MIT has the privilege of being one of the most-featured institutions of higher learning in anime, ranking somewhere above Harvard and below Tokyo “Todai” U. We think this is pretty cool; it’s certainly a potential one-up in the culture of collegiate competition… if you’re a total nerd. (Whoever heard of an anime character graduating from Caltech?)
Of course, since most anime and manga creators have never been to MIT and don’t know what it’s like, some of their renderings of our fine educational establishment are… creative. While some aspects of MIT actually do fit the stereotype, others are hilariously off. Let’s just say that if you’ve gotten your acceptance letter to the Institute, don’t base your enrollment decision on anime.
To start out with a softball: Bubblegum Crisis episode 7 features one of our esteemed alumni, Dr. Richard McLaren, MD, whom the Knight Sabers eventaully bodyguard. Seems plausible, right? Except he has an MD, and MIT doesn’t have a medical school. Well, considering that the events occur in 2033 AD, perhaps there’s still time for MIT to establish one and graduate a few classes…
Sou Touma, a young MIT alumni from the manga QED, is actually a plausible graduate, probably purely out of stereotype– he knows tons of random science trivia, he loves video games, he’s a bit of a hacker, etc. He even makes reference to the Owl of Minerva, although there’s really no way to tell if the author knows about the Athena computing environment…
One bit that’s pretty embellished is how incredibly hardcore-genius Sou is– he’s like some sort of demon of nerdiness compared to mortals his age. While it’s true that the MIT Science Fiction Society‘s book library dwarfs Sou’s (and if you include all of our VHS tapes and laser discs, MIT Anime’s video library might look like this too)…
… I’m fairly certain that MIT students totally do not keep enormous personal libraries in their rooms and leave masses of random scientific equipment (?!) on their desks. Maybe my sense of normal has been warped from being here, but I’d like to think we’re not that out-there.
One thing I do find painfully charmingly truthful is that Sou is so terribly KY; the above page is one of many testaments as to how much he fails at reading the situation and saying the right thing. MIT, social awkwardnessness, who woulda thunk it?
EDIT: Another note about Sou: apparently, he had a bit of a wonky childhood and is thus surprised when he first sees snow in Japan. Of course, unless he barricaded himself in his room with his p-sets during the winter, I’m not sure how he could miss the three feet of wintry fluff every year…
Some MIT references in anime are a bit more subtle, which is cool because it’s pretty much asking people to get their nerd on and find them. Toradora!‘s class pres character Kanou Sumire goes to some prestigious unspecified college in the United States in hopes of becoming an astronaut. Our webmaster J’s sharp eyes found this postcard in episode 16 (zoomed in for visibility):
It’s MIT! So Kanou’s Course 16 (Aeronautics and Astronautics). But wait, what’s 67 Mass Ave actually supposed to be?
Hope no one tried to send MIT a postcard based on this address or anything; turns out 67 Mass Ave doesn’t actually exist. The Rogers building, number 77, is preceeded by the Pratt School building, number 55. Essentially, Kanou lives somewhere between the Information Center and the Registrar’s office.
There’s a way around this though (apologetics for the anime industry!). Searching the 67 Massachusetts Ave address in Google Maps provides the following:
If you click left twice, you come face-to-face with Bexley Hall, a bona fide MIT dorm! Perhaps Kanou really, really wanted to live close the campus.
Sadly, her actual depicted dorm bears little resemblance to Bexley; the Japanese image of a “generic American university dormitory” looks more Harvard and less MIT. Surely they’d never imagine anything like Simmons Hall…
Another questionable view of MIT’s facilities shows up in Martian Successor Nadesico. Nadesico’s chief engineer Uri-P designs the ship’s computer to look like MIT’s library (despite the fact that he never got accepted to the Institute; also, MIT has multiple libraries). Past officers have suggested that this pic kind of looks like Hayden Library from the mezzanine… personally, I find it a bit of a stretch. Surely one of the world’s premier tech schools must have a library the size of a blimp factory, right? Just as students at one of the world’s premier tech schools must have bookshelves on every inch of wall.
This is actually one element that anime gets right, although probably not quite intentionally.
Sure, it’s certainly not true of everyone, but… some people… Actually, this screencap isn’t complete without context; diminutive Becky Miyamoto from Pani Poni Dash! enters MIT but refuses to associate with students despite everyone’s attempts to befriend her. The stereotype that MIT is filled with unsociables seems to have evaded animation studio Shaft but shines through unintentionally anyway through this quote. I’d like to think that it’s not entirely true… but not entirely false either.
Hanaukyo Maid Tai got one thing about MIT right though:
Again, not quite correct out of context– Cynthia Landlavizar’s suffering just as much because she’s young and out of place– but yeah. There’s a reason that IHTFP does not traditionally stand for “I Have Truly Found Paradise.”
Since Japanese schools do not traditionally don the cap and gown, it’s understandable that the creators of Pani Poni Dash! didn’t quite grasp the typical use of academic dress. It’s usually used after you’ve poured four irreplaceable years of your life into college, not before.
(They got the school colors right though! Not the gown colors, but we’ll cut them some slack.)
Although, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure we never had an entrance ceremony during Orientation. I was sick through the whole thing in freshman year, so I don’t really remember, but I’m pretty sure MIT’s not that hoity-toity, as evidenced by how wrong this next screencap, also from Pani Poni Dash! is:
I have to say I’ve NEVER seen a single student walking around anywhere in a freaking lab coat. What?! Even finding students in suits isn’t that common, unless you’re in Sloan School of Management around interview season. And what’s with the girls all wearing ties and short skirts? (I think the only time I’ve seen that is when I cosplayed Makinami Mari Illustrious…) This is a sweatshirt and jeans campus!
So, anyone observing all these genius MIT students and alumni featured in anime probably noticed that almost all of them are insanely young, from 15-year-old graduate Sou Touma to 17-year-old doctorate George Glenn from Gundam Seed (granted, he was genetically enhanced) to 11-year-old graduate Becky Miyamoto to 11-year-old graduate Washu from Tenchi Muyo! to 6-year-old-when-she-was-a-freshman Cynthia Landlavizar. Obviously, just being able to get into MIT isn’t enough; true super genius anime characters get in and graduate before ever starting puberty.
To complain that this isn’t exactly realistic is like complaining about physics in giant robot anime– utterly pointless. However, more shocking than anime and manga creators’ blatant will to defy (and then defenestrate) reality is that this all might actually have some foundation in reality after all. MIT’s Technology Review notes that “Each year, a handful of “underage” teenagers are among MIT’s incoming students. The university takes no initiative to court them, but anywhere from one to five, ranging in age from 14 to 16, join the MIT community annually.” A quick query at the admissions office reassured me that such super-gifted kiddos are subjected to exceptionally high scrutiny (which probably makes these anime kids even more amazing). Entering at age fourteen doesn’t bear quite the same level of absurdity as graduating at eleven, but it still makes this look at least somewhat plausible.
Of course, if that wasn’t enough, I dug around a bit and unearthed this 1936 issue of the Tech (MIT’s newspaper) which shows that at one point way back in the Institute’s history, there existed a young MIT student– Francibus “Bernie” Pann– enrolled at the tender age of 9 years old. Considering that a typical student takes four years to graduate, but that our student body does have those crazy types who can take nine classes a term, skip half of them, sleep through the rest, and still get a 5.0, it’s not (any more) unreasonable to think that such an already-crazy-genius genius could graduate in, like, two years. Today, there are (probably) no Francibus Panns, and the circumstances to create one are likely much, much more difficult, but shockingly, it’s actually not completely impossible.
All in all, it’s understandable that Japan’s image of MIT is less-than-accurate; all cultures erroneously perceive and represent others (think of those poor American anime fans that still think samurai exist in Japan!), and MIT, as a somewhat opaque, exclusive institution (like governments, intelligence agencies, the mafia, and cults) just lends itself to misrepresentation really well.
That doesn’t make this all any less funny.
(MIT Anime keeps a record of MIT references in anime at http://web.mit.edu/anime/www/resources_mitinanime.shtml. We try to be as painstakingly thorough as possible, but if you’ve caught a reference that we missed, we’d love it if you could email firstname.lastname@example.org and help us be 100% complete.)