… anime: the fact that you can’t tell how old anybody is.
In anime, most characters are drawn very young, with giant eyes and school-kid clothes and modern slang language. The characters that are old tend to be particularly old – crones or grandfather-figures – to separate them dramatically from the younger characters. It usually seems as though we’re watching the adventures of middle-school or high-school children, and often, if their ages are actually given, it turns out they are teenagers.
But they know things and deal with things and approach things with a maturity and a wisdom typically reserved for grown-ups – sometimes much, much older grown-ups. And demons – technically immortal – are also depicted as teenagers, even if they’ve lived a thousand years.
In one way, I suppose it’s a glorification of youth, but the crones and grandfather-figures tend to be wise, intelligent, and valuable. In fact, the main characters are usually expected to find their own way within the context of taking the older characters’ words very much into consideration.
It seems ultimately to be an acknowledgement of the human condition, of our search for wisdom, for answers and for our purpose. We all search in this way, from the time we’re able to form such complex thoughts to the time we shuffle off this mortal coil. We all suffer when we can’t answer those questions or figure out what’s going on or what’s expected of us. We all go from feeling that we have a good handle on things to being cast abruptly into a state of confusion, disappointment, and dismay. One minute we know it all, and the next we know absolutely nothing … our entire lives.
It’s the same when we’re fifty as it is when we’re five … because a single human life isn’t long enough to figure out such a vast and complex universe, and even if it were, the universe changes every second of every day into something new and different.
So anime characters are young because they don’t know everything, and they’re young because youth is a metaphor for new-and-different and for adaptation. They’re young because the part of us that seeks for answers and meaning and purpose is always “young” – always one step away from perfect understanding. Anime characters are drawn that way because inside we’re all drawn that way – never as grounded and mature and “finished” as we thought we would be, but also required – if we wish to live through our adventures – to be adaptable and flexible.
We’re encouraged to listen to the wisdom of the ages – to the crone and the grandfather – but deep down the human experience is never complete, and none of us will ever finally shake off that pervasive unknowing. We’ll all always be searching for answers, making mistakes, and facing new and frightening circumstances – as much when we’re ninety-three as when we’re thirteen. And that’s okay.
That’s what makes it a good story.