Throughout the pandemic, I discovered consolation in marathoning shonen anime. Hunter x Hunter, a collection I began in my teenage years however by no means completed, was the one to start out all of it. Hunter follows 11-year-old Gon’s journey on turning into an elite Hunter to seek out his long-lost dad, as he befriends different Hunters, varieties rivalries and allyship, and endures grueling coaching to beat the more and more tougher obstacles in his means. I watched all 148 episodes back-to-back, cheering this boy’s journey on rising stronger and extra assured. Every life-or-death combat and exaggerated decapitations felt soothing and acquainted—not what I’d anticipated I’d be feeling watching these scenes.
Maybe what I used to be responding to was nostalgia. Psychologists already famous why individuals have been marathoning on old TV shows during the pandemic. Although anime, manga, and the Korean counterpart, manhwa, have been an everyday a part of my childhood in Korea, I’d thought it was one thing I’d grown out of as an grownup. Whereas watching anime, nonetheless, I recalled that feeling of speeding to the TV to look at anime after faculty, studying by means of stacks of rented manga with mates, my brother—typically even my mother would take part—maybe they jogged my memory of less complicated instances with lots of room for hope. Maybe I used to be responding to the shut friendships Gon develops on this story, mates who threat their lives for each other and by no means appear to develop aside irrespective of how a lot they disagree with each other. Throughout a time of isolation, I might perceive why I’d be drawn to tales that characteristic teams of mates touring all over the world collectively, combating collectively, consuming collectively.
As soon as I completed Hunter, I began watching the unique Sailor Moon, wishing to fill the void in my coronary heart with extra episodes of shut mates combating monsters collectively. Arguably, this was the collection of my childhood, what all the women in my class have been obsessed about earlier than we obsessed over boy bands. I might nonetheless recall a number of the episodes frame-by-frame from once I first watched it within the 90s. I spotted, nonetheless, I wasn’t feeling the nice and cozy consolation I used to be feeling whereas watching Hunter. The shut friendships have been there. The nostalgia was most undoubtedly there. One thing was lacking on this quintessential shojo anime that was very ahead in shonen—the concept that the world is a meritocracy.
Shonen anime, reminiscent of Hunter x Hunter, Naruto, and One Piece, is primarily a style focused in direction of boys. To broadly generalize, this style’s story arc tends to be this: A boy that’s particular but additionally an outcast units out on an journey; He meets a bunch of mates; He and his mates fights enemies alongside the way in which in an effort to meet their purpose; The enemies get stronger as they get nearer to their purpose, and the boy and his mates practice more durable in an effort to beat these enemies, typically with the assistance of a mentor or a particular merchandise that reinforces their abilities; The boy will get his purpose. Hunter most undoubtedly follows this arc. Gon is rewarded for his laborious coaching. When Gon loses a combat to a powerful enemy, he blames himself for being weak and determines to coach more durable to turn into stronger. After coaching, Gon fights the robust enemy once more and wins.
The theme of coaching laborious to achieve one’s objectives are repeated in Naruto, who goes by means of grueling coaching to get nearer to his desires of turning into Hokage, the strongest ninja of the village. In One Piece, the protagonist Luffy trains laborious to turn into stronger in an effort to attain his purpose of Pirate King. (This pattern appears to be famous by different individuals as properly, as reminiscent of this private coach who created a collection of fitness plans based mostly on anime characters.)
Sailor Moon, a shojo anime focused in direction of ladies, shares some similarities with Hunter, not less than on the floor. Usagi, the protagonist of the collection, is an everyday center faculty woman although additionally secretly particular. She finds a bunch of mates who turn into the Sailor Troopers who must combat monsters from house from sucking power from people on Earth. Noticeably, nonetheless, Usagi isn’t proven coaching to enhance her abilities, nor does she appear to have a lot need to take action in her day-to-day life. Her abilities are up to date by means of magical equipment which might be gifted to her by her cat and mentor Luna. Although Usagi does undergo inner transformation on this course of—from a klutzy, scared woman to a decided fighter who understands the significance of her function—it’s by means of the repeated expertise of combating monsters that seem in entrance of her reasonably than by means of lively coaching and willpower.
I used to be struck by the refined variations in messaging between the 2 collection (not simply because the creators of the 2 are married in real life), and to some extent, the 2 genres normally. Not like shonen anime that focuses on laborious work and coaching, shojo anime focuses on inner transformation however little or no coaching concerned. A lot of shojo isn’t about combating enemies with magic or power in any respect, however reasonably round romance, love triangles, and friendship. Even within the Magical Girl subgenre of shojo anime, reminiscent of Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, or Wedding Peach, the place younger ladies are tasked to combat highly effective, supernatural beings, we by no means see the protagonists of the story coaching to get stronger. As an alternative, the women are given extra equipment that assist them energy up, prettier outfits, and stronger willpower to combat evil.
Clearly, simply because a style is focused in direction of a gender doesn’t necessitate that solely kids of the focused gender would watch the collection. I consumed each shonen and shojo rising up, together with my brother. Nevertheless, the messages we subconsciously selected to instill on our ladies versus our boys do appear completely different. For ladies, we educate them to develop emotional resilience, that purchasing fairly equipment makes them highly effective. For boys, we educate them to work laborious and they’ll be capable of overcome their obstacles. In a means, we’re making ready our ladies to construct the inner power to tackle the punches of the world that will maybe deal with us unfairly. We’re making ready our boys for a future the place their laborious work can be acknowledged, so ensure to place in these hours.
However even for boys, even for these born with silver spoons, the world isn’t a strict meritocracy. It was by no means a meritocracy, and the pandemic confirmed this to us much more clearly. Even probably the most diligent planners couldn’t have forecast a lethal pandemic the place most of us can be sheltering-in-place for nearly a yr, longer than the standard “good financial advice” given to avoid wasting up six months residing bills. The ten richest individuals on this planet boosted their internet price by $400 billion throughout this time whereas nearly a million Americans are unemployed. Individuals working full time jobs are nonetheless homeless; 13 million Individuals work more than two jobs. Nothing on this planet appears to make sense. The principles don’t appear to use. We’re working more durable than ever however we don’t appear to have the ability to “slay our enemies.” The plans we had for the yr have been placed on maintain due to a virus that we can not management or forecast. The virus doesn’t even have any ill-will in direction of us people.
This was the crux of why Hunter x Hunter was so comforting, and why I refused to depart this world to face my actuality. The world Gon and his mates lived in was one in every of strict meritocracy, the place your laborious work assured an excellent final result, and your life can be nothing however an upward trajectory. This was why I couldn’t fall into Sailor Moon as a lot, as a result of I used to be uninterested in constructing emotional resilience, of accepting my destiny. For 20 minutes at a time, I might escape on this fantasy of regularly bettering abilities that persistently resulted in ever bettering outcomes. And in the long run, I spotted there’s nothing fallacious with escape for brief intervals of time, particularly on this chaotic, unpredictable, decidedly unmeritocratic world.
So I paused my rewatch of Sailor Moon and continued my shonen marathon of Naruto. I watch Naruto develop stronger by means of his grueling coaching, surpassing the rising stars and born-geniuses from highly effective households. It’s ridiculous, but additionally comforting. Whereas I do recall Sailor Moon getting higher in direction of the later episodes, and I’d by no means argue that the collection is a basic, I solely have restricted time and power I’ve for frivolous, non-survival associated actions. I selected to dive head-deep in consolation that the meritocracy delusion can deliver me. As a result of that is one factor I can management throughout this time.
Minyoung Lee writes fiction and essays in Oakland, CA. Her work seems or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Electrical Literature, The Daring Italic, amongst others, and has been anthologized in Finest Microfiction 2021. Her prose chapbook Claim Your Space was printed by Concern No Lit as a part of the Submerging Author Fellowship, which she received in 2019. She is writing a novel based mostly on her expertise engaged on an offshore oil platform off the Louisiana coast.