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Perhaps you started watching anime out of boredom. Perhaps a friend introduced you to “the cult”. Or perhaps you don’t even remember how it all began. What counts is that now, your world would not be complete without a good daily dose of anime. And we otaku very well know that being a dedicated fan can be challenging. New anime is released four times per year in the form of T.V. shows, OAVs and movies. There are great manga and light novel authors that produce dozens of titles throughout their lives, which are later adapted to anime. We also have our favorite producers and soundtrackers, so we don’t want to miss out their works! You guys get the picture.
So, with all that gorgeous anime to watch, we stop on our tracks one day all of a sudden and ask THE question: Why do I watch anime? The easy answer would be: to have fun. Or perhaps to chill out. A great anime can absorb us into the story and make us forget about the world around us easily.
But, is that always the case? Gone are the days when people were expected to give up cartoons in their adulthood. And why should we? Fiction is an effective way to convey information and lessons, regardless of the medium. Of course, anime is not an exception. Therefore, let’s be a little reflective and remember which great lessons we can learn from watching anime. Although educational anime and science based anime is extremely useful in itself, we are going to orient this article towards universal moral lessons. So, without further ado, let’s review the best life lessons we have learned from anime!
If Japan is good at something, is in discipline and in doing effective team work. The culture of this millenary nation tends to collectivity, so, when something has to be done in a quick and orderly way, it is done. For example, whenever the country is hit by a natural disaster, they recover relatively easy due to teamwork. They have been at the top of science and technology for a long time due to the same reasons.
Of course, the strong concept of teamwork is reflected in anime. Let’s remember the Aquarion franchise, where mecha pilots have to synchronize to form a more powerful robot and defeat their enemies. All the pilots have different looks, interests and personalities. Some of them do not get along well, but when their interests align with a specific objective (defeat the enemy), they learn to work together. And presto, enemy conquered.
So, maybe that last example was too metaphorical. How about Nodame Cantabile, which is the story of Shinichi Chiaki and his pianist girlfriend? Shinichi wants to become an orchestra director. Shinichi has to study harder than anyone in order to become familiar with the musical pieces, while he listens to every single musician and learns to communicate in a human manner with them. This is a concrete example of the challenges of teamwork. So, we get that anime can be truly inspirational and teach us not only that teamwork is essential for us, but that with patience and dedication, it can happen even in unlikely circumstances.
2. Never give up
There is an old Asian saying that states: Fall seven times, get up eight. Japanese have reflected this very well in anime, where resilient and down right stubborn characters abound. Let’s remember CLAMP´s works, for example. Their shoujo plots like Clamp Campus Detectives or Card Captor Sakura show happy kids who never give up in the face of adversity. Of course that CLAMP take this to the extreme in their more adult works like X or Xxxholic, but the principle is the same. There is always at least one character that is the embodiment of hope on their stories and that ends up inspiring us.
Another memorable example is Renton Thurston, from Eureka Seven. Renton always dreamed of becoming a pilot and flying through the skies. The problem is that Renton was not in the right place to become one. Plus his grandfather did not want him to leave home. So, what did Renton do? He kept training until one day, the opportunity presented to him literally falling from the sky. Thus, Eureka Seven show us that we should be patient and keep working towards our goal. If we are prepared and the opportunity turns up, we will be ready for the challenge. The point is, we must never give up!
3. It is not easy to distinguish good from bad
A strong characteristic of Japanese anime is that, in contrast with American cartoons, the characters tend to be multidimensional and not 100% good neither bad. And nothing comes as a better example than an anime that was based on the true history of Japan: Rurouni Kenshin. We have to start with the title character, who is a charismatic and delicate looking vagabond samurai. Nevertheless, he once was the assassin Battousai. The story tells us how Kenshin tries to keep peace during the Meiji period while avoiding to kill anyone to attone for his former life as Battousai. Kenshin’s apprentice Yahiko Myojin once said that they were on the good side because they won in battle, but Kenshin seriously answered that only history could judge their actions.
Another interesting example is Hell Girl, where the main theme is vengeance. Enma Ai, better known as Hell Girl, can be summoned to send a person to Hell, with the result that the person who summoned her will go to Hell when they die too. At first, it looks like only people in unfair and desperate situations can use Hell Girl services, but as the story advances, we see that anyone can summon Ai as long as they have strong feelings for the person they want to send to Hell. As for Hell Girl and her companions, they are simply doing their work. So, they show signs of mercy or hesitation to send people to Hell on rare occasions. This anime truly shows all the shades of grey of vengeance.
Finally, a very good recent anime called Terror in Resonance talks about terrorism. Yes, an anime talking about terrorism from the point of view of the terrorists, two teenagers who escaped from a government facility where they were used as guinea pigs. Through their adventures and the people who try to capture them, we can see how situations can become complicated and implicate entire cities. Was it right to hunt the teenagers dead or alive? Was it right what the government did with them when they were kids? Terror in Resonance leaves a lot of room for debate, linking its story with one of the darkest aspects of our current world.
4. Change is a painful but necessary experience
A concept that is rooted in Japanese culture is about the impermanence of the world reflected in its appreciation towards nature and the seasons. This is a metaphor that also relates to human life. There are certain moments where two or more paths are open. Depending on our choices, totally different outcomes can occur.
We definitely have to talk about the classical story of coming of age. That’s the reason why so many anime have teenage protagonists after all. And nothing better than to mention Neon Genesis Evangelion and its emo protagonist Shinji Ikari, who learns how to deal with the world while fighting (and sometimes ripping apart) the Angels, who apparently seek to destroy mankind. Shinji’s downright terrible relationship with his father and his desperation to be acknowledged by him were the inspiration for many more mecha anime to come.
But we are talking about doing more realistic (and nonviolent) things than ripping Angels apart, right? So, let’s go to the shoujo side of anime to remember Nana. Two girls, one in the pursuit of her boyfriend and the other running away from her past life, meet on a train and become the best of friends. Of course, for both Nanas, things did not turn out as expected, leading them to moments of pain and anguish. Thus, they had to learn to mature and confront life at the best of their abilities: one by being the best wife and mother possible, and the other as the best professional musician she can. So that they can survive one more day. Yes my dear otakus, life is cruel, but if we have true friends while we change, we can always rely on each other.
5. Be human
And in last place, we have what perhaps is the quintessential message of most anime from yesterday and today. We know that Japan has a love affair with technology, as it was an important impulse for the economy after the Second World War. It might look in occident as if Japanese would chose a robot over a human, but it is more complex than that. Let us explain.
What many anime question is, what is to be human to begin with? Some shows go to the origin of the human race to explore the concept, while others fuse technology and humans (what is called cyborgs). Can you imagine who we are going to talk about now? It is time to remember Motoko Kusanagi, from Ghost in the Shell. She passes from being a classic “Robocop” to a new kind of being who is more aware and independent than anyone else. And all of that is because Motoko does not stop questioning what happens around her and opens her receptiveness towards change and the unknown.
Another less sci-fi example would be Wolf Children, where the widow of a wolf has to raise her mixed race children. We can see many kinds of people in this anime: the ones who reject the children, the ones who accept them, and the ones who simply ignore them. And all in all, the children choose their paths and learn whether to become a full wolf or a full human. In the end, they are the representation of what humans crave for: a defined identity. So, we can see the message clearly on this anime: keep searching for the meaning of humanity and become just that.
And there you have it: anime can be a fun ride, but it also have applications to our real lives. We hope this small travel on the lessons of anime opened your eyes (more) to the possibilities a good story has to connect people. If we humans have been sharing tales since the prehistory, it is because that is an essential part of our nature. And if that helps us become better humans, the better.
Which is the greatest life lesson you learned from an anime? Which other anime teaches a great life lesson? We are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon!