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14 Times Drugs Played A Role In Anime Storylines

Updated October 11, 2018 36.9k views14 items

There are a number of great anime series to watch while stoned, but it's rare to find actual drugs depicted in the medium itself. In Japan, drug use is met with severe legal consequences and heavy social stigma. Consequences can include arrest, prison time, deportation for foreigners, and destroyed careers - and that's just if you're caught using marijuana. Because it's so unacceptable in Japanese society, Japanese media rarely depicts drug use, and when it does, it portrays it in the most negative light possible.

While this sometimes results in a realistic exploration of the impact of drug abuse, it can also result in ham-fisted PSA-style depictions. You will rarely see a more liberal approach to drug use, and you probably won't find characters having a good time smoking weed in anime without some serious consequences. Let's take a look at the few times drugs have appeared in anime and how they were portrayed. 

  • Photo: Madhouse

    If you're looking for an anime that deals with dark, hard-hitting issues in a sensitive way, Nana is a great choice. While most anime that take on drug use do so in a flippant, throwaway manner, Nana actually digs deep into the consequences of drug abuse without seeming alarmist or unrealistic. Ren Honjo, Nana Osaki's boyfriend, starts using heroin to cope with past trauma and current pressures related to being part of a famous band. He quickly develops an addiction. With the help of his friends, he plans to go through rehab, but unfortunately dies in a car accident before he can pursue that goal. 

    Honjo isn't the only character to use drugs in Nana. Shinichi Okazaki, a 15-year-old member of the same band, starts using drugs while engaging in prostitution. He ends up getting arrested for marijuana possession, a scandal which causes the band to withdraw from their current tour. In both Nana and in Japanese society, drug use has serious consequences. However, in the anime, the characters who struggle with drugs are treated with empathy by the narrative. 

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  • Photo: Sunrise

    Cowboy Bebop actually has two instances of drug use. The first is the infamous "Mushroom Samba" episode, where the crew accidentally gets high on hallucinogenic mushrooms. This results in Faye hanging out in the bathroom making swimming motions because she thinks she's underwater, Spike walking in place because an imaginary frog told him he's walking a stairway to heaven, and Jet Black having philosophical discussions with a bonsai tree. 

    The other drug in the series, Bloody Eye, is a performance enhancing drug that's sold on the Black Market. It dramatically increases the user's strength and awareness while decreasing their emotional control. It is featured primarily in the first episode and is brought up several times throughout the series. 

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  • Photo: Manglobe

    Like Cowboy Bebop's Bloody Eye, Gangsta's Celebrer dramatically increases the user's physical strength and speed. It is also highly addictive and toxic in large doses. Overdoses are potentially fatal. Any child born to a Celebrer user will have enhanced physical abilities, a tendency toward violence, and a permanent dependency on Celebrer.

    Because these children, who are tracked by the government and referred to as Twilights, must take the drug in order to survive, their children will also be Twilights and dependency on the drug will continue for generations. In addition to drug dependency, the children of Celebrer users are often saddled with multiple physical and mental health problems, called "compensation" in the show. 

    Gangsta depicts drug use in a very aggressive metaphor. While Celebrer does not function exactly the way that real world drugs do, it's true that children born to habitual drug users can be born addicted to those drugs, and suffer multiple physical and mental health problems as a result of being exposed to drugs in utero. 

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  • To the uninitiated, CLANNAD might look like a fluffy shojo series that doesn't deal with serious issues. Looks are deceiving: CLANNAD handles death, abuse, and yes, drug use. Yusuke Yoshino, Tomoya's mentor and first boss, struggled with drug addiction when he was young. Yoshino was a rock musician who began his career so that he could empty out his emotions through music. When he realized that other people were imposing their own emotional realities onto his songs, he couldn't cope with it and started using drugs.

    Shortly thereafter, Yoshino's career fell apart. After he got off the drugs, Yoshino restarted his life as an electrician engaged to his high school sweetheart, Kouko. His current life, while not what he envisioned as a teenager, is actually a pretty good one. Drugs didn't ruin his life - they simply put him on a different path. This is a unique portrayal of drug use in anime. 

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