Posted in #AniMentalHealth, anime, mental health

Anime and Mental Health: Shattered Fragments

Anime has been one of the only few mediums that openly deals with issues like depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, and many other conditions. It unapologetically portrays it in a raw, gritty manner, not pulling any punches and it’s just…real.

As someone who has been in this world for some time, there is an authenticity to it, an authenticity that you just can’t find anywhere else. I never set out to be an advocate for mental health, it was never something I was passionate about because I didn’t understand it. As a matter of fact, it terrified me because of the stigma that is associated with it. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I really began to understand what it’s like to live with something like a mental illness, what pain really was, and what it’s like to live in a world that fears and misunderstands you. I may sound a bit dramatic, but when you’re constantly told that your condition is something of an imaginary concept and these feelings that you have aren’t valid, you get fed up and want to speak out what is in your soul.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness what it’s like to have one. I only know how I feel on my darkest days, and I am very different from someone else with a similar condition. That’s what makes this so hard: no two people with a mental illness are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for another, it’s not an exact science; it’s mostly trial and error because the human brain is one of the most mysterious “organs” of the body.

Here are just a few characters that I relate to, and characters that I think portray what it’s like to live within this often dark world. I have done my best to explain how the subjects of anime and mental illness relate.
The following character analysis contains spoilers so read with caution!

Yuki Takeya: School-Live!

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Yuki is a classic case of someone dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and psychosis. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) classifies PTSD and psychosis as so:
PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.”

She sees the world as she wants it to be and not how it really is. After witnessing both her classmate Kurumi kill her senpai because he turned and her favorite teacher sacrifice herself to the zombies, Yuki completely shuts down. She enters a psychosis where it is not the apocalypse and everything is as it should be: she’s at school with her friends, she regularly goes to classes, and she enthusiastically bounds through the hallways as if nothing has happened. The most tragic part of this situation is her dealing with the death of her favorite teacher Megumi. She still speaks and addresses her as if she is still there, even having hallucinations of her.

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As the show progresses we find that Yuki’s world is slowly collapsing around her and she is forced to accept the fact that her favorite teacher is in fact dead, and her life as she knew it has changed. It’s often very hard to watch and even the most experienced doctor has trouble with patients suffering with these conditions.

Shinji Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion

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Shinji, like me, suffers from major depression and anxiety. If he’s not isolating himself and questioning his will to live, he’s constantly seeking approval from his peers to make up for his lack of self-worth. (Source) Going back to the NIMH, it has several definitions for depression, so I’ve somewhat formed my own: It is a condition where you feel worthless; no matter what you do, it doesn’t amount to anything. You hurt and you want to cry, but you have no idea why, nor is there a good reason for it. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over you that is constantly telling you how stupid, worthless, and insignificant you are. Add anxiety into the mix and you have this feeling of falling and seeing the floor coming up fast on you—all the time.

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Shinji is constantly questioning his worth, he’s always worrying about what others think of him, and he’s contemplating that he’s just not worth anything. The creator, Hideaki Anno, suffered from depression and psychosis. He actually wrote the original ending during a psychotic break; the show is said to be a projection of the author’s own mental state (Source).

Sakurako Kujō : Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation

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Sakurako comes from a prominent family, is incredibly smart, and is beautiful. She also is a perfect example of what some people do when faced with mental health crisis: they repress. Repress is a fancy term for “holding stuff inside.” This can be catastrophic to your health, and I’m not just talking about your mental health; physically you begin to decline as well. Now I haven’t read the manga, but I have watched the show so I’m going off of what I learned from that.

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From what I can gather about Sakurako, she is the antisocial type because of something traumatic that happened in her past. She briefly mentions that her little brother died when they were kids, but we don’t really know the circumstances beyond that (unless you’ve read the manga…in which case don’t spoil it). She rarely lets her emotions show, but when they do, they are often strong and very direct.

In the case of Shotaro, with whom she has grown quite attached to, I’m assuming because he reminds her of her younger brother. She seems very distant often referring to him as “shōnen” (“boy”) instead of his real name. However there are two distinct instances when Shotaro has either put himself in danger or has become seriously injured, that Sakurako shows just how much the death of her brother has affected her. Especially when Shōtarō becomes injured protecting her, she shouts “DON’T DIE! DON’T DIE SHOTARO!” using his name, or is it the name of her brother? It’s intentionally meant to be confusing because that’s how Sakurako’s mind is: it’s a contradiction of analytical processes and overpowering emotions.

If you are one of the 350 Million People Worldwide that suffer from depression, if you are suffering from anxiety, if you are suffering from any sort of mental illness I want you to know something:

I’m here to say that it is okay to say that you hurt, that you matter very much, and you are no different than someone with any other medical condition; you just hurt in a different way. That’s the key to getting a handle on your mental health: remember that you matter, that there is someone out there who does care, and your story is an important addition to this world we live in.

Your story is important; you have something wonderful to give to this world. Sometimes anime can be a mirror of someone’s heart and soul. This is not weird; it doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you human.

What are some of your favorite shows? Who in an anime has spoken to you? Let’s have a discussion. That’s how change happens, that’s how stigmas gets kicked out.

If you want to read more on this topic, here are a couple of great articles done by Shrink TankWhy Troubled Youth Love Anime, and Why You Should Too (Part One) & Why Troubled Youth Love Anime, and Why You Should Too (Part Two)

If you or someone you know are experiencing similar feelings or thoughts to please contact a medical professional or your local suicide hotline. For more information, please visit the MentalHealth.Gov Website for more information.

Posted in anime

Homosexuality in Anime

This article is written from the point of view of a heterosexual woman, I do not proclaim to know everything about what it’s like to be treated differently because of one’s sexuality. I wanted to write this because there are so few articles that deal with LGBT and how it’s portrayed in anime on “mainstream” sites. This is just an opinion piece and I’m not trying to convince you to see my point of view, but to just get a conversation going. I will primarily be focusing on anime that I have seen and mentioning a few that I haven’t.

Let us begin shall we?

If you were to trust the average person who doesn’t watch a lot of anime, they would assume that it doesn’t touch the topic of sexuality. There are probably some anime fans who think the same way, or they’re just in denial. The truth of the matter is that anime is beginning to change to reflect the changes in Japan. Let’s start with Japan itself and what it’s like to be gay in Japan today.

In an article (by an author known only as Aliasis) that I discovered while researching the subject, I found that while being an LGBT person in Japan isn’t really shunned or hated, it’s not necessarily talked about either. “Homosexuality is frequently kept silent. There is still no religious basis for discrimination, but gay people struggle to face Japan’s strict family and gender roles….At best, it is usually a subject kept under the table ” the article stated. As some of you may know, Japan is known for it’s strict gender roles: men are the breadwinners and women are the housewives. As I stated in my article about fan service, this particular dynamic is changing due to the booming economic power that Japan has gained in the past several years. Women are becoming more independent and challenging those gender roles. Despite this, the LGBT community in Japan are finding that they don’t quite fit in the so called “normal” social makeup. Aliasis explains:

In my experience, almost all Japanese LGBT people I met while living in Tokyo were shocked when I asked if they were out to their families. Often they are only open at gay bars and events. I tried to be honest about my own sexual orientation when it came up in an effort to spread awareness, and I can’t count the number of awkward silences I endured after answering the infamous “do you have a boyfriend?” question. One young man even claimed to me, “We don’t have gay people in Japan.”

How the LGBT community is portrayed is also an issue, “Largely, gay and transgender people are portrayed as comedy acts on TV, often by straight comedians, and sexuality is frequently at the butt of jokes. Gay characters do on rare occasion exist in movies and television dramas, but it is rarer still to find a portrayal that is not stereotypical and comedic.” Aliasis says. So basically, because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about, it’s made fun of. At least in the “real” world it is. Enter the wonderful, glorious world of anime.

For the most part, anime has portrayed the LGBT community in a positive light. That’s really the focus of this article: the positive things that anime does. Because it’s not really seen as “real” it is able to tackle issues that other outlets would rather just leave behind and sweep under the table.

Now, let’s get to probably the most famous LGBT couple in anime: Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus.

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WHAT.

If you didn’t watch the Japanese version or read the manga, then that’s your initial reaction. And if you watched the English version, and that’s all you’ve ever known, then you would be in your own right to have that reaction. The English version was edited to fit a heteronormative view of the world that was the case a few years ago. Heteronormative is denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation. The pair was introduced as “cousins” and I remember watching it, even as young as I was, and thinking “You know that’s not what I say to my cousin.” They were always together, affectionate with each other and even were willing to die for each other. I mean I love my cousins…but I’m sorry not enough to do what they were willing to do for each other.

Sorry cousins.

With the dawn of the Internet I soon discovered that they were not cousins but in fact lovers, and because I was too young to understand sexuality I just sort of brushed it off. As I got older and my social circles grew I began to realize how progressive and how important it was for the LGBT community, even though it didn’t promote a huge change—it probably did give someone who was struggling with their sexuality a little bit of comfort.

Lets look at the characters themselves: Sailor Uranus provides the rougher edges of the relationship, being more dependent on using her strength as well as providing a no nonsense viewpoint, as well as a bombastic problem solving approach. Sailor Neptune is her opposite, more feminine and reserved and that sometimes may come off as cold. These two just fit. They balance each other out and are not portrayed as some sort of ideal relationship.

One isn’t portrayed as the “man” or the “woman” of the relationship, they’re human beings. They both have feminine qualities and they just happen to be lesbian.

Sailor Moon sort of opened the door for other anime characters to “come out” and be proud of their sexual orientation. Here’s just a brief list of a few:

  • Isabella Yamamoto – Paradise Kiss
  • Alielle Relryle – El-Hazard
  • Daley Wong – Bubblegum Crisis
  • Anthy Himemiya, Utena Tenjou, Juri Arisugawa – Revolutionary Girl Utena
  • Miyuki – Yu Yu Hakusho
  • Ymir and Krista Lenz – Attack On Titan

I hope that this has opened your eyes to something: That anime is for everyone, no matter what your gender, sexual orientation, or skin color. It’s constantly evolving with the times and it’s there for people who feel like they’re different from everyone else. That’s what anime is. I am a firm believer in that. So remember, next time you’re watching your favorite show that someone else sees it differently than you and that’s okay! That’s what makes us all amazing.

Lets talk. Who are some of your favorite LGBT characters? Has anime helped you in any way? Lets discuss!

Posted in anime

Fan Service in Anime

I have to admit that I struggled with this article and I have to give a shout-out to the IGN Anime Club for helping me sort out my ideas and giving me the courage to write this article. I’m going to start off with the “bad” and go into the “good” but I first want to say that you can like something and recognize what it’s doing. This is not a condemnation of people who enjoy aspects of fan service I don’t agree with, unless of course you think that sexual assault is funny in which case I think you’re wrong and need a lesson.

But I digress. Let’s start off with the aspects of fan service that I don’t like, that way we can end on a positive note.

I hate it when fan service gets in the way of a show’s plot and character development. It’s not only poor writing but worse, dehumanizing to the person you are showcasing. Yes I realize that these are fictional characters, but in order for fiction to work you have to have some imagination and sort of make them into real people so that you can enjoy the story. Fan service shouldn’t be a detour, if the creator cares anything at all about their story it should be woven into the narrative. While this does primarily happen to women in anime, I can’t ignore that it also happens to male characters as well. I want to be fair here, but I am writing this from a woman’s standpoint so please remember that.

Dehumanizing someone is probably the worse thing you could do, you’re turning them into an object and their traits that make them a human being don’t matter. It’s a terrible feeling. As a woman, one of the worse feelings in the world is when a man doesn’t want to talk to you because he knows he won’t get something out of it.

Another aspect of “bad” fan service is objectification, which goes hand in hand with dehumanizing someone. If the joke comes at the person’s expense, like the oh so popular “boy getting an extra squeeze of the boob,” then that’s objectification. You’re turning your character into an object, and not portraying them as a person. A more serious instance is glorifying sexual assault. As a victim of sexual assault I can tell you that it is extremely disrespectful to laugh or glorify an act so heinous as this. It makes the victim of the crime feel even worse and that they “deserved” it. No one, and I mean NO ONE, deserves to be sexually assaulted nor are they “asking for it.”

One of the things that might explain this, not condone it, is the changing culture in Japan and how people are not talking about those changes openly. This is where I really learned something from the video via Jared Petty. He talked about how in the past few years Japan is changing and women are starting to become more independent. They realize that they’re not just there to be housewives, that they can be career women and not have to get married and have babies. They don’t need a man nor do they need to obey one to get what they want. This is challenging hundreds of years of culture, a culture that is much older and much more vast than ours. This means that Japanese men are probably confused and frustrated, they’re views of women are being challenged and this changing landscape is a process that is just going to take time.

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, lets talk about the good that fan service can do…

Particularly….

SHIRTLESS MEN

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Yes ladies, WE’VE FINALLY GOTTEN RECOGNIZED.

In all seriousness this is a great thing because creators of shows are starting to realize that “hey…women, women like sex too.” This may come as a surprise as women are usually portrayed as a Madonna or a Whore, even today in the 21st century. I’m not a Freudian but this is one of the things I do agree with him on. But that’s a whole other essay that has nothing to do with anime.

Anyway back on topic: ABS. SHIRTLESS MEN. No, I digress again. Anyway let’s continue:

Fan service is at it’s most enjoyable when the person that they are portraying is still a person. That they portray the maturity of sexuality and they own it. They aren’t reduced to just body parts or talking boobs. They retain being a character. It’s like quality service with a quality show.

In the instance of Free: Eternal Summer (you can watch and drool on Funimation), yes these boys are hot but they’re also people and not just hot shirtless guys walking around trying to get some. They’re owning their sexuality and that’s a good thing. Another character that owns her sexuality and it’s done in a tasteful way is Michiko from Michiko and Hatchin (which you can also watch on Funimation). She’s in Brazil, so I mean yes she’s going to wear shorts and a crop top; if you got it flaunt it girl. Gangsta is another show in which sexuality is portrayed in an adult fashion, Alex is a sex worker and that’s just her job. She’s not in a bad situation anymore, that’s just her occupation. One must remember that in Japan there are licensed sex workers that are readily available for both men and women and this is just another example of how our cultures are different.

Comedy and fan service can go hand in hand as well. Lets face it, certain body parts make us uncomfortable and a way to deal with that discomfort is to laugh. Good fan service can be a metaphor for the discomforts of sexual awakening. I haven’t watched it myself (if you only knew how much was in my queue), but the IGN Anime Club seems to think that Prison School is a great way of portraying these discomforts and does it in a way in which its funny and the people who we’re laughing at own their sexuality and are adult about it. And, even though it’s you’re typical trope harem anime (just my opinion), Myriad of Colors Phantom World also has it’s hilarious moments of fan service; if you’ve seen the first episode you know the infamous limbo match. If you’re a human being you’ve probably been in an awkward situation that deals with the opposite (or same if you’re into that) sex, if not give it time because it will happen. That I can promise you.

I wanted to write this so that we could get a conversation going. My goal is not to offend or condemn, but to just get people thinking and talking about this in a positive way. What are some of your favorite anime? What are your views on fan service? Let’s have an adult discussion about this!