You are the main character of your own life.

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.

Gaen didn’t get that memo.

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.

22 thoughts on “You are the main character of your own life.

  1. Completely agree about the need to ground yourself. These series work very much like Facebook in that you only see the interesting parts of people’s lives and they’re often exaggerated. Failing to remember that and that 90% of anyone’s life is boring and mundane can make people question their own lives. It’s a dangerous process that has lead to a lot anxiety and mental issues in an entire generation.

    “Why isn’t my life exciting?”

    But like you say, you’ve got to make it exciting. Take those chances and opportunities that present themselves. Step outside your comfort zone. Moving to somewhere new creates a great opportunity to do that, but you still have to say yes to things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah that’s a good point. Social media is probably the biggest perpetrator of this “glamorization” of people’s lives, way moreso than anime for sure. People tend to only show off the good.

      Reminds me of the lyrics to the Rise Against song The Approaching Curve (about a outwardly great relationship that fell apart):

      As we were, so perfect, so happy
      They’ll remember, only our smiles cause that’s all they’ve seen
      Long since dried, when we are found, are the tears in which we had drowned
      As we were, so perfect, so happy

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think in the US we have a few stories like that, “Groundhog Day”, is one. And G. K. Chesterton and George Macdonald both wrote of the extraordinary being found in the ordinary.
    It is one of my favorite things about anime, and why I like SLO and shouja anime more than shonen.
    Your experience of Japan reminds me of my experience of Cambodia. I wasn’t there long enough for culture shock to set in, but what I enjoyed the most was the every day life stuff I did, not the sightseeing and exotic, that’s how I tend to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’ve done some sightseeing here with friends and while I appreciated doing so, honestly touristy stuff isn’t really interesting to me. I came to Japan with no real interest in the cuisine (I find it average at best) or in going to all the tourist hotspots. I just wanted to try a completely different job for a while, and this job also had the benefit of being able to experience Japanese culture / daily life which has been great.

      Like

  3. Really enjoyed this post and the song you linked (I’ve heard it before, but on a second listen, it really is catchy. And pretty PV).

    Great to hear that you’re still enjoying Japan, and happy to learn that you’ll probably have many more fun experiences to share!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Right on! Life isn’t the best right now, but what I do is what I enjoy. Writing is fun and I want to keep doing it. Every little thing I do has meaning and I’m glad anime was part of my journey and will continue being.

    Like

  5. Having reasonable expectations is always for the best. Not like Japan is a fairy tale land after all; it’s the real world like all the rest of Earth, only some people here tend to idealize it.

    But also, if I’m the main character of my life, I’m going to have some serious words with the author if I ever meet them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “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.”

    This sentence made me LOL. I know what you mean, especially with some of the weeaboo folks. I know one story of a kid who went to Japan with this mindset, and when he came back to Canada he was depressed because of reality hitting him hard.

    Anyways, back to your post’s main message… I get that feeling from anime too. It’s taught me to try and enjoy life, even the littlest things, to the best of your ability. For example, in my second year of university (2016), I was just downtrodden due to an overload of boring schoolwork, I could barely keep up. I started watching an anime from my childhood, Digimon Adventure, and all of a sudden it clicked within me. All the stuff the characters did, their emotions, and their relationships – it was saying to me that “Life is worth living, and don’t let the hard stuff get in the way of you!” AND THIS MESSAGE SAVED MY SANITY. After that, it was down the rabbit hole of anime – and I continue to see this message reflected in such shows like Nichijou, Love Live, Hinamatsuri, Evangelion etc…

    Also, for me I think the only Western show that can really capture the beauty of life is probably “The Karate Kid” trilogy from the 1980s. I loved that film, knew a lot of the quotes from the film by heart, and still do to this day (I make it tradition to watch the trilogy every summer). It had a great message of overcoming your fears, personal development and not to mention, Pat Morita absolutely clinching it with his role as “voice of reason” Mr. Miyagi. I’ve yet to find a film that captures the same magic as that film.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I personally believe that contentment is the key to happiness. I’m so grateful that I was raised to reject materialism and to have the confidence to not rely on others for affirmation. It’s so easy to be happy when you have realistic expectations of life I think!

      I’ve actually never seen the Karate Kid aside from the ending of the first movie haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The girl in the video preview is Eruna from the LN/manga series Mikagura School Suite (Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku), so…there is an anime for it. It was released 5 years ago to only moderate fanfare, if AniList is anything to go by. (I remember dropping it due to the fact Eruna is obsessed with looking at things with yuri goggles, though.)

    As for the post itself…I admit I was kinda guilty of having a sort-of reverse Paris syndrome…Not in the sense suddenly my life would become an anime if I went (like some weebs do), or but rather I would feel like I’d found a “home away from home”, much like I feel about Hong Kong and my aunt’s place in Los Angeles, because I’d tied myself so closely to a culture I hadn’t experienced personally until 2019. Part of that may have been my parents had basically dragged my family along on a whirlwind Chinese-speaking tour of Japan without much warning, part of that may have been because I tried to watch whatever late-night anime I could…which is not advisable when anime runs until 1 am and you have to get up at 7 am…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I guess I could have just searched up the name!

      Did you live in Japan? Or you just felt that way when you visited?

      I’m sure it’s more a vocal minority of weebs that actually end up really shocked in the end. I think more people fall probably into the category of thinking that moving somewhere, anywhere, will change them as a person or somehow detach them from whatever baggage they hold. Although it’s likely a combination of both for many.

      Like

      1. Gotcha.

        Honestly, I feel like what I’m most grateful for ever since coming here hasn’t necessarily been the country or it’s culture, but just the people I’ve met (many of which are just fellow foreigners) and good times I’ve shared with them. Like I mentioned in the post, I decided to make more of an effort to DO things and it’s been paying off.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020) | Everything is bad for you

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