One of my favorite genres of anime is “cute monster girls.” (The first guest post I wrote for Beneath the Tangles, also the first anime-themed blog post I ever did, was on Interviews with Monster Girls!) A Centaur’s Life is one of the most recent iterations of this genre, and though in my opinion it fell short of its potential, some parts of it were noteworthy. The episode that stood out to me the most was #9, the one that spend half its run-time portraying its alternate-history version of the Holocaust in a concentration camp.
In typical ACL fashion, the long-winded episode title is ““What Are the Struggles of Someone Known as a Prominent Figure? | What Is the Life of Someone Known as a Prominent Figure Like?” The second half focuses on a young “angelfolk” boy interred by centaur Nazis. As in the real camps, some of the prisoners collaborate with the Nazis in return for better treatment; one of the collaborators is himself a centaur.
Early on, the angel boy collapses and a camp guard is about to shoot him. The centaur collaborator, whom we’ll call CC for short, runs up and kicks the boy, screaming at him to stop being lazy. The boy gets back up, and the guard puts his gun away; and though CC looks cruel, we as the audience are intended to infer that CC is actually saving the boy’s life.
Later, Angel Boy is on the point of collapse again. Yelling at him again, CC drags him behind a shed. There he gives him some food, tells him to “moan every now and then”, and begins kicking the stuffing out of some… bags, I guess? Of something?… to make it sound like he’s beating the boy. In between bouts of yelling, he explains to the boy his rationale for feeding and helping him: He believes the boy is a good person, and by helping him survive CC is hoping to make the world a better place.
While watching this scene, I was struck by the similarities between it and the real, historical account of Magda Hollander-Lafon, a survivor of Auschwitz. In her memoir, Four Scraps of Bread, Hollander-Lafon remembers having her shoes stolen, and being forced to work on the frozen ground made her weak with pain:
The hideous face with the booming voice had seen everything; without warning he snatched the hammer from my hands and ordered me to follow him. He led me near to a wood fire where no one could see us. With wicked yells belied by a look of kindness, he gesticulated wildly and rubbed my feet with newspapers.
He took out of his bag a pair of galoshes that he slipped on my feet.
With this act of generosity he gave me back my life, and at the same time put his own at risk. [pp. 24-25]
She also recalls,
In Birkenau [one of the 48 camps that made up Auschwitz] a dying woman gestured to me: as she opened her hand to reveal four scraps of moldy bread, she said to me in a barely audible voice, “Take it. You are young. You must live to be a witness to what is happening here. You must tell people so that this never happens again in the world.” [pg. 51]
The parallels between Hollander-Lafon’s account and ACL are obvious: the gift of food, the wish to help someone else survive in order to improve the world, and the fake cruelty of the guard. Now I’m curious: Did Kei Murayama, the author of ACL, actually know Hollander-Lafon’s story? Did he perhaps read the original French version (ACL refers to the French language more than most anime I’ve seen, suggesting perhaps the author is familiar with it)?
In either case, whether Kei Murayama knows this specific story or different yet similar ones, the author of ACL is carrying out the wish of Hollander-Lafon’s benefactress: telling the story of what happened, so that it may never happen again.