Money makes the world go 'round, but anime often fails to address its characters' financial situations. Anyone who's ever been broke knows exactly how much money impacts every facet of a person's life. Escapism can be fun, but it's also nice to see characters dealing with real world issues. While some heroes can gallivant around the world without worrying about where their next meal is coming from (how does Ash Ketchum afford all those Poké Balls, anyway?), there are tons of anime characters with no money who still manage to make it work in a realistic fashion.
Some broke anime characters spend every waking moment in pursuit of their next big payday. Others accept their situations, and try to find cost-free paths to happiness. While a few shows have some seriously weird messages about poverty and classism, others provide a nuanced window into a real-world issue.
Haruhi Fujioka of Ouran High School Host Club is a scholarship student at the prestigious, hyper-expensive Ouran High School. After she accidentally breaks a valuable vase, she has to join the host club to pay for the damages. Haruhi's lifestyle is presented as "normal," and she is noticeably more down-to-Earth than her rich new friends. Her meager financial circumstances aren't mocked, but the show does poke fun at the obliviousness of the wealthy. One joke involves Tamaki's fascination with instant coffee, which he's never seen before.
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Ichirō Komaba — Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon is an anime about the joys of life on a farm, but it doesn't shy away from depicting the harsh realities of the agricultural industry. After his father works himself to death, Ichirō Komaba's family farm goes bankrupt. With no income and a ton of debt to pay off, Komaba has to give up on his hopes for the future, which include taking over the business and playing professional baseball. He drops out of high school and starts job hunting. Meanwhile, the Komabas' neighbors are also in trouble, as they co-signed a loan on the farm.
The show presents a hard look at the real financial hardships suffered by a class of people who most never think about. Not every problem on the show can wrap up with a happy ending, and everyone involved has to learn how to make due with their new realities.
Team Rocket — Pokémon
Team Rocket consists of Jessie and James, the permanently broke villains of the Pokémon world. While they work for a larger organization, their paycheck seems to be based on commission, as they are only rewarded when they successfully steal Pokémon. Since they're terrible at their jobs, they're constantly broke. Their failure is routinely played for laughs, but in reality, their seemingly evil intent is a side effect of abject poverty.
James grew up in a wealthy yet emotionally abusive family, and lost all access to their money when he chose to run away from home. He constantly experiences hunger pangs, but he prefers them to the way his parents made him feel. Jessie was born into a poor family, and often was forced to eat snow to survive. Even Meowth had it pretty rough, as his parents abandoned him at Camp Pokéhearst when he was young, and he spent his adolescence begging for food on the streets of Hollywood, a few miles from Los Angeles's Skid Row.
While they should still be held accountable for their actions, there's no reason to believe Team Rocket would continue to steal Pokémon if they could put food on their table through legal methods.
At the start of Fruits Basket, Tohru Honda is living in a tent. Her mother recently passed away, and her relatives aren't particularly generous, so she has no money and nowhere to go. The Sohma family takes her in, but she has to earn her keep by handling household chores and cooking. On top of that, she has to work a part-time job in order to pay her high school tuition, as the show takes place prior to Japan's 2010 Act on Free Tuition Fee at Public High Schools and High School Enrollment Support Fund. Despite these hardships, Tohru embraces her life of poverty, along with basically everything else.
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