I’ve written about love and community many times. This is partially because these themes show up so much in anime, and partially because I’m always learning more in these areas.
Sometimes, relationship themes come across as cheesy and overdone. Such anime have an overdramatic “friendship is magic” or “moral of the story” feel, and they do nothing for me. But other anime with these themes feel real, relatable, and worthwhile—such as Rakugo Shinjuu, Clannad, and even, at times, Haikyuu!! (I’m a sucker for those kids, realistic or not) or shoujo like Kaichou wa Maid-sama. These shows make me think that stories about friendship, family, and opening up will never get old.
Why are love- and community-related themes so prevalent in anime, and so moving to us in the audience? Part of it, of course, is that these are so central to the human experience. But I think it’s also because these themes provide believable, natural conflict and opportunity for character growth. Whether a person is thirteen or eighty-three, they can still learn more about relationships—not just how they work in general, but also how to best interact with specific people around them.
This is also why I never get tired of writing on these topics: I’m still learning. I’ve come a long way in the last ten years alone: I’ve become better at hugs; I’ve learned that yes, I do need relationships even though I’m an extreme introvert; I’ve learned that friendship and acts of love don’t have to be based in need from either party; and I’ve become better at receiving and, to a lesser extent, giving love as a result. But goodness, I have a long ways to go, and that became even clearer to me as I wrote this post.
Often, in anime, a somewhat antisocial or shy character is bombarded with community and care until they can’t resist anymore. As someone who’s been shy and anxious, I relate to this, and it warms my heart. I’ve loved watching Bon (Eighth Generation Yakumo) in Rakugo Shinjuu first become friends with Shin (Second Generation Sukeroku), then slowly open himself to his unconventional family, even as he continues to struggle and sometimes pull away.
While I love charismatic characters like Sukeroku or his successor Yotarou, I’m generally the character who is learning to accept love and participate in community—the one who’s surprised to be invited, who learns to enjoy being enfolded in community by stubborn friends but never initiates it.
As I started drafting this post and reflecting on these themes, I realized that I’ve been relearning the same relationship lessons again and again the last couple years. That’s okay. But it’s time to move on a bit. I’m no longer like the younger version of Bon, convinced I can survive and grow without cultivating relationships with others. I need to stop identifying myself as the passive, shy, anxious friend, because I am not that girl anymore, not completely. The longer I believe that, the more I stunt my own social, spiritual, and career growth.
So I reflect on Rakugo Shinjuu again, focusing on Yotarou instead of my dear, hurting Bon/Yakumo. Yotarou often takes initiative, regardless of the type of relationship. He seeks Yakumo out as a mentor/master of rakugo, and when rejected, he waits outside in the snow until he’s brought into the house and Yakumo is convinced to take him in. He takes the initiative often in his relationship with Konatsu, despite the wall she’s built to protect herself. And now, while his relationship with Yakumo is more that of a son to his aging father-in-law, less of a needy student, he continues to take initiative—whether that means setting up rakugo performances or seeking out his master at the old rakugo theater. So in every area—career, family, and other—Yotarou’s initiative has benefited himself and others.
Now, I am no Yotarou. I’m not naturally enthusiastic or charismatic. I don’t have much social energy, and contacting people wears me out. While I’ve gotten over much of my shyness and social anxiety, I still worry about interrupting people’s days. I still worry about rejection when I want to get to know someone. The old lies from my teenage years creep back in, and fear keeps me from even considering asking someone to have coffee or tea with me. Sheesh, I sometimes fear rejection even from my own sister, who I know loves and likes me. Forget about reaching out to another young woman at church.
I prefer to be the passive one, but God has blessed me through so many loving people and taught me so much about community, it’s time to take initiative, even if I can’t be as active as Yotarou.
Great. How on earth does an introvert do this without going nuts? I’ve decided on two things: baby steps and a schedule change.
First, baby steps. The other night, I called one of my grandpas and teased him about not stopping by to see me when he came through town. Today, I texted my sister to tell her I was thinking of her and attempt (probably awkwardly) to encourage her about something I know she’s had difficulty with lately. I’ve made a list of all the friends, family, and career-related people I’d like to touch base with over the next week or so. I’ll contact just one or two a day, several days this week and next week. It doesn’t have to be much—a few lines in a message or text, perhaps, if a phone call or full email stresses me out.
Second, I’ve noticed that my schedule has felt too full, and my mind too stressed, to cultivate relationships lately. That means I’m doing something wrong. It’s true that as an introvert I’ll always struggle to balance social interactions. But I shouldn’t consistently be at the point that I’m cutting myself off from friends, potential friends, and family. I shouldn’t grimace at the idea of a phone call to my favorite grandma or a Skype session with a dear friend. Nor should I feel an urge to sprint out of the building as soon as church is over. It’s time to make some changes—starting with my work schedule. Thankfully, I have an opportunity to transition to more hours with the publishing company I work for and fewer hours in food service—to be followed in two months by trading food service for a more peaceful summer job.
The truth is, I’ve been struggling lately. On Sunday, our guest speaker’s message about loving and needing one another actually made me cry and lean into my mom, something that rarely, if ever, happens to me at church. I couldn’t pin down exactly why it moved me to tears, but I understand that it’s time to make changes. So here we are.
And yes, you can expect another post about community or love from me sometime in the next six months. Because, like anime characters, I’ll never stop learning. If I do, it’s because I’ve become hard-hearted and harder-headed, not because I ran out of things to learn about interacting with people.