What’s The Deal with Anime Main Characters Sitting By the Window?

So I guess my post titling skills are not in fact getting any better at all. What’s the opposite of clickbait? Cause that’s what that title was. At least you know what you’re in for…

Hyouka

off to an exciting start!

I’ve been watching SSSS Gridman lately ( a couple of weeks ago). I will talk you all about it (or perhaps already have, scheduling is not set yet – it took my a while to finish this post) but today I just want to talk about one tiny detail that caught my eye. Very early on in the series, we are introduced to Hibiki, a high school boy, as the main character. In the first classroom scene we find out he sits one seat from the back row and one row away from the windows. And for a while, I had no clue why that looked so odd to me.

The it hit me, in most anime I’ve watched with classroom scenes, the main character sits by the window and most often in the back half of the class. I haven’t done extensive research on actual percentages but just off the top of my head, in both anime and manga, those seem to be the protagonist seats. But not so in SSSS Gridman. The most important character to sit by the windows is Shimizu and she doesn’t really get that much screen time until later on. It seems at some point this had seeped into my subconscious because I actually noticed and it bugged me.

anime watamote

it’s one of those “once you see it..” things

I decided to see if there was actually anything there. A documented trope for instance, or whether I was just imagining things again. This happens a lot to me. I think I see a pattern but it’s just a coincidence due to limited data-set or something. I was pretty surprised to find out there actually is a sitting by the window thing. I’m not crazy! I’m crazy for other reasons at least….

There are in fact several practical reasons for anime characters to be seated in these places that do not apply to live action productions (or that apply differently). For instance, sitting your protagonist in a back row means that when the scene is facing them there are much less background characters to animate and even if the camera is at their back, showing the characters in front of them, it shows those characters from the back as well which implies a lot less details and no facial animation and so forth. It really cuts down on the effort and therefore time needed to create a quality classroom setting to have characters seated in the back even if they are smarty pants know it alls you would expect to be right in front of the teacher.

Death note

you know who I’m talking about

As for the window seat, it allows characters to look out the window and therefore show those outside scenes to the audience as well which gives animators more options to add some visual interest to those scenes. Although that specific concern is the same for live action there’s another important variable when it comes to windows and that’s light.

Creating realistic outdoor lighting conditions can be tricky on indoor sets and when the light is flat it has a tendency to look fake or cheap. If sets are using real windows then you have to contend with unpredictable/uncontrollable lighting which will impact shooting schedules and can be undesirable for productions with tight deadlines. On the other hand, light and shadows are completely under an animators control. Relatively simple animation tricks of having light agreement through a window to single out your protagonist can instantly make a boring scene more interesting or force the viewers eye to important details in an organic way that tends to mesh much better in animation.

For these reasons alone you can easily understand why those back window seats would be so favoured in anime and I’m kicking myself a little for not thinking about it myself. I figured it was just where the cool kids sit…

classroom

this seems unfair

There’s also some narrative reasons I think, although this is a bit of an intuitive leap on my side. Windows can act as mirrors. Whoa!!! I know, you’re probably a bit intimidated by my powers of intuition but don’t be. I put my pants on one leg at the time, just like you. I mean I use my telekinesis to get them…

What I mean is that you can have a character mindlessly staring at their reflection in the mirror as a vehicle to illustrate their inner thought process. You can have them react, and draw emotions of their face that would seem slightly unhinged and very out of place if they were just sitting and intently listening to the teacher. There’s a general understanding that staring at your reflection is shorthand for being lost in thought. That way you can sneak in plot progression or even exposition in unrelated scenes without being too hard on the 4th wall or having you’re character just seem like a weirdo for being constantly spaced out.

Admittedly, this would still hold true if the character was in the front row but it’s probably a bit harder to zone out when someone is talking right in front of you.

anime calss

I guess we know who’s important here

For the record, I use to sit in the back of the class as well. I have always been better at self learning and getting my info from books than having someone else tell it to me. Maybe I’m just more visual. I’m also super introverted so I felt zero need to interact with the classroom in any way. But I don’t think characters’ introversion or personality plays much into this trope since it’s so frequent and all types of characters seem to have that seat.

I wish I could have found a more interesting explanation. Something like “in Japan it’s believed that the second to last row is good luck and windows are a connection to the yokai world so people with a lot of spiritual strength are drawn to them…” That would have been sort of cool. Unfortunately, I only have the down to earth practical explanation. It is satisfying in how likely it sounds though. There’s that at least.

Did you ever wonder why the back window seats were so popular in anime? Did you all already know and I’m the very last dork to figure it out? That sounds like me…

Rini 2020 (2)

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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49 Responses

  1. Redgeek says:

    Never noticed that. I was too busy wondering why there’s so many stories these days about main characters reincarnating into video game/medieval worlds.

    • Irina says:

      I think that’s a pretty standard fiction trope. A lot of my favourite classics have that theme, Connecticut Yankee and CS Lewis and Pooh. Even Alice falls into that category pre video game. I think we just like the escapism of thinking our favourite fiction could have a life of it’s own

  2. foovay says:

    I did notice and I did wonder and for me this was a really amazing little bit of information. Like I read it and was all, AAAAOOOHHHHHH OMG that makes so much sense. One of the things I like about anime is that an artist can do things a camera cannot, and so there are subtle differences- like this one – where an artist can take advantage of something (like being able to manipulate light) that a camera simply cannot duplicate or not without a good deal of effort.

    Thank you for answering that for me! And yeah, I thought it was probably just some trope like the interesting people in class are always in the back. Which would be totally untrue in my schools because the big jocks of the football team would always take the back rows so they could ignore the teacher. Myself – I’m a window seat all the way. Lectures bore me to sleep and I don’t ever remember them anyway. I have to learn from books, and I read super fast, so I end up with a lot of time to stare out the window and space out.

  3. K.A.L.T says:

    Honestly never thought much about it.
    I’d always hear jokes about the main character being at the back window seat but it never really struck me as out of place. Also, there’s been a fair share of anime I’ve watched where that isn’t the case (not that I can list them off the top of my head).
    Anyhow, the reasons you listed all seem pretty valid and I can’t help but feel that your reasoning is likely same as animators or authors intention behind their positioning of their main characters in class.

  4. A Library Archivist says:

    There’s even a picture for this meme. But I can’t add it here. Hmm.
    https://img.memecdn.com/the-main-character-seat_o_3548799.jpg
    This has it.

    • Irina says:

      all boys

      • A Library Archivist says:

        Its the lonely seat, so he can look out the window and dream of a bigger life. A girl would be in the middle to draw attention to herself and feel important.

        • Irina says:

          There’s girls in that exact seat in a bunch of the pics in this post and I didn’t look for them, they were just the first pictures that come up…. I think maybe someone who likes pretty anime boys put your meme image together. I approve

          • A Library Archivist says:

            If you want some humor: Kyon sits in the Godly seat, but SNAFU guy is on the other side of the room next to the wall, and totally NOT the protagonist spot.

  5. ManInBlack says:

    This gets me too. I asked this same very question on Twitter a couple of years ago but nobody had an answer.

    I guess it is something we just have to accept in anime like schoolgirls wearing short skirts in the winter and complaining about the cold, teens being allowed to live at home alone, and nobody owning swimsuits prior to deciding to going to the beach… :-/

  6. Dawnstorm says:

    Reading a lot of the comments, I think it’s important to point out that often Japanese students don’t choose their seat; it’s assigned, either by studentnumber, alphabet, or at random. It’s probably more a reflection of narrative needs than student personality. (Obviously, I’m no expert. I just spent around half an hour to find information on google to confirm my suspicion, and all I could find was anecdotal evidence, all of which supported my suspicion, but there wasn’t enough of it to be sufficient support. The seating lottery was a huge part in the set-up of Kimi ni Todoke, for example.)

    • Irina says:

      I googled it as well (research for once!) and found very little to go on. I would assume seats are assigned. I have never been to a school where they weren’t.

      • Dawnstorm says:

        I have. In Austria, students simply choose their seats. Or used to; it’s been quite a while since went to school.

        • Irina says:

          I think it may have been because most of the schools I’ve been in (they were mostly in the “French system” even when they were not in France) we changed classrooms and it would have been chaos if students had to fight over seating before every class

  7. Graymand says:

    Hahaha that is so true! I always notice this too.

  8. Mari says:

    I always thought sitting beside the window just meant a character was introverted or a daydreamer. I think of how in Evangelion, Rei would always sit by the window because she felt so detached and isolated from everyone else, she’d rather stare out the window in her own world than be closer to the center where everyone is talking.

    I was always the kid who grabbed the window seat if we were allowed to pick our own seats. I hated when we had to do assigned seats in alphabetical order, because my last name started with A so I always would have to sit right in front next to the teacher >_< school was not easy for introverts like me lol

    • Irina says:

      You’re the second person to mention this. The window seats were where all the super popular kids sat when we could pick. I stayed .away from there, it was like party central

  9. Scott says:

    Well, where else are you going to have characters whisper back and forth between each other, form a relationship with the person next to you, goof off, play pranks, or look outside wishing they could do more with their normal lives? In front of the teacher?

    I kid though. You talk of animation short hand makes a lot of sense too. Isn’t it interesting how short hand and emotions can be combined together into one cohesive power?

    This made me think of Star Driver where the protagonist does sit next to a window in the backish, but the window faces towards the hallway so you can have those “kiss between the glass” moments for teenagers. Star Driver had a special sort of horny.

  10. Pinkie says:

    I think a position like that can also help you feel like the main character is on the outside. A bit of a loner, who would rather stare outside a window than engage with classmates.
    I do not like if people get in my aura to much, so even when going out drinking or something I prefer to have something near me like a wall, a bar (like .. the piece of furniture that holds the taps) a window. Most anime characters are like that as well. Plenty are loners and those who are not.. I have found to sit a bit more in the middle of a class in general.

    Like slice of life or romance characters I have found to sit in the middle a bit more.
    Like in Bloom into you.They do still sit in the back rowish but more in the middle of the class. Yuu’s nerdy friend however does have that window seat.
    In Sweet Blue Flower/Aoi No Hana Akira does sit in the back of the class but in the middle again. Fumi sits way more in the front but has a window seat.. being the more quite character. In Liz and the Blue Bird the mc generally sits more towards the middle as well. Which leads her into being approached more. Usagi (Sailor Moon) really sits in the middle of her class.

    Just like most people in the comments tell they had window or wall seats here as well, I think there is some psychology involved. Popuiar girls tend to flock more towards the center of a classroom so there is always someone to talk to and to pass notes around and that. Shy kids try to hide. Even if the protagonist isn’t a shy kid, Mangaka’s in general aren’t really socialble creatures nor are anime animators I’d say. So it’s easy to picture them in such a position.

    I would often go for the second or third row from the back as well.. because the last row was for the people who just wanted to much.. and mess about and I would not want to be seen as some vagrant, but I also would want people to engage with me as little as possible. Hence I went for the wall seat.. rather than the window seat… you would not be asked to open a window. The window however would allow me to dream of not being there. So it was nice to get that seat if possible.

    I don’t think it’s realistic that anime characters sit there though because it is probably the most covetted spot in the entire class..for any outsider kid. Most protagonist however are systematically late so the fact that they had first pickings seems slim at best!

    • Irina says:

      The popular kids had the window seats whenever we could choose at my schools cause that’s where you could be all aloof or you had some distraction. This said we mostly had assigned seats so it was more a question of alphabet than personality

  11. Anonymous says:

    That has to be my favorite anime trope in all of slice of life anime and its basically become an inside joke within the anime community.
    -K (rogueotakugamer)

  12. Being next to the window has the additional benefit of allowing the character to see plot relevant events outside the classroom. Glances out window… sees the monster about to attack… sees his girl hanging with another guy… sees her boy waving to get her attention… sees the cherry blossoms which launches the character into a philosophical train of thought about (fill in the blank). The character can either be trapped in the classroom in frustration until class ends, sneak out for the endless bathroom break, or leap into action to the shock of their classmates.

    And of course, there is the Seki-kun effect!

  13. AK says:

    I never thought of the animation shortcut reasons, but those make sense.

    You can also sometimes tell a main character and the members of the main cast apart from the rest when the school lets them customize their uniform for no apparent reason. You see that in Persona games: everyone’s wearing the same thing except for Protagonist and his friends. Like hey, the school uniform here is totally standardized but we’ll just let Yukiko wear red and stand out because that’s her favorite color? I can buy high school students having magical Persona powers that let them fight demons in a shadow world, but I can’t buy that kind of favoritism.

  14. Dawnstorm says:

    When a lesson is over, between two units, people are more likely to gather at the window. So, especially for shy people, it’s good to have a seat by the window, because that way they can be “in the thick of things” without actually going there.

    Next, the window seat is safe: you have one neighbour, and there’s no danger of sudden intrusion from your right (i.e. the door). There’s a reason, for example, why Seki-kun in Tonari no Seki-kun has to occupy the very last row next to the window. That way, only his distracted neighbour will notice his antics. Any other seat and the dynamic changes.

    During class, the backrow window seats are the least exposed, and during the breaks they’re often the social nexus. I think that’s a potent narrative combo, and probably part of it. (Of course, also the possibility of looking outside the window.)

    Not having to animate many people behind our characters is an interesting aspect I never thought of.

    • Irina says:

      It was the exact opposite for me, we congregated front away from windows at classroom change because that’s where the door is. Is it the teachers that change rooms in Japan? That would explain the difference

      • Dawnstorm says:

        Yeah, in Japan they don’t switch rooms. You’ll see those signs at the door with what class is inside (say 1 B). They only switch for stuff where you need special equipment, like home economics, or physical education.

  15. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    When allowed to pick our own seats, I always chose back of the classroom but away from the windows. I could still look across and see out of them, without being in the hot afternoon sunshine or first pincushion for broken glass during a high wind. Honestly, I was both antisocial and practical. . .

    • Irina says:

      Wow, I grew up in some of the poorest 3rd world countries and mt classroom windows never exploded… We have to improve our educational system…

      • David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

        I’d hope that your current location in Canada is fairly safe. We have lots of tornadoes and sudden, strong thunderstorms down here. . .Sunday being a case in point.

        • Irina says:

          Canada has ice storms that leaves people without electricity for weeks in freezing weather and enough snow to bury a person on a regular basis but for the most part the only way the weather kills
          us is with black ice and car accidents.

  16. railgunfan75 says:

    It’s cool how such short cuts in the production process can also help with telling a narrative or giving a character some depth. The thing that always surprises me is when two characters are having a full blown conversation and no one notices or reacts unless they shout or something. I guess you can imagine that they are whispering or something but in most classrooms someone would notice unless classroom acoustics work differently in Japan for some reason. It’s just one of those curious things that I’ve noticed with some series.

  17. Josh says:

    This makes me think of the song lyric… “All flowers in time bend toward the sun.”

  18. I always took it as the daydreamer’s seat. The perfect position to sit and think about all the wacky anime adventures you’e going to go on once the bell rings, and it has to be so far back otherwise your teacher would notice and call you out!

    Your explanations work as well though.

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