NOTE: This is a very heavy and personal discussion. Please comment with maturity. Part of the Diary of an Anime Lived series.
When I was done being ‘so fucked up’ like Shinji, anime helped me grow a pair of balls. It also gave me a whole new kind of worry – the future.
Flash back to summer 2007, a full year after Evangelion told me that “You Are (Not) Alone”. After Evangelion, the last four months of 06 largely involved me coming out of my shell ever-so-slowly. Tenth grade was a pretty good school year for me, as I started to make friends, especially Zerodyme, who would later become one of my closest pals and presently lives with me. In December 06, I watch the second most revolutionary anime I’ve ever seen – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I largely fall in love with for the same reasons as Evangelion (Haruhi’s backstory particularly got to me.) However, I would find Haruhi’s story far more relatable a year later in late 07.
Because of Haruhi, I had a renewed interest in anime in general, and I finally started watching some of the DVDs I’d owned for a long-ass time but never gotten around to watching, as well as buying new ones like Kino’s Journey, Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, and the first disk of Haibane Renmei. However, in February I was introduced to something brand new that would flip my whole world on it’s shoulders – CURRENTLY. AIRING. ANIME.
I had never even realized that such a thing was possible before. However, Megatokyo’s anime forum showed me the way, and I soon began hitting up places like YouTube, Veoh, and Crunchyroll in search of streams. I started with what was popular at the time – Key/KyoAni shows like Air and Kanon, and I was blown away by this genre of anime I’d never seen before (having formerly only ever watched action shows.) I then caught on to some currently airing joints, like Manabi Straight and Hidamari Sketch (neither of which would finish getting subbed until long after they finished airing.) When the 2007 Spring season began, I had caught on to the fact that shows start all at once, and I took on the whole batch – Gurren Lagann, Hayate the Combat Butler, Darker Than Black, Lucky Star, etc. And then, in mid-May 2007….. I started “Digital Boy’s Anime Bloggin'” (hint: It’s called something different now!).
Anime was truly what brought me out of my depressed life (that and a move in April 07 into the badass house I lived in till a month ago, when I moved into an even more badass house.) Maybe it was because I had something I could truly get lost in, or because I was a member of a real community, or just because of the changes in the outside world, but I stopped being an emo teenager, and started to genuinely be… happy.
The third anime to truly connect with me was Welcome to the NHK, because it reflected my life as a perpetual shut-in. However, I very much misunderstood NHK the first time I saw it, and as much as I wanted to feel connected to it, it didn’t change my life, and I would find it a far more interesting story further down the line, which is why I’m not going to post about it. Instead, I am going to fast-forward a bit into mid August.
I guess it was because I had been breaking out of my shell, but in the summer 0f 07, I decided I was going to do as ‘well’ as possible when I reached 11th grade. I signed up for advanced English, as well as a college course that I would be transported to bi-daily, and had filled my schedule. I wanted to really try and succeed for the first time in a long time. However, I still didn’t truly know if I was doing the right thing, or if I could really accomplish what I wanted to (I would come to refer to this summer as ‘the summer of smiling fear.’) It was in the midst of that confusion in mid-August that I watched Hitohira.
I know that you probably never watched Hitohira, and probably have never even heard of it, so I’ll give you the low-down. The show is about a drama club that is trying to survive in a school that also has a theater club. The three club members remaining are all seniors, and they are hoping to recruit some freshman to help them keep the club alive. It has also been decided that in the middle of the year, a stage competition will be held between the two clubs, and whichever club is voted the better will get to remain operative.
The main character is a freshman who is so timid she can’t even speak around other people, and yet when provoked, she lets out a beautiful voice, which inspires the enigmatic drama club president to scout her. Long, dramatic, lesbian story short, the drama club looses the competition even as they bond as friends. However, the show goes beyond that, and the real penultimate scene is when the main character pleads to the club leader that she doesn’t know what to do with her life once she graduates, and that she has no direction, but the drama club president pretty much tells her ‘you’re going to have to grow up on your own and move into the world on your own, and out there, we’ll meet on equal grounds.’
This was a pretty powerful message for me, because I felt just like the main character, with no real idea of what direction I was headed – I was just beating forward without any rhyme or reason and not really looking ahead. I had signed up for all of these classes and had this whole plan for ‘success’, but I didn’t really know where that path would actually lead me, or whether it was the right thing, and like Mugi, I was just scared as fuck of what the future would bring. But it was about 2 weeks later that I would have the megaton hammer dropped on me when I marathoned Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight with my little brother.
Once again, I’m sure you haven’t seen Manabi, so here’s the short and sweet version. Same timid protagonist, but this time the character who gets her through is the young female version of Kamina, Amamiya “Manabi” Manami, who revolutionizes her entire school and helps everyone in the student council to grow as people and eventually go forth into the world after graduation. If you REALLY don’t wan tot be spoiled for Manabi, you may want to stop reading, but honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal in this case.
What struck me was the ending. After the graduation, Manabi does what I’ve still yet to see in another anime, which is showing us where all the girls went from there. The protagonist, having become mature, goes off to study in America alone. One girl goes to college, one girl becomes a professional baseball player, one works as a magazine photography, and then there’s Manabi. Manabi became a freeter – a person who hops between random part-time jobs. A freeter. A freeter! A person who is perfectly satisfied and sustaining a living through experiencing different things! A FREETER!!!!
The night after watching Manabi Straight, I had a nervous breakdown. I cried more than I have ever cried in my entire life, loudly, for hours. Everything that I was confused about had now outright been thrown into question. Why? Because I never really cared about success. I never really had this desire to go to college and get a nice job – the ideas that my dad has never stopped cramming down my goddamn fucking throat. I had no desire whatsoever to push myself in schoolwork and be a straight-A student. Especially not when there is the possibility that I could be perfectly satisfied being a freeter!
But I couldn’t bring myself to choose one side. Because I felt like I couldn’t waste this chance. I didn’t want to flush it all away and regret it some time in the future. On the one hand, I wanted to live for what I believed in, and never succumb to the pressure to be successful. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to find myself disappointed by the final direction of my life.
It was too much. I broke. the. fuck. down. I was sending messages to all of my older friends, college students and graduates who I wanted to hear advice from. I’ve actually gone and lifted one of the messages I sent out of my old sent items folder here…..
“I already just asked Rach about this, but since I figure I can rely on you just as much as him, I decided to bug you as well. It doesn’t really matter what kind of answer you give, I just really need to hear from someone. You guys are practically my only friends…
I want to know what happens to me once I graduate high-school. I want to know what it’s like when i have to move onward. I’m frightened – I’ve gotten so scared that I can’t stop crying. I’m scared of what’s going to happen to me. Where I’m suppposed to go or do and does anything I’m doing now even matter in the future?
I’m sorry to sit here and cry on your shoulder in as literal a sense as the internet allows, but I really really need some help. I haven’t cried like this since I was a little kid, I’m so afraid.”
The answers that I got back would be enough to satiate me a little, and keep me from totally giving up. However, I still to this day haven’t gotten over the confusion of which direction I should really be moving. I don’t think I can say I was cured of it – I spent the entirety of 11th grade fully intending to drop out at any given moment. It was, by FAR, my worst year of high school. I actually finished that year with a GPA of 1.9, and I failed Algebra II with like a 10% (which I would pass with a high B in my senior year.) The feelings that I have towards Manabi Straight still exist. I still wonder every moment if I should just run out and become a freeter.
I would come to feel similarly towards NieA_7 in late November 07, a show that is less about what you should do with your life after a major event like graduation, but more about whether or not you are really satisfied where you are. I would have included that show here, but that show came at a different time, and is a part of a different story. A story you’ll hear soon if I haven’t run off job hunting by morning! XD