A “Sample” of Middle Class Life

The title logo for Shomin Sample.

The title logo for Shomin Sample.

I can think of a couple of fantastically wealthy people who are oblivious to the lifestyle of the middle class. But, the less said about them the better.

If there’s one type of series the anime industry isn’t short of, it’s harem series. I’ve voiced my thoughts on the subject in the past and while it still pains me to see the same tropes used in many different anime series over the course of a year, there are times authors and directors put a new spin on the material. Granted, it can be difficult finding these series, but one does crop up every now and then. One such series was 2015’s Shomin Sample (俺がお嬢様学校に「庶民サンプル」として拉致られた件 Ore ga Ojōsama Gakkō ni “Shomin Sample” Toshite Rachirareta Ken). This was a fascinating series on a number of levels because it used the standard template for a harem series, but adjusted it in such a way so as to bring a refreshing story to the audience. Surprisingly, the most prominent element was how little romance was incorporated into the story. By eschewing this one trait of a harem series it allowed the production team to explore, mock, and comment on our perceptions of the extremely wealthy as well as the middle class. That’s not to say there weren’t elements of romance present in the story, but they were relegated to the fringes of the series. On top of this, the core cast of characters, particularly the female characters, lacked the personality traits common in other harem series. What had me intrigued, though, was the use of the Japanese entertainer Dandy Sakano’s catchphrase “Gets.” It’s not as though he’s that popular a figure, though he was in the early 2000s, but it was refreshing hearing his catchphrase in this series.

It should be noted I’m not opposed to anime and manga series following the tropes of any given genre. They provide authors and directors a template to work with and solidify the ideas they want to present to their audience. However, I also understand why it can be frustrating seeing those same tropes appear as shorthand time and time again. Giant robot anime series, for example, tend to have the protagonist switch his robot in the middle of the series and many shonen action series rapidly increase the power of the main character. As such, while powerful tools for authors and directors, if the particular tropes aren’t used effectively they can upset the presentation of a given story. The harem subgenre is filled with its own tired tropes such as the litany of personality types, situations, settings, and so on. But, the core of the story is always focused on the romance between the protagonist and the main heroine.

Yet, what would happen if a harem series rejected or downplayed the notion female characters had to be enamored with the protagonist? While some might think this would defeat the purpose of a harem series, in a certain respect it would shine a new light on the genre. Consider, not all boys and girls instantly fall in love with each other and there are times when a relationship works much better when those involved are friends rather than lovers. It’s an interesting prospect and one Shomin Sample used quite well. That’s not to say there weren’t elements of romance intermingled into the series, but rather they were kept off screen by removing them as the focal point. This was achieved in a number of ways—the most notable through toying with the perception of the protagonist, Kimito Kagurazaka—but the romantic elements did all have their place within the greater story. Examining the perception of Kimito first, he still had some of the trappings of a protagonist from a harem series such as being obtuse. However, by playing a boy who enjoyed the physique of muscular men as opposed to relishing in women’s thighs created a dynamic of friendship with rather than him being a romantic lead for the heroines. As such, even if he was obtuse to the advances of the heroines there was a legitimate reason why he was this way.

Rekio Arisugawa ordering fast food in Shomin Land.

Rekio Arisugawa ordering fast food in Shomin Land.

It was the other factors embedded in the series, though, that kept the idea of a harem alive while eschewing the romantic aspects of it. This came from the main heroine, Aika Tenkūbashira, having an interest in middle class culture as well as her timid personality. Looking at the latter first, the first half of the series focused on Aika trying to use her interest in middle class culture to garner some popularity among her classmates. This was a fascinating premise because the school Kimito and Aika attended was not just an all-girls school, but also one for the extremely wealthy. As a quick aside, the reason Kimito was attending this school was because he was a sample middle class citizen so the students could become accustomed to life outside their bubble after graduating. As such, this played into the notion Aika was in Kimito’s harem, but their relationship was predicated on friendship. It was actually Aika’s interest in middle class culture, or rather the Japanese middle class lifestyle, that added to the narrative of the series.

By incorporating and fusing the Japanese notions of middle and upper class lifestyles into the narrative, the production team was able to, albeit not purposefully, comment on and poke fun at the stereotypes of these two income levels. For example, in the early episodes of the series Kimito was generally awestruck by the lavish lifestyle the students enjoyed at Seikain, the all-girls school mentioned above. In a certain respect anyone not accustomed to that particular lifestyle would be taken aback, but it also manipulated the wealthy girls perception of the middle class. This could be seen in the types of food prepared for Kimito and the other students.   While it’s customary in anime and manga for wealthy girls to say fast food or cup ramen is delicious, in Shomin Sample the idea was presented in a creative manner: having Kimito’s meals split between every student in the school. However, it was the field trip to a cruel parody of Disney Land but with a central Tokyo theme, Shomin Land—literally Middle Class Land—that appeared in the seventh episode that mocked many of our perceptions of both the wealthy and middle class.

There were too many fun examples in the episode to point to, but the two that stood out were the scenes at a clothing store and a fast food restaurant. Consider, both of these activities are quite mundane from the perspective of middle class citizens and many of us have a sense of what’s fashionable and how to order meals at fast food restaurants. Thus, these activities are second nature to the general population. But, would someone who had lived a sheltered life understand how to do these tasks? I would assume they could, but seeing the stereotype play out in Shomin Sample was entertaining in its own right. For instance, when Kimito was in the clothing store he was able to convince his classmate and friend, Karen Jinryō, that very tight hot pants and crop top T-shirts were in style. In the end, because Karen had no foreknowledge of fashion trends she followed along. While it can be said this style of clothing is popular with some people, seeing Karen duped into wearing the outfit was fun. On top of this, the idea Kimito was toying with Karen’s sensibilities gave some depth to his character.

However, as I stated above, there were instances of budding romances in Shomin Sample. They were more common in the later episodes, but a few of the early episodes also used it as the butt end of a joke. One example was no more than Rekio Arisugawa, one of Kimito’s classmates, misunderstanding a show of friendship as a proposal for marriage. This was a nice gag and wasn’t overplayed, which was rather surprising at first seeing as this was a harem series. Nonetheless, it fit into the theme of the series. The later episodes, though, incorporated the premise of romance much better as we had a thorough understanding of the characters. It used the notion of fortune telling to push the four prominent girls into figuring out who would be the ideal significant other for Kimito and expanded on the idea in smaller sections over the course of the last five episodes. If this had been a larger part in the narrative it’s almost certain the joke would have failed. Yet, only using half an episode to explore this concept was a wise choice on the part of the production team.

Aika Tenkūbashira (right) mimicking Dandy Sakano's (left) "gets" pose.

Aika Tenkūbashira (right) mimicking Dandy Sakano’s (left) “Gets” pose.

For example, when the four girls, Aika, Karen, Hakua Shiodome, and Reiko, were first determining their compatibility with Kimito, the application they used didn’t satisfy the girls, except Karen. From there, Aika and Reiko both looked for other applications that would rate their compatibility with Kimito as more favorable for them. This allowed us to witness the rivalry between the four girls as well as their good-natured friendship, but only half an episode was used to present this scenario to the viewers. Yet, when this plot point was referred to in later episodes, it bolstered the girl’s identity because the audience knew the girls all wanted to make an impression on Kimito. It was a unique twist to the standard practices in a harem anime series and was certainly welcomed.

What was intriguing about Shomin Sample, though, was how it integrated the catchphrase of the Japanese comedian Dandy Sakano. Honestly, it’s not much of a catchphrase, as it’s only “Gets,” but it took Japan by storm in the early 2000s. True, the catchphrase has worn out its welcome since then, yet this was a play on the sensibilities of the sheltered super wealthy in this series and their perception of popular culture. Added on top of this, the phrase wasn’t used to the extent it became dull. For instance, there was one scene in the series when Kimito gave Aika a replica of Dandy Sakano’s yellow suit to go along with the catchphrase. However, it was such a small portion of the series and never overtook the humor inherent in the relationships and dynamics of the characters. So, while it was nice seeing and hearing this catchphrase again, its appearance was spaced out enough to keep it fresh within the context of the series.

Shomin Sample was honestly not the best harem series I’ve ever watched. However, it had a wonderful tone throughout, specifically eschewing the common tropes found in a harem series. The jovial jabs at middle and upper class stereotypes were also well done and none of the jokes felt as though they were spiteful. However, I will say they worked much better in the opening episodes more than the later ones. The characteristics given to the protagonist were also a welcome change to this type of story and, while I felt he still had an obtuse and dense nature about him, the fact he was forced to enjoy the muscular form of men gave the characteristics purpose. The use of Dandy Sakano’s catchphrase, “Gets,” was also used sparingly, making it fresh every time it was used despite having worn out its welcome in Japanese popular culture. I’m actually disappointed the production company Silver Link didn’t offer Dandy Sakano a few lines, as it would have been nice hearing a character in his likeness saying it along with the characters in the series. I may have kept many of the episodes on as background noise while I was doing other things, however there were many captivating moments and I consistently had to stop what I was doing to pay attention to the series. As such, while one may find watching an episode every now and then the best way to enjoy the series, it’s certainly worth watching.

Work Info
Title:
Shomin Sample (俺がお嬢様学校に「庶民サンプル」として拉致られた件 Ore ga Ojōsama Gakkō ni “Shomin Sample” Toshite Rachirareta Ken)
Under: Silver Link
Official Site: http://syominsample-anime.jp/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shomin_Sample

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