No one enjoys failure. I think most of us, though, accept that failure is going to happen, that it’s even necessary to grow because it demonstrates a life that reaches beyond its typical boundaries, a willingness to experiment and change, and the possibility of identifying one’s weaknesses. But there are those of us—and I’m firmly in this group—that have a devastating fear of failure. It might be because we’ve grown up with such success that defeat seems wholly and unacceptably wrong. It may be because of expectations placedupon us, either by family or ourselves. It may just be because we’re fearful of the pain that accompanies loss.
Whatever the reason, if you fit in this group, you’re in good company. After all, I already mentioned that you’re in it with me! But I’m not the only one—anime has plenty of characters with similar issues. But as with them, I can’t stay in that place—not if I want to be healthy, not if I want to grow.
In episode 24 of March Comes in Like a Lion, Nikaidō and Kiriyama are in a room watching a championship shōgi match, when suddenly two others in the room begin to bash on their mentor, Shimada, laughing at how he was so utterly defeated in his own championship match several months previous that he hadn’t recovered. Shimada was completely destroyed by Sōya.
An article by Arria reminded me that Silver Spoon‘s Hachiken is much the same. But instead of a rival, Hachiken is destroyed by expectations, a lack of confidence, and his father. Originally excelling in school, Hachiken begins to find that he’s perhaps not as smart as some of his classmates, and as the pressure mounts for him to perform, he slips lower and lower, and eventually runs away to Ooezo Agricultural High School.
I especially relate to Hachiken. Many things came so easily to me as a kid that I compartmentalized my success—I excelled in everything I considered worthy, and with the things I wasn’t good at, like athletics—well, that wasn’t important anyway. But once I started to experience a lack of success in those areas I usually always did well, the fear really took hold of me, and I became even more afraid of foundering. I ran away from failure for so long that any kind seemed like the end of the world to me, while classmates who had failed more frequently, and then arose and challenged themselves to do better, were able to grow into stronger, more reliable, better people than I was.
In Silver Spoon, Hachiken begins to meet the challenges facing him. The school activities in which he participates are completely foreign for the city boy, but he keeps moving forward, though certain to fail at time and time again. Shimada, at this point in March Comes in Like a Lion, hasn’t risen yet, but the expectation is that he will as he recreates himself from the ground up.
For those of us with a fear of failure—and maybe those who aren’t paralyzed by it, too—every defeat is like a little death, and every time you challenge yourself to do better, it’s a rebirth. Hachiken and Shimada both show the reality of this process—neither comes out of loss doing things perfectly well. It takes time and effort and experience, and as they move forward, they become stronger.
In a sense, then, maybe death and rebirth aren’t the best analogies. A better one comes from another series I’m going through right now, Kara no Kyōkai. In the first movie, Shiki approaches a phantom element unprepared and one of her hands is rendered totally useless during the struggle. Tōko replaces it with a stronger version and this time, Shiki is able to defeat her enemy. Like a scar covering a wound, failure reveals the weakness underneath and provides a way through which we can strengthen our faults and become better.
I have had many failures, but I bottomed out with my first child, when all my cruelty, weakness, and cowardice was revealed. But in my monumental failure, I moved forward and grew in ways I never thought I could, ways I never even considered. And you know what? The fear is slowly going away, because like any human (or any anime character), I learn through experience and have gathered this critical piece of information into my memory banks—maybe failure isn’t that painful after all.