Monday, January 11, 2016

Shattered Fragments: Anime and Mental Illness

I never set out to be an advocate for mental illness, it was never something I was passionate about because I didn’t understand it. As a matter of fact, it terrified me because of the stigma that is associated with it. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I really began to understand what it’s like to live with something like a mental illness, what pain really was, and what it’s like to live in a world that fears and misunderstands you. I may sound a bit dramatic, but when you’re constantly told that your condition is something of an imaginary concept and these feelings that you have aren’t validated, you get fed up and want to speak what is in your soul.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness what it’s like to have one. I only know how I feel on my darkest days, and I am very different from someone else with a similar condition, see that’s what makes this so hard: no two people with a mental illness are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for another, it’s not an exact science; it’s mostly trial and error because the human mind is one of the most mysterious “organs” on the body.

The world hasn’t really been kind to those with mental illness, since the very first human came into existence we have feared and mistreated those who suffer with this condition. It’s been associated and portrayed in our society as a negative thing; television shows and movies depicting horrific asylums, crazy killer patients, and perverted psychologists (sometimes referred to crudely as “shrinks”). It also doesn’t help that a stigma has been in place for centuries. While researching the subject, I discovered that the first recorded Lunatic Asylum in Europe was the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, and it has been a part of London since 1247 when it was built as a priory. It became a hospital in 1330 and admitted its first mentally ill patients in 1407. Before the Madhouse Act of 1774, treatment of the Insane was carried out by non-licensed practitioners, who ran their Madhouses as a commercial enterprise and with little regard for the inmates. The Mad House act established the licensing required to house insane patients, with yearly inspections of the premises taking place. Back in America, the U.S. Library of Medicine states that the mentally ill in early American communities were generally cared for by family members, however, in severe cases they sometimes ended up in almshouses or jails. Because mental illness was generally thought to be caused by a moral or spiritual failing, punishment and shame were often handed down to the mentally ill and sometimes their families as well. As the population grew and certain areas became more densely settled, mental illness became one of a number of social issues for which community institutions were created in order to handle the needs of such individuals collectively.

This scared the crap out of me when I read it because we really haven’t come that far as far as the stigma and treatment of the mentally ill is concerned. It shows in our culture but it’s not obvious like some other issues that we deal with in society, it’s subtle and quiet.

Anime has been the only genre that openly deals with issues like depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, and many other conditions. It unapologetically portrays it in a raw, gritty manner, not pulling any punches and it’s just…real. As someone who has been in this world for some time there is an authenticity to it, an authenticity that you just can’t find anywhere else. Here are just a few characters that I relate to, and characters that I think portray what it’s like to live within this often dark world. The following may contain spoilers so read with caution!

Yuki Takeya: School-Live!

Yuki is a classic case of someone dealing with PTSD and psychosis. The NIMH classifies PTSD and psychosis as so:

“ PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

“The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not.  Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.”
She sees the world as she wants it to be and not how it really is. After witnessing both her classmate Kurumi kill her senpai because he turned and the courage of her favorite teacher sacrifice herself to the zombies, Yuki completely shuts down and enters a psychosis where it is not the apocalypse and everything is as it should be: she’s at school with her friends, she regularly goes to classes, and she enthusiastically bounds through the hallways as if nothing has happened. The most tragic of this situation is her dealing with the death of her favorite teacher Megumi. She still speaks and addresses her as if she is still there, even having hallucinations of her. As the show progresses we find that slowly, Yuki’s world is collapsing around her and she is forced to accept the fact that her favorite teacher is in fact dead, and her life as she knew it has changed. It’s often very hard to watch and even the most experienced doctor has trouble with patients suffering with these conditions because as I said before: no two cases are alike.

Shinji Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion

Shinji, like me, suffers from major depression and anxiety. If he’s not isolating himself and questioning his will to live, he’s constantly seeking approval from his peers to make up for his sense of self-worthlessness. Going back to the NIMH, it has several definitions for depression, so I’ve somewhat formed my own: It is a condition where you feel worthless; no matter what you do it won’t amount to anything. You hurt and you want to cry but you have no idea why nor is there a good reason for it. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over you that is constantly telling you how stupid, worthless, and insignificant you are. Add anxiety into the mix and you have this feeling of falling and seeing the floor coming up fast on you—all the time. Shinji is constantly questioning his worth, he’s always worrying about what others think of him, and he’s contemplating that he’s just not worth anything. The creator Hideaki Anno, suffered from depression and psychosis. He actually wrote the original ending during a psychotic break; the show is tied as a projection of the author’s own mental state.

If you are one of the 350 Million People Worldwide that suffer from depression, if you are suffering from anxiety, if you are suffering from any sort of mental illness I want you to know something:
I’m here to say that it is okay to say that you hurt, that you matter very much, and you are no different than someone with any other medical condition; you just hurt in a different way. That’s the key to getting a handle on your Mental Health: remember that you matter, that there is someone out there who does care, and you story is an important addition to this world we live in.

Your story is important; you have something wonderful to give to this world. Sometimes anime can be a mirror of someone’s heart and soul. This is not weird; it doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you human. What are some of your favorite shows? Who in an anime has spoken to you? Let’s have a discussion. That’s how change happens, that’s how stigma’s get kicked out.

If you want to read more on this topic, here’s a great article from BuzzFeed:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: Erased, Ep 1: Flashing Before My Eyes

Erased is one of the many new shows this winter premiering on Crunchyroll. Usually I pass over several because I simply don’t have the time to watch them all. This show intrigued me as I do have a special place in my heart for the psychological thriller, however I went in with a below average expectation because the show, from the description, sounded like a typical anime trope (from Crunchyroll):

Satoru Fujinuma is a young manga artist struggling to make a name for himself following his debut. But, that was not the only thing in his life that Satoru was feeling frustrated about…he was also living with a strange condition only he was able to experience. - REVIVAL A strange phenomenon where one is transferred back to the moment right before something life-threatening occurs. This continues to happen until the cause of the threat is erased. It is as if somebody is forcing Satoru to stop it from happening

Sounds kind of “eh” right? The descriptions never really do the show justice I’ve found. Let’s dive into it shall we?

Minor spoilers ahead!

“I’m scared to get to the heart of my own mind.”
The show opens with Satoru stating this internally as his editor in chief tells him that he must put more of himself in his work if he ever wants to become a better manga artist. As he walks back to his dead-end job at a pizza parlor I notice that the character design of Satoru is very specific: He’s tall and lanky, he has glasses, and a sort of “woe is me” look on his face all the time. He’s immediately portrayed as someone who is more of a reactive force in his life rather than a proactive one. Strangely enough, I found myself being able to relate to him. Depending on what age you are, we’ve all had moments in our lives where we’re working at a dead-end job just to keep the lights on and the fridge somewhat full. It’s not what we want to do for the rest of our lives, no that dream we proclaim to the world and hope that through our talent and will it’ll come to fruition. Satoru has sort of reached the more stoic, dead part of the journey: the loss of hope that his dream will ever come true. He has sort of become his own worst enemy and has become a self-defeating, hopeless person.

We get a feel for how Satoru uses his “powers” within the first ten minutes or so of the show. He’s out on a delivery and the scene sort of interrupts with this flash and brief change of color, suddenly we’re presented with the same information that we just saw only there’s a more urgent feel to the situation. Satoru is looking around for anything out of place, and we’re placed in that same frantic situation as our protagonist. The pacing of the scene was fast and progressive, like everyday life; you really had to pay attention to find what was out of sorts. Satoru finds what was out of place and he, while complaining the entire time, fixes the problem and tragedy is averted. He doesn’t necessarily “embrace” his powers, he’s more like “I guess I’ll do this because I’m here.” The show really does focus on Satoru’s lack of ambition for his own life, again being more reactive than proactive.

Luckily, we’re not just faced with Satoru’s less than enthusiastic view all the time; we get a refreshing counter to his character in Airi Katagiri. Katagiri is not only spunky and adorable (waifu material guys), she’s also presented as very driven and smart for her age. She’s a high school student that works in the pizza parlor with Satoru, Satoru just doesn’t understand her (surprise) but after she witnesses what he does to avert the tragic situation as previously mentioned; she seems to be much more interested in him. She flat out tells him that he doesn’t really open up to people and she, unlike him, has hope in her dreams—which she didn’t tell him what they were because she said “It’s not like we’re close or anything.” The show presents us with tantalizing cliffhangers as we don’t really know what her dream is, we have to earn it like Satoru.

Another cliffhanger that is presented is the case of the “abductions” that we hear about throughout the show. When Satoru was in fifth grade, two of his classmates were abducted and brutally murdered. His mother, Sachiko, did her best to try and make Satoru forget what happened. Surprisingly, I didn’t fault her for this. Fifth graders aren’t really supposed to deal with adult situations so she did what she thought was best for her son. Sachiko is a wonderful character, you wouldn’t think that she was Satoru’s mother as she is presented relatively younger (not that 52 is old mind you) and not showing signs of aging. But that’s not what makes her wonderful, it is suggested that she knows about her son’s supposed “powers” even if she doesn’t understand it she still accepts him and listens to him.
This is presented very well in a scene where Satoru has another “revival” as they are leaving the supermarket. She doesn’t shun him or say “oh you’re just imagining things,” she actually stops and looks around with him. In a surprising turn of events, she’s the one that prevents the event from conspiring so I’m left to wonder if maybe she has some sort of higher than average observation skill or a similar power to Satoru’s.

What’s always on the back of the viewer’s mind is the fact that Sachiko knows more than what she is letting on about the abductions. She drops hints throughout the episode but nothing proves it more than the scenes following the supermarket. She’s torn about telling Satoru the truth about the abductions, it shows in her face and in her demeanor. She feels guilty about not believing a young Satoru about something that deals with the abductions, what that is I won’t say as it will spoil the story. She attempts to reconcile this, to tell Satoru the truth about everything. She attempts anyway
It’s not until Satoru is faced with an impossible situation that we really see if he’s going to start to become a proactive force in his life. The episode ends on a tantalizing cliffhanger that left me wanting more. Will Satoru finally stop being reactive and play a part in his own life? It’ll be interesting to see how this character develops.

Overall the show starts off strong and ends strong, one could find a trope or two but it’s not an episode breaking thing. I’m very curious to see how the character of Satoru develops and learn more about Katagiri. The universe is very appealing, and the pacing definitely fits the show—not slow and explanatory, but fast and unforgiving like life is. All in all, I give this a four out of five stars, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.