Pripara, Self Image and Feminism

Intro:

Pripara is a kids’ idol anime based off an arcade game of the same name. The anime exists purely to advertise the game and sell related merchandise.

The premise of the anime is that, at some point, every little girl will find her first Priticket, a magical ticket that will allow her admittance to Prism Stone, a shop in the the fashionable district of Parajuku where you can transform into your own personalized idol persona. (You can change your hair color, height, basically anything.) Idols can then inhabit the virtual world of Prism Paradise (PriPara for short) to practice dancing, go to each others’ concerts, eat at cute cafes and, of course, pick out new outfits to wear on stage.

The following is a feminist analysis of the Love Tochiotome subplot from Episode 10 of the Pripara anime.

Summary and Analysis:

The premise of this episode is that our protagonists, Lala and Mirei, need to figure out what to wear for a competitive concert where the winners will become the models for the new fall line of lipsticks from a big cosmetic brand. The two need to win in order to convince their manager that they are worthy of teaming up with a more prestigious idol.

This episode, at its most basic, is about the ever pressing question of: What to wear? Pripara emphasizes the real life association between women and fashion by making a choice of clothing the catalyst for the episode’s resulting subplot and by extension, the series promotes stereotype that women are materialistic and shallow. The characters’ only preparation for this competitive concert is choosing their outfits which illustrates the idea that what a woman wears is the most important criteria of how others should judge her. This whole episode is about the importance of appearances.

During the two girls’ search for the perfect autumn themed outfit they meet Love Tochiotome.

Love Tochiotome is presumed to be of middle school age. She’s a revered tennis player and is about 6′3″. She has cropped hair and is much taller than her peers in addition to being notably more muscular, tanner and having a more masculine face.

Comparison between Love and her fellow tennis player, Eiko

Love has never been to PriPara, to the shock of her fellow female students. She has a Priticket but just hasn’t gone.

At this point it’s apparent that Love has a complex about her height and thinks she isn’t cute enough to become an idol (which in this universe is basically a right of passage for little girls).

Her friend Eiko asks Lala and Mirei to help convince Love to go to PriPara. With both verbal and physical persuasion, they succeed.

Social pressure clearly plays a large role in Love’s actions. Love wants to go to Pripara but has just never worked up the courage to go on her own. However, Lala and Mirei are not approaching the situation as friends to Love who want to see her have fun. They are instead acting as ambassadors from Pripara that can’t believe Love hasn’t been yet and now must correct this wrong. Lala and Mirei are also serving to further contrast Love from “normal” girls where Love is very unusual relative to other characters, not just in her character design but also in her nervousness towards becoming an idol.

Love is a part of a minority in not having an idol persona yet like everyone else. “Everyone else” being other young girls. Specifically, female social pressure is at play here, and just like in real life, females are key in policing the gender norms of other females to the point of being more effective at it than males. Love’s reluctance to approach Prism Stone makes it unclear if she really wants to become an idol or if she is just giving in to peer pressure.

Upon entering PriPara Love transforms into her idol persona and has trouble recognizing herself.

Her hair is lengthened, her skin becomes paler and her face becomes more feminine. Unlike her normal self, Love’s idol persona adheres much closer to modern Japanese beauty standards. Love is actually brought to tears over this transformation.

Love thought that due to her height she could not be considered cute, confirming that the image of “cute” within this series is a narrow one that excludes body diversity, specifically bodies that have stereotypical masculine/non-feminine traits. It’s also important to note that while Love and the other characters are focused on being “cute”, cute could easily be swapped out for the concepts of beautiful or attractive. Being cute in the context of this episode refers solely to how well one’s outward appearance adhere to the beauty standards of their society.

Love at no point says that she likes long hair or frilly dresses or being an idol. She only expresses an implied desire to be cute. But if the image of cuteness is to be petite and feminine like Lala, Mirei and Eiko then Love’s desire to be cute actually represents a desire to be similar to her peers. Love does not seek the acceptance of herself as she is. Instead she seeks the merit of being seen as the same as one of her cute peers. She wants to join the status quo rather than challenge it. Once in the idol world she blends in much better with the other girls than outside of Pripara where her height made her stand out to the point of comedy.

Lala assures her that Love’s surprise at her new appearance is unfounded because “Every girl can be cute!” Lala’s declaration implies two things. Firstly, that the concept of cuteness can be broadened to accommodate cases like Love. And second that cuteness is a change that Love had to actively choose and that this choice is theoretically available to everyone.

Lala has nothing to back up her statement of “Every girl can be cute!” If societal standards for cuteness are as flexible as Lala claims then there would be no reason for Love to have developed a complex over her appearance in the first place. Lala’s other insinuation that a desired appearance can be attained by will of choice is indeed true in the real world, but at a price. Clothes, hair extensions, make up, and other types of cosmetic treatments cost money, making them more accessible to those with more disposable income, and virtually non-accessible to those without, no matter that person’s will to choose beauty.

After transforming into her idol persona, Love confirms that she feels confident after seeing how cute she has become. The link between physical appearance and confidence both in Love’s case and in many real world cases comes from a sense of comfort in how you perceive yourself. It’s a safe assumption that Love’s confidence is from being able to see herself as living up to a beauty standard. While Love’s new found confidence is positive for her own self image and self worth it actually devalues her other talents as a tennis ace in favor of emphasizing physical beauty as more important. Love’s success in sports only serves as a pun for her name, where it is this moment of Love finding herself beautiful that is supposed to define her character.

Meganee-san, one of Pripara’s omnipresent clerks, says Love is “like a super model” in reference the combination of her tall height and new makeover.

The transformations into idol personas are based off how players of the Pripara arcade game can customize the look of their idol avatar but in the Pripara anime its not clear if they are based on the desires of the characters or the calculations of Meganee-san. However, if a character voices their desires then that character can determine any feature of their persona. It’s established that Mirei carefully constructed her persona to look and act nothing like her actual self.

So Love could have changed her height in the idol world and essentially erased the cause of her complex. But due to nervousness or just ignorance over how Pripara works she left the creation of her persona to Meganee-san.

Of course, Love’s idol persona was designed by the show’s creators and simply making Love’s persona shorter would have defeated the “moral” of the story. That moral being that Love’s height was a hidden strength all along, as confirmed by all the super model comparisons thrown her way. Love viewed her tall height as a masculine feature but thanks to standards within the real life fashion world where models must be tall in order to emphasize their thinness, Love’s height can now do the same for her. So this loop hole in the beauty standards Love is trying to meet, ended up working in her favor, that is, after her hair, skin and facial structure were changed to move Love closer within the image of cute rather than expand what cute can be to encompass Love.

As the group moves through PriPara Love is met with more attention and compliments from other idols and continues to be compared to a model. Lala and Mirei’s manager, Kuma, a pink flying teddy bear, comes to ask Lala and Mirei if they’ve decided on outfits for the upcoming concert yet but when Love catches his eye he ignores the others in favor of hitting on Love.

Kuma is a big-talking good-for-nothing manager who thinks of himself as a ladies man and spends most of his time in kid friendly version of a hostess bar in later seasons. Lala and company know this, and are not impressed by the pick up lines used on Love. Love, on the other hand, knows nothing about Kuma’s sleazy reputation and is so overwhelmed by the event of a tiny talking bear hitting on her that she serves Kuma what was coming to him.

Unfortunately, it’s established that this was out of a fit of excitement and not a retaliation to Kuma’s actions. It was not a defense of her personal space or safety but just an overreaction intended for comedic purposes. She apologizes to Kuma shortly after thus asserting that Kuma was not in the wrong for hitting on her and she was in the wrong for not taking his “compliment” in a manner that accommodated him.

Kuma is Love’s only interaction with a male entity in this episode. Kuma solely interacts with Love due to her appearance, reinforcing that Love was right to worry about how she looked. Love’s flattered response to Kuma’s pick up line also affirms the idea that attention is a reward received for being attractive and that this reward should be cherished. This is a dangerous mentality that contributes to the real life issue of street harassment.

Kuma also carries out the real life and problematic practice of perceiving women as inherently sexual objects even when there’s nothing signifying to do so. Most of the idol outfits in Pripara are based on the silhouettes of lolita fashion and as a result are fairly conservative and non-sexualizing. Love’s outfit certainly falls into this category, meaning that nothing about Love’s appearance sexually enticed Kuma into hitting on her, beyond Love simply being a girl meeting beauty standards. Kuma is operating under the assumption that he is socially expected to sexualize women even in non-sexual scenarios, and the resulting behavior is perfectly acceptable, when in fact its rather despicable. The point of this scene’s punchline is that Kuma is suppose to seem like a sleazeball so that the audience won’t sympathize with him when he gets Lovely Smashed into the ground but no one ever corrects his actions or tells him why that behavior was unacceptable. Kuma isn’t expected to not be sleazy, because of his character is that of a masculine caricature and so his character is illustrative of the real life issue of how men can be frequently held less responsible for their actions than women are.

This small scene between Love and Kuma is suppose to be funny but actually reinforces the types of dynamics between men and women that feminists are trying to combat.

Lala and Mirei show no concern for Kuma’s shocked condition and instead use his injury as inspiration for their concert outfits.

And this is where Love’s story ends. Lala and Mirei thank Love for the inspiration and go on to preform their concert. They win and go on to model the lipstick line.

Love never has a concert of her own and from here on out is a comic relief character. The characters that better embody cuteness are used to advertise the lipstick. This reflects real life where women considered average looking are rarely used to advertise makeup, fashion or other similar products to other women, because such advertisements carry a message that women should aspire to look like the idealized women featured in the commercial rather than be satisfied with or confident in how they actually look.

Other deviants from Pripara’s image of cute like Love are also slotted into comic relief side roles. One of the more notable being Chanko, a heavyset member of an idol fan club who’s whole character is sumo themed. As comic relief charcters, we are meant to laugh at characters like Love and Chanko, not identify with them.

Even though Love managed to enter Pripara and become cute despite her height, she is ultimately dismissed by the show.

Love’s conflict might seem compelling or relatable at first since she wants to change and be more confident, but her anxiety over appearances shouldn’t be solved with a makeover. This episode of the Pripara anime misses the big picture when it comes to dealing with beauty standards. The solution to Love’s anxiety is not figuring out how to “fix” Love’s looks but instead to stop emphasizing the importance of beauty standards entirely.

Love has good reason to be concerned about how other’s judge her based on appearance. Real life studies have found that woman perceived as less attractive are also perceived as less professional and less trustworthy. Leaving women who don’t wear make-up or use other products to adhere to beauty standards at a disadvantage in the workplace which can lead to a financial disadvantage in life.

The answer is not to have makeovers become more accessible to every woman but instead dismantle society’s emphasis on beauty being an inherent part of femininity and the ultimate goal for a woman’s existence. Women should be valued for their ideas, talents, and accomplishments, not their appearances. When Love’s appearance is what other characters notice about her, it makes the audience think that must be what is important about her.

I wish this episode celebrated Love’s differences. Instead of “Any girl can change.” I wish they told Love: You don’t have to change. You can have confidence even if your tall AND have tan skin AND have broad shoulders. Love’s hidden strength could have been that her athleticism from playing tennis gave her stamina for preforming on stage or that her height gave her a commanding presence over an audience but instead Love’s achievement was that she looked like a model, a walking manikin that serves only to advertise an outfit, and in Love’s case, a virtual outfit that you can unlock in the arcade game.

 

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