If you have been into anime for long enough, you will find yourself wondering quite a few things. Why do characters have nosebleeds when they’re aroused? Why is it that everyone good looks handsome while all evildoers look awful? However, one of the most questioned aspects about anime dynamics are the family dynamics.
The family dynamics in anime are interesting, but one of the most common aspects of anime has to be the lack of a parental unit or even both. Sometimes your main character is living alone (usually in Tokyo), but you don’t quite understand why. Or perhaps one of their parents is inexplicably gone. If you have ever found yourself contemplating the family dynamics, stay tight. We’re here to discuss what happened to all the parents!
When the Cat’s Away...
As we stated earlier, there is a rather large number of anime characters who do not seem to be under the supervision of parents. Or for some reason, they left home to live alone (again, usually in Tokyo). Sometimes you’ll receive some sort of explanation for why a person might move to a new city such as in Nana when Hachi leaves her parents behind for her boyfriend or Ripple from Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku who lives alone to get away from her mother and her mother’s string of lovers. Unfortunately, most of the time, you are left without any explanation for what happened to their parents.
Here’s a fun fact for you: anime isn’t the only medium that depicts an absence of parental units. Actually, many young adult novels and adventures aimed at children lack adults in general so don’t start assuming this phenomenon is exclusive to Japan. Anyway, yes, many stories starring youths as the main character do not usually have parents because parents can really put unwanted limitations on what the writer would like to put into the story. Does your character want to be a vigilante? Well, if their parents were around, it would be difficult for your character to sneak out every night to protect the city. You would just create a really irritating situation where the main character is constantly wary of their parent. And let’s just be honest, you will not have parents who are constantly OK with their children galavanting about. Just consider Sunako from Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge; there was a single episode where both of her parents came to visit and her father immediately wanted to put restrictions on her freedoms!
Of course, this rule doesn’t account for anime families that depict just one parental unit. Most of the time, if the character has one parent, that parent is usually fairly flighty and absent-minded so the main character can still continue to do as he or she pleases, which is meant more for comedic effect. This is seen in this season’s Masamune-kun no Revenge where Masamune’s mother is a loli is constantly doting on him but making him foods with high calories, which he hates. What about Konata’s father who is just a pervert with otaku hobbies? He’s definitely just for laughs, too.
Or, the main character’s parent is abusiveness and damaging, which is extremely important in developing a character’s backstory such as with Kano in Boku Dake ga Inai Machi or Tomoya from Clannad. Sometimes parents don’t come into the picture until the writers want to add a bit of drama, much like in Ouran High School Host Club where Kyouya’s father and Tamaki’s father come into play later in the series to add a bit of conflict in Haruhi’s not so quiet life.
So parents aren’t really that conducive to a plot unless they are for comedic effect or tragedy, really.
It’s a School Life
While parents aren’t generally important in anime as they impede on a character’s freedom, there are some important things to note about this. Many anime are set in schools of some sort and while we won’t go into detail about why exactly they are all set in schools, it’s important to note. This ties into a fact about parents in Japan: kids are expected to learn everything from schools. Teachers are in charge of watching over and nurturing students until they grow into (hopefully) good civilians. A lot of responsibility is on the teacher's’ shoulders to ensure that students do not turn out to be the dredges of society.
Do you remember the anime Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO)? Onizuka is given the task of molding and shaping his students to become great people even though they are basically the dredges of society already. Everyone is completely troublesome and makes it hard for Onizuka, and the parents never do anything to help put their own children in place. That is where Onizuka comes into the picture. Heck, the josei anime Gokusen features a similar plot where Kumiko takes the task of rehabilitating her troublesome students into her own hands, despite her being the daughter of a yakuza boss. I wonder why there are so many anime with this similar theme?
An unfortunate reality is that parents just expect teachers to do a majority of the work. Then, should a teacher report that something is amiss with a student, parents become defensive and would rather blame the teacher for the wrongdoing than their own child. It’s a bit of a difficult situation when teachers are held responsible entirely for everything a child does. It is a bit of a stressful situation that should not really happen.
A Dose of Reality
Here’s another dose of reality for you, as well, that may explain why the main characters just don’t have parents around: Kids in Japan raise themselves. Often times, you’ll see households with just a mother but they don’t explain what happened to the father. That may just be a depiction of a modern day family where the father is forced to work endlessly so much like Japanese youths, the anime main character won’t see his or her father at all.
The lack of both parents is just a realistic depiction of reality; Kids don’t see their parents anymore and are forced to raise themselves. It’s expensive to live in Japan--as well as many other countries--so sometimes both parents are forced to work long hours to make ends meet. This leaves children alone from a young age so they eat dinner alone, they come back to an empty home, and they go to sleep without seeing their own parents. This is not only true in Japan but a lot of other nations, like the U.S. There is this percentage of kids known as latchkey kids who have no supervision or parental figures so they have to take care of themselves. Kids just have to grow up a lot faster than they should. That’s a sad reality that just exists in today’s more difficult economic times.
There are a lot of reasons why anime characters seem to be lacking a parental figure, but it has a lot to do with how society in Japan is at this current time. While we cannot stress enough that anime is not an accurate depiction of life in Japan, there are some nuances of Japanese life that we can see in anime. There are subtle hints that are hard to ignore.
What do you think about parents in anime? Do you wish they had parents or explained why they are missing? Do you have a pair of anime parents you love? Let us know your thoughts below!