Suicide is a serious issue everywhere, but in Japan it's a particular problem. The nation typically ranks among those with the highest suicide rate worldwide every year. Approximately 21.7 per 100,000 Japanese nationals commit suicide annually. Thankfully, those rates are going down, but the prevalence of the issue ensures that it will show up in all forms of media, including anime.Suicidal characters in anime appear in all genres, from shonen epics like Naruto to tightly focused slice-of-life shows like Orange. Some anime featuring suicide deal with this dark subject in a nuanced, respectful way, while others handle the issue poorly. Through the anime that does it well, viewers can better understand suicide and develop empathy for those it impacts. Through the anime that doesn't, we can start thinking about how media can better reflect our reality.
Myself; YourselfPhoto: Doga Kobo
In Myself; Yourself, the two main characters, Sana Hidaka and Nanaka Yatsushiro, both have a history of suicide attempts. Sana was bullied severely in middle school, which caused him to slit his wrists. Though he survived, he's left with a debilitating fear of blood.
Meanwhile, Nanaka is repressing a traumatic memory. Her father burned himself and her mother to death when he found out that Nanaka wasn't his daughter, but rather the result of his wife's infidelity. When the memories return, she can't cope, and she attempts suicide. Sana saves her life, overcoming his blood phobia to do so.
The series has been criticized (correctly) for glossing over the serious nature of the suicide attempts, and instead focusing more on romance and unrelated subplots than the legitimate mental health issues that come up.
- Photo: Gainax, Tatsunoko Production
Asuka Langley Sohryu, one of the protagonists of Evangelion, is a self-assured, aggressive workaholic who serves as a foil for the meek and morose Shinji Ikari. Beneath her brash nature, however, lies a childhood marred by her mother's depression and eventual suicide. Due to her mental illness, Asuka's mother was unable to give her young daughter the love that she needed. In fact, there are times when she's outright abusive.
One day, Asuka found her mother hanging from a noose after a successful suicide attempt. After that, Asuka gave up on genuine emotional connection, and funneled all her energy into her work, including her job as an Eva pilot. We learn little, if anything, about what drove Asuka's mother to such depths of despair.
Like most of the characters in Evangelion, Asuka and her mother were used as sounding boards for seriescreator Hideaki Anno's own emotional troubles. During production, he suffered a nervous breakdown, which is said to have influenced the direction of the series.
Sayonara Zetsubou SenseiPhoto: Shaft
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is about teacher prone of fits of misery. He attempts suicide at the slightest provocation. He also spreads his negative outlook to his students, going so far as to try and persuade them to commit suicide, too. Because Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is a comedy, suicide and other mental mental health issues are played for laughs.Considering the high rates of suicide among both teachers and students in Japan, there are two ways to look at this. One is that a serious issues are best handled through laughter. The other is that attempting to wring humor out of such a painful and widespread problem is insensitive and counterproductive. You really kind of have to watch Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei to judge for yourself.
- Photo: Palm Studio
Genshiken, a series about a college anime club, features a character named Chika Ogiue. She throws herself off a building after her "friends" traumatize a classmate by showing him a pornographic drawing Chika had made of him. She survives the suicide attempt.
While the show takes this particular event somewhat seriously, it's played for laughs throughout the series. Chika regularly attempts to leap out the window whenever she gets embarrassed about other people seeing her explicit artwork. The tone is more "haha, she draws yaoi and it's hilarious," rather than examining the implications of repeated suicide attempts, or the fact that drawing porn of real people and then letting them see it is actually a form sexual abuse. Frankly, it comes off fairly tone deaf.