Ever since my somewhat-controversial review of Kaguya-Sama: Love is War, I have earned a greater appreciation for how anime designs its environments. Not even necessarily how detailed and beautiful its backgrounds are, though that is a great boon in and of itself, but how recurring spaces like the student council office of Love is War are designed and what that tells us about the characters who inhabit those spaces.
My main complaint with Love is War was how empty and sterile its student council room felt for how much time the show wants us to spend there with its characters. I joked that it looked like a room that had to be vacated after they were done shooting, so the next anime could do its scenes there. Its just a big room with one desk, one sitting space, and a bunch of useless cabinets.
These characters are here seemingly every day, yet none of them appear to have ever done anything to give the place a personal touch. As a result, any other character could be occupying this very same office; its perfectly generic, almost as if it has never been inhabited at all.
To compare, let’s look back at Dagashi Kashi, which like Love is War was a semi-recent comedy anime with romantic elements that got quite popular. We spend a lot of time in the shop of Kokonotsu’s family, and it feels like a proper mom-and-pop rural store that has hit on hard times. Everything looks old-fashioned and outdated, with the shop going further downhill in season 2 when finances become dire. There are lots of small touches to the shop that reflect what kind of people run it, such as the model kits that are often seen stuffed away on a high shelve in the background; a possible remnant of some poorly thought-out attempt to add more toys to the store’s offering.
It’s also tiny and makes you really wonder how this family is supposed to make a living with so little space to work with. Especially in season 2, when a rival store enters the picture with a lot more room for products. It probably helps when your shop isn’t also your living room.
For a great example of using space for characterization, look no further than the sublime Perfect Blue by the late Satoshi Kon. Mima’s room is central to the movie’s story and goes through a lot of changes as its dramatic plot unfolds. It tells us a lot about who Mima is and there’s even a major plot twist that’s revealed only through the room. Similarly, we get a peek at the room of the delusional stalker Me-Mania and see what kind of space he inhabits. Of course, this includes many pictures of the girl he is in love with. Too many pictures, perhaps. But while watching the movie with a friend, he pointed out that the man has some good taste in game consoles and I never noticed those before.
Mima’s room is also put to good use to reflect the decline of her character. At the start of the movie, the room is bright and colorful, a little cluttered and busy, but clean and quite tidy. When Mima begins to crumble under the stress, her room loses its luster and color, and slowly fills up with trash. Chores don’t get done anymore and this only serves to further depress Mima. Its brilliantly done and just one of many touches that make Perfect Blue such a phenomenal movie.
What are some of your favorite offices, club rooms, bedrooms, or other places that characters constantly return to in an anime? What makes these places so special and what do they tell you about the characters?