A couple of kids

So, in the previous post, I concluded that while it’s obvious that some people are turned on by virgins, and some people even demand virginity on some sort of moral basis, it’s presence in anime is probably just a side-effect of a bigger trend, of focusing all series on the general themes of youth.

But what about this more innocent trend, of always telling stories about teenagers ? Isn’t that still killing  the creative freedom of anime? After all, there are only so many stories that can be told with teenagers in the main cast!

Well, yeah, it is really a strange, unreasonable, and counterintuitive limit on main casts and settings, but I believe, that in the end, it’s not so much “the cancer that is killing anime”, as “the sprained leg that is making anime walk funny”. It would be a horribly disruptive limit in any other medium, but this one has several strange genre conventions, that more or less balance it out.

You see, the thing with anime characters, is that they are not real people. I mean, of course they are not real people, but they are not real, as “a people”. They are not intended to accurately represent any existing demographic group. Just like with their ethnicity: they are nominally Japanese, but drawn as stateless characters that look neither Japanese nor white.  How is their eye shaped? Like anime-eyes!  What hair colors can they have? Anime hair colors! What do they look like? Like anime-folk! Basically, they are a sui generis demographic, that can only be defined in itself.

The same can be applied to their age. How old do they look like? Exactly as old as they need to.

That boy is younger than the girl

And how old do they act like?

Exactly as old as they need to. Just like their visual styles, their personalities and abilities vary from the cartoonishly infantile, to the ridiculously competent and/or serious. And I’m not just talking about the few most famous super-geniuses, but even the average characters. For example, Evangelion continues to be the only show to point out, that kids are not exactly the best material for earth-defending badass warriors. In every other action show, it’s taken for granted that these “anime-folk” are as brave and responsible, as any soldier. Likewise, Infinite Ryvius continues to be the only one to point out that kids are horrible organizers, who probably couldn’t live on their own, and if they would try, it would all end up like in Lord of the Flies. Still, in every other show, they live alone, or with invisible parents, and their student councils practically run the schools.

You can’t write it off as “well, they tried to write teenagers, but screwed up the characterization”.  Just like you can’t say that “they all try to draw realistic japanese people, and fail at it”, there are so many examples like these following a pattern, that are consistently used with a clear intention, that it’s clear that the writers don’t even try to write real teenagers. They write a unique type of nominally teenaged “anime-folk”, that can assume certain attributes of teenagers when the plot demands.

If the story wants to invoke a nostalgic memory of the audience’s school days, then these characters have a significant school life. If it doesn’t than they don’t, or it’s barely referenced. (e.g.: Bakuman, Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?).

If it’s a romantic drama, then all the characters will be experiencing their first love (the most dramatic kind). If it isn’t, they might as well all be asexual. (K-on, Manabi Straight!)

If it’s a fanservice show, most characters will have huge adult boobs. If it’s not, they will be either more realistic, or unrealistically immature.

All things considered, I can only think of two significant role types that can’t be told with these nominally childish characters at all, and these are parenthood,  and the single lifestyle. But other than these two, pretty much anything goes. They can play an armed resistance, spaceship crew, yakuza leaders, novelists, knights, maids, gods… Probably the last time this trick was used, you didn’t even  stop to think about their age, just subconsciously accepted that anime-folk can do that.

So in the end, this handicap doesn’t seriously limit the kinds of plots that can be told. At worst, it only limits the kinds of atmospheres, enforcing the feeling of innocence in all of these, so you would be out of luck only if you would be interested in some other atmosphere that directly contradicts that, such as manliness, or promisculity, or a mid-life crisis.

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