A Centaur's Life Episode 5
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Centaur's Life ?
Poor Sassassul. It's hard enough just switching schools, I can't imagine what it's like to transfer between cultures, social hierarchies, and even – possibly – species. I can see why the rest of the world might treat Antarcticans like aliens now, although their differences from other races are still vastly exaggerated. Anyway, this week centers around Hime and friends welcoming an unusual new classmate to school, who may not be as unusual as she initially appeared.
Oh boy, I've been waiting for the snake people ever since they were first brought up. I love snakes, and by design alone, the Antarcticans are some of the most unique and interesting demi-humans in the show. And of course, when their secretive culture was revealed to be in a cold war with the show's version of the United States, I got even more curious. How would the show treat cultural difference (or even conflict) when it's not just considered a thing of the past?
The answer is interesting. Of course, Hime is the one who ends up showing Sassassul the ropes, but this relationship gets off to a rocky start due to our heroine's unaddressed fear of Antarcticans. As a kid, she saw a slasher film where a caricature of an Antarctican played the villain, and she's been of them afraid ever since. (I'm surprised stuff like this hasn't been banned already considering what their government is like, but whatever.) Hime knows that this isn't right, but she can't help having the emotional reactions that she has. This is accurate to how real prejudice works a lot of the time. It doesn't always manifest as a person's consciously held beliefs about another group of people. (Hime definitely doesn't think that Antarcticans are actually inferior or monstrous.) Rather, a person's immediate gut feelings can also be prejudiced, in that they're conditioned by whatever prejudiced attitudes that they were exposed to at a young age, and those subconscious reactions will interfere with how one acts with members of that group . Hime is a kindhearted young woman who doesn't think badly of anyone. However, that all flies out the window when she faints at the sight of her new classmate. That is a real problem, although the solution isn't that complicated.
They immediately do the right thing – Hime spends some time with Sassassul, learns to see her as a person, and has her misconceptions about Antarcticans dispelled. It helps that Sassassul is very accommodating. Sassy-chan says that she transferred over here to educate people, which means that she's more pliant than the average Antarctican might be in real life. (The students line up at lunchtime to ask whether her people run the Illuminati – Sassassul is a patient soul.) Then again, her situation is “stranger in a strange land” and not “member of this society's permanent oppressed class.” Since Japan is very racially homogeneous, the former situation will be more typical there. People from English-speaking countries like the USA are much more likely to encounter prejudicial racial dynamics on a daily basis.
That's not to say that I think A Centaur's Life has a bad take on the situation – it's just interesting to compare its approach from the one I'm used to seeing as an American. Sure, this society seems diverse, but it also seems to have reached an (ostensibly) post-racial stage where there isn't much visible immigration, and folks don't seem to hold actively bad attitudes toward particular groups. In this way, this country seems to function a lot more like Japan. It's not that I want this show to tackle the apartheid or anything – that seems more like a recipe for disaster than anything else – but it's neat to compare the attitudes on display here to the ones I'd expect from an alternate-world version of my native country, which is the point of the episode, really. Explorations of difference don't have to be trepidatious – in fact, they can be a lot of fun.
A Centaur's Life also gets creative in how it ties Antarctican society into their biology. Unlike humans, Antarcticans reproduce hive-style. A single queen lays all of the colony's eggs, while the average “worker” is an infertile female – not that gender seems to matter much either way. Since the vast majority of Antarcticans aren't involved in the reproductive process, their society is structured very differently from ours. For example, most human societies use the nuclear family as their basic unit for social organization. But since Antarcticans lack the concept of romance or even pair-bonding, their society seems to be organized very differently. From what I can gather, it's communitarian and functional first, with little emphasis placed on individual expression. For example, it's not that Sassassul isn't allowed to change out of her culture's standard outfit (grey robes). The possibility just doesn't occur to her until Hime brought it up, and Sassassul realizes for the first time that clothing can be a casual means of self-expression. Biological differences of this magnitude aren't something that exist between real-life cultures, so it's neat to play around with them in fiction.
I also like the implication that Sassassul is an odd duck even within Antarctican society. Not many of them participate in study abroad, after all. She implies that most Antarcticans aren't very self-reflective, unlike her as a person with sociological interests. Personally, I believe that while most folks will accept the truths, roles, and lifestyles that their society hands them, there will always be people who question everything and seek out new possibilities, almost on instinct. Neither way of living is bad, although the latter group will probably carve out unusual, ambulatory existences if their society allows them that freedom. I feel like Sassassul is one of these people. That makes her interesting, and I'm glad that the world allows her this opportunity for cultural exchange. She's also a much-needed presence in the show as a character who's just discovering this world—albeit with the unusual twist that the world she's from is way more foreign to us than the one she's visiting. This double alienation could lead to some interesting commentary, if the show decides to go there. Or they could just have the girls try on suits again, I'd be down with that.
Overall, the introduction of snake people has never done anything but improve an anime, and A Centaur's Life is no exception. I look forward to more episodes, on the condition that they include snake people. After all, it resulted in the most focused episode of the show so far!
A Centaur's Life is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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