By: Casea Smith | @coffeewithkrow
I must confess, I don’t believe in the three episode rule so many seem to follow amongst the anime community. I just don’t think it always requires more than an episode or two in order to feel compelled to watch an entire series. However, in the case of watching Arté, even when I was committed to giving it a solid chance, I couldn’t bring myself to do it… at first.
I actually considered making a “Two Episode Review” on this anime, explaining why I couldn’t watch any more of it when I first pitched a post at an Editorial Meeting for @theanimeview. I certainly had a lot to say about a show I saw very little of; however, one day, I was in the mood to watch something new without the commitment of it being totally unfamiliar. As contradictory as that is, Arté was the perfect fit considering I had already watched a couple of episodes and had no clue where the story would lead. So I spent a cozy, rainy Friday playing Sims 4 and experiencing Arté in its entirety. Little did I know that a single day of watching it would lead to a year of conflicting opinions within myself.
(And I do mean that literally, this post has been in the back of my mind for a year with our Editor reminding me about it monthly!)
Arté has everything you could want for a confusing tale. It’s based in 16th century Florence, Italy, a ‘simpler’ time in a bustling city. It has that overall feel of watching a cozy, slow-paced anime that focuses more on the characters, their relationships (platonic or otherwise), and the skills that the protagonist builds throughout the season. Based on the premise, I was ready for a Snow White With The Red Hair type of show and Arté does deliver, to some extent, on these elements though not nearly as much as I would have liked.
We follow the journey of a 16 year-old girl, the titled character, Arté, whose family is ranked in lower nobility (but nobility nonetheless!). Her father, the one who was supportive of Arté’s passion for painting, had passed away prior to the start of the show’s events, and her mother was left to be a single parent. However, her mother is strict with an unbending idea of Arté’s path in life: leave the childish act of painting behind in order to focus on being a desirable wife.
The mother’s intentions are made crystal clear in the first episode as she is standing in the courtyard, setting fire to all of her daughter’s art (sidenote: as someone who loves drawing, that scene definitely stung). Leaving Arté no choice but to take control of her own life by running away and pursuing her dreams of being an artist.
The set-up is good and, to that point, as a viewer, I was able to immediately empathise with Arté, making it easy to root for her and her goals. However, that quickly changed once she was in the city and on her own. There I was hit with my biggest issue about the show–what I would consider a Tiffany Problem.
The Tiffany Problem
I know each person is different when it comes to watching content that showcases misogyny. Some people feel that it’s a deal breaker after seeing one scene, others feel the topic of sexism needs to be thoroughly explored, and there are plenty of people in between. For me, I’m totally fine with it being depicted (I even look forward to it) unless it feels forced into the scene or setting. But, in the case of Arté, it seemed like sexist men were being thrown at our leading lady for the sake of giving her an obstacle to overcome. It was often unnecessary, but more importantly, it felt unrealistic.
Watching the show inspired me to look more into what sexism was like in 16th century Italy. I learned that it was actually a lot worse than what I was taught in highschool, of which the topic of sexism was left poorly discussed–which is to say, not mentioned even once.
Due to that, I believed that people of the Renaissance were more progressive. Not to modern day, of course, but not to the extent of, well, 16th century misogyny I found.
I’m sure many people who didn’t further their historical education after highschool can relate to that initial belief of most periods. But the sexism in Florence, Italy (where Arté takes place) was especially prevalent. From what I can tell, her experience in the anime is relatively an accurate portrayal of the social climate of the Renaissance. (And doesn’t that deserve some bonus points!) However, I still can’t shake the feeling that Arté’s struggles are unrealistic and exaggerated, if not far too modernized to reflect the time being depicted, which I think has something to do with what is coined as ‘The Tiffany Problem.’
‘The Tiffany Problem’ is a term coined by the author Jo Walton to describe the tension between historical fact and the popular, present day perception of history. Tiffany is a centuries old name, but if you were to use it for a character in a medieval setting, it would throw people off. Because the name Tiffany has been heavily modernized in our minds. It would break the immersion no matter how historically accurate it really is because it feels too present-day.
So while Arté’s experience of blatant and grotesque misogyny is a vaguely accurate depiction of how women were viewed and treated at the time, I struggled to accept that based on my understanding of the period. I think that part of the problem was the way in which it was portrayed.
It felt too modern because it was happening in such a flurry and so up-front that it didn’t feel naturally integrated. I mean, there was even an episode where she essentially has a ‘check your privilege’ moment! (This having stemmed from one of her male counterparts introducing the idea that being a female of nobility does have its perks when it comes to getting customers of equal or higher status–which, in itself, feels weird if we’re showing how poorly she’s treated by the male-centric society around her.)
Whether or not you agree with my conclusion is up to you, but the idea of intersectionality and ‘checking your privilege’ is relatively new and I couldn’t find anything about it in regards to 16th century Florence, Italy. It’s moments like these that make the misogyny feel more like a modern addition, especially with how much they throw it in our face (to the detriment of the story) to an otherwise perfectly fine historical setting.
It’s The Little Things
When it comes to laid back anime like Arté, it’s all about the details. There are no interesting fight scenes that make you forget about the little things that didn’t quite make sense or political concerns over who will take the throne. This lack of a larger narrative outside the personal development is why I find it so easy to become nit-picky about the story.
For instance, in an anime with much more going on, a cheesy line a character tells themselves to overcome an obstacle can be overlooked more easily. A line like “just keep moving forward” or “I’m going to be the pirate king” makes sense in those situations–it’s just the type of person they are, so it makes sense in the story that they repeat those lines. But in Arté, with each teary-eyed moment of struggle, she says to herself “I have to be strong, a boy in the same situation wouldn’t cry.” Not only is that incorrect, it’s also wrong in the context of the show because she isn’t living in a world where crying is exclusive to women. There are flashbacks to her art master, Leo’s struggles at Arté’s same age, and he is shown crying as well.
Not only that, but Arté’s mother is easily the coldest person in the entire show! The woman presents herself as having the emotional landscape of a frozen tundra that no man can even come close to comparing. Moreover, Arté’s father was shown to be rather sensitive and caring, so how would she develop this strange idea that men don’t cry in these situations? Additionally, why compare herself to a man at all when the point seems to be that women can do it too (female empowerment and such)? If it was the other way around, or if they showed her mother perpetuating such sexist views, then I’d understand… but they don’t. Instead, I’m left feeling incongruous and pulled from the story whenever Arté’s comments about boys not crying (and it happens pretty often that she says this).
Another crime that this anime commits is the unnecessary flashbacks. If this was a show packed with other story-lines or action scenes it might make sense. It may also make sense if it was a long-running show with two or three seasons playing off something small that happened far earlier than the present, but it’s not. The flashbacks are annoying and pointless. I mean, sometimes there will be a flashback of a scene that JUST happened earlier in the same episode, so you’re watching the same scene back-to-back.
It always sticks out in my mind because it would make me feel like there was a mistake, considering there were no markers that usually signify when the flashback had started or ended. Instead, it simply replayed the scene with no special effect or meaning.
The Second Episode
If, after reading this, you are not interested in watching Arté, that’s fine.
But, I couldn’t possibly write this review without taking the time to appreciate the best, most well-meaning and unintentionally passive-aggressive conclusion I have ever seen in an anime. It’s pure, heart-felt, brutality that never ceases to make me laugh.
You see, there is a character named Angelo that enters the series in the second episode. He is the only son with five sisters, so he was tasked with the responsibility of taking care of all of them. Including the ones that appear to be older than him. This task is assigned to him solely because he is a man of the house filled with women, and women ‘can’t take care of themselves.’
The sisters don’t seem to mind, though, considering every time he comes home they all immediately bombard him with a myriad of tasks and favours for him to do for them that they had plenty of time to figure out or do for themselves while he works to support them all.
With this mindset of “women are helpless and I have to help them,” we see that he means well when he sees Arté struggling to pull something heavy and tries to assist. We also see that Angelo is very confused when she refuses his help. He’s being nice and offering assistance, how could a woman refuse? It wasn’t until he spent the entire episode thinking about it and had another conversation with Arté, that he realized that women are able to do things on their own and without the help of a man.
So, at the end, when he comes home and is quickly welcomed by the usual bombardment of requests. “The rocking horse is broken again, Angelo! Fix it, please. There’s a nail sticking out that needs hammering in,” asks a little one.
The older ones ask– “Do you mind carrying this bag of flour to the storeroom?” “Can you give me a shoulder massage?”
And Angelo looks right at them with a big, kind smile and says “I think you’re all more capable of this stuff than you think.” Catching his sisters off guard.
What an inadvertently backhanded moment of tender sweetness from this loving and somewhat emotionally manipulated/abused brother. It was sheer perfection that I will always fondly remember.
With That Off My Chest…
Arté has been the thorn in my side for many months now. I’ve been unable to settle on a simple opinion of it since I first began watching it and later completed it. Certainly, the fact that I want to like it as it vexed me beyond all measure can be a facet of my conclusion… However, that never ending frustration makes me love to hate it at the same time. Which also makes me really like it… But I don’t. Yet, I really do. No, I seriously don’t.
The point is, I’m conflicted.
When I first watched Arté over a year ago, I was still engaged and deep in the closet as non-binary and lesbian. In fact, I am far more confused about Arté than I ever have been about my sexuality and gender identity combined. This show has been in the back of my mind through many major life events, and for that I am grateful as the confusion over something so arbitrary has been a welcome distraction to the other things in my life. However, it is time to release this from my brain, accept Arté for what it is, appreciate that it gave me something silly to complain about during moments of hardship, and never talk about it again.
Like, EVER. #theend