder about Luou’s mother. As Junpei pointed out- what kind of mother is she (not a good one)-knowing first-hand Japan’s rigidity, broadcasts her son’s name, then sends him there. With being part Japanese, he looks and speaks differently. Everyone picks up on that- including the teachers publicly questioning if he can read. I suspect Godai may have something to do with Luou’s appearance at school, making it a condition for dancing. Miyako hints as much to Junpei, saying Luou endures so much for ballet.
Junpei has influence over Hyou-chan and he knows it too. I find Hyou an interesting character. From what a student said, his behavior is a stress-reliever from familial pressures-seems a common enough root cause. He also likes Junpei enough to escalate his bullying in response to Junpei’s one like. Then when Junpei leaves the club, cuts him off rather than making Junpei his new target. I wonder what his deal is (does he have feelings for Junpei?) and if they’ll delve more into that.
The definition of manly Godai is raised with is standing up for the weak. Luou is a kick in Godai’s balls, realizing he sure as hell isn’t manly if he’s standing on the sidelines while Luou takes multiple beatings. Luou lands in the most “unmanly” of situations-forced onstage in sailor fuku and taunted to perform a song by his ex-idol mother. Then, he responds by doing what the “cool” crowd would consider utterly “unmanly”-dancing a ballet solo. Yet, the guts and grace with which he takes back his dignity- shoving it in his tormentors’ faces beautifully fits Godai’s definition of “manly”.
I love how intentionally Luou danced a solo from Le Corsaire. This ballet in question has a scene in which a slave girl is forced to perform and in so doing, enraptures an audience with her dancing. The parallels between Luou and the ballet speak volumes about how he views himself as a slave to the soccer club’s cruel whims. I am so in awe of Luou and the strength it takes to take what must surely be the heights of humiliation for a middle school boy and totally embrace it- making it his own, rather than crumbling beneath it.
“Manliness” is not acting like an action-hero cool type of man, but rather, the attitude one has when facing adversity. Even Miyako is more “manly” than Junpei because she at least steps into the bullying, calling for the teachers and accompanying Luou on piano. I would even go so far as to say “integrity” is a better phrase for this concept of strength than the biased “manly”. Which is what this series is questioning and why I love it so much.
That last scene with Junpei dancing around in hosiery was such a goofy middle-school boy thing, yet it was poignant in its own way. Sometimes, one way to come out with your true self is by playing (or being forced into) a role different from normal-whether it be performing in sailor-fuku or hosiery. Just knowing “this isn’t really me” can help give the boldness to say or do things you wouldn’t normally do.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the moving picture of Luou’s dance must surely be worth at least twice that much. Luou intervening for himself, not needing anyone else to do it for him was empowering to behold. I was smiling from ear to ear. It is rare for a series to cut me to such a deep emotional core as this episode did-starting with the gnawing anxiety and finishing off with joy and pride in Luou.