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Anime for Tissue Manufacturers
By Janet Houck
May 17, 2007
"Grave of the Fireflies"
© Central Park Media
...No, we’re not taking about using Kleenex for *that*. Anime covers the width and breadth of the human experience, from humor to love to drama. Today, we’re taking a peek at some of the tear-jerker titles out on the market.
You can’t mention depressing anime without starting with Grave of the Fireflies. I have yet to watch the film without silently sobbing at one point or another. A Studio Ghibli movie, Grave of the Fireflies is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, written as an apology to the author’s sister. Telling the story of a brother and sister trying to survive the end of WWII without the support of family or friends, it is perhaps the greatest anti-war movie ever made, anime or not. Honestly, this is a film that *everyone* needs to see at least once, as it is such a powerful experience. I use it as a way to show that anime isn’t just kids’ cartoons and fanservice; this is a medium that can portray the best and worst of humanity.
Barefoot Gen is another movie centered on the end of WWII and the rebuilding afterwards. Based on a manga that draws upon the creator’s experiences as a child in Hiroshima, it focuses on young Gen and his family just surviving and trying to move on, which is made difficult with radiation poisoning, cancer, and a general lack of resources. It’s an old series (manga ran in the early 70s, movie in the early 80s), but still very powerful. The manga is currently being republished with an introduction from Art Spiegelman, who compares it to his own critically-acclaimed comic, Maus.
For a more recent look at war and the role of children in war, Now and Then, Here and There is a truly disturbing TV show. It begins as many “normal boy goes to a magical world” shows do, with Shu following a mysterious girl who is kidnapped by a bunch of mecha, who take Shu along with them as well. Shu wakes up, and he’s in a metal fortress in a barren landscape, and soon becomes enlisted in the army, along with other dubiously teenage boys. Now and Then, Here and There features rape and graphic physical abuse; it’s not a pretty show. If it was the intent of the creators to disturb and bring attention to child soldiers, well, they succeed.
Now tragic love is a rich literature tradition, especially in Asian cinema. The Samurai X OVAs gives us Kenshin’s backstory, along with the story of his first wife, Tomoe, which ends in death and fire. It’s the classic samurai betrayal story, where he is betrayed by the one he loves, yet he can’t stop loving her. Ayashi no Ceres (Celestial Legend Ceres), a manga and anime series from Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yuugi and Alice 19th), contains doomed love to the extreme. Aya is a reborn celestial being named Ceres who seeks her robe in order to ascend to the heavens, but it is Aya’s family who took the celestial robe. Hence we have Ceres possessing Aya, trying to avenge herself against Aya’s family, while Aya’s family seeks to contain or destroy Ceres, while Aya herself is stuck in the middle and in love with a mysterious bishie who may or may not be her enemy. Ayashi no Ceres milks the pity and misery factor, as Aya has her heart torn and broken repeatedly. Much better than Fushigi Yuugi’s Miaka constant complaining.
Other excellent anime involving the heart include: Fruits Basket (an orphaned main character, and a family whose curse brings sorrow), Voices of a Distant Star, Saikano (what do you do when your girlfriend is a weapon of mass destruction/salvation?), Kanon (the origin of the crying girl in the snow motif), Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (wolves and red hoods aren’t meant to be), and Cowboy Bebop, with Spike’s over-arcing plot revolving around looking for a girl.
Finally, we can’t forget the Shakespearean level of tragedy. Windaria, a really old anime, contains two Romeo and Juliet tales, with a prince and princess of opposing countries, and a farmer who seeks fame and fortune, and his wife. Only naturally, both couples fall into ruin as war erupts. There’s a lot of controversy about the English release, as it suffered from severe editing and redubbing to make it more kid-friendly, such as removing the rape scene of the farmer’s wife.
And of course, there’s Romeo x Juliet, an updated version of the classic story.
However, Full Moon wo Sagashite takes the cake for tragedy. The story centers around an orphaned twelve-year-old girl named Mitsuki, who has throat cancer. Her dream is to become an idol singer. But if she has throat surgery, then she’ll lose her voice, so she opts not to have the operation. One day, she sees two shinigami (death spirits), who tell her that she has a year to live. Realizing that she doesn’t have time to wait, but no one will let a child become an idol singer, she has one of the shinigami transform her into a healthy sixteen year old version. Using the name “Full Moon,” she enters competitions and succeeds.
Of course, there’s a boy involved as well. A boy at the orphanage wanted to become an astronomer, but he gets adopted and moves to America before Mitsuki can confess her feelings. Thus Mitsuki wants to become so famous that he will hear her voice and see her again before she dies. It’s rare for an entire series to center around a sad story that will end in death.
Get in touch with your emotional side and see some sad, yet moving animation!