It’s not all about friendship speeches and believing in [insert tacky phrase here]; a lot of the anime I truly love wrestle with darker themes, and serve to entertain but also to inspire. There are a many things to be learned from a well-conceived anime, but I have a word limit to work in, so here are five of the things that young people with improbable hair and attitude problems have taught me:
1. Don’t judge ’til you’ve got the backstory
When I first discovered Cowboy Bebop I just couldn’t get enough of it… all except for Faye Valentine. I thought it clear from the outset that she was the ineffective (and annoying) eye candy on the show. But then “Hard Luck Woman” aired: suddenly, Faye was cast in a new light—because I now knew her motivations, her past, and her vulnerabilities, where before she had been a complete mystery. Faye had never been written 2D; she was a 3D character purposefully acting 2D.
2. Never underestimate the tiny ones
This is a pretty universal trope in any anime. Children can be pretty awesome in their own right and to write them off as “just kids” is an egregious error that will come back to bite us in the collective ass once we’re in need of pension. Some examples:
Cowboy Bebop: Ed is maybe 10 years old and also a cyberpunk demigoddess who, in her intro episode, hacked into a military satellite to talk to the bored A.I.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The two main characters are 10 and 11 when performing the incredibly difficult and taboo alchemy that kickstarts the plot.
3. You’re better than that
Trigun‘s Vash is a pacifist gunslinger with a huge bounty on his head, and so is nearly always thrown into opposition with violent, awful people. Ever in the pursuit of love and peace, Vash repeatedly talks his opponents down, opts for being silly when seriousness would cause problems, and only ever once gives in to the violence—and it nearly destroys him as a consequence.
In life, you’re going to be wronged by others; it’s a given. Before striking a pose and swearing that VENGEANCE SHALL BE MINE, it’s best to step back and chill: take a critical look at the level they’ve sunk to, and then, instead of going there, think “Is there a better way to deal with this problem than by retaliating in kind?”
4. Sometimes our feelings are wrong.
And that can cause us to treat other people really badly. Our gut instinct often doesn’t match up to what is actually the right thing to do; even though we’re told over and again by a lot of pop culture to follow our heart/instinct/feelings etc, it can actually be moronic to do so.
Fullmetal Alchemist tackles this full-force by taking Ed and Al literally through hell and back as they (and their friends) pay for actions they took believing they were in the right because they felt so strongly about it. Arguably, the entire show is about what can happen when we believe we’re right based on how we feel, without stopping to really think about why we feel the way we do.
5. Never give up
Hello there, Ichigo from Bleach. Life is so hard when you need to go from zero to hero and have no clue what you’re doing as you face obstacles that increase exponentially in difficulty; Ichigo, to his credit, never considered himself defeated even when he was.
It may seem boneheaded and unrealistic to expect to overcome life’s challenges with the Power of Positive Thinking, but Bleach is the best example I’ve seen of the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”—the key to being able to keep at it is all how you think about it.
How about you, Paper Droids readers? Have you learned anything from the anime you (used to) watch? Did Inu Yasha provide the gateway to inner peace? Hellsing give you a new definition of loyalty (or at least wash the aftertaste of Twilight out of your mouth)? Share in the comments!