How Anime Can Help Us Survive Disastrous Times

Writing for The Backloggers has always been a unique experience. What started as, more or less, a way for some college friends to stay in touch by having a creative outlet to talk about anime has given us a pretty broad platform to dive deep into a lot of different shows that we love, and has largely motivated us to keep on top of things – what’s good this season? How does this new piece look at X thing? How does it perhaps relate to some great older series?

As much as I love writing those kinds of pieces (I actually had another one in the works before I started on this one, oops), we are worldwide in a pretty weird, unprecedented state of affairs. Looking just at the microcosm of anime as an industry, for instance, we are seeing delay after delay of many anime projects, with many studios and series not looking to resume until the summer. But obviously on a much grander scale, people are, as a whole, not doing great. And as I was sitting and working on a completely different post, I found myself wondering if that post was what would be best at this time.

Now, I’m not looking to imply that my blog posts have any massive amount of pull or power – I’m just one guy on an anime blog, after all. But in these bizarre times, I feel like turning to media, to writing, to art of any kind for comfort or some sense of solace is very powerful, so even though my individual presence is small, it just felt right to me to consider writing something that would be great beyond, “wow, what a cool take on X!” That’s not to say that that content doesn’t have a place, but I digress. 

In a sort of coincidental way, as I was thinking about the post that I wanted to write, I found myself returning to a lot of old(ish) favorites for different senses of comfort. There are anime that I immediately think of when I want to just relax, when I need a little jolt in my system, or even when I just need to get mad about something silly to blow off some steam. As I watched and thought about these anime, and as I was considering what I really wanted to write, I felt that talking about some of these shows that I turn to for different reasons in my life would be the best fit for what I wanted to do. 

The shows that I have written about here are all shows that are near and dear to my heart for one reason or another, and in some capacity, they have all emotionally sustained me in their own distinct ways. My hope is that something in here might resonate with you, or catch your eye, and make these difficult times a little more bearable for you. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

In the summer of my sophomore year of college, I decided that I wanted to start running. I had found some couch to 5k program graphic on the internet, with weekly sets for what kind of intervals you should run at on each week, all that jazz. So, for a few months, I would wake up early, gear up, and go for a run in my small Ohio suburb. I started doing it because I was curious about doing a 5k, but as I kept running, I continued to do so because I just loved it. I didn’t keep up with it, largely because classes started back up, and as a slightly aimless college student, I didn’t really have a lot of motivation to keep running as a regular part of my routine on top of classes and other responsibilities. But I never really lost the fire that I felt because of running.

Cut to almost a decade later – here in quarantine, I haven’t really been able to go to the gym, and any real sense of keeping myself in mildly good shape has fallen by the wayside. Or it did for a while, anyway, until I started re-watching one of my favorite series of all time, Run With the Wind. Long story short, a college senior, Haiji Kiyose, ropes nine other guys living in the same housing complex as him to form a college track team with him to achieve his goal of running – and winning – the Hakone Ekiden, a team relay race between Tokyo and the town of Hakone. 

Qualifying for the race is a daunting task in and of itself, and only some of the best of the best teams in Japan’s colleges are able to participate. It doesn’t make it any easier for Haiji and his team, however, since only three of them have ever actually participated in any running-based sports – the other seven are all complete newbies of varying physical, mental, and general life states. It is, in short, a recipe for disaster, and the group clash a lot just because of how different they are as people. I won’t spoil anything for those who may not have seen the show, but these guys work their asses off, and they grow so much as a result of it.

That’s maybe one of the things that I like the most about Run With the Wind. It paints this picture that if you put your mind to something, and you really give it an honest go, you can potentially do incredible things – things you thought you weren’t capable of. And those incredible things may be something as seemingly simple as committing to getting a few runs in every week. It sounds cheesy to say it, but this show is just downright inspiring to me, and it’ll always continue to be. So, recently, I’ve been getting up early, stretching, and going for a run in the mornings. I’m almost thirty, and my body is definitely not as resilient as it was when I was in college. But with each run, I can feel myself getting a little better, and it gets a little easier, and in these hard times, I feel a little better about myself. Give Run With the Wind a shot, and I hope that, even in its relatively brief 23 episodes, it can fill you with some hope and inspiration in these seemingly stagnant, hopeless times.

Maybe 23 episodes of a show isn’t enough for you, though. Maybe you’re one of those folks who see One Piece’s *checks notes* 930 current episodes and thinks “yeah cool, sounds great,” and if you’re one of those kinds of people, good god, you are too powerful for this earth. But it does make a lot of sense that if we’re all just stuck inside right now, we probably have a fair bit of time on our hands, and diving headfirst into a lengthy, substantial series sounds like a solid way to spend your time. Now, there’s a lot of lengthy series out there that I could recommend that either go forever (or at least seem to go forever – I’m looking at you, Gintama), but really, I’m not exactly one for watching a lot of long-running series. It’s not for a lack of interest, but more just that my anime tastes just didn’t pan out in favor of some of those longer shows. However, what I can recommend to you is one of the best shonen series ever (I think it’s the best, fight me), which is Yu Yu Hakusho.

Yu Yu Hakusho was one of the first anime that I watched, alongside things like Dragonball Z and G Gundam. And while I do hold a fondness for the latter, when I think about watching them again, I have absolutely zero desire to do so. Yu Yu Hakusho is different, though. There’s just something about watching a snot-nosed little jerk like Yusuke grow and blossom into a demon-slaying, ghost-hunting, pew-pew-finger-shootin’ badass with a heart of gold that gets me every time. It has a wonderful cast of characters with a surprising amount of development; engaging and dynamic battles; the absolute best tournament arc in anime, period; and one of the best dubs I have ever witnessed. Seriously, if you watch this show subbed, I would be so bold as to say that you’re missing the definitive Yu Yu Hakusho experience.

The show itself clocks in at a good 112 episodes, which I think is a great happy medium if you’re going for a long show during these trying times. It’s long enough that it will take some time to get through it, and that gives you time to savor it. But, it’s not so long that it feels as though you’re never going to finish it. I have a lot of love for Yu Yu Hakusho, and I’ll probably end up writing something about it in the future here, so I’ll leave my gushing at that. If you’re looking for a good, long ride full of loveable characters and adrenaline-pumping action, Yu Yu Hakusho is the way to go.

Now, with that being said, there have been a lot of days in this quarantine where having my adrenaline pumping was the absolute last thing I had on my mind. If I have time to sit back for a bit between work and existential dread, I just want to relax, and I can’t think of a better show to do this with than Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. Our very own Owningmatt93 once described it as, and I’m paraphrasing here, “like taking a nap in a warm ray of sunshine next to an open window on a breezy spring day,” and man, does that hit the nail on the head. Tanaka-kun is easily my favorite slice-of-life comedy for a lot of reasons – for example, its overall aesthetic, from the art style, to the sound production, to just the feel of the show is nothing short of euphoric. It is impossible for me to watch this show and not slowly melt into my seat and just feel like I’m at home. 

It also has such a deliciously dry sense of humor, and because of that, you don’t expect some of the completely out-of-left-field hilarious things this show will hit you with. It is absolute perfection. But more than anything, what Tanaka-kun has going for it the most is the fact that it is able to exude such a calming aura around it. As Matt has said, it is truly that relaxing, and it is entirely unlike anything else I have ever seen from the genre.

That’s not to say that it’s just a supremely comfy show – it is, but that’s selling it short. It has a delightful, memorable cast of characters, and you’ll come to adore each and every one of them as they navigate through life together in, admittedly, some supremely dumb ways. So if you’re looking to watching a show to take the anxiety and edge off right now, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless is exactly what the doctor ordered. I cannot possibly recommend it enough.

Maybe going for something comfy isn’t really your bag when confronted with something wild like this. Maybe you just want to dive headfirst into something dark and gritty. I definitely can’t relate, but if dark and gritty is what you want, then Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is right up your alley. To be honest, when I watched this, I had never once heard anyone mention it, and I can’t really say that I’m surprised. For one, it was, from what I can tell, a six-episode OVA series that aired in 2008, which already limits some of its wider audience spread. Second, this show is, to say the least, pretty graphic. Our protagonist, Rin, is an immortal detective that has a penchant for getting herself into sticky situations. Unfortunately, a lot of those situations involve people with a penchant for violence, often in the gratuitous vein. It is often not a great time to be Rin.

What makes the show so interesting, though, is that beyond the more ghastly aspects of the show, in six episodes, we span about sixty years, from about 1990 to 2055, and watch the world change around Rin and her partner Mimi as they continue to do investigative work of varying kinds. It’s dark, brooding, and pretty solidly underrated. If you can stomach watching some really gnarly stuff happen to folks (I cannot stress how incredibly graphic this series is, so do not take this warning lightly) and are in the mood for a weird existential trip (I’m not going to talk about the plot at large because WOW is it wild), Rin is absolutely worth a watch.

Speaking about gnarly stuff happening to folks, on some level, I think that many of us as people love to watch shows with conflict in it to help alleviate some of the stress from our own lives by comparison. I can watch, say, Akira, or Rin, or Attack on Titan, and then a waiting round of papers to grade suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Like, “Well, at least I’m not at risk of getting crunched by big people, or getting tortured in an undying body, or of turning into a huge grotesque flesh baby in an abandoned Olympic stadium.” But sometimes, those kinds of major conflicts can actually stress me out, because even though I’ve watched these things plenty of times before, I know some supremely bad stuff is bound to happen. Sometimes, it’s good to watch a show where people are dealing with problems, but they are on a much smaller, and far less consequential scale.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War illustrates this concept perfectly. Two high-school geniuses, Miyuki Shirogane and Kaguya Shinomiya, are for sure in love with each other, but they’re too proud and too stubborn to actually admit it to the other. So, every episode, these two supreme dinguses run themselves ragged trying to trick the other into confessing their love, often through some absurdly galaxy-brain-scale schemes. And it has made for the funniest rom-com series that I have seen in years. Shirogane and Kaguya are at all times in conflict with each other and themselves, and you get to see that delicious struggle throughout the series. But, at no point is there any danger other than wondering if this is going to be the scheme where one of them fries their brain by overworking and overthinking almost literally everything. 

It’s a delightful battle of wits every episode, the cast is just stellar, and it’s all the conflict that you could want without the potentially stressful package (unless watching two idiots obviously in love be so bad at doing the being in love thing stresses you out). I know there were a lot of folks that passed up the first season, but with the second season airing now (unless COVID-19 takes it, too), and it being just as good as the first season, this is the perfect time to give the show a go.

Before we wrap this up, though, I have one last show to recommend.

And that show is Hand Shakers.

Okay, hear me out – I have a good reason for recommending Hand Shakers. I know that time and again, I have ranted and raved about how surpassingly awful this show (and its sequel  W’z) is, how nobody should watch it, etc etc etc. Under normal circumstances, I would still agree with this sentiment.

We, however, are not in normal circumstances.

I don’t think that it’s much of an exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 panic has been pretty bad in terms of mental health for people, and this has sometimes stretched out to manifest as, perhaps, a lot of ire. Certainly, there are a lot of good things to be mad about right now, and I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for anger in relation to, say, people deliberately being irresponsible and going out despite potentially being a carrier, or other similar cases. However, it might be healthy to, once in a while, redirect the hatred that’s stewing in the innermost part of your being and just make one completely inconsequential thing the object of your rage.

Enter Hand Shakers – I hate this show so @&$%ing much, and you can, too, if you give it a shot! Watch it, and direct all of your rage into this show, and once you’ve done it enough, you might just feel better. Pour all that anger into this garbage; this vertigo-inducing acid trip; this sin against anime. This is going to be the only time I ever say that you should watch Hand Shakers, so if you’re in the mood to just hate something in these weird times, make the opportunity I’ve just given to you count.

I’d wager to say that going back and just re-watching shows I’ve seen plenty of times before might not make me the best Backlogger, as my to-watch list continues to grow and I just laugh about it. But right about now, I think that’s perfectly fine. Hopefully, something spoke to you in this list, and maybe some time in the future you can go back to one of these shows with fond memories of when they got you through a rough patch in human history.

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