Anime Family Dynamics: What’s Your Anime Family?
Many people assume that anime is for families and kids. There’s nothing complicated about something that’s a cartoon, right? Wrong! Wrong on so many accounts! Anime has many different facets that makes each one much more complicated than anybody could ever imagine. A major facet about anime that seems to be often overlooked is anime families.
My family is my strength and my weakness.
-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
You’d assume that just because it’s an anime, the families are simple, but that’s far from the case. Just like in reality, every familial situation differs and affects each individual in a different way. Anime families are surprisingly complex which adds additional layers to the overall story of the anime. Let us discuss the types of anime family dynamics that have existed in anime for generations and we’ll see just how “childish” anime really is. But be warned, there may be spoilers ahead.
Orphans and Absent Parents in Anime
A common situation in anime families is one where the main character is an orphan or his or her parents are absent. When the parents are absent, the children may reference their parents in passing or we are made to believe that the child is somehow surviving on their own without any further explanation. But they’re alive so someone must be taking care behind the scenes, right?
Traditionally, in Japan, fathers are often not expected to be involved in child rearing nor is their presence at home before a certain time of day deemed acceptable. Mothers are expected to tend to all of a child’s needs, but in the case that a mother is working as well, the child is left to fend for his or herself (though the parents will usually take care of the finances). Note, this is actually an artifact of the inherent sexism in anime, manga, and comics in general.
Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.-David Ogden Stiers
Who could forget the popular quote by David Ogden Stiers which was also altered and used for the hit movie Lilo & Stitch? The quote rings true, especially when it comes to anime families. Usually, when parents are absent, anime sibling relationships will strengthen and the characters will do everything within their power to take care of each other. This usually results in a very protective relationship between siblings. If the character does not have siblings, any form of leftover family or close friend may have the same bond with the main character.
You can see this situation in Charlotte where the parents are absent and the siblings bond together into a close knit family to give each other the support that would otherwise be given by proper parental figures.
In similar situations, anime characters will draw on their loneliness and use their own loneliness as a way to give strength to others and protect them. Honda Tohru from Fruits Basket is a prime example of this as she is usually drawing from her love of her deceased mother to give others the will to live on and protect them from losing their way. Tohru becomes the motherly figure that her mother, Kyouko, once was for her, attracting broken souls in need of healing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, although abandonment can give some characters strength, other characters may draw trauma from their terrible childhood and it can negatively affect their entire personality. If you consider Mogami Kyouko from Skip Beat!, she appears to be quite normal (for the most part), yet when confronted by her mother, Kyouko becomes completely downtrodden and shaken due to being abandoned in the past. Her mother is Kyouko’s crutch.
As you can see, characters why may not have strong parental guidance in an anime draw from their situations different strengths and weaknesses that help to make the series as good as it is. Just because characters have similar situations does not mean they end up the same in the end.
Single Parent Households in Anime
Another common family situation in anime, like in real life, are single parent households. One of the parents may have passed away or run away from the situation, leaving behind a single parent and a child in need of care. In these cases, many single parents attempt to make up for what is lacking and take on both roles to become the “perfect parent,” but whether or not they are successful depends on the situation.
As expected, single parent households have a tough time overcoming the many hurdles that come with single parenthood. Clannad is the perfect anime to look at for anime family dynamics! Okazaki Tomoya was raised in a single parent household where his father attempted to take on the role of the “perfect parent.” Tomoya’s father had a tough road ahead of him and Tomoya didn’t have enough understanding to allow him to accept his father’s mistakes, causing a rift to form between the father and son duo. This is a situation in which a single parent household led to personal trauma that negatively affected both the life of Tomoya, his future family, as well as his own father. However, not all situations are the same. Miracles do happen, and especially in anime!
On a more positive note, if you take a look at the manga Fruits Basket, you will get to read about Tohru’s upraising under the care of her single mother after the death of her father, which occurs prior to the events of the anime. Kyouko did everything she could to care for Tohru on her own and ensure her well-being regardless of what had to be done. But Kyouko did not all together abandon her responsibilities and dwell on her sadness because Tohru kept her together enough that she chose to live on for Tohru’s sake. Kyouko and Tohru’s relationship was a symbiotic one in which they both benefited from the other in some way, leading to a stronger family relationship between the two.
Somewhat flimsy single parent households can also be cause of concern for some children as they can become quite overprotective of their parent to ensure the family dynamic, much like any other family. If you want an example, you may want to consider Mirai Kunio from Great Teacher Onizuka who does everything he can to keep his mother out of the clutches of Onizuka.
Yes, it seems that there is a great spectrum of influence a single parent household can have on a child.
Makeshift Families in Anime
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
After taking a look at single parent households and orphans/absent parent households, the other most common anime family dynamic is the makeshift family! A makeshift family is essentially a family formed by choice between individuals who may not share a blood bond but another bond that brings them together.
Some may think that relationships not formed of blood are weak, like with acquaintances, but that is far from the truth! You may want to consider Fairy Tail, which is a series with many characters who have been orphaned, left behind, or ran away from home – but these characters band together to make a very close knit family that will not hesitate to protect each other. Their own blood bonds may not be strong, but the members of Fairy Tail have found a family that is closer than that all on their own. It is a family that will sacrifice their own lives for each other regardless of the situation. Once you’re apart of Fairy Tail, you’re family for life.
If you’re still not sure about makeshift families in anime, Mawaru Penguindrum is another series that takes a look at the close bonds between makeshift family members. Although they are originally portrayed as a regular family of orphaned children (regular being used loosely), Kanba, Shouma, and Himari are not related to each other at all by blood, yet both Kanba and Shouma are willing to do everything to keep Himari alive. While their motives are up for interpretation, it is clear that there is a strong bond that holds this family together and that bond is not made of blood.
Many may question the strength of makeshift families, but it is evident that while there are many different complex situations acting as the base, makeshift families are strongly built and cannot falter. It is a community of broken individuals for healing so how could you not believe in them? Isn’t that why you don’t see many makeshift families break as much as you see real families?
Classic “Standard” Families in Anime
Speaking of real families, what about standard families? By that, I mean there are families that consist of a present father and mother to take care of all the children. People don’t realize this but the inclusion of both parents in a family situation in an anime is a way to make an anime more real to viewers as they get to see all family situations portrayed in an anime. As normal as it seems, surprisingly enough, the classic family is not a very common situation in anime as we were prone to grow up believing, but it does very much exist.
Despite the presence of both parents, the family may be a dysfunctional family, as they do exist on all levels of family dynamics. Actually, quite often, anime families consisting of both parents creates a situation that will lead to a great deal of stress or pressure on the child. In Sword Art Online, Asuna is raised as an upper class lady and her parents are present, but that also means that they have a great deal of expectations for her that is the cause of a large amount of her distress throughout the series. It’s also the reason why she ends up in the very unpleasant arranged marriage that almost ended her life. Even Killua from Hunter x Hunter is under the pressure of having to take on his family’s name so much so that it gets in the way of his own happiness and puts the lives of his friends in danger. Who wants to live with that type of pressure?
The Fruits of Grisaia also takes a look at the dark sides of a parent. It is not always a positive situation when your parents are present and Yuuji is often left behind by his parents in favor of his sister, starved, and ignored despite his parents being present. When his sister ends up in an accident that may have cost her life, Yuuji is left with an alcoholic and abusive father and a cowardly mother which only causes problems. No one tries to right the wrong. Yuuji is only plummeted further into darkness by the psychological problems of his parents.
Despite saying all of that, not every classic family dynamic is a disastrous one in anime. If you consider the Furukawa family from Clannad, you will see a family that cares about each other enough to sacrifice their dreams to take care of someone else. They’re a family that clearly loves each other regardless of the situation. They continue smiling to keep the darkness out no matter how much happens. That’s what a family is all about! Don’t think that every anime family is pointed towards disaster!
So What Now?
When people say that anime is for children, they don’t realize the diversity and complexity within a single plot, which we can see clearly from the types of anime families included. Each anime family has their own dynamic and effect upon the characters. The anime family dynamics help to create layering in the story to add depth and capture the viewer’s interest. You get to see what a character’s family dynamic does to the child and how it can overall affect their future. How many children’s cartoons have such complexity in their backstory?
With so many different ways on how anime families are set up, don’t you think about your own family dynamics? Have you found an anime family dynamic where your family fits?