Sadness is an incredibly powerful emotion. Many of us know this from first-hand experience, whether it be short term grief, lingering sadness, or chronic battles with depression. Thankfully, entertainment can provide a bit of relief from these emotions when they become too overwhelming. Interestingly enough, the entertainment we turn to in these times can vary wildly in terms of its tone and theme.
Some people attempt to cope with sadness by trying to watch something that will potentially infuse them with happiness; watching something upbeat, comical, or zany might impart some of that happiness onto them, or at least distract them for a while so they can focus on something more positive. Then you have people who can’t stomach the idea of watching something so bubbly in times of distress and need to find something that speaks to how they’re feeling right now, something in-sync with their sadness. Other people tend to withdraw from the world and want to turn to something comforting and familiar; regardless of whether it’s happy or sad, they just want something they know and can give them a sense of stability.
Naturally there are other methods of coping that people go through, but those three methods tend to represent the majority of people’s experiences. Because of that, we’re going to take a quick look at nine different anime, with three of them each fitting one of the aforementioned coping strategies. Now in fairness, there are a lot of great articles you can turn to for a list of tragic or happy anime, but this list is going to try and avoid at least some of the more obvious choices and touch upon things that are more relatable. For example, Grave of the Fireflies certainly deserves its place in discussions as one of the most depressing pieces of anime ever created, but most of us can’t entirely relate to living through the American bombing sorties of Japan during World War II. On the other hand we can all relate to the subjects of death, mortality, and the preciousness of time; which leads us to our first title…
Chrno Crusade doesn’t immediately inform the viewer of its tragic characters, but we’re soon enough informed about the connection between the protagonists, Rosette and Chrono, and the toll it’s taking on the former of the two. Rosette is an exorcist who belongs to the demon hunting Order of Magdalene. When she was younger, she formed a pact with Chrono, a demon with the appearance of a young boy, that effectively saved his life. Unfortunately for Rosette, the same contract that’s keeping Chrono alive is slowly killing her. This isn’t a secret to anyone; Rosette, Chrono, and the rest of the Order are all aware of Rosette’s ultimate fate. Parallels can easily be drawn from this to more traditional terminal illnesses. Rosette tries to face the knowledge of her impending death with strength and joy for the time she has left, but not even she can maintain that levity all the time. Death is unavoidable for everyone and so we can sympathize with Rosette’s plight.
Even if we haven’t directly faced discrimination we probably know someone who has; whether by society itself or by individuals. Despite its heavily violent and gory nature, Elfen Lied is largely a sad tale of heartache, friendship, prejudice, and bullying. The series’ main character, Lucy/Nyu, was born into circumstances beyond her control, facing prejudice and bullying for the horns on her head as a result of being a mutated human species known as Diclonius. Despite the friendship she formed with the young human male, Kouta, society itself pushed Lucy to a breaking point that made her lash out with extreme violence, changing the life of Kouta forever. It’s an anime filled with one devastating event after another. If you can stomach the incredibly graphic imagery, the heart of the tragic events is surprisingly relatable; something that makes the story even that much more heart wrenching.
Just like how there’s something dark and disturbing underneath the idyllic cities of No. 6, so too is there something ultimately tragic in the anime itself. The story of Shion, Nezumi, and their discoveries about the city they live in is also one of a confused sense of love and sexual identity. A large part of the story revolves around a deadly parasite being unleashed upon the people of No. 6, but tucked away inside all this is the relationship Shion and Nezumi share. No. 6 has elements of this placed throughout its story and they add a very human element to the overall dystopian setting. For anyone struggling with being, or sympathetic to those who are LGBT, there’s an even harder hitting component to this story.
If you’re depressed now, perhaps it’s a good time to shift over to something a bit happier.
Sometimes a little slice of life is all we need to perk ourselves up, especially when that slice comes from the cake of Azumanga Daioh. Watching the varied misadventures of Chiyo, Sakaki, Osaka, Yomi, and Tomo can easily put a smile on your face, especially when the good natured humor is combined with occasionally absurdist imagery. Maybe seeing Chiyo in a penguin costume is too adorable to resist, or perhaps Sakaki dreaming about a penguin knocking over a bucket in the middle of Chiyo’s house is too random for you to hold back your laughter. Azumanga Daioh never fails to deliver the wonderful kind of fun that can brighten your day if you need it.
Conquering a city is hard work; at least for the members of ACROSS. The exploits of Excel, Hyatt, and their leader Il Palazzo are some of the most randomly absurd things to appear in an anime that they quite literally defy description sometimes. The anime delves into parody, absurdity, and surrealism to the point that it seems intentionally confusing. Why is Hyatt on the constant brink of death? Why is there an obvious Cowboy Bebop parody going on in this episode? Why do they want to eat Menchi so badly? If you’re feeling down and have never seen Excel Saga before, you’re likely to be so utterly baffled by what you’re watching that it’ll chase away the blues. Actually it might even do that if you’ve already seen it multiple times.
Don’t you just hate it when you find someone unconscious by the waterside just to bring them home and find out they’re a mermaid? And don’t even get me started about how annoying it is when they decide to live in your bathroom. Welcome to the world of Orenchi no Furo Jijōu.
Like Azumanga Daioh, it’s a random slice of life comedy, except it mostly takes place in a bathroom, with a male mermaid in the bathtub. Because each episode is only about 4 minutes long, the humor comes hard and fast, never giving you much of a chance to recover before the next joke hits. This makes it perfect for a quick pick-me-up when you don’t have the time to dedicate yourself to something plot intensive. Sometimes all you need for happiness is a mermaid in your bathtub.
If perhaps you don’t have the energy to try anything new, then perhaps one of these old favorites might bring you some comfort.
Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer, he’s a demon on wheels…he’s a demon and he’s really poorly dubbed but that’s okay now.
…I think I may have forgotten some of the lyrics there…
Anyway, Speed Racer debuted in Japan in 1967 and exists as one of the first truly successful anime to make the jump to North America. If you’re too young to have seen it during its original run in the 1960’s and 70’s, Cartoon Network brought it back in the mid to late ‘90s due to its continued popularity and impact on animation. The late, great Peter Fernandez was the primary force responsible for bringing it to the states, taking responsibility for co-writing the scripts, voicing some of the characters, rearranging the theme song, and trying to make the dubbing as strong as possible. Unfortunately, the dubbing is somewhat laughable by today’s improved standards, but that just adds to the charm of this dated but lovely title. If you enjoy campy material and want to see the basis of dozens of future parodies, this is the place to go.
What can be said about Pokemon that hasn’t been said already? When the anime hit North American shores in September of 1998, the games it was based on hadn’t even come out yet. Millions of kids and their parents were introduced to the adventures of Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock. We watched as Team Rocket tried numerous times to kidnap Pikachu, as Gary continued to be one step ahead of Ash, and as Ash’s Pokemon came, went, and evolved. Many people viewed the franchise as a fad, and the elementary and middle schoolers who enjoyed it at the start eventually fell away from the series as it wasn’t viewed as something “cool” to be interested in.
Pokemon never went away though; the games and the anime continued onward to this day. Now Pokemon has entered a phase where it’s popular with young kids, and the adults who first loved it and then fell away from it are coming back around to enjoy it again. Pokemon is one of those few childhood memories that never actually became just a memory. If you want to revisit this part of your childhood, it’s right there to enjoy and appreciate all over again…and then maybe even watch the hundreds of episodes you missed while you were in college or learning to drive or something.
Unless you were alive and watching it as it aired, it’s hard to describe just how instrumental Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block was in popularizing anime in the United States. Dragon Ball Z for example, had already been airing in syndication starting in 1996, but it never really caught on. Two years later when Toonami started airing it, the ratings became substantial enough that Funimation decided to continue the production of episodes, and they haven’t really stopped since. Cartoon Network used this as a springboard to bring over a number of other anime series starting in 2000 including Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, and their first heavily promoted arrival, Tenchi Muyo! To many Americans, this was the first introduction they’d have to the popular harem style of anime as the character of Tenchi was pursued by Ayeka, Ryoko, Washu, and Mihosi. It would also become American audiences first introduction to alternate universes as Tenchi Muyo! was followed up by Tenchi Universe, and Tenchi In Tokyo; each series telling a different story using the same characters. While Tenchi Muyo! is entertaining and fun in its own right, the nostalgia factor elevates it for some demographics, to a level that other anime will never achieve.
We all deal with sadness in our own way and one person’s tactic for working through it is going to be different than another person’s. The important thing is that we find an outlet that resonates with us and moves us through our emotions in a positive way. Sadness doesn’t last forever, but lucky for us, anime will always be around in some form for us to revisit when we need to escape into something else for a little while.