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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…