There’s really not much to say with regards to the first nine or so minutes of the episode. It’s like a sadness bomb just exploded in my room. Yeah, we see a flashback of a younger Kou struggling with his mom’s illness. She had lung cancer, and it was beginning to spread to the rest of her body. Needless to say, she didn’t have long to live. The prototypical Asian son thus flayed himself for focusing too much on his studies. He regretted not spending enough time with his mother, a divorcee who might have been battling with loneliness and low self-esteem to begin with. We also see that the distance between him and his brother isn’t entirely due to resentment. Kou felt guilty over the fact that he couldn’t take care of his mother even though he had told his older brother that he would. Naturally, her death wasn’t his fault, but I guess he could have done a better job looking after her emotional well-being. Still, he was only a child, so… it was really too much for any kid to bear.
But seriously, that was a sadness bomb. There’s little to discuss here except that Kou’s tragedy confirms what I’ve always suspected about the show: it needs to drop the romance bullshit. People like Kou need therapy, and I’m not trying to be flippant here. It’s the 21st century, and we need to start taking mental health seriously. The problem is, shows like Ao Haru Ride don’t help. A character like Kou can do a lot to fight the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health related illnesses. Unfortunately, 90% of the show is about Futaba’s futile attempts to form a relationship with what is essentially a sick person. And if you think calling Kou sick is too harsh, this is exactly what I’m talking about. If you have cancer, are you or are you not sick? Yes, of course you’re sick! You need help! You need to go to the hospital right away and get treatment! In fact, if you have cancer, the last thing you should worry about is your love life.
So let me ask another question. Let’s say your mom died from cancer, and you continue to be so depressed over it that you isolate yourself from your family and friends, your grades suffer, you want to drop out of school, you think life has no meaning, and you start taking long walks at night. Well, are you sick or not? Yes, you are sick. If it isn’t depression, you’re definitely sick with something, and your mental illness is just as valid as any physical illness. And if a cancer patient shouldn’t burden themselves with love, romance, and relationships, why on earth should a person suffering from depression subject themselves to thosesame things? The truth is, people like Kou aren’t ready for relationships. They need fix themselves first before they worry about love and getting a goddamn girlfriend. But that’s not what Ao Haru Ride is about, is it? Ao Haru Ride isn’t primarily about Kou’s battle with depression. Rather, it seems plainly obvious to me that the anime is about Futaba’s conquest.
As a result, fixing Kou’s mental illness isn’t an end in itself. He is only depressed so that he, as the primary bishie of the story, will have a tragic backstory. Why does he need a tragic backstory? It somehow makes the romance between him and Futaba more meaningful, because watching two healthy, loving people get together is just boring. We need at least one of the lovers to be fucked up in some way! Ao Haru Ride feels exploitative. It really does. ‘Cause what will we see next? Will the show focus on Kou’s quest to heal himself? Will we see him seek therapy for his anger, sadness, and frustration with the world? That sort of anime would actually be novel, because how often do you ever see such a show? But we’re too far down this romantic bullshit to turn back now. So instead, we will see Futaba try her damndest to help Kou, and we’re supposed to admire her for her resiliency, her sacrifice, and her unconditional love for the boy in her heart.
Ao Haru Ride is a story that should take a different direction. It should really be about Kou’s battles with his depression, and perhaps Futaba accepting the fact that there isn’t anything she can do but be supportive of her friend. Then maybe later, when he’s healthy again, they can even consider love. But instead, the story’s trapped in the constraints of a stereotypical anime shoujo. So in the second half of the episode, his friends “ganbatte” it up and force the guy into yet another study session. Then when the guy makes his escape, his friends sit around and plot how they can force themselves into his life even more. Oh, we could go to the mountains! Or the amusement park! Like really, as if this will solve anything. I realize that Kou’s friends only have good intentions, but again, mental illness needs to be taken seriously. You wouldn’t try to cure cancer with good intentions, would you? If cancer was preventing a friend from focusing on their studies, you wouldn’t bring a study date to them, would you? So why would you do the same with depression?
I’m not saying that depression is as bad as cancer, but we shouldn’t be making these comparisons anyway. They’re both bad, and it does no good to dick-wave about how one tragedy is worse than another. Plus, depression can and has driven people to commit suicide, so it’s not something to take lightly anyway. My point is, Ao Haru Ride is frustrating to watch. You see a guy that needs real, professional help, but the message of the story is that just hanging out with his friends will do the trick. Futaba will just forcefully ingratiate herself into Kou’s life until he just “gets over it.” And if he doesn’t appreciate his friends’ efforts, well then, what a dick! But is that really the right message to send? Should someone who has just lost a loved one throw themselves at the mercy of their friends, and hope that their friends have the infinite patience to help them out? Or what if the depressed person hates themselves too much to even have friends. What then?
Futaba insists to Kou’s brother that she’ll just break her way into Kou’s heart. See? This is not about helping Kou. It’s not. Ao Haru Ride is about admiring Futaba and her never-give-up attitude. She will keep trying, and we’re supposed to think she’s fucking awesome for it. It’s about her quest to find a pretty but broken boy, then fix him up to her liking at all costs. Then she can pat herself for finishing this DIY project. Inspiring music begins to play as she takes off running. Futaba calls a depressed person a brat for avoiding her. Then she says bullshit to herself like, “Just like Kou opened the door to my heart, I’ll do the same for his!” In the end, the only reason why Futaba’s words even reach Kou is because this is a cheesy shoujo, and we need to tie things up with a pretty, little bow. But it’s fucked up. It’s fucked up because the anime doesn’t take mental illness seriously. Pretty boys only have mental illness to keep the romance interesting. It’s sadness porn, basically. I feel nothing as Futaba sits on top of Kou and sobs, because it feels cheap and exploitative as fuck. You need a doctor for this, not a fucking anime shoujo.
I think this is how and why Manic Pixie Dreamies won’t always work in the real world and in the long run. We don’t need to rely and expect on one person to whimsy for us to becoming a better person.
I can understand Cheezy Shojo Romcoms if there is some form of connection taking place, but one guy’s problems is never solved by Manic Pixie Dreamies and the power of Ganbatte. Trust me. It does not work.
Back when I was younger, when I heard of people getting depression, I just couldn’t understand it. Why couldn’t they see there wasn’t any use of being sad and just suck it up? Life goes on anyway, no point muddling in sadness. Well, boy, was I so fucking wrong. Anyway, so, with how these kids can’t see not giving up is pointless, I don’t really blame them. With how their lives have probably been all happy and sheltered so far, they might not understand how it’s really like to be in Kou’s shoes. So I’m fine with the show doing what it does…except, sadly, it keeps going from there, away from reality and into Shoujo land where all you need to do is ganbatte-it-up–instead of addressing this issue, have the characters grow to truly understand it, and so forth.
The kids not giving up is not the problem. The problem is the show framing it in a positive light.
Great post. This is a problem I have with romance stories in general, one person has to be messed up somehow. I remember when I use to watch movies a common problem with one of the parties involved is that they had trust issues but then that gets solved through love. It’s as if the friend step is skipped and then they just jump to being In love. I can’t speak for recent movies though since I’ve mostly stopped watching them but it’s worse in some anime. The last romance movie I tried was The fault in our stars with two people with cancer falling in love.
While I didn’t like the book or movie I at least respect that the connection they made didn’t feel forced. Gosh every time some anime character says “door to your heart” or some crap like that I cringe.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if certain people crave drama in real life because they think relationships are only legitimate if there are extreme highs and lows.
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