One of the few things I enjoy in life is anime. Anime was one of few things that helped break through the wall I’d built around my emotions that were put up to stabilise my borderline personality disorder and helped me bring that wall back down and helped me to start feeling things again. Because of my love for anime, I wanted to write something about it. This article is the result of that wish.
One of the great things about anime is that this art medium never shies away from the taboo, but one of the disturbing things about anime is that it never shies away from the taboo. One of the topics they’re not afraid to tackle is mental health. You’ll see character after character in show after show having a mental health condition in one form or another, such as having Hikikomori. In case you don’t know what Hikikomori is, it’s a condition that’s arguably largely a cultural phenomenon, that predominantly exists in Japan, the home of anime, which encompasses social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and learning disorders.
How Can Anime Affect Mental Health?
Anime can affect mental health in a number of different ways, they can show us how different characters can react in high stress and traumatic situations, how people can still be successful with mental health conditions, and show us the full range of extremes and unpleasantness that often comes with mental illness. But one of the best ways anime does this is by creating characters we can connect with who challenge the stigma of mental health, fully making characters with mental health conditions mainstream, that we can love. There is also an anime show for every mood or emotion you might want to feel, connect with, or change.
Anime’s Representations Of Mental Illness
There are countless anime characters that depict signs of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more (The Wonk). Below are some of my favourite examples from the anime I’ve watched mixed in with some that were recommended to me as good examples.
Black Clover is a show about a world where everyone can use magic, except Asta. Asta was abandoned with Yuno and raised at a church with other orphaned children. Asta would go on to become a member of the Black Bulls, a Magic Knights Squad, where he would go on to meet Grey, but not really. Grey has such extreme anxiety that she uses transformation magic to hide their true appearance from everyone around her. The image she chooses to show everyone is of a giant male person, with no one seeing Grey‘s true form until episode 45. However, unbeknownst at the time to the Black Bulls and the views, they did sneak an image of Grey running all flustered in the background in episode 11 (CBR).
In episode 150, the teammates use a form of graded exposure to try and help Grey overcome her anxiety, with Gordon using the dolls he made of all the other Black Bulls as a way to help. That’s because Grey‘s anxiety is so bad that she can’t cope with being looked at, even from a sizable distance.
However, another teammate, Gauche, takes it to an extreme by using his mirror magic to allow Grey to see herself and others to see her from every angle. Somehow, during this filler training episode, Grey randomly gets hypnotised and their anxiety goes away, but it doesn’t stay that way. In subsequent episodes you still see Grey struggling with anxiety, although she no longer hides by transforming into their big male persona, instead you see Grey shacking a lot while hiding her face behind her hands. But, we seem to be slowly seeing her anxiety get better and better, so it’ll be interesting to see how it eventually ends up.
Naruto and Naruto Shippuden
Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden has a lot of examples of people exhibiting mental illnesses, but the two most prominent ones are Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha. Both of these characters experience a similar isolating childhood that would lead them to take very different paths, in this story about ninjas.
Naruto Uzumaki parents both die moments after he’s born after having had the Nine-Tails sealed inside him at birth. For reasons unknown, everyone in his village shuns him and he’s basically left to look after himself. An odd choice for someone with a living weapon sealed inside him. Because everyone keeps their distance from Naruto, he’s compelled to act out for attention, due to his crippling isolation, loneliness, and depression. Something I can relate to as someone who grew up enduring racist abuse throughout my childhood, which left me depressed and desperate to be accepted, just like Naruto.
Sasuke Uchiha on the other hand had his entire clan wiped out by his own brother, with grief and anger causing him to become isolated, closed off, depressed, and distant. However, unlike Naruto, he’s not interested in being accepted, he wants revenge. These two characters played out the two different, somewhat extreme, ways children might respond in these situations. Sasuke‘s storyline is especially true with how children can be radicalised into joining terrorist organisations in response to their family being killed, as has been played out a lot since the war on terror started.
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is the latest series to follow Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden, focusing on the children of the main characters from the two preceding Naruto series. Again, there a lot of examples of mental illness in the series, but there was one storyline that particularly stood out to me. Naruto‘s son, Boruto, experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the course of two episodes (episodes 131-132). Boruto is sent back in time where he encounters his father, Naruto, as a child who loses control of the Nine-Tails that’s sealed inside him, causing him to hurt Boruto. This then causes Boruto to experience flashbacks of the attacks as well as causing him to have flashes of overwhelming fear when around Naruto. This two episode of PTSD in children highlights the importance of not hitting your children, although in the context of this show it wasn’t done on purpose.
Mushoku Tensei (Jobless Reincarnation)
Mushoku Tensei is a story about someone who fears going outside (agoraphobia) who dies and is reincarnated in a world with magic and monsters. The protagonist, Rudeus Greyrat, has retained all his knowledge from his previous life, which gives him an advantage in this new world. However, the memories of his childhood trauma from school bullying are also remembered and still plague him in this new world as well. You can best see this played out in episode two of the first and only season, so far.
Soul Eater is a show about a group of students attending a school for aspiring demon hunters. One of those students is Death the Kid who has a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Furthermore, there’s also another student, Black☆Star who likely has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Ikusa x Koi (Val x Love)
Takuma Akutsu is the male protagonist in the anime series, Ikusa x Koi. In this series, Takuma Akutsu develops social anxiety due to the reactions of others based solely on his appearance, so he likely has a case of body dysmorphia too. Everyone he comes into contact with is scared of him, which causes him to become an outcast, resulting in an inability to interact with others and the development of his social anxiety disorder. The insertion of the Saotome sisters by Odin into his life will help to change all that, as he’s tasked with helping the nine sisters with raising their levels to fight off the monsters threatening humanity. Because although he may be perceived as being scary, he’s really not a bad guy.
Yuki Takeya is the main protagonist of Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!), and according to ReviewThis, Yuki Takeya sufferers from PTSD and psychosis. The cause of Yuki Takeya developing these mental health issues is a result of a zombie outbreak, which eventually causes her to mentally break down after watching her teacher (Megumi Sakura) sacrifice herself to save her students. The result of this was Yuki Takeya slipping into a delusional state to escape the reality of the zombie pandemic. What she see’s paints the picture that the zombie outbreak hasn’t happened and everything is ok. However, this delusion slowly starts to crumble over the course of the series.
Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka? (So I’m a Spider, So What?)
Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka? is a story about a girl who’s reincarnated as a spider in a dungeon, with half the story focusing on her struggle for survival in this new world as a spider which follows the classic RPG format. In episode 11 of the first and only season so far, the reincarnated spider has a conversation with itself about PTSD and how they need to get over it. They talk about how trauma is trauma for a reason because it’s difficult to overcome, but they must get over it because the world is at stake. However, first, they have to overcome their fear and kill the source of their PTSD, the Earth Dragon Araba. This particular anime doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about PTSD and mental health, however, the comment about trauma being difficult to get over, otherwise it wouldn’t be trauma, I thought was a great statement to make on trauma and PTSD.
No Game No Life
No Game No Life is about a bother (Sora) and sister (Shiro) who love gaming and who both have Hikikomori (or social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, like me) and are transported to a world of games, which they love.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso follows Kо̄sei Arima, a young pianist, who loses his ability to hear the piano after his mother’s death, where grief plunges him into a deep depression. But everything starts to change when he meets Kaori Miyazono.
Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho 100 is about a child (Shigeo Kageyama) who has psychic powers that are linked to his emotions, who uses his abilities to exorcise ghosts. However, Mob is depressed, so depressed that it affects his everyday life, and even prevents him from eating, with the show using his emotionally linked psychic powers to highlight this, such as bending a spoon away from his mouth while trying to eat (The Bald Savant).
If you’re interested in reading about some other anime that show mental illness, then click here to be taken to a list of anime shows I didn’t mention. Although it’s not a complete list, it will give you a chance to check out some other anime on mental health.
Ways Anime Can Boost Wellbeing And Inspire Us
Anime shows like Black Clover, Naruto, Fairy Tail, and Boruto, show us how to keep pushing forward even when you’re knocked down, time and time again, to never give up. It’s so easy to get swept up in that feeling of never giving up when you see these animated characters giving it their all. They may not be real, but the emotional hit and the psychological boost you can get from them is.
One great example from anime is how friends can be there for each other to offer support, provide safety, give them a helping hand, and back them up when they need it. Anime can do a really good job of showing How To Always Be There For A Friend: #BeTheMateYoudWant. The flipside to that is how anime often shows how not being there can harm those that need it, especially when it comes to bullying, which I know too well first-hand, my childhood was just an endurance of racist abuse from start to finish.
A common troupe(?) used anime is the never giving up and how the lowest most bullied person can become a person everyone looks up to even if the world thinks you’re the lowest of the low. This is best portrayed in Black Clover and Naruto, if you ask me.
Watching Naruto overcome all the obstacles in his way and gaining acceptance in Naruto, Naruto: Shippuden, and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, was an awesome journey that often would make me feel somewhat positive about my own situation. Furthermore, watching Sasuke go from a troubled child to a terrorist, to finally redeeming himself, also has its merits, as it reminds us it’s never too late to change who we are for the better.
Another thing anime can do is shine a light on problematic emotions. Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which centres on the brothers, Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric, is set in a world where alchemy is real. The brothers driven by grief, try to use alchemy to resurrect their dead mother, the failure of which leaves one bother without an arm and the other without a body. Edward Elric, now driven by guilt, tried to find a way to return his brother back to his body. The anime is a dramatic example of how powerful grief and guilt can be, and how getting support for these emotions can be valuable for our mental health and general wellbeing.
Bad Representations Of Mental Health
Like all entertainment mediums, not all representations of mental health are portrayed in a way that fully respects the conditions. One of my favourite animes, for example, Soul Eater, could be argued and has been argued by The Artifice, as presenting a problematic take on Death the Kid and his OCD, turning it into something humorous. The fact is, although mental health is very serious, there are times when it can be humorous when seen objectively, especially to an outsider, which is the case with this representation. Tourettes Hero is a good example of this, although not about mental health directly, they’ve embraced the weird, funny, and often offensive stuff they say to change the narrative on the disorder in order to challenge the stigma and public perception. Not all representation can be positive, because like it or not, there can be an unpleasant side of mental health that also deserves to be told to present a complete picture.
The Negative Impact Of Anime On Mental Health
One of the biggest negatives of anime for mental health, however, is their use of impossible beautiful standards and body shapes. Female characters often have super skinny waists, big breasts, and impossible shaped bodies you can only have by creating them using your imagination. As such, it could easily be a factor in people developing body image issues like body dysmorphic disorder or worsening them if they already have them. Especially with how prevalent anime is in Japanese culture and how idolised anime characters can be. The male anime characters often aren’t much different either, often with perfect muscular bodies, but it doesn’t compare with how they portray female characters.
Anime isn’t alone in how it can some times be negative for our mental health, TV shows and films can also have a negative effect on how it portrays mental health. 60% of people who took part in an opinion poll found that schizophrenia is more negatively portrayed than other mental health condition, as reported by Mind. Furthermore, according to Arwa Haider‘s article for the BBC, movie depictions of mental instability in genres like horror, can dominate our perceptions of people with mental health conditions; like all people who are mentally unwell might be deranged killers or sadists.
While researching for this article, I came across a mental health charity called Anime For Humanity that exists in the US which seeks to improve the mental wellbeing of others through the use of anime. So why not check them out by clicking here, especially if you live in the US, because you’ll be able to get an anime therapy kit. Jealous.
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Unwanted Life readers.