I’ve been learning lately. That I can’t go on like this, because it’s hurting me. That I’ve been lazy and selfish. That people can’t be expected to care, when I’ve been wallowing in my anxiety for over a decade. As hopeless as it’s made me feel, I’ve had to regress to move forward, find a place where I can let go of the years and relearn how to interact with the world. How to speak and not stare at my feet. How to care for others, because that’s what being an adult means.
That place, for me, has been anime; a medium that honours the high school years as the last chance saloon of purity, where a few bad habits are fine as long as you’re starting to be responsible. As soon as you leave, you’re plunged into the adult world of choices. To get a job, or delay the inevitable by going to college. To drop the lackadaisical attitude, or live as a recluse while everyone leaves you behind, without a lasting achievement to your name, without a dream or an equal to share it. That’s where I find myself now. And while I’ve had to be cruel to myself, this singular style of animation has been a kind mentor.
Over the summer, as much a child as I’ve ever been with no real commitments, I started watching Amanchu! – a show about one girl, Futaba, lost and alone in a new town and a new school, who meets the zany Pikari, self-confident and unshakeable. Pikari’s calling is scuba diving, and until now, Futaba hasn’t seen so much determination in anyone, even herself. She’s been too scared to do anything beyond shrug things off or leave things behind. Even when she’s felt angry or hurt, standing up for her own pride was a terrifying, impossible prospect. She’s fragile, lonely, hopeful and pathetic. She’s just like me.
It’s the easiest and most difficult thing to go back to that time, in my imagination or in my memory. Going to that place is acknowledging where I’ve been stuck all this time. Back by the school’s side door having my head beaten against the drainpipe, sitting in silence and letting everything happen. Letting it all slip past me even now, when I risk losing the one person I can share this despair with. It’s not even that I don’t want to try. I just can’t find the one thing inside me to change, because it isn’t one thing, it’s everything. There are no simple steps, it’s having it all or having nothing. Being everything to someone, or being nothing to everyone.
It’s not only anime itself I find solace in, but the words of its creators too. Hideaki Anno, the mind behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, suffers from depression and the same self-loathing that I have to push through just to get anything done some days. He poured his uncertainty, confusion and misery into a show that’s become a beacon of hope for fans the world over. He moulded all he dislikes about himself into another world, a ravaged Earth invaded by Angels and protected by young souls bound to giant semi-conscious robots, the only ones who can face the alien titans head-on.
Anno says the true meaning of Evangelion isn’t to be found in its story, but how the viewer interprets it. In this one franchise, there’s always a conversation taking place between Anno and someone in the world. Someone who sees his depression and anxieties given fictional form, accepts them, even comes to love them, and through that accepts both themselves and Anno as they are. I’ve been wondering how I can give myself the same therapy of making a villain of my anxiety, my own Angel, something solid that can be overcome. The truth is, I’m not creative enough to spill my soul into a fantasy world. At least, not yet. Maybe that will come with time.
For now, all I can do is absorb as much inspiration as I can. Find those lines that make me cry, without feeling shame in crying. The tears always flow free in anime, whether in joy or sadness. It bundles up a much bigger repression than my own – the conservative attitudes of Japanese society – and allows it to fall away in big, fat, public tears of whatever you may be feeling at the time.
There’s another visual metaphor we’ve all seen in anime again and again. A disembodied drop of water, not necessarily a tear or rain, falling and creating a ripple in a still, endless lake. It’s a pause for thought, a moment of revelation, a swell of dread and a reset button, a universal stopping of time. It feels like purifying the moment and distilling it down to that one droplet, giving those troubled ripples a definite centre. These moments alone are calming, and when I imagine it repeating as I’ve seen in so many shows I love, I can capture solving one problem at a time, with all possibilities opened up to me.
When Futaba arrives at her new home, she meets a wise old woman who tells her that right there, in a little seaside town, an ocean of adventure is waiting for her. It’s as if she can sense Futaba’s uncertainty, in herself and beginning life on her own, and tells her something she needs to hear without being too gentle with the words. She embodies the teacher I see in anime, the one I miss from my childhood. Every dream I had back then is still out there to discover, but that ocean of adventure needs you to approach it, and then brave the water. I want to dive too, but I’m scared. The fear’s knotted up as a drop in the ocean; I have to submerge myself to get past it. I’ve managed to dip my feet in a few times. I’m getting used to the cold.