A Centaur's Life Episode 9
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Centaur's Life ?
It's time for a Very Serious Episode of A Centaur's Life. Well, they're all Very Serious Episodes, at least for a little bit. But I think this is the first time the show has treated us to a Very Serious double feature of this magnitude, starting out with folks navigating a legacy of imperialism and ending with the freaking Holocaust. A Centaur's Life is a nice, pleasant slice-of-life show, filled with frog men, hate crimes, and girls looking up each other's vaginas.
Alright, so the first half of this episode introduces us to a group that's only been mentioned in passing before – South America's amphibianfolk, or as I insensitively call them, frog people. Over the course of the first vignette, we're treated to a day in the life of Jean Rousseau, an amphibianfolk and a Frenchman (get it?) who was adopted into European culture at an early age. He grew up to become an important businessman, and now he serves as a sort of ambassador between Europe and his native culture. The amphibianfolk are a pretty transparent analogue to indigenous Americans, particularly those around the Amazonian basin. Many of these groups were violently uprooted by European incursions into the Americas. Those that survive now struggle to retain their cultural identity (or even their lives) alongside centuries of entrenched colonialism. It's truly a serious situation. Scenarios like Mr. Rosseaus's – he was basically kidnapped as a child – absolutely did happen. I imagine that it's a psychologically tense situation, and we get hints of his interior struggle throughout the episode.
I want more episodes about this guy, honestly. I haven't seen this type of story told in A Centaur's Life yet, but what we got so far was well done. I'd like to see more of a resolution to Mr. Rousseau's conflict with the more militant frog man in their conference. I'd understand the village arming themselves for self-defense, but Rousseau seems to suspect that his fellow amphibian is interested in conquest. This sort of internecine violence is clearly self-defeating, and European colonists did indeed pull stuff like arming native groups in the hopes that they would wipe each other out. Ultimately, the show frames this expansive militarism as the true colonial corruption and makes Rousseau out as the one trying to find a way to live peacefully in this heterogeneous, conflict-prone world. Then he comically burns his tongue on hot tea! Yaaaaaay.
And then there's the Holocaust part. I'd actually heard this bit being hyped up for a while. A Centaur's Life goes to all sorts of weird dark places out of nowhere, but it's hard to imagine it getting darker than this. Having now seen it, I thought it was pretty basic in terms of Holocaust stories. It engaged in some “look at how bad the camps were” suffering porn, but not nearly to the extent I've seen in other stuff. Overall, it was a reassuring story about a kid making it through the experience with his decency intact to further tolerance throughout the rest of his life. It was neat how they tied this into the earlier story about Mr. Frog Man, using it to explain why the old guy was the only one to treat Rousseau well.
Ultimately, this bit was only somewhat shocking in light of A Centaur's Life's incessant tonal whiplash. In the manga, I heard this segued right into more schoolyard antics, which must have been pretty awkward. At least it's paired with the fairly serious Frog Man story here, giving us an episode full of heavy material. However, I am confused about which races the various demi-humans are supposed to represent now. Centaurs were made more analogous to native Japanese people earlier, but now they're numbered among Actual Nazis. Japan and Germany were allies during WWII, so that may explain the connection. Then again, the American soldier we see is also a centaur, although that makes sense when you consider that Japanese-American soldiers also fought in WWII. I guess the angels/impfolk are meant to be analogous to Jewish people, since we never see any of them amongst the camp's guards. At the same time, it's frankly to A Centaur's Life's advantage that you can't pin all the demi-humans down to a specific culture or ethnic group, because it avoids making any of them out as stereotypes of real groups of people. The show's aim is to criticize the dynamics of intolerance, so reductive racial caricatures would only work against that.
With this episode, I think I've finally nailed down A Centaur's Life's politics. It's very much in favor of nonviolent coexistence between individuals and groups of people, but it's also constantly critical of instances where the letter of the law is followed over the spirit. For example, it's illegal for another person to ride on a centaur – even when the centaur consents – because this was historically a hate crime. This kind of law is indifferent to the actual nuance of individual interactions between people, when these sorts of cross-ethnic encounters (or hell, any encounter between people with relevant differences) are entirely dependent on context.
Personally, I'm still uncomfortable with this criticism's characterization in the show, because our own society is still not at the point where these historical atrocities are as distant as they seem to be from Himeno's daily life. In my experience, the instances where laws protect people from bigotry still outnumber those where they simply inconvenience people. Moreover, denunciations of “PC culture” are very much a dog whistle for hatred, so A Centaur's Life's evocation of these sentiments has – understandably – made some people uncomfortable. I was certainly wary of the sentiment in those first few episodes, but those early concerns have mostly blown over by now. A Centaur's Life has not gone on to express any of the other nastiness that the “PC culture” boogeyman usually foreshadows. While the show's criticisms of this stuff are largely valid within the fictional scenarios that they establish, they're premature in their application to the real world, making them generally unhelpful as cultural commentary at this point of time. Basically, I don't think that these parts of the show's message work very well, but they don't offend me, and they're certainly ideas that I can engage with beyond blanket repulsion.
Well, this was a loaded episode. Maybe next week I'll get to talk about something more lighthearted, like global warming or infant mortality. Or maybe Manami will have to call her dad a lazy bum again. For better or worse, I can never predict what I'll be getting from A Centaur's Life. That makes life interesting, at least.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
A Centaur's Life is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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