Paradise Kiss and the Art of Self-Deprecation

source: zerochan

source: zerochan

Radar: I can’t because I’m ignoring her all the time.

Hawkeye: Why?

Radar: Because she’s ignoring me.

Hawkeye: Ah! But you ignored her first!

Radar: Yeah, that’s because I’m trying to beat her to the ignore.

-a conversation between Radar O’Reilly and Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H Season 3, Episode 6

At first glance, this exchange is tremendously silly. As it is upon second glance and third glance. Radar, smitten by a woman in his military unit, is too afraid to speak with her. Naturally, his first instinct is to ignore her completely.

Is this counterproductive? Definitely, but it’s also a reaction that all of us can relate to. By ignoring her, Radar puts himself at a very comfortable distance, with which he can admire the lady risk-free. In his mind, it’s far better to ignore her and pine from afar than chance her turning him down if he attempts to become close.

Self-deprecation, which I’m certain many of you are familiar with, works in the same exact vein. I’ll call myself ugly before you do, that way it won’t hurt as much if you think so. I’ll say my voice is horrid, so you don’t say so when I raise it in song. You will never have an opportunity to say I am bad at anything before I’ll have already admitted the same. You will never hate me as much as I already hate myself.

Is this counterproductive? Yes. And it is here that we meet Yukari Hayasaka.

“That sort of modesty is very rude. It’s like you’re saying Mikako just randomly chose ‘someone like you’ and has no professional discernment.”

-George Koizumi to Yukari Hayasaka, Paradise Kiss Volume 2

Previously, Yukari Hayasaka studied incredibly hard to enter a college-prep high school, her mother’s disappointment at her failure to get in to an elite elementary school still fresh in her mind. She took studying seriously; however, it was a series of mechanized movements, all to please her mother. Lacking the natural intelligence of her younger brother, Yukari could only ever hope to pass as an average student, even with an inordinate amount of studying.

It is with this robotic approach to schoolwork and an aimless heart that Yukari is introduced to the world of fashion by the passionate members of the titular Paradise Kiss clothing brand. Slowly, Yukari begins to see a different future, still fumbling with finding her own path and unable to leave the insecurities of her childhood behind. She is far quicker to insult herself than she is to praise her own abilities, the rejection of her mother so deep-seated in her memory.

The lead designer of Paradise Kiss, and Yukari’s love interest, George, swiftly calls this to her attention. By Yukari saying that Mikako – a professional designer with her own popular brand – only chose her as a model because she was simply “there,” she inadvertently insults Mikako as an artist. Yukari naturally reverts to such statements, due both to her upbringing and her innate lack of confidence and direction, without realizing that they indirectly insult people who care about her and believe in her ability.

As the other property I’ve seen to explore the hurtful nature of self-deprecation, xxxHolic brings this to its audience’s attention through the character of Watanuki Kimihiro. Like Yukari, Watanuki has his own reasons for feeling aimless. He chooses to selflessly aid anyone in need without regard to his own personal well-being. This comes to a breaking point when he, through supernatural means, offers up something irreplaceable to save his acquaintance, Doumeki, from a curse. His sacrifice not only angers Doumeki, but inspires a girl who is in love with Watanuki to attempt to get it back. She becomes captured in the process, leading Watanuki to rush to her aid. Like George, the Spider Queen holding the girl hostage has only derision and some choice words for Watanuki’s actions.

“In other words, you consider her an absolute fool who would try to protect worthless trash as yourself. There are others too, right? Others who hold you dear. Yet you never notice and fail to value yourself at all…it’s that particular attitude that I just loathe.”

– Spider Queen to Watanuki Kimihiro, xxxHolic Volume 8

Following this harsh insight, Watanuki finally allows himself to open up to people.

By the same token, the latter half of the second volume of Paradise Kiss sees Yukari consider her own actions much more carefully, both for her own future and the feelings of those close to her. Deciding to be firm, yet honest, with her mother about her new-found dream of becoming a model allows the two to begin mending their broken relationship. Without feeling as much pressure from her mother, Yukari discovers that studying comes easier than she had previously thought, to the point where she plans her future as a model with college entrance exams as her safety net. Although her romance with George is an obvious catalyst, more important is Yukari’s personal development on her own terms. She naturally begins to accept others the more she begins to do things for herself.

source: pixiv

source: pixiv

12 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Paradise Kiss

12 responses to “Paradise Kiss and the Art of Self-Deprecation

  1. Allen Li

    Very nice. I’ve only watched the xxxHolic anime, but the spider queen’s speech was really eye-opening, both for me, and the main character. I wouldn’t necessarily call it counterproductive though; we are, after all, human. We don’t like getting hurt, even if doing so doesn’t make “sense”, but that’s just who we are.

    Instead of asking the individual to shape up, how about asking those around to support the individual as well? Most human problems go both ways: it’s your problem, but it’s also everyone else’s problem too.

    • Yeah, the Spider Queen Arc in xxxHolic is one of my favorite pieces of manga for many reasons, the main one being the lesson she espouses to Watanuki that was detailed above.

      As for it being counterproductive, I can only speak from my own self-hatred, and therefore it is a rather limited view; however, if one hates themselves, they naturally tend to keep others at arm’s length or subconsciously push them away altogether.

      In both xxxHolic and Paradise Kiss, the supporting cast of characters is already in place as a safety net for the self-loathing individual. It is still up to that individual to come to their own understanding of self-worth, or at the very least, to recognize the way in which they are putting a strain on any/all relationships they choose to pursue.

  2. Wait a minute…did you just start this entry by quoting M*A*S*H?

    Beautiful.

  3. Frankly, this type of behaviour annoys me in anime, since it’s quite often done, but without consequence to the character doing the self-depreciating. By virtue of being the primary character (whether that be the main character, or the focal character for that particular episode/story arc), it’s an excusable trait that can be brushed off as an endearing blemish in what would otherwise be a “perfect personality.” It’s lazy writing, and doesn’t make these characters any more realistic or fully fleshed out than it does if this idea was abandoned altogether.

    That aside, same could be said for most minor faults, which are character faults in themselves (and should be called out), but aren’t impactful enough to be the primary drive of a story the way a “fatal flaw” would. Lack of commitment, overcommitment elsewhere, pride, envy, amongst many others, are powerful and more likely to screw things up and cause the character to want to change things around.

    Self-depreciation, when used properly, doesn’t have that narrative power, but provides a very interesting nuance, as you so described. Thanks for calling attention to it, Em.

    • Oh definitely. Self-deprecation is a great tool that’s unfortunately used all-to-often without nuance or in a lazy attempt to quickly inform the audience that the character has flaws, etc. as you covered.

      In Yukari’s case, I love how it informs her character and the reasons for her self-loathing are slowly revealed through her interactions with others primarily, along with a few tertiary flashbacks, to flesh her out. Instead of being used as a shortcut, it’s an addition to the other tools that the artist is already using to tell us Yukari’s story.

      I could take this one step further and examine how self-deprecation is used in different ways in real life by living, breathing people, but perhaps that’s for another day. ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I’ve learned from numerous sources that the self-deprecating behavior is a reflexive response of modesty learned in Japan and other East Asian cultures. “You’re a good smart student,” remarks a praising teacher. “No, I’m actually very stupid and lucky,” would be a typical exchange.

    So in the cases you show the self-deprecation is a defense mechanism for heightened lack of self-confidence, the behavior is partly the norm for the culture.

    • You’re right, and it’s something I honestly hadn’t considered for this article (and should have). I think this article still stands, if only because the manga makes it a point to show her lack of self-confidence and aimlessness as something to be overcome, especially when she begins to mend her broken relationship with her mother. Thank you for bringing this up. I’ll make a better point to look at things from a broader perspective in the future.

  5. Pingback: Dokidoki! PreCure Episode 12: Toku no Hana (Flowers of Virtue) | Cure Blogger

  6. Self-depreciation, in my opinion, is usually best for humor purposes. Though sometimes it can be abused too much without anyone realizing it.

    I actually put George’s quote on a list of quotes I put up on my blog. He is right, because who would really want to be around someone who is depressed like that. That behavior is not only annoying, but toxic.

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