– An uncritical analysis of extracurricular activities in anime vs. my experience with education

1456 words, ~7 minutes

Warning: After reading what I wrote I am not-so-happy to inform you, the reader, that this is kind of a rant.

A few days ago I skimmed through my long-abandoned plan-to-watch list of anime, and through an educated guess decided to watch the series titled Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, which also goes by Iroduku: The World in Colors (which confuses me greatly, cause I’m not seeing where the du came from).

It’s a nice slowly paced story about a high school girl who is sent back in time to 2018 by her magical grandma to attend high school with the aforementioned grandma, and more importantly, to regain the ability to see colours, which she had lost at some point. The series is beautifully drawn, and while the magic system based on colourful powders you scatter in the air to activate is so soft-magic that it gets dangerously close to deus ex machina at times, up until episode 7 (which is how far I am at the time of writing) it doesn’t feel so inconsistent that it would annoy me.

There are however two things about this anime that bother me. The more trivial one is that the opening song gets abruptly faded out at the end of the opening animation, which I think ruins it. The other is the Japanese education system.

Now, I’m not going to assume that the way after-school clubs work in an anime where magic is commonplace is a flawless representation of how they do in real life Japan, but it doesn’t seem to be much different from how they’re depicted in two other anime/manga series I like, Yuru Camp and 3-gatsu no Lion. I’m therefore assuming that it’s not all completely baseless.

Mich, what are you talking about?…

Let’s start by laying out some basic definitions.

Definition 1. According to my understanding, a school club in anime is a group of pupils, usually on the order of magnitude of 5, who are assigned a room somewhere on school territory (it can be in the main building, but there might be a separate building for clubs, as seen in Yuru Camp) and a supervising teacher. It seems the teacher is not necessarily present at the club activities — I don’t really remember one appearing in Iroduku whatsoever.

Anime series can make it pretty difficult to track the flow of time, but it would appear that club activities, whatever they are for the given club, just happen after regularly after school. I can’t really give an upper or lower bound for how frequent they are, though my hypothesis is that they are at least weekly.

Now, time travel magic that seemingly only your grandma knows how to perform and which (if I understood the line from the first episode) takes 60 years of prepare? I can suspend my disbelief for that. But having a life while attending school? I can’t handle that.

What did it feel to be in a school club in Poland?

I think my first experiences trying to being part of a chill after-school club was in junior high school (a kind of middle school between primary and high school that actually went extinct a few years ago in a botched education reform). My primary school was full of extracurricular activities, but they were a result of a European Union funded project, so at times they felt forced. (Says the guy who signed up for literally all of them except the art club, lol. I just realized I’ve effectively been working 8-4 since I was 10. Good grief.) So, when I was between 13 and 16. I can even name two of them.

One club was a computers club. I really wanted one, and the computers teacher seemed to not have much else to do on Wednesday afternoons, which made this possible. Most of time I think it was just me and a girl 1 year my junior. Nothing interesting really happened there. I was just sitting at a computer and doing funny things to it. She was also just doomscrolling Facebook or talking to the teacher about fishing. One highlight of my acquaintance with her was when I told her about two-factor authentication by revealing my password to her, though she still couldn’t log in. One time the teacher started talking to me about his newfound passion of fixing watches. While this club definitely ticks some boxes on the definition of a cool anime school club, you can tell it sounds off.

That was in my second year of three. In my final year, I was instead part of a history club. Or so the history teacher would’ve liked it to be. It devolved rather quickly into a way for me and a bunch of other social outcasts to complain about being social outcasts or discuss politics. I think this ticks some more boxes: for instance, it sounds like there’s something interesting and organized going on there. But I think this example shows a nasty correlation between clubs that the school cares about and subjects that are part of the standardized final exam.

Now, I still have a good enough example of a club I was in through high school, that’s not strictly related to final exam subjects: a robotics club. The iteration that happened in my first year might just be the closest thing to an anime school club that you’ll see in this post. The leader of the club was a senior year pupil. He had a brave goal of building a robot for Micromouse competitions, which are all about quickly solving mazes. We spent the first semester learning how to program Atmega8 microcontrollers step by step, from basic LED blinking to PWM to UART and other cool stuff.

However, in the second semester the leader had to focus on preparing on his final exams. The formula of the club suffered quite a bit in the subsequent years, as we switched focus to preparing teams for a robotics competition for high schools in order to defend the champion title the club leader left behind. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t entertaining or educative. I learnt how to use my school’s 3D printer in the process. But with an overspecified and somewhat derivative (maintain the championship status quo) goal, I feel like in the end this club has failed my idealized requirements that I’m trying to grasp with as I’m writing this post.

I think my high school, somewhat prestigious and called by many the best high school in the region, was bound to fail this aspect anyway. After all, the main goal of a school like this seems to be maintaining its reputation, and that goal is accomplished by putting all the effort into *squints eyes* preparing pupils for the standardized exams and hoping they also do well on scientific olympiads.

This attitude got to me a bit stronger in my final year, when I told my computers teacher that I would like to start a “practical computers club” as a counterweight to the algorithmic extracurricular stuff that he ran with some of my classmates as preparation for the olympiad in informatics. He liked the idea, but only allowed me to start it after the second stage of the olympiad, which left me with roughly 2 months before I had to write my final exams and leave the school. Not the luckiest time to start a club.

Looking back, this club probably could’ve went better if I had a plan that accounted for the school’s attitude, but still, I don’t regret trying. I don’t even remember what I taught at the club anymore, but what I do remember is running a game jam after teaching some Construct 2. That’s a highlight I will cherish. If I’m not wrong my current CTO at work is the guy who was in junior year back then and won the popular vote of the jam, and with it the prize, a Steam key for RPG Maker XP which I had from some Humble Bundle.

Okay, Mich, now that you’ve complained for 1000 words, what is your wisdom?

Yeah, I have an orthodontist appointment in the morning, so I should wrap this up, right?

To hell with schools that passively discourage extracurricular activity that’s not strictly related to the exam subjects.

Or so I would say, but I find it difficult to blame the school directly. I don’t want to get into what a good education system should look like, what it should encourage, as well as how. But I don’t think what we have is good. Someone qualified should look into it and thoroughly think education through, consult it with other experts, start shifting it in the better direction.