A few minutes ago I finished watching the anime, Assassination Classroom. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show, but on a deeper level, it fulfilled a need within me to keep pushing for a better future.
For a show about a classroom of students attempting to kill their super powerful teacher before he can destroy the world, the show had a mix of action and humour, but also of self reflection. Some of the key themes of the show are about the uncertainty of the future, how much your past impacts that future, and how to take your strengths and flaws and use them to the best effect. Take away the flashy assassination backdrop and it is a simple coming of age story. Something we can all relate to.
At twenty fours years old, I guess I’m already past the bounds of the whole ‘coming of age’ idea. It doesn’t feel like it though. In my own heart and head, I’m still just as much the lost, lonely kid that I was in school. If anything, I worry more about the future now as I watch those around me transition as I flounder without secured employment, friends to enjoy life with and a partner to share my dreams and insecurities with. At school there feels like there’s always more time for things to work out, time for new opportunities to appear. But then, things rarely ever run smoothly.
I often wonder if the best days of my life are already gone and that I had somehow squandered all of the opportunities that the school environment held. My focus was always on my one dream of becoming a writer, and my social anxiety ensured that I used this passion to escape from the real world. I felt uncomfortable around people so I hid away, the problem only growing as I ignored it until I may as well have been another species for how well I interacted with other people.
Gradually, I fell into long term depression. The worlds and characters of my own creation were the only things that gave me comfort. Other people didn’t understand me, and looking back, I didn’t understand myself. I began to lose hope, to lose faith in my own skills and my own sense of self.
That was when I watched the anime, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
This was a show that opened my eyes in a way that allowed me to reflect on myself in a new way. It, like Assassination Classroom, is fundamentally a coming of age story. The central character, Simon, is a shy, anxious boy who has no sense of self value. He drags himself through each day, living only to survive. He had no ambition and could only see the doubt within himself. I saw a lot of myself in him. He wasn’t exactly likable, but then I didn’t exactly like myself either.
And then there was Kamina. Kamina became Simon’s self-styled big brother and mentor, pushing him forwards and giving him a goal to strive for. He is the embodiment of confidence and passion and became an instant fan favourite because of what he represented. Simon looks up to him like a role model, someone who he wants to become when he is older, and I believe that this is reflected in the audience too.
Without this diverging into an essay on Gurren Lagann, suffice it to say that Kamina gave Simon hope and taught him how to be his own man, even if Simon didn’t understand it at the time. Simon stumbled, suffered loss and hardship, but he always continued moving forwards. He grew thanks to the help of those around him and he became something great.
This in turn gave me hope. It gave me words to live by and helped me to develop my own sense of identity. If I’m ever feeling particularly down then I’ll still re-watch it to this day. It didn’t solve my problems but it helped me to better understand them.
But it also left a certain emptiness in me.
The main thing that I keep coming back to is the idea of the mentor. Kamina, and then later Nia, were what allowed Simon to grow while in Assassination Classroom it was Korosensei who helped his students to develop as individuals. We grow attached to these characters because they represent exactly what we long for in life: a helping hand to show us the way and teach us how to be the best that we can be.
Sadly though, too few of us ever have this figure in our lives. As I sank into darkness and watched my hope fade, I longed for someone to grab my hand and place their faith in me, somebody who I could rely on to become my foundation. To this day they haven’t come, and maybe they never will, so, as sad as it may seem, I draw upon the guidance of these fictional characters to steal a few days of motivation and self-assurance to keep pushing for my dreams.
Anime is full of underdogs who rise to greatness. The more dramatic style of characterisation lends itself to creating these inspirational mentors who can capture our minds. I’ve never really found the same experience with other types of shows. It is strange, but after watching Gurren Lagann, Assassination Classroom, My Hero Academia, or any number of other anime, I feel confident and able, if only for a few days until the creeping shade of reality falls back into place.
I don’t really know what the point of this post is. I just felt that it needed writing. Maybe folk reading this are in the same boat as me. Maybe you look to anime for the drive to continue, for the sensation that you are part of something larger, or that you could achieve anything if you had the right person to look up to and believe in.
I may be no Kamina, Korosensei or All Might, but for what it’s worth, don’t give up. We all have our own battles to fight. Our battles aren’t exactly something we can physically engage with though. There aren’t foes to be beaten. They are too often lonely battles against ourselves and the society that surround us. We don’t have power-ups or plot armour. We’re just flawed individuals trying to find happiness in an uncaring universe. So talk to me if you need it. Tell me your dreams so that I can believe in them.
The universe might not care, but I do.