Retrospective: C3bu

Spoilers ahead for C3bu. Also, some talk about emotional stuff.

I’m pretty much always behind on anime, so let’s talk about a years-old series I just watched, C3bu (2013).

Military and military-related media has always been a huge (some would say, obsessive) interest of mine. I struggle to carry on a conversation about a lot of things, but when it comes to some dumb WW2 factoid I can pretty much eclipse a room of people if they let me talk enough. I have to reel myself in so other people can get a word in edgewise, and I have a bad habit of not taking dissent well when it comes to my little area of amateur expertise, though I intellectually realize that I’m nowhere near an authority on any of these matters. I’ve just got a weird emotional connection, bound up in the dreaming of military scenarios and knowing military facts and understanding military history (of specific periods, I don’t really care about anything prior to the invention of the tank and the combat biplane). I have had what I consider healthy outlets for this fascination. I play a lot of war video games; and I tap into it in my creative pursuits.

Lately, I’ve been watching an airsoft anime, called Stella Women’s Academy High School Division Class C³ or “C3bu.” Aside from war stuff, anime has always been a huge interest of mine. I can’t even remember how many series I’ve watched. It’s been so many. I couldn’t even tell you what the very first one was. There’s no history to this — it’s just been happening for as long as I can remember. I particularly enjoy anime with military aesthetics, obviously. (And girl’s love.)

Since I knew anime, then I told myself, on the face of it, I knew what C3bu represented. It is a cute sports anime, about high school girls having fun with airsoft guns, getting into shenanigans, and a few cringe-worthy swimsuit scenarios. It’s gonna be light, fluffy fare where military trivia and aesthetics are used to tell a story of sportsmanship, friendship and slightly yuri fun. Yura, the protagonist, is a chronically shy girl who wants to make friends and have a vivid school life that she’s missed out on. She goes to an all-girl’s school to change herself, and once recruited into the C3 club by sheer dumb luck, finds a weird, niche corner of the school that seems right for her. I told myself, I’ve seen this before: but that’s good. It has the cute stuff with an aesthetic I enjoy.

For much of the series, my initial response held true. It managed to hook me immediately with its first episode, where the girls use a rather well-drawn M60 machine gun to play a game of “Rambo War,” where deputies with handguns must take out the lone “Rambo” player, who wields the advantage of a fully-automatic weapon with large stocks of ammunition. Within the C3bu’s entertaining airsoft games, Yura learns that she has the power to invoke an imagination world, where instead of viewing the battles in the school’s cheap airsoft field, she is transported to Operation Compass, or a spy flick, or Rambo, or to the Normandy landings, or the flag planting at Iwo Jima. Her imagination world is a crucial part of the first half of the series. It adds fun and color the proceedings, and within the world, Yura plays her roles much better. Once the game turns into an imaginary battle, Yura does her best and even holds her own and wins a few rounds despite being a total rookie.

Yura’s potential continues to grow throughout the series, as the protagonist is expected to. Subsequent episodes introduced new airsoft scenarios, new guns, new teams, and a stock sports anime plotline. A rival group that takes the sport too seriously defeats our beloved up-and-comers, and sets the stage for the show’s conflict. Light fare, well executed.

It started stock; it didn’t stay that way for very long.

Following the C3 Club’s defeat the hands of Meisei Academy, Yura learns some taboos of airsoft. Never to surrender, for example. Airsoft BB’s don’t hurt you, so the idea of surrendering just ruins the game for everyone. You should fight to the end, Yura is told. Because otherwise, your teammates defeats were in vain, and the opposing team misses out on fighting you to the fullest. After that there’s a fairly vapid but requisite high school festival episode.

Then the show gets kinda dark for the genre.

A sniper with an illegally modified airsoft gun attacks; Sonora, the older, wiser mentor girl of the group, is injured some time before The Big Game that the girls were excited for. Yura suspects the leader of the rival team, Rin, is behind the attack, and puts in everything she’s got into airsoft. She drafts a book of strategies, practices non-stop, and taps into the latent potential that the series has been hinting at. She “gets good” (or gits gud) and forces her teammates to train hard for the tournament. Though the training pays off, Yura’s focus on winning blinds her to the status of her friends. People get hurt, and she doesn’t realize it. Nobody’s having fun, and she doesn’t care. Eventually, she gets her shot at fighting Rin again.

Almost inadvertently, in a split second, she cheats, and wins.

A stray bullet hit her, and she ignored it, taking advantage of Rin’s momentary weakness to shoot her back. Rin accepts the shot, but Yura never calls the hit she suffered herself. Airsoft games are founded on a principal rule of sportsmanship: you have to call out that you’ve been hit, and leave the field. To ignore this is to render the game moot. In a hectic game, people can’t be on the lookout for cheaters who have gotten shot and didn’t leave. Doing this destroys the foundation of the game.

Rin, however, is pleased with the result. She allows Yura the victory, and even defends the victory to the tournament organizers when Yura fesses up. She is happy that Yura did everything in her power to win, even cheating.

She even delivers a “we are a lot alike, you and I” speech.

While this is fairly typical behavior of sports anime antagonists, it’s where it goes that surprised me.

Yura is not rewarded for victory; she is not rewarded for getting really good at the game. Her friends are annoyed by her attitude and shocked and disgusted that she would cheat (one her teammates nearly punches her in anger). She becomes distant from her mentor figure in the club. She stops playing the club’s silly games, and stops having imagination sequences. No longer does she enter the world of colorful military history that she used to. It’s ceased to be a fun, cute game.

In sports anime, the plucky, weak protagonist who grows strong is infinitely rewarded. Friends, honors, the limelight, love; everything is given them for victory. That, however, is because most sports anime protagonists are caring and honorable figures who want to play the game right. Yura is, surprisingly, not that. Yura grows cold, obsessed with victory and skill. She wants to push herself to the limit, to transform herself through the fire of high level, high skill airsoft gaming.

The sniper plot is resolved. Rin was not the sniper, and helped catch the person.

Therefore, Yura has another role model she can safely go to now.

So she quits the club, ditches her friends and joins Rin at Meisei, where they play hard.

But Yura plays too hard even for Meisei. She launches suicide attacks, she uses the 5 minute rule at the end of the Medic War to score kills and ignores her duties as the team Medic. Rin continues to her assign her the role of Medic even in tournaments, and Yura takes it a challenge, that she must learn to win even as the Medic. She is wrong; Rin was challenging her to be a team player, and to accept her role as the Medic, not to play Medic in a perfunctory fashion until she could score kills again.

Rin calls her out. She’s not fit for the team, because she cares about nobody but herself.

Even at her best, according to Rin, Yura just plays to show off so others will praise her.

Even the villain team thinks Yura is too selfish for them.

Having no place to go, Yura falls into what is very obviously a depression. Her conditions are never mentioned by name. She’s not referred to as having or suffering anxiety or anything like that; she’s just shy and can’t make friends. She’s not referred to as being depressed, but she gets dark circles around her eyes, avoids her old friends like the plague, and having nobody to play airsoft with, spends countless amounts of coinage at a local arcade playing light gun games in an anonymizing hoodie and cap so that nobody from her school would recognize her. She forces herself to be alone. She’s lost her place in the world.

Rento, the cheerful, lady-like, cake-loving girl who first introduced her to airsoft by enticing her with a tea party, finds her at the arcade. She is surprised at the state of her friend. Yura’s speech is unemotive, her eyes are inexpressive, and she is feeding coins into the arcade machine nonstop to play a zombie game. It’s a limiting scenario, where her skills don’t apply, so she loses often. But it’s a gun, and it’s a game, and it’s what Yura’s been reduced to, having, in her mind, lost her place. Rento scolds her, telling her she can come back and that she’s not considering other’s feelings by isolating herself.

Of course, Rento’s words are also unfair, and this is acknowledged. And Yura is confused. She was selfish to play badly with others, but she was also selfish to remove herself after doing wrong? Yura freaks out and tries even harder to avoid her old friends from the C3 Club at school. Rento tries to devise more ways to bring Yura back, but gives up. Forcing her to come back when she doesn’t want to, would be worse than just leaving her be. So, alone Yura remains.

She’s become too good at the anime’s conflict resolution method; now that it’s unused, she falters.

Becoming strong and confident and powerful didn’t bring Yura closer to anybody, but farther.

She can’t airsoft her way to friends and fortune, in the airsoft anime.

It’s a strange narrative to come from a cute sports show.

I watched, in stunned silence, as Yura suffered through all of this. I never expected that this show would throw a left hook at me like this. I could relate strongly to what Yura experienced and felt. Having always been fairly distant from people, mostly friendless in real life (especially after moving from Puerto Rico to the USA, losing my already limited IRL peer group) and sinking a lot of time into video games. At several times, I’ve thought I’ve found a game I could “get good” at, one that might bring me some attention. But, as Yura discovers, that attention doesn’t come easy and doesn’t really bring pleasure.

Yura’s mastery only confirmed to her that she had no place in the world.

Alone at the top; or just alone in general.

Yura gets better. After having what I can only describe as an anxiety attack where she she sees her friend’s faces everywhere, causing her to run recklessly away, hyperventilating and screaming at anyone who nears her, Yura finds herself back in an old shinto shrine where she did some target shooting in an earlier episode. Her imaginary world returns, and finding her old gun left for her in the shrine, she returns to the C3 Club for one final game with Sonora, who is moving away. It’s a beautiful, triumphant scene, where the “conflict” of whether Yura is stronger than Sonora or not is completely forgotten. Halfway through their heated one on one match, the entire rest of the C3 Club enters the fray, and turns the serious competition into a hectic free-for-all that’s full of laughs. There’s a touching scene where Yura and Rento meet again and Yura thanks her for inviting her to the club. Yura invokes her imagination world to prolong the game, and everyone plays until dark.

There’s no more tournaments, no more serious displays of skill. Just fun and friends.

Granted, it’s a little cheap. Yura falls to an extremely low point and overcomes it mostly by herself. She just decides to rejoin her friends and play, after being fearful and anxious about them and what she’d done all of this time. Though it would’ve been equally cheap for Rento (who I feel is the closest person in the club to her, emotionally) to have appeared again after freaking Yura out at the arcade and helped her out of her funk, I think it would have worked a little better.

I teared up during that final airsoft match. After the rather dark places the series had gone to, it brought back the light-hearted fun of the first half, and it was kind of hard to take. I was happy for Yura and her friends; simultaneously, however, it brought to mind how difficult it is to overcome these things outside of an anime. When a real person feels they’ve lost all their peers and passions, once they shut themselves out from the world, it’s so hard to come back.

You can’t find a gun in a shrine and rejoin your friends and play airsoft, just like that. I mean, you could — the point was that the C3 Club didn’t hate Yura, and that it was Yura’s perception of herself that was wrong. Her friends always loved her, and even if she cheated, even if she treated them badly, even if she joined Meisei, it was water under the bridge if she came back and played, because they wanted her to play with them. But if I was Yura, I would’ve probably just gone home and stared at the wall when I found the arcade was closed. I wouldn’t have rejoined the C3 Club. I would’ve been too anxious, too afraid of what I thought I’d done to them, and what I thought they would think of me. That freakout in the city would’ve crushed me for the week. And I would’ve lost then opportunity to say goodbye to Sonora.

That’s why I think it would’ve been nice had Rento or someone else gone to tell Yura it was ok.

I’m still kinda waiting for someone to tell me it’s ok. It’s all in my mind; but my mind is hard to overcome.

I’m not gonna rate C3bu, or anything. My days of rating things are far in the past. If you enjoy gun stuff, schoolgirl anime, and have some tolerance for a swimsuit episode or two, then it might be worth checking out. I greatly enjoyed it, and the emotional arc threw me for a loop. It has a nice, feel-good ending, and a good bit of girls blushing at other girls.

If you enjoyed the article, please leave a comment! Anything will do as long as it’s civil. Have you seen C3bu? What did you feel about it? What do you think about it’s first half and last half, and the contrasts there? Do you play airsoft in real life?


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Madiha is a creative writer and a lover of books, anime, manga, video games. You can contact her via email at wyattsalazar[at]gmail[dot]com.

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