Analyzing the Appeal of Yamajo

Yamajo Kiss

From its very first episode onward I’ve notice that the Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo franchise isn’t an ordinary school comedy. Earlier shows such as High School DxD and Rosario to Vampire have merged high school romantic comedy and supernatural elements, so in respect to genre “Yamajo” isn’t unique. But it’s tone is strikingly different from virtually every other anime. With an ongoing television series and two OADs so far, the series is undeniably popular among Japanese viewers. So I’ve begun to wonder if it’s precisely the story’s unique depiction of high school student relationships that sets the title apart and explains its swell of popularity.

With rare exceptions like Mahou Sensei Negima, in which kissing is common but is only used as a non-sexual magical bonding ritual, anime quite frequently reinforces the idea that kissing is not a casual, ordinary social activity. From anime including Gunbuster and FLCL to concurrent series such as Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu, kissing is depicted as an exceptional action reserved for intimate acquaintances and romantic partners. The commonality of this depiction has to suggest that a similar attitude pervades real life Japanese adolescent society. If anime supposedly depicting “slice of life” so drastically failed to accurately depict the reality of Japanese life, it wouldn’t be so embraced and watched.

The Yamajo series, however, bucks the trend by depicting a high school environment in which kissing is neither routine nor immodest. Kissing in the Yamajo universe isn’t ordinary, and it’s not commonplace, but it’s also not taboo, not strictly associated with sexuality and romance. Kissing in the Yamajo universe, both heterosexual and homosexual kissing, is perceived as an extension of “skinship,” the Japanese custom of getting to know someone more closely by literally pressing flesh: handshakes, hugs, back slaps, shoulder rubs. In a culture that emphasizes polite privacy and avoidance of personal discomfort, physical contact between people is limited to close acquaintances. So kissing in Yamajo is a sign of a serious, deliberate willingness to get to know each other.

Yamajo Kiss boys

The readiness to share a kiss in the Yamajo universe, even between two boys or two girls, is depicted as entirely natural. Any hesitancy to kiss isn’t due to embarrassment or anxiety over sexuality; it’s due to a hesitation to escalate personal relationships from the level of passing acquaintances to potential friends. In other words, Yamajo very subtly and naturally depicts a high school life that’s more disposed to encouraging meetings, friendships, and interpersonal relationships than typical school anime and, presumably, real Japanese high schools. Yamajo acknowledges the conventions and difficulties of high school life: ostracism, personality clashes, competitive antagonism, bullying. But it also softens those harsh aspects of adolescent reality with the alternate possibility that friends, both male and female, are quietly but unabashedly willing and prepared to make friends, to share their secrets, their privacy, their anxieties, and their hopes with fellow classmates. Like countless other high school anime, Yamajo revolves around a select clique of students, but unlike other high school anime, BakaTest, Sket Dance, Seitokai Yakuindomo, GJ-bu, D-Frag, Haganai, for example, Yamajo depicts a slightly more receptive, welcoming adolescent environment that’s unconcerned with appearances, reputations, and status. So to the extent that all anime are wish fulfillment fantasies, Yamajo may be particularly popular because it depicts a high school environment that Japanese viewers wish for, an environment that’s a bit more democratic and particularly a bit more unabashed than either real life or the high school setting depicted by most anime.

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