We all love a good anime that uses a wide variety of main characters. Anime that has characters with different personalities, different hair colors, and different eyes. Heck, a year or two is a-ok as long as everyone is set in the same grades. We will even forgive age gaps between siblings, but they really need to be something where the older one is in their last year and the younger one is in their first year of the same middle or high school. Anything beyond that though, is really pushing the limits. Now you want to talk about adults being in the anime as main characters? Back up the Koutetsujou of nonsense because that is just unacceptable on all levels. But why is it rare and generally not a normal thing? We already know that the largest age range for consumers of anime are people in their 20s-50s. Why are we looking back on the past, which we cannot change, to tell a story, and instead not on the present? Let’s go on a journey today to look at why we rarely get adults as main characters and why it may be slowly changing.
Please note that this article and its theories are based on conjectures. Nothing can be proven as even when you ask Japanese people, they have no idea why anime is like this. We are presenting various theories and ideas what have been proposed across the web and amongst our staff.
If you know anything about Japan, you know then that it changes frequently and everything is limited to a season. So if a fruit, veggie, or food is out of season, you are not going to be able to find it anywhere. It’s just how it works. The most famous example of fleeting things in Japan is the sakura or cherry blossom season. Sakura season whips the whole country into a frenzy with newscasters forecasting exactly when specific regions of the country will see the sakura in full bloom. Then, companies begin to release anything and everything under the sun with sakura in it. Sakura beer, sakura ice cream, sakura tea, sakura coffee, sakura chips, sakura daifuku, and many more sakura themed items are released. But only for a limited time. What this means then is that these items are guaranteed to sell out since you can only enjoy them for a limited time. Once they are gone, they are gone. Which leads people who miss out on it to reminisce about that moment when they have had it and the experience is bittersweet. High school life is a lot like that, it’s often the highlight of most people’s lives in Japan. Which leads to my next point, why it has to be high school.
But Why High School tho?
In high school in Japan, your average student has their studies, of course, but their friendships deepen and solidify, they are able to get part time jobs and spend money on what they want, and they have freedom. Now true, in college, Japanese people tend to lead very interesting and laid back lives, but high school is what they often remember the most. It is fueled by experiences, hormones, emotions, and memories. Much like their western counterparts, Japanese high school students often remember their high school days the most fondly, because while college kind of lets you have some fun, it is in high school that many people start to learn who they are and find their individuality. This is then rapidly crushed in Japanese society which is rigid and does not encourage individuality/freedom.
Not all jobs are like this, (I got paid to write this and I love my job, so my job rocks!) but many big corporations do not want you being expressive and individualistic. Rather, they want you to follow the tried and true methods and ways of doing things in order to get the results that they expect you to find. Not to mention too, there is this great thing called overtime which you are often expected to do and for free! So what do people do? They start to look back on those happy memories and times when life was so carefree. Where they taken to another world? Did they go on magical adventures with their friends? Did the teacher reveal they have magical powers and are going to teach them to the class? Did they simultaneously score with some girl/boy from their class while dating their childhood best friend and having other girls/boys throw themselves at them? Probably not. But wouldn’t it be fun, for just a moment, to think about what could have been, even if it did not happen? It’s fun to entertain. What if you had friends that stood up to that nasty bully or classmate with you and made HS easier? What if you had the magical powers to tell someone to piss off? Wouldn’t that be better? It would. It tickles that inner fantasy you have to make things better than they were. But then why are there no adults in anime?
Stereotypes Up Until Now
When you look at anime that have adults as the setting, it gets really hard to pick up shows that show anime characters outside of college and aka adulting in the adult world doing the adult thing. It’s very hard to do. One example of a character as a main character being an adult is Tatsuhiro from Welcome to the N.H.K.! But there is a catch, why is the main character of an anime an adult male? He needs to not be a functioning adult. Quick! Make him a shut in and we are set! Thus, he is best doing what is easy aka being an otaku. If we show him content, then it is not a good setup. Then there is Moguro-san from the original Warau Salesman. He is the other kind of adult main character, he exists to serve his own purposes regardless of others. This leads to him being rather hurtful and harmful to those around him. Still an adult though he acts like a child or someone new to middle/high school! There is also Arata from ReLIFE. He was too individualistic, quit jobs, and became a shut in. How can this be fixed? Ooo we know! Let him go back and relive a year of his high school life. It’s the best time right? Of course he agrees and takes the pill to go back in time. This is a classic example of wanting to go back to those fleeting days again.
What about now?
Recently the anime industry is getting wise to the fact that while high schoolers and middle schoolers are large consumers of light novels and manga, social rules are becoming more lax and it is becoming acceptable to hold on to those otaku tendencies after college. That is why we are seeing anime like New Game!, Youjo Senki, and Knight’s & Magic being turned into anime. Sure the latter two are about adults being reborn, but at their core, they retain who they are. This means then that the anime industry is realizing that it is going to have to play more to people who are of age because, more so than high school students, they have money. We talked about too recently in our feature on isekai anime, which you can find below, that Kadokawa is outright banning non-adult main characters. They know where the money is going and in order to not let the industry collapse, they are going to follow it like a bloodhound. The other good thing about this too is that it is forcing the anime industry to diversify its portfolio. We are getting more unique anime setups and I, for one, am all in for it.