I like to think that I’m a sophisticated viewer, one who not only appreciates but genuinely enjoys art house anime. But the reality is, while I do like some series that are unknown to many viewer, I also enjoy a number of popular shounen series, which is perhaps why the biggest disappointments I’ve had in anime have in how two such shows went off the map. I loved the first seasons of Bleach and Sword Art Online when they came out. I was addicted to them, waiting at baited breath for each new episode. For each I thought, “This could be my new favorite series!”
And then for both, season two came along. The series went from among my favorites to massive disappointments, not least of all for how each treated their really interesting and well-designed heroines. Season two of both shows put these characters—Rukia and Asuna—in prisons, waiting for their knights in shining armor (or black cloaks) to come rescue them, undoing all the work of establishing strong and capable heroines in season one of their respective series.
What a waste of interesting characters.
I don’t know the reasons behind Reki Kawahara and Tite Kubo’s decisions to do this to their characters, but I have to think it had something to do with control. It’s scary to go somewhere unique, somewhere beyond the tried and true of shounen tropes, and neither Kubo nor Kawahara were willing to go there, to give voice to Rukia and Asuna. They’d rather walk the straight and narrow of the shounen path, keep control over their narratives, and avoid letting creativity veer them off course, which ultimately resulted in boring, boring stories with flat heroines.
I’m ridiculing these two, but I have to say…I relate to them, too. I want control. I want to lay out my life in a very normal, “successful” pattern, one that avoids creativity and the chance of failure that comes along with it. But that’s a mistake, too, because failure is what shapes our lives and makes them interesting and, I think, ultimately more successful.
In my life, for instance, I’d long ago woven a tale where I would earn an M.D. or a PhD or some similar degree, make lots of money, receive a ton of praise, and live out a comfortable existence. Not so fast, though! As I made my way through college, I learned, “Hey, I’m not really good at these science classes,” and “Hey, I’m not really interested enough in anything to get a post-graduate degree.”
I switched majors away from the sciences and at first, I felt like a failure. That feelings returned multiples times as I moved along the path of career—I wasn’t where I intended to be, where I expected to be. And yet, these failures helped me grow in ways that were out of my control, giving me skills and experiences that led me down a path to become a director at an agency, a place I never intended to go but where I feel I belong.
I had been content with my own safe, lame story, but was shaken out of it by God’s plans. My hope for you is that you are not content with being like the Kawahara and Kubo, like myself, that you’ll search for something more interesting—better. Doing so means taking chances. It means feeling uncomfortable and even failing. But I think the consequences of not doing so are much harsher than what we receive in failures along the path of growth, because in living a life of safety and control, we end up becoming like Asuna—trapped in a sky prison and not part of the bigger, more interesting, more engaging tale, looking pretty while the real adventure passes us by.