Self-Insertion in Sasameki Koto

by eternal on March 25, 2010

Sasameki Koto didn’t seem to attract much attention when it aired in the winter, although it ended up on my watchlist by virtue of being a new yuri show. It departs quite a bit from the “walking slowly is preferred here” image of Marimite and the subtlety of Aoi Hana, going so far as to set its characters in a coed school and making one of them allegedly not a lesbian. It’s hard to say where it would fit on BakaRaptor’s real lesbian/super lesbian scale, but it’s certainly more grounded in reality than many of its kind.

Ironically, my enjoyment of Sasameki Koto has almost nothing to do with its yuri tropes and clichés. Instead, an interesting phenomenon occurred with regards to Sumika’s character: she began to feel less like the heroine and more like the male self-insert. I went into the show expecting a full serving of voyeuristic bliss derived from the idealized romances portrayed in shoujo-ai, but it wasn’t long before my experience changed from third-person to first-person.

(note that I’m referring to the definition of self-insert used within anime fandom – a generally bland character intended for the viewer to project themselves into – rather than the literary definition.)

When I took this screencap several months ago, I got the feeling that I would need it. It looks like I was right.

Sumika, the heroine of the show, is indeed a man at heart. I’m not familiar with the source material so I can’t comment on the target audience, but Sasameki Koto strikes me as a typical male-targeted shoujo-ai, even if only for Ushio and the trap. Whether or not this is true, the series has a heavy leaning toward lighthearted comedy with a tinge of fanservice, rather than the dense, often bittersweet atmosphere of the more dramatic yuri shows. It weaves a cruel, cruel web of feelings, but it’s so detached from the yuri tradition that it seems more like a good harem series without the male lead.

That was when it occurred to me: isn’t Sumika the male lead of Sasameki Koto? Not to say that she’s not effeminate or that it’s wrong to think of her as a girl, but she seems to play the role of the male in the story. I mean this in a more general way than the seme/uke roles – Sumi’s entire battle to win Ushio’s heart, from her feeble attempts at spending more time with her during the pool episode to her own internal thought processes, fit the role of the male lead perfectly. The best part about it is that she’s a girl, so she can exhibit emotions without breaking the Harem Lead creed. In fact, she doesn’t even need a harem!


Looking at the character archetypes, Sumi works as the perfect self-insert on several levels. For one, there’s the fact that she’s self-conscious about her looks, mentioning several times that she’s not effeminate and that she’s not the kind of girl that Ushio would go for. Her insecurities should strike a chord with many of the viewers, otaku or not – even in shoujo, you’re more likely to see insecure protagonists than insecure bishounen. On top of that, she struggles through her romance in a very boyish way, fighting to win Ushio’s heart without wanting to step too far and risk losing their friendship. She’s easy to identify with in a lot of ways. Compared to the rest of the show’s female characters and most shounen romance male characters, Sumi probably has the most in common with the viewer.

In execution, too, the series seems to intentionally use Sumi as a self-insert. The later episodes have her explicitly trying to earn Ushio’s attention in typical boy-chases-girl fashion, but the fanservice and unrealistically convenient dialogue that normally accompanies such stories is replaced by her bittersweet commentary, sometimes in self-depreciating jest, that reminds us that she really is in love. There are far too many anime characters in romance shows who spend 13 episodes chasing the object of their affection, yet never act as though they really are in love. In this manner, Sumi is the good kind of self-insert: deep enough to be believable, yet ordinary enough to be relateable.

– – –

I enjoyed Sasameki Koto as a boy-chases-girl show, not as a girl-chases-girl one. Most romance anime with male protagonists end up being more about the girls and their deliciously heart-healing pandering rather than the boy and his romantic interests. Even the best harem leads and shounen romance protagonists rarely vocalize their feelings. In other words, so-called boy-chases-girl shows end up pandering to one gender or the other, either through flawless female characters and a dull male lead or through a shy shoujo protagonist and a typical “bad boy” bishounen. In either case, they sidestep the original intent of the premise. Likewise, nearly all male-targeted girl-chases-girl anime end up like Strawberry Panic (to varying degrees), and the female-targeted ones probably remain as vague as Marimite.

This is why Sasameki Koto works: with or without the lesbians, it provides an endearingly simple yet relateable love story without the trappings of tradition, fan pandering, and confining gender roles. It’s odd that this so-called phenomenon only occurred as a result of my viewing the female protagonist as a male self-insert, but the show deserves credit for doing something that is disappointingly rare in anime. I can only hope that more creators realize that self-inserts need not always be spoon-fed their desires in a pure, idealistic paradise.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

mefloraine March 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm

A lot of the things that you use to suggest her boyish qualities apply to me. orz


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Well, don’t forget that anime characters are written quite differently from real people, especially in shows like this. A “boyish” girl might actually be a normal girl in the real world, even if she doesn’t fit anime’s definition of “girlish”. I mean, “pure” boys like Kazehaya from Kimi ni Todoke aren’t as impossible as they’re made out to be, and we all know that harem leads don’t represent real teenage boys.

Alternatively, you can be proud of the fact that you would be a good self-insert in a yuri anime!


lightningsabre March 25, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Ah… I never thought of it that way. I was purely enjoying it as a different type of yuri show that goes beyond the usual yuri stereotypes. I was in 2/3 of the way to finishing this show, but somehow the new season crept up on me without me realizing it and I fell behind. My point of view may change after reading this, lol, but good insight!


omo March 25, 2010 at 9:36 pm

I never thought of it that way either, but that’s because I have a hard time taking a satire on its face. Sasameki Koto is a satire of the yuri genre, where the tropes are played out rather than aired out, so it feels more natural. It’s not because those tropes and cliches do not exist in the show. At the same time I find the post’s line of thinking a little worrisome, but oh well.


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:09 pm

What do you mean by worrisome? I realize that the yuri tropes aren’t as jarring in here than they would be in a more traditional story, but is it really a satire? The story seems to take itself relatively seriously, aside from a handful of self-conscious jabs. I could call it self-aware, but I’m not sure about satire.


Fang-tan March 25, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Well geez. Now I have to watch it for sure. I keep putting it off but this might be some motivation to give it a shot…


Canne March 25, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I agree with you that Sumi is a boy inside. I wonder if we replaced her with a real boy, people would start complaining that he’s a pussy. That’s why the male lead in boy-chase-girl show cannot be exactly like Sumi.


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:11 pm

My thoughts exactly. Even though I’m the one complaining about this, it might be odd to see a boy act like Sumi, so it might be for the best that the show is written the way that it is. For better or worse, there’s certainly more emotional flexibility when writing a female protagonist in a romance show.


Baka-Raptor March 25, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Pretty much what I was thinking. The first episode was a bit of an outlier, but after that it was all Sumika all the time. She wants the girl but can’t confess. Hilarity ensues. This is rom-com material. The show doesn’t rely, and certainly doesn’t overrely, on yuri tropes to put together an entertaining story. The only signs of the yuri ghetto I saw were that yuri doujin girl and the opening sequence (which I often skipped).


Aorii March 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

That’s an interesting way to watch it, I never thought of it that way XD. But, I’d say most self-insert romance shows targeting male audience is more of a girl-chase-boy, since it’s mostly the girl pandering to the boy and him just reacting, and hence the reason why the male protagonists rarely show their feelings – they’re usually in a passive role (i.e. getting stuck in harem mud) until that one arc when they do something to cement that OTP relationship. A guy devoting so much time and effort chasing after one girl from the start while the girl shows little interest beyond friends? No exactly a theme common in the self-insert genre… I can only think of Love Hina right now.

@”On top of that, she struggles through her romance in a very boyish way, fighting to win Ushio’s heart without wanting to step too far and risk losing their friendship.”

Ehhhh, you’re saying girls done worry about that? o_O I’m pretty sure this is a gender-neutral approach.


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Good point. Incidentally, this is getting me thinking about ideas for a general post on the concept of the self-insert, but that’s a different matter.

In a nutshell, I don’t think self-insertion has to be from the perspective of escapism – it simply makes it easier for the viewer to connect with the characters. From that angle, I’m saying that more male-targeted shows ought to create male characters that are actually somewhat believable, although I can see why the demand isn’t there.

And yeah, that approach is gender-neutral, but it didn’t strike me as the kind of thing that girls talk about in anime. Most anime girls seem to fall under either one extreme or another (forcing themselves onto the guy or being unrealistically shy), so it caught my attention that Sumi would actually try to calculate a reasonable way to “win”. “Fighting” was supposed to be the key word there. Of course, none of this applies to reality.


Janet August 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Mighty useful. Make no mistake, I apticerape it.


Scout August 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I don’t even know what to say, this made things so much easrie!


Caddy C March 26, 2010 at 11:07 pm

It seems a little strange to use the phrase “self-insert” and then automatically assume that the person watching and then inserting into the story is necessarily male. Why is that? Why is the fact that this character is easy to relate to a male trait?

I also wonder what you mean by “play[ing] the role of the male in the story” because from your description, all she does is pursue a romance with the person that she loves. How is this playing the role of the male, exactly? It seems that by assuming that if she isn’t “effeminate” enough, she’s cast as male?

“[Sh]e struggles through her romance in a very boyish way, fighting to win Ushio’s heart without wanting to step too far and risk losing their friendship.”
How is that a “boyish” trait? What about that is more male than female?


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:32 pm

The whole topic of self-inserts is inherently divided based on gender. A relateable character for a male viewer might be completely different for a female viewer, and this is even more true when talking about male-targeted and female-targeted romance. Unfortunately, a theory that applies to one gender in this case can’t automatically be applied to the other.

As for Sumi’s character, she isn’t necessarily boyish, but her role in the story is noticeably more male than female. Remember, this is within the context of the show, not society. The girls in yuri shows often end up being idealized and “groomed” to the point of perfection, in order to appeal to the audience (which, depending on the show, could be male or female). Ushio fits this role relatively well, and the other girls all feel like members of your average male-targeted shoujo-ai cast. Sumi is the only exception, and her role of actively pursuing her love (as opposed to blushing and crying and avoiding the problem) is one that wouldn’t normally be given to a female character in this genre. The fact that she’s hesitant gives her a more human, relateable side, but all in all, she’s far more honest with her feelings and willing to step up than most girls in yuri, especially in this particular male-targeted subcategory within yuri.


Shin March 27, 2010 at 8:04 am

Sort of disappointed this wasn’t your self insertion as the trap.


ETERNAL March 31, 2010 at 10:34 pm

It’ll happen some day, don’t worry. Perhaps Boku no Pico will be my undoing.


Makaela August 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

I was serlousiy at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.


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