Selection Project is the best idol anime you’re not watching. I’m not usually one for idol anime (unless the idols are zombies), but this is a series that grabbed my attention with its stunning background art and non-standard plot twist in the premiere, and has kept it ever since through its raw contemplation of the human condition. Yep. This may sound like a pretty lofty claim for yet another series about teenage girls who just want to sing and make people happy, but it’s one that Selection Project has been living up to quietly and consistently since day one.
Selection Project is about the baggage we bring with us in life—some of it unknowingly, and the rest, clutched tight to our chests as if it’s the only thing that can keep us together and ultimately, we hope, save us.
Today, I want to talk specifically about last week’s episode 6, “Her Heart, Her Hidden Secret”, which starts off as the seemingly mandatory cringey beach filler episode of the series, but then metamorphoses into something far more compelling.
For this week’s challenge, the nine Selection Project candidates must perform a summery pop song together and shoot the video in swimwear while frolicking about on the beach. The girls are all excited by the wide range of swimsuits from which to choose, but when the grand unveiling takes place, Suzune is standing modestly in her regulation school one-piece, much to the horror of the others (and no doubt the producers). She is eventually persuaded to choose a “cuter” (read: more revealing) costume, but refuses to take off her hoodie. You go girl. (We’ve all been there, amiright?)
But this is not a commentary on the sexualization of young women by the idol industry. (22/7 Nanabun no Nijyuuni did an interesting episode on this a couple of years ago, if you’re interested.) Suzune doesn’t have a problem with wearing a swimsuit, and has been bearing her midriff from the outset. No, there’s something else other than her figure that she’s hiding…
When resident tsundere Rena, who is offended by Suzune’s lack of professionalism, confronts her over her refusal to participate, the truth is revealed: Suzune is hiding a large scar on her chest from when she was hospitalized as a child.
Mortified at her own insensitivity, Rena agrees to help Suzune guard her secret and keep covered up. But soon the tension becomes too much for the others who cannot understand why one of their number has withdrawn so pointedly from group activities. I mean, who wears a hoodie at the beach?! They hold a melodramatic intervention that is initially televised (!!!) (thankfully, Rena pulls the plug on that), and Suzune finally admits to having a big scar that she felt would be embarrassing for others to see.
Oh. So it’s just that she is body conscious after all?
No. I don’t think this is really the full extent of what is going on for Suzune. It’s not that she’s simply self-conscious about the scar; it’s that she is conflicted over it. She follows up her revelation of the scar with this telling comment:
“But it saved my life. Why wouldn’t I want people to know about it?”
Suzune has not yet figured out how to make sense of what happened to her, and is conflicted about her experiences of near death and extended hospitalization in childhood. It was while trapped in her hospital bed that Suzune discovered her beloved idol, Akari Amasawa (the winner of the first season of Selection Project who was tragically killed in a car accident), and gained from her a love of singing and performance. For Suzune, the intensive care wing was where her lifelong dream was birthed. That scar not only saved her life, it also gave her life, gave her a dream and something to fight for through the long, torturous recovery process. It gave her purpose.
So why was she ashamed of it? Why does she flee from the set and the other girls after telling them her secret? Why does she run, sobbing, and breakdown all alone on the pier after realizing that she shouldn’t feel embarrassed at all, but rather proud of that scar?
Because she’s human. And sometimes—oftentimes—it takes us a while to reconcile what we know to be true and what we nevertheless feel, despite knowing better in our heads. The old head-heart dichotomy, or what some have called the longest 18 inch journey in the world.
Suzune knows that scar saved her life, and that without her hospitalization she may never have encountered the things she loves most in her life now. But she still cannot accept it, let alone embrace it. Part of her still hates that this happened to her and that she carries the marks of it on her body.
I think this is the first time Suzune has let herself acknowledge these feelings and let the tears flow. All throughout her illness she remained irrepressibly bright-eyed and cheerful. She used Akari’s videos and songs to prevent herself from feeling the fear, sadness and pain of being a child facing death. And now she’s letting herself feel it and to rage just a little bit about it. She is mourning the fact that she lost part of her childhood to that pain and fear.
This is a really frightening but necessary thing to do—not just for Suzune, but for all of us. To let ourselves mourn those scars we’ve acquired, while also recognizing the ways they saved our lives. Somehow holding the two in tension, so that we neither deny the trauma we’ve faced nor get swallowed up by it. The divorce of parents that lost you your family, but gained you a new one; the move across the country during high school that separated you from childhood friends, but opened up a whole new social world and gave you the confidence to start over again later too; the failed exam that prevented you from going to that one college or entering that one training program, and forced you in a new direction; the loss of someone dear to you that made you realize just how precious life is and inspired you to honor their memory in some meaningful way.
Too often, characters in anime and we ourselves in real life can fall into the habit of thinking that the best way to confront challenging, frightening or painful situations is to deny that they’re challenging, frightening or painful. To put on the armor of avoidance and weaponize cheerfulness. To simply “say the opposite” until we believe it.
That’s something that Jesus never did. He was always very open about the challenges set before him. Scripture records over and over again times when Jesus was troubled; when he was angry at the injustice and exploitation that he saw; when he needed alone-time; when he wrestled so intensely with what confronted him that he sweat drops of blood; when he wept and mourned for his friends and the people of Jerusalem. There is mourning and pain and anger in the scars on his hands and feet just as there is healing, joy and reconciliation.
Those eternal scars are markers of the greatest injustice the world has ever seen—the rejection of humanity’s own creator and the execution of an innocent man—but they are also the turning point of history, when the impossible became possible. Thanks to those scars—the evidence of a God willing to take on the wounding and pain of our own brokenness—our scars can know healing in this life. Because that’s the key to holding the mourning and the joy in tension, isn’t it? Having someone willing and able to walk it out with you.
But not just anyone. People mean well, but we let each other down. We can’t really save each other, not for the long term at least. Maybe for a season. But that permanent kind of companionship? That reliable friend who is never double-booked, who never misunderstands our heart, and who not only supports us but also challenges us to grow when we need it and calls us out on our stuff but in a loving way? That’s what Jesus offers. His scars are his signature on the dotted line saying that he will always be available to carry our pain with and for us until one day we find that it’s ok; and that healing has happened as we walked along with him.
I think Suzune will discover in the coming episodes that she is not alone in walking out her pain and conflicted emotions. (I also think her scar is from a heart transplant and she’ll learn that it was Akari Amasawa’s heart that saved her life.)
And I want you to know that you aren’t alone either.
Selection Project can be streamed on Funimation.