Arte – Episode 1

By: Caitlin Moore April 5, 20200 Comments
Arte sits at the window drawing in a sketchbook

What’s it about? Arte, a young noblewoman during the Italian Renaissance, loves to draw. She longs to be an artist but after her father dies, her mother burns all her drawings and orders her to focus on learning to act in ways that would attract a husband. Rather than lie down and accept it, Arte goes out to find a master to take her on as an apprentice. But nobody will even allow her to set foot in their studio. Nobody, that is, except for Leo…

I have a confession to make, everyone. I was completely prepared not to like Arte.

Oh, I almost certainly wasn’t being fair. Part of it was that all the promotional materials reminded me of Snow White with the Red Hair, a series I ultimately found to be a total snoozefest. I expected after her initial rebellion and haircut, Arte would find supportive ally after supportive ally, easily proving herself to her naysayers.

Arte leans over a wood panel. Subtitle text: "I love art, so I can bear with my hands hurting and being tired."

The other thing, and this is even less fair than the first reason, is because I’d stumbled on some tweets calling it a real feminist work because Arte went out and proved herself. Because “real” feminism is neoliberal leaning in, not all that incessant whining about systemic inequality and objectification and blah blah blah.

And so, I went into Arte with cynicism in my heart, and Arte proceeded to prove me completely and totally wrong. Under all that brightly colored shoujo artwork lies a heart of steely determination.

In the background, Arte's parents. Arte is in shadow in the foreground, crouching and looking despondent.

The thing is, Arte’s mother doesn’t oppose her doing art necessarily. Young Renaissance women were people, after all! They had hobbies, especially those in the noble classes with servants and leisure time. They hunted, played cards, stargazed, and more. She supports Arte doing art as a hobby; it only becomes an issue when she’s so passionate that it starts to get in the way of her being marriageable, especially since they can’t afford a large dowry to tempt more prestigious suitors. It’s a subtle but important distinction, and I’m glad the show makes it.

But the moment that really won me over came about halfway through the episode. After being turned away over and over, Arte grabs a large knife and chops off her long braid. But her hair isn’t the only signifier of her gender, and she’s ready to cut off her own breasts before someone stops her. I just can’t help but respect anyone who’s ready to perform a double mastectomy on themselves in public to prove a point, can’t you?

Arte holds a large knife up in front of shocked onlookers. Subtitle text: "--Hey! Stop that!
--Then I'll get rid of my breasts, too!"

As the episode slowly peeled back the layers behind Arte’s motivations and decisions, I found myself liking her more and more. She’s not just determined and competent—she’s angry. She didn’t storm away from her noble lifestyle because she wants to draw. She did it because the idea of someone determining her life for her, dictating what she can and can’t do just because of who and what she is, infuriates her.

And that was it. That was the moment I knew that Arte was something special, something that held more than enough appeal. Because if there’s one thing I love, it’s heroines who find power and motivation in their anger and frustration. Arte doesn’t just work too hard and care too much; she’s defiant and rebellious and determined.

Arte in a dingy shed lit by a candle. Subtitle text: "I'll draw to distract myself!"

Once I realized that Arte was someone I could really root for, I was able to relax a bit and appreciate the show’s other merits. It’s a beautiful production, all bright colors and expressive animation. Its vision of Renaissance-era Italy is a bit more, uh, sanitary than historical accuracy demands, but I think we can make some concessions there. Sakamoto Maaya sings the opening theme song, and her beautiful, clear voice is always a welcome treat.

Arte may not offer the most complex or gritty heroine of the season—that honor, thus far, goes to Minare of Wave, Listen to Me!—but it has just enough grit and texture to hold my interest. Color me intrigued.

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