I’m sure we’ve all thought this before.
You are the main character of your own life.
We all only know what we know, and anything beyond that we can only imagine. That’s life.
And it’s not life that I want to talk about here, but instead how it’s often told in anime (and manga by extension, but I’m just going to say anime from here on out) via storytelling, and then how that storytelling can affect us.
Relevant post theme:
So I was watching the PV for the above song, and it seems to be about a colourful crew of students, some of which are members of an art club, like the girl the PV follows. Honestly, the PV looks better than the entirety of This Art Club Has A Problem!, but anyways…
What I realized is that anime often depicts the ordinary as something much more than that. I’ve seen it more than often enough in anime, and these thoughts have entered my mind in the past, but for some reason this PV is what made me really stop and think about it: Anime often depicts ordinary life as extraordinary.
Specifically I’ll use slice of life as a reference here, like the type of anime that the above PV would be, if it was an anime (I’d watch it). But I feel that this style of storytelling extends over to other genres as well, albeit not everything.
Essentially, what this style of storytelling does is it takes a regular person, and elevates them to seem like so much more. Their life seems interesting. Routines, friends, even seemingly mundane activities all seem so much more… special.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had on WHY this is, which is likely tied to the collective nature of society here in Japan. Elevating someone out of the collective can inspire people to feel more special, possibly help them to feel like they are more than just another grain of sand in the desert, in a culture where “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.
I can’t really think of any Western shows or movies even that I’ve seen that accomplish this quite like anime does. Slice of life in general doesn’t really seem to be very Western outside of dramas. But even outside of slice of life, superhero movies or whatever never really made me feel the same way about the ordinary feeling extraordinary.
But what really caught my attention was thinking about how these stories are able to accomplish their goals in making the ordinary seem extraordinary.
I’ve definitely watched a slice of life anime and coveted the life of the main character! Be it a great group of friends, a fun looking school life, a cool club, a harem… it’s not uncommon for me to feel that way when engaging in one of these stories. It’s also not uncommon for me to feel just a little bit more cognisant of my own life, past and present. Was / is my life as great as it appears to be in anime?
Think back to your own school life. Middle and high school specifically, as that’s what we often see depicted in anime. I know for many there’s likely to be some nostalgia – we often don’t realize how good we had it until we enter the real world after schooling. For others there may only be bad memories and regrets. Or both, in my case.
But really think back to how you felt back then, specifically in regards to the daily routine of it all. Years and years of schooling. How did you feel about going to school, five days a week, for over a decade?
Personally, I hated it. By grade 12, I was sick of schooling. I certainly have some eccentric stories, such as being in a love triangle with two girls who were best friends, skipping class to eat lunch with friends, or other fun memories. And just as many regrets. But on the day-to-day, I hated it. I’d often just clock out, sitting at my desk and half listening while thinking about whatever. Just sitting at my desk for the 6 hours or however long it was before going home or going to work at my part-time job after school.
That’s just how school is. We can make some outstanding memories here and there, but when boiled down to the daily routine life it’s not that interesting. Just like an office job, or pretty much anything in our lives. In-between the highs and lows there’s a lot of… middle. A lot of time spent browsing the internet, or playing a game, or sleeping, or sitting at a desk, or… you get the point.
Tying it back, when I watched that PV video it just made me realize what a contrast there is between what we often see depicted in anime and real life. Anime often makes the lives of its characters seem so eccentric and interesting, and often makes it seem like the ordinary is so much more interesting than it is. It can make everyday life seem so special.
And everyday life IS special, but that doesn’t mean that every day is particularly interesting. Often stories will omit the boring details, and of course we’d expect them to do just that. Otherwise, they’d be boring!
And slice of life anime is no exception.
I teach at two junior high schools here in Japan and I can tell you, school here is no different from school back in Canada in regards to this topic. It’s school. There are interesting moments here and there, and I’m sure that the kids are all making memories here and there. But on the day-to-day, they just show up to class, sit down, and listen.
Unlike in anime, most students make an effort to NOT stand out.
That’s the culture.
I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that it’s interesting how anime does such a good job at making the ordinary seem extraordinary, the uninteresting interesting, the boring exciting, and so on.
Everyday life really isn’t that interesting, but anime manages to remind us that you are the protagonist of your own life, with your own side characters (family, friends, acquaintances), your own interests, quirks, inside jokes, ups, downs, et cetera.
I think that message is important.
I feel like there’s something inspiring about being reminded that even the ordinary, even our everyday lives, can feel exciting and interesting. Or at least, that on the whole, our individual stories can be something really special and exciting (if we just filter out the boring parts).
But I also think it’s important to realize that in a world where everyone is the protagonist, no one is. So while our lives can be fun and quirky, we have to ground ourselves in reality.
I wasn’t originally intending on mentioning this next part, but I may as well because it relates to the topic.
Before I came to Japan I read and was told many times that after the initial “honeymoon phase” of arriving in Japan wore off, reality would set in and leave me feeling homesick, a little disappointed and even possibly irritated at Japan for being different from what I’m comfortable with.
But I came here with realistic expectations, and I knew that Japan wasn’t a magical land where my life would all of the sudden just transform into something super interesting and fun like in anime. I don’t really feel all that different today compared to the first day I woke up in Japan.
Unfortunately, a lot of people that come here (or want to come here) actually do think that way, that Japan IS just like you see in anime, and actually think that by coming and living here, their life will all of the sudden change for the better. That their life will become more exciting, just like it’s depicted in so many anime. I know this both from what I’ve been told, stories I’ve heard, and countless cases (or cases in the making) that I’ve read online.
Life doesn’t work that way. The location does not change the individual. Any baggage you currently have will not just magically go away if you go somewhere else. I learned that myself several years ago when I moved to Vancouver from Ontario thinking that my life and tendencies would change. They didn’t, because I ended up getting caught up in work and making no efforts to change., despite moving ~4500km across Canada.
At best, changing location can act as a catalyst for you to change yourself. When I came to Japan, I decided that I’d stop saying “no”. No matter what, if someone invites me to do something, I’ll do it if I have no prior plans. And I’ll make more of an effort to make the initial invitations as well. Thanks to this mindset, I’ve seen and done so much more here than I otherwise would have, and it’s been very rewarding.
You are the protagonist of your own life.
That applies always, regardless of how mundane life may be at times.
But it applies to everyone, so be considerate.
You are special, but so are they.
Life isn’t always as exciting as it is depicted in anime, but in the grand scheme of things, I think all of our lives would make for some pretty interesting and exciting stories.
Until next time,
Thanks for reading.