What Anime Means To Me




Iā€™m maybe 8 or 9 years old and It’s Saturday morning and I’ve waited all week for this moment. There are familiar theme songs playing today. I’m watching Digimon and maybe some Pokemon episodes too. (I’m listening to the Digimon The Movie soundtrack from 2000 for inspiration as I write this; It’s corny, but I’m starting to tear up.)

My mother imagines how crazy a fad all these things seem and knows that this is just another phase in any child’s life. But what she doesn’t realize is that this boy is silently suffering from not having a father and how lonely he really is, and these cartoons became so much more. And not just for him, but for so many others.

My name is Jordan Bruneau; I’m a father, husband, and a lifelong Anime fan.
I also suffer from mental illness, including depression and anxiety. This article is about how Anime helped me, influenced me, and shaped my life.

It was only later into my teens that I realized that Anime was simply a media and what me and my mother failed to see was that these cartoons were forms of art that would come to teach me some of life’s most important lessons; love your friends, never give up no matter what, and many more.

It may seem strange, but in a way I looked too a lot of Anime/Manga stories to fill a gap my father left.

I think what’s so wonderful about some Anime is that you can really feel the passion and the people behind these beautiful stories and art.

I believe I can feel that connection to the artist. I feel where they’re coming from. Japan is a country overflowing with culture and beauty, but like anywhere else, there is the history of war, depression, and complex social issues.

Just for a little while, creators who may also suffer like you and me, can escape to other worlds and remind us how beautiful life is. For that, I owe these people my life.


Hideaki Anno and Evangelion


For those unfamiliar with Evangelion, know it may be one of the single most important pieces of animation in existence.

This, of course, is my opinion, but released in 1995, this Anime has influenced the media ever since.

I remember when I was about 11 or 12 and looking through the Anime section in Blockbuster.
I asked my mom if I could rent the movie “The End of Evangelion”, the climax to the end of the original series. She said no for the hard R rating, and for good reason. Seeing such a film at that age might have been too much.

Even if I didn’t get to see it yet, one of the most important films to me was waiting for me when I was ready and it took 15 years after seeing it for the first time to realize how important it is to me.

For some it’s just a Mecha Anime with mysterious religious undertones to make it “cooler”, even stated as such by its creator Hideaki Anno. The great thing however about life and art is that all is up for interoperation, and regardless of his intentions, I believe his work has taken on a life of its own.

I was never overtly a religious person growing up, but Evangelion, while using Christian and other themes at what appears to be a very superficial level, kindled something inside of me.

The way the series describes the evolution of man and its take on creation made me really question a lot of things I understood about the world and life. I won’t get too philosophical or into the theological, but I think it’s important to understanding how my beliefs connect to these stories.


First, I should clarify my religious views and then explain how I interpret Evangelion.
I was brought up as both Anglican and Catholic, a Christian. However, I do not agree with the limited views organized religion offers; I want the complete picture. So when story tellers try to incorporate all kinds of themes and worldviews into their stories, I love it because it in turn makes me re-think my own understanding of those topics.

For example, the phrase used as the slogan for “Nerv” a government defense agency in the series, is from the poet and playwright Robert Browning.

His song “Pippa Passes” reads:

God’s in his heaven –
All’s right with the world!
– from Act I: Morning

Here is also an image of the full poem I captured from my copy of “Browning – The Penguin Poets” printed in 1964
(you can still get a copy online I’m sure, but it thrilled me to find this in an old bookstore)

This popularized quote made me come to believe something simple but profound.
The poem is about the natural order of things and how everything is as it should be; right.
For me, this means that God is not all powerful, at least not in this world he has created.
The pendulum that is life, matter, all the physics are already in motion, it can’t be stopped until it meets its last swing.

I hope it mirrors the likes of “The End of Evangelion”, (*spoiler*) we all become one again only to realize we need that separation, the self, while we are all hedgehogs (hedgehogs dilemma) that will eventually hurt one another we need one another no matter how much pain and suffering we may experience, it\’s worth it.


One last important note on Evangelion is my connection to the creator, and the main character “Shinji”; about my struggle with my own estranged father, loneliness, hate, and depression.

Shinji is a tortured, flawed character. Burdened with the fate of the world, he is unlike any protagonist in most Anime and stories; he is not brave or fearless; throughout the series you see the mental toll that kind of pressure would create and is symbolic of our own lives and struggles we face.

Shinji has sins, cries, and refuses to push forward, the depression weighing him down. Evangelion is a popular series and Shinji has always been the blunt of memes and jokes. He’s weak. When I see this, I see society’s toxic masculinity show; “just man up and do it”.

What lots of people fail to see is that Shinji is me, your father, your brother, your friend.

We just want our fathers to accept and love us.
We would like to hear them praise us just once.
We hate them for not giving us what we needed and deserved.

Even Hideaki Anno had trauma regarding his father and I believe Evangelion may have been an outlet for him to process his trauma, and if that was his intent, I’m grateful he shared this part of himself in his work.


One night about two years ago, I wanted to show my wife “The End of Evangelion”.
But it triggered a repressed trauma that I had not experienced during previous viewings. This trauma was my father, my childhood, and depression.

The scene below is from “The End of Evangelion”, and once I had arrived at this scene is when it hit me hard, the realization that was so obvious, I missed my dad and I was a very lonely child. I repressed this for so long, and until this point, I had never thought these things about Evangelion before. It was just cool.

*Warning* This is probably the saddest thing I’ve seen in a movie, and while short it may trigger others like it did me. So be prepared first if you are suffering from similar trauma like I’ve described and know that you are not alone, and please reach out to me if you would like to comment or need one random stranger that understands. I will also provide resources at the end of this article that I will update as my own treatment for depression continues.

This scene of Shinji playing with two younger children, before being left to build and then destroy a sand pyramid all alone, haunts me every time I see it. There’s actually a lot going on here in terms of the context of the movie, but for me it’s how eerily similar this imagery is to my own emotions and past that makes me uneasy.

As a child and even into adulthood, I would destroy the things that were important to me, be that a favorite toy or video game console, and yes, even the things I’ve created. This too, makes me wonder if relationships are also part of something I sabotaged subconsciously.

I would think to myself sometimes that I deserved nothing or that what I had created was not good enough, not perfect.

My wife saw her husband return to being that little boy so long ago that did these things to himself. Sobbing uncontrollably, years of repression came pouring out. What scared me so much about this scene wasn’t him destroying things or the loneliness, it was the colors and images; the doll-like faces of the other children that had that hint of the uncanny valley, and the music, all under this grainy filter.


This is depression. This was my childhood.

“Shinji is me” I thought to myself.

Though, it makes me feel better knowing that maybe I really am not alone. Maybe through art we can connect and help support each other.

I chose to talk about Evangelion at great length, not because it’s the “best” or even necessarily my favorite Anime. It’s not perfect, it’s actually quite depressing to watch, but I love Evangelion.
It’s important to me. It helped me to realize that there is hope and we all suffer.

Conclusion

To all the fans, creators, writers, and artists throughout this industry, I want to thank you. Growing up an Anime fan has been a difficult one, maybe not as much now, but when I was younger, it was hard to be an Otaku.

Even people within the community know that it hasn’t always been a great social status, in Japan and around the world you’d be seen as weird or unhealthy in your obsession. And like anything in life there has to be that balance.

Anime has the potential for great escapism, and at times, this can be unhealthy. Which is why series like Evangelion are important. I believe the Anime that really challenges the media brings us back to some very hard realities that are why we watched Anime to escape from in the first place.

And that’s ok.

For example, once you’ve watched Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro with your children, watch later on your own its sister film released at the same time “Grave of the fireflies”. This movie also made me cry profusely and in my opinion is one of the greatest war films of all times.


Its taken me over 20 years to start understanding who I am and why all these things matter to me, it’s not silly to have passions or love what you love. I will always be an Otaku, an Anime fan.

Anime is fun and uplifting escapism, but it is also my connection to deeper meaning through the creators that dare challenge the status quo. Some may be content with the average Shonen protagonist, but I’m rooting for Shinji.

Resources

Here are some mental resources I’ve put together and some things that have recently helped me:

Canada – https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/mental-health-services/mental-health-get-help.html
US – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help
International – https://www.ispn-psych.org/international-links

Further reading:

Recently I’ve been using nostalgia as a form of treatment, be it old movies or music. Even contacting old friends.

Read this article/ Podcast to learn more.
https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/nostalgia-science/

I’ve spent over the last 10 years on some kind of anti-depressant and this article below opened my eyes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/i-spent-half-my-life-on-antidepressants-today-im-off-the-medication-and-feel-all-right/2020/01/03/af446dc8-1796-11ea-9110-3b34ce1d92b1_story.html

Now, when used correctly, medication can be affective, but we put not enough testing or thought into the meds we receive. At least this has been my experience.

2 thoughts on “What Anime Means To Me”

  1. Logan (from MAL)

    You’ve got a very nice, developing writer’s voice. Keep up the good work, it takes a lot of it, but this baby of yours will continue to grow. Kick ass!

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