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Restraint

One of the shows I picked up from the Winter 2011 season has been Gosick (streamed by Crunchyroll). Set in a fictionalized 1920′s Western European country the main leads Kujou and Victorique are studies in different kinds of restraint. Restraint isn’t usually a notable characteristic of anime leads, so even though we’re only three episodes in to the show, I find myself pleased with what’s been offered so far. Let’s look at what we know about these two interesting characters one at a time:

Kujou is the third son of an imperial military family. Now, this is usually nothing to brag about, so the question must be raised – is Kujou really bragging?

Kujo and Victorique in a less restrained moment

He claims that he says it as a kind of simple pride, but that is hardly the case. His position as a son of his family of origin seems to hardly be something simple based on the letter that he received from his brother and the brief flashbacks that they have shown. In the flashback, Kujou lies in a dojo and has clearly been beaten badly by one or more of his older male relatives who are significantly larger and stronger that he his. They demand that he stand up (presumably so they can beat him further); when he cannot, they express disappointment in his abilities and further still suggest that Kujou himself is a disappointment. He is thousands of miles from home, in a country that regards his looks with the same curiosity and suspicion that blonds were met with in Japan at the time. He is in a place where his very identity receives little support or affirmation, but what he clings to is not something that at a surface glance would build him up. He says that because so little was expected of him, he strove to out perform his brothers and succeeded at least academically. His desire to rise above the powerlessness of his childhood memory gives him the strength to protect Victorique when severely outmatched in combat. In this case Kujou’s restraint is a bond he has wrapped around himself reminding himself often of his inferior position, and the holding himself to a higher standard. This self-restraint may be why, even though he is an open and candid adolescent he has trouble overcoming the gap between himself and his classmates. It is also why he is an ideal companion to Victorique.

As Kujo first tops the stairs in the library and lays eyes on Victorique for the first time he thinks that she is a doll. Though she startles him when she shows that she in fact alive, there is little that has changed the initial impression in my eyes. Victorique is kept in her tower by powers we’re not entirely aware of yet (though the opening animation certainly makes suggestions). Her half-brother basically calls her a doll (while being pretty creepy with the doll in his office). Like a doll she can move only at the impulse of others; I suspect that her antiquated Victorian costume is also the work of another. Victorique reveals that her history has been a long series of imprisonments by the very people who should have nurtured her. The external restraints aren’t the only limits that Victorique operates under. In episode three Kujou has overcome the axe wielding maniac and rounds the corner of the radio room; Victorique in the course of a few seconds shows relief that he is OK, affection for Kujou, but before she can act on these impulses or even give them full voice she shuts down and even clenches her hand to keep from reaching out giving only a queenly haughty response. This is evidence of an internalized restraint; somewhere along the line Victorique came to believe that something bad would happen if she were to have genuine relationships with other, and, even deeper, learned that there was something wrong with her own personality and feelings – she has substituted the cool almost emotionless doll’s face to keep herself safe. Safe from what exactly, I imagine, will be the plot of the show in general.

In the real world, when our emotional lives have been deemed as inappropriate by parents, friends, mates, and certainly by cultures there are several responses that people may display. One of these, internalization, moves the critique from the outside to something that a person comes to believe about themselves. Being told over and over again that real men are X or true ladies are Y, boys learn to stuff deep inside anything that isn’t X and girls deny having within them anything that is Y. This self-restraint then becomes a part of the individual’s personality development. Women in many cultures are taught that it is OK for them to be sad, but that their anger is undesirable and unsafe; thus, women grow to be adults who can’t give voice to a really basic human emotion, and in some cases aren’t aware of their emotions at all. The way through this is finding relationships where the individual is accepted as a whole person who has “good feelings” and “bad feelings”. My hope is that Kujo and Victorique prove to be a good model of such a relationship.

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