The Value of Youth – Adolescence and Anime

Back in my second year of high school, on the first day of classes, I introduced myself as someone who had psychic powers.

Unlike most “spaghetti” stories that you might hear, this didn’t really amount to much. It’s a thing that people forgot about as the year went by. For a while I was into psychic powers, even buying a book on how to develop them. Although I eventually gave up on getting them, my chuunibyou still persisted in a different form after having played Persona 4: I would believe that I had Social Links with my friends that I could raise by talking to them more often, and that I could classify my small circle of friends into the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. I thought that I was above all of my social connections; that all of my friends would stay my friends forever, and that I could manipulate all of my relationships into the way I wanted them to be.

I, like many other teenagers during the same period of our lives, wanted to stand out.

[HorribleSubs] Hibike! Euphonium - 08 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.16_[2015.06.26_19.31.14]

Chuunibyou is one way of expressing that desire. The desire to become special is perhaps one of the reasons why shows like Sword Art Online or Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei became popular: it provides an outlet for teenagers to pretend that they’re special – that there’s a power that lies hidden within them that can let them conquer any challenge that comes at them. We find shows like Oregairu or Chu2Koi compelling, relatable, or cringe-worthy because we once might have been that guy who sneered at all those “fake” relationships, or that girl who would pretend that she’s a chosen fairy priestess from the forests. These reactions are important because they’re proof that we recognize that we were once these people, and that we grew out of that phase.

Growing up is a hard thing to do. We’re faced with realizations we don’t want to face. We’re forced to accept that the world around us isn’t the same as the convenient boxes we’ve confined ourselves in. People aren’t so simple that they can just be placed into tarot card characterizations, and we can’t expect people to stay in the cliques we expect them to be in. And yet we’re forced to grow out of these thoughts – though some grow up later than others, some never do – because we’ll be left behind if we don’t.

回り続けるエブリデイワールド/ My everyday world continues to turn;

変わる自分に戸惑いながら / While I’m stumped at my changing self,

誰もみんな大人になる / Everyone else is growing up

Everyday World/エブリデイワールド (Oregairu S2 ED)

This Spring 2015 season has been quite a blessing, since we got to see two different pictures of adolescence in the form of Hibike! Euphonium and Oregairu S2. Euphonium shows us the “prime” of youth – all the hot, passionate emotions that come with adolescence packaged in a neat visual treat. Meanwhile, Oregairu S2 builds up on the first season by showing its characters at their worst as they learn to grow up and deal with each others’ weaknesses. Reina’s declaration of independence with her loud, blaring trumpets is as much of a picture of adolescence as Hachiman growing up from his self-absorbed world-view is.

Growing up is something we have to live with. For some, growing up sucks. And for some, growing up was the best thing that’s happened to them. It’s a wild mix of emotions that carry a huge meaning for some, but little to none for others.

[HorribleSubs] Hibike! Euphonium - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_22.45_[2015.06.26_22.53.11]

The value of youth

And perhaps, those differences in experience manifest in the way we view these high school anime. Some of us deliberately choose to skip these shows about high school kids because they no longer offer anything that we haven’t already experienced before. And some of us view them with a distinct sense of nostalgia. Some of us look back fondly (or not-so-fondly) at the “us” that we were back then and quip with a smirk, “Man, I sure was a huge dork back then!”. And some of us are still stuck in that phase – still the Hachiman looking down on human relationships, still the Rikkas and Reinas just trying to stand out from the crowd.

As for myself – a fresh graduate from college – I still like looking back on those days where everything was much simpler. Back when I could still classify my friends into tarot readings, back when I could still make mistakes in trying to figure out how peoples’ relationships work. I’ve still yet to fully let go of my desire to stand out. And because of that, I still find value in watching the struggles of teenagers undergoing puberty. I like seeing these characters in the height of their youth facing different struggles and breaking their respective walls, and watching them come out the better for it. And most of all, I find it fun seeing these characters living in the moment, cherishing the best days of their lives, even if they’ve yet to realize it themselves.

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6 thoughts on “The Value of Youth – Adolescence and Anime

  1. I just can’t imagine how fans can repeatedly watch youth drama after youth drama. The shows are meant for self-insertion, self-reflection, nostalgia, but how much nostalgia does a person need before they decide to move on? It’s very hard to see a sense of imagination in these shows.

    • People have different life experiences. In the same way, they’ll have different ways of using those experiences to interact with the media they consume. I can’t say that consuming youth drama after youth drama is a healthy way of consuming media. I very much doubt that there’s a standard as to how much nostalgia a person needs before moving on. Sometimes people just really like seeing people like themselves struggle with the same issues they’ve had in the past.

      As for these shows not having a sense of imagination, I think that’s not a fair assumption to make. Just to give a few examples, Euphonium, Toradora, Oregairu, White Album 2 – they’re all “youth dramas” with very different aims and very different approaches to the high school setting. It’s true that some high school dramas seem like they just plagiarized their premises. But good high school dramas don’t do that – they draw from real experiences and real situations real people might have gone through that get the viewer to engage. Again, everyone has different life experiences. Just from that, writers can draw many different scenarios with the people who can engage with each differing every time. I can’t guarantee that all those scenarios will be good, but there’s about as much imagination in them as any other genre of anime.

      • Imagination is a very different thing from the author relaying his or others’ personal experience. Youth dramas for example are very much inward-looking, they don’t aim to use imagination to solve big problems, because youth is a figured-out concept. We’ve all been there, ‘cept for the teenagers living it. We internalize the general experience, and so an author doesn’t have to look too far to write a youth drama.
        I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch Euphonium and don’t plan to. What has come out of KyoAni after Lucky Star has been one disappointment after another, because all they do is youth dramas. The last KyoAni thing I watched was Free! I never watched guy drama, it had a Key feel to it and characters were directly relatable. But as far as imagination goes, it was bankrupt of it.
        ToraDora wasn’t exactly a shining beacon of imagination either, it was just relatable to a lot of people. Heck, an ex-gf of mine was going through a lot of similar things Taiga was going through as it was airing. That doesn’t mean the series was imaginative. You have to look outside of strict youth dramas for that.

      • I believe that a good story can be made even if the concept itself or the setting is not very imaginative. I like the Precure franchise (well, some iterations of it) despite its formulaic nature because it manages to do something new with each series every time that it doesn’t feel tiring. I don’t see the problem with having to pull from experiences to write something; in the first place, writing is all about pulling from experience and just putting it in different settings. Fiction is a very personal thing and calling something unimaginative just because the author pulled from their personal experiences and made it into a story is not giving the author enough credit. It’s exactly what writing fiction is!

        I understand your disappointment with KyoAni, but perhaps their works -or the genre- just aren’t for you. KyoAni doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything outside of youth dramas, and I don’t particularly mind that because it’s what they’re good at. As for myself, I appreciate mundane stories as much as crazy, “imaginative” stories.

  2. Fantasizing and using imagination are different things. I just want people to be aware of that. But I have to ask: you don’t find it strange that all KyoAni does is youth dramas? It sounds like intellectual bankruptcy to me, similar to Miyazaki Hayao’s behavior post-Ponyo.

    • Not at all. KyoAni’s staff is just good at what they do: they’re capitalizing on their strengths and I see nothing wrong with that. They’re good at making incredibly pretty shows; Euphonium just stands out for me because it also happens to be very good at character work unlike some of their previous shows.

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