“And their cartoons are also violent and pornographic! All those damn tentacles!”
It would be silly of me to slam this episode of Muv-Luv too hard for its hilarious depiction of racism. Not because it’s good, mind, but because it’s not actually worse than any other anime that tackles racism. Sure, a lot of them condemn it. There’s negative consequences for oppression, and racists themselves are shown to be the terrible people they are. But it’s often dealt with on a surface level — this person is a big, racist jerk, they get their comeuppance, everyone loves each other, the end.
It’s often difficult to take seriously as a dramatic device, at least for me, because when it’s reduced to one person or a group of people spouting racist shit, I’m not normally thinking, “Wow, what a jerk! I hope that person gets what’s coming to them!” Rather, I’m thinking, “Holy crap, what a fucking loon!” A single racist is a god damn goofball, as this episode demonstrates. “Those damn Japs! They’re all so sneaky and sly! Don’t trust them, ever!” Don’t you just imagine him angrily squatting at a desk and two-finger typing a letter to a right-wing newspaper after that?
That’s the thing with societal ills like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. One person espousing those views is an idiot. An entire society promoting those views is frightening. That’s what makes those ideas dangerous. Distilling it to a single person or small group of people and having them be the Representative(s) of Racism just seems disingenuous to me. It’s like in pro wrestling when you have the foreign dude waving the flag of his country and being like, “America, that sure is a shit country, am I right?” It’s such an easy, obvious target for villainy, and black and white in a boring way.
Yuuya’s sob story did nothing to get me more interested in him because of this, although I did find it hilarious that his mother responded to a negative stereotype with a positive stereotype. Maybe you should tell the guy about their great SAT scores, too!
On the other hand, the scene where Yui berates Yuuya for not piloting his mecha well actually does work for me because we already have a fair amount of context to show why Yui would react this way. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Japan going in an ultra-nationalistic direction since the world has fought against the BETA. (Or maybe even before then; I forget exactly how this timeline is supposed to work.) We’ve seen the expectations fostered upon Yui and the mindset with which she has been raised — again, pure, nationalistic pride. It’s still silly (because unbridled nationalism is silly), but the way it’s used is not totally silly because some care has been put into the context. Yui isn’t some strawman racist conjured to give Yuuya some angst time.
Ghostlightning nails the other reason why this scene works for me — because Yui’s criticisms of Yuuya are valid, and he isn’t the hot shit pilot he thinks he is. (Or, at least, the type of hot shit pilot he is is rather impractical against a horde of aliens that know no fear.) And, again, knowing Yui’s context gives weight to her words and makes them sting for the audience. We saw those girls battle the aliens: at least for a little while they were semi-effective, until numbers, sheer relentlessness and advanced weaponry just wrecked their shit. Yuuya jumps in and slaughters a few simulated BETA, but he’s soon overwhelmed because he can’t totally handle his mecha.
And then Yui tells him he’s a failure because he can’t work his mecha half as well as the people she saw die in the second episode. So there you go. There’s silly nationalism at work, but there’s also something personal.