What’s With the Ages, Japan?

Stare all you want Menma, but it does not make you look older.

When it comes to animation, anything is possible. You can create a lot of things you would not be able to do otherwise, because of the suspension of disbelief. You want ninja turtles fighting talking brains? Heck yes. What about giant robots throwing galaxies at each other? Sure, why not.

But there is one little thing that bugs me from time to time: ages.

There are two particular problems I feel about the ages when it comes to anime.

1. The ages themselves are so wacky, that it is hard to believe and relate to the characters.

2. The ages become a restriction in terms of storytelling.

Let us take an example of an ongoing show. Mirai Nikki is a battle royal anime, with twelve different characters trying to find and kill each other, whether it is by breaking their cell phone or simply killing the person itself. We follow the two contestants Yukiteru and Yuno, a scared boy and a love crazy yandere stalker girl. Yukiteru has to rely on Yuno to stay alive, using her affection to his own advantage, which so far has only involved kissing. Together they try to survive, and kill others if necessary, in this crazy game of survival.

That big guy is actually a teenager! (picture from Unmei Kaihen)

So far, so good, creating a very impressive premise that could be used in many ways. But then I remember that tiny little thing about their ages. They are actually in the second grade of middle school. It is not as big of a problem as it could be, considering that Mirai Nikki is a very campy show, having a strange fellow impersonating Power Rangers and more. But when it comes to, say, the “love”, it is suddenly hard to accept. The kisses become awkward. Even the killing comes off as something a middle schooler would not do. Luckily the show is not 100% serious business.

As a consequence of them being middle schoolers, it also affects the story itself. Many shows tend to have younger characters to be more innocent, annoying and not acting “real” and “logical” in a given situation. What if Mirai Nikki would become much more brutal or even include sex at some point, which would make the battle royal grittier and not as “clean” as it still is considering its genre? It would be nearly impossible to pull off, as the only thing I would see are middle schoolers behaving out of character. But if it does not include grittier scenes, what would the point of a battle royal be, especially as there are some very jarring scenes already? For me, that part of the show will never succeed. Become grittier = I do not believe. Do not become grittier = It will not live up to its potential.

Yuno being Yuno (picture from Random Curiosity)

With that being said, I still doubt Mirai Nikki will suffer much from this. But there are other shows. In Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 our main characters, two children, only annoys me because of how they act, which is a direct result of their young age. I do not care about them.

But there are lot of times when the ages does not bother me at all. I assume it all depends on, to some extent, how much focus the ages are given, but honestly, I have trouble finding the actual reason for my reactions. In Hunter x Hunter some characters may be twelve, but they do not normally act like that. Misuzu’s childish behaviour despite her age in Air is not a problem at all. Kindergarteners being much smarter than adults in Hanamaru Youchien are another example.

Ages are mysterious to me, so mysterious that this post might be very confusing and messy. I have to go sleep.

He is 11, she is 17. Recorder to Randoseru will air Winter 2011/2012.

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35 thoughts on “What’s With the Ages, Japan?

  1. Muse says:

    …Huh, I thought that they were in high school. Shows how much I’ve been paying attention.

    Anyway, my suspension of disbelief is pretty flexible when it comes to hold old we’re told a character is, since the general anime “style” (big eyes, etc.) makes characters look younger to me automatically. However, I do have a point where it stops working for me, and that last image of Recorder to Randoseru is a really good example of that. I won’t be watching it since that image alone makes way too much cognitive dissonance with me.

  2. lostty says:

    In terms of your second point, I don’t really find it restricts the storytelling. In terms of your example with Mirai Nikki, its as you said, more awkward than anything, but that doesn’t make it restricting. What Mirai Nikki only proves is that age isn’t a restriction and this anime is probably going to do whatever it wants anyway. Let’s face it, even if they were older, I don’t think there will be any sex scenes in this anime, but what do I know, they already had a potential rape. As violence goes, I would say they’re already pulling off a good amount of gore.
    Anywho, I agree that the ages in anime do test our suspension of belief, but I’ve gotten used to it and don’t mind it all that much. Some agesare indeed quite “wacky”. No way is Leorio a teenager! This is the first I’ve heard of Recorder to Randoseru, but that’s just weird!

    • Marow says:

      As Mira said further down, older characters often come with more complex themes and such, which is why I find young ages restricting. Mirai Nikki was perhaps a bad example, but for me, it would come off as awkward if they have some more mature scenes.

      When I see Leorio, I don’t see a teenager. But do I see an adult? No. He is something… something that doesn’t have a word. He just is :p

  3. hoshiko says:

    This post reminded me of a scene in Lucky Star whereby Konata was saying how characters in anime these days don’t look their age.

    I do find it hard to relate if a character doesn’t look his/her age (Leorio really doesn’t look like a teenager to me) or the things they do or think are not usually done by people their age in real life. The latter point only refers to young characters acting way too much like adults. For some reason, I have absolutely no problem with adult characters acting like kids.

    • Marow says:

      That reminds me, I haven’t even finished Lucky Star.

      Hm, it depends on how much they act as adults I guess. Rin from Usagi Drop was no problem for me, but maybe that was because I could relate to her in a way, not being a brat as a kid ^^’

  4. Ty-chama says:

    Ages in anime are something which no longer bothers me.
    If a character’s acting too mature for, (what I’ve deduced to be) their age I put it down to the show’s particular art style. Characters in anime often have giant eyes which convey a sense of innocence, making them seem younger than they actually are.
    Age can also be used to help a storyline. Mitsudomoe’s premise was built on the fact that these girls’ interests didn’t match their age. They can’t have been more than about 6 years old but, one of the triplets was obsessed with breasts, the other read porn novels and the other was a closet sadist. The fact that they were into these things, despite being so young, was the show’s main source of humour!
    Anyway, age hasn’t bothered me since I first started watching anime, after the first initial shock of discovering Konata was 17 I decided that the laws that govern anime were something I’d never quite understand so it was best I adapt to them rather than fight against them…

    • Marow says:

      Comedy usually works a lot better, you accept more things then. If it instead was a serious show, at least I would… you know, be annoyed. Haven’t watched Mitsudomoe, but Hanamaru Youchien shouldn’t be too much different.

  5. Ty-chama says:

    Oh, and Mirai Nikki gets grittier, a lot grittier… >: D

  6. Yerocha says:

    It’s only really bad for me if it’s revealed later on, when you’ve gotten to know the character and think of them as bring a certain age. I still have trouble accepting that the girls in Negima are in middle school.

  7. Kuuki says:

    I honestly stopped caring.
    I think that usually, when characters really act their age the show is meant for an older audience. Like Tokyo Magnitude 8.

    As for Mirai Nikki, you’ll be surprised. Still, I believe middle schoolers to be capable of murder, and I had a few friends at the time who already had sex on a regular basis so I’m still pretty OK with that.

    • Marow says:

      I don’t think any kid would run away during a disaster like in Tokyo Magnitude, to be honest. I have a hard time believing it. But who knows, someone might. ^^’

  8. Yi says:

    Yes exactly! I’m feeling increasingly aware of this disconnect between characters’ ages and their actions/ mindsets. A lot of times, it’s almost as if the creators have forgotten what kids are like at that age. The ideas of chuunibyou also plays into this, but I think I’ve kind of grown out of it.

    • Marow says:

      The question is: is it really because they’ve forgotten? Sometimes it just feels they use young characters as an excuse to have a character with some specific traits.
      “Okay, we need a character who’s a wimp”
      “I know, let’s make him a middle schooler!”

  9. SnippetTee says:

    It was said that fictions deliberately use young characters to portray impossible acts because it’s part of building idealisms and perfect imageries. It also conditions the reader’s mind to liberate himself outside the boundaries of reality,

  10. Wait. Yukki and Yuno are only in middle school? Wow, the portrayal of the ages are really messed up… But then again, this is anime, so there really are no restrictions!

    Perhaps the creators can take a hint from Miyazaki’s movies, which have done so wonderfully well in portraying the characters for their ages? 😛

    • Marow says:

      Well, you weren’t the only one! 😛

      Ah, Miyazaki, he knows how to create good characters and movies. I wonder how he does it. Perhaps he’s not as limited as many other creators are, and instead is able to create whatever he want. He is so popular, that he is free to do what he want.

  11. Mira says:

    What really bothers me is that Yuno and that one-eyed chick are around 14-15 but are endowed with supermodel physiques. GODDAMIT ANIME.

    I think when the show uses the characters’ ages to the storytelling, it doesn’t bother me. Shows like Now and Then, Here are There have children in adult situations but the story is there to portray how a child will react to such situations. The same goes with Hunter x Hunter. (Although I honestly thought Leorio would be in his 20’s or so!) But most of the time, a younger cast simply doesn’t give the show a lot of opportunity to explore more complex feelings. Even shows like Mawaru Penguindrum. Can you imagine that show having college students or even full pledged adults make up the WHOLE cast? I mean, you’d have less DESTINNYYYYYYY and HURRDURRPUNISHMENT and probably more like ‘I grew up a dysfunctional adult shunned by society and now I’m stalking a co-worker. Ntr time!’ Yes, sounds boring but that’s lot more engaging for me.

    • Marow says:

      Wait wait wait, now I’M the one who is surprised. The one-eyed psycho is around the same age as Yuno and Yuki?! I thought she was older :O

      … that idea actually sounds interesting. I would watch it!

  12. Ty-chama says:

    @Mira: Watched Now and Then, Here and There a couple of weeks ago, good show! Finished it in a couple of days.

  13. Ty-chama says:

    No, Uryuu Minene is not the same age as Yuno and Yukki, I can pretty much guarantee it!

  14. Overlord-G says:

    You want to know what my opinion is on where this whole thing began? Easy:
    Jack, Starring Robin Williams. Don’t believe me? Look up the anime Yoiko, same thing.

  15. Nopy says:

    I actually don’t have a problem with the ages in Mirai Nikki. There’s a famous case where I live that took place several years ago. A 12 year old girl and her boyfriend murdered her parents because they wouldn’t accept their relationship. The girl also killed her 8 year old little brother. Crazy enough, that girl is walking free now and attending university because the law says she can’t be tried as an adult.

    There was also a case in Japan where a 15 year old girl decapitated her father for some reason that was never made clear. Every anime with extreme violence was taken off the air for several weeks.

    Taking these two cases into account, I don’t think that anime characters are acting out of their age (at least not in Mirai Nikki). It’s definitely rare, but kids that age are capable of some serious crimes.

    • Marow says:

      It’s not that I don’t believe such cases exist, because they sadly do, it’s more that they feel so bizarre and are rare, that I for some reason have a hard time to believe it in anime. But maybe it depends on how well-written the show is 🙂

      That young girl, wasn’t it the “nice boat”-incident?

  16. Persocom says:

    Age bugs me quite a bit as well. Countless anime have middle schoolers in them, or high schoolers and it just doesn’t feel right. I’ve pretty much grown to ignore the ages of characters because it’s anime, it just works that way. I personally wish there were more adult characters.

  17. John Sato says:

    Original Ninja Turtles + Krang reference: check. This post is already excellent.

    I think one of the problem with ages has to do with the targeted age groups. Anime is still mostly made for the school crowd. Yes, there are exceptions, but my understanding is that *most* of the people who watch anime are in that age range. And people like watching characters that are the same age as them. It helps them get more personally invested in the characters, or makes them more impressed with the cast. I mean, yes there are plenty of shows with *only* adults, but to me they seem to be more just because the type of show wouldn’t allow for something else (a problem Mirai Nikki seemed to have gotten into). You’ll notice that only a tiny amount of anime take place in college (the only exception I can think of at the moment is Honey & Clover). I would assume that’s because most college students are really busy with, well, college, and don’t have enough or as much time for anime. Anyways, that’s my two cents on it.

    Once again, nice post.

    • Marow says:

      Turtles ftw! Loved that as a kid.

      You are probably right about the targeted age groups. Naturally, it is easier to relate to characters around your age when you are younger, as their actions aren’t different than your own. As a kid, a simple love problem is easier than a complex and emotionally drama, right?

      When you become a teenager though, I’d say anything goes, really… however, I’m not really sure how it is over in Japan with target groups. I mean, compared to the West (today, at least), kids can be showed cruel stuff. Maybe shows such as Toradora is targeted for them too? I have no clue.

  18. I suck at guessing what age anyone is most of the time in RL, so I guess, with anime I rarely have such problems 😛 Nuh, I do have lots of times, especially when it comes to wise words spoken out of their mouths. And when they are ubermoe and they appear loli. Otherwise violence and sex could be very well be expected from adolescences, especially these days. I think you are underestimating kids.

    As for why the average age is early teens, that has to do most often than not with the intended audience. If the big mass of watchers are teens in Japan, then this is only logical, as people get interested in stories of their peers. A teen couldn’t care less to learn about the problems an adult faces and I don’t think they’d understand either.

    • Marow says:

      That’s true: it depends on the intended audience (mostly at least). Still, ages can still clash a little with the narrative at times!

      Otherwise violence and sex could be very well be expected from adolescences, especially these days. I think you are underestimating kids.

      Naturally, there are always exceptions. But honestly, I believe you’re overestimating kids. Then again, it may be different from country to country.

      A teen couldn’t care less to learn about the problems an adult faces and I don’t think they’d understand either.

      Now you’re just generalizing.

      • For the sex issue, think of enjo kosai in Japan for once- as for my country many girls start sexual experimentation even from the age of 14 or so. And violence with all this bullying going around is a real thing.

        What I meant is that a kid doesn’t understand the process of work an adult does nor the responsibilities and the social control and so it can’t identify if it watched Hataraki Man, let’s say. But yes, you’re right it’s a bit of generalization. Perhaps those who have faced discrimination are more sensitive. And yet I believe that when you are in your teens you feel so messed up, that everything else is erased of your sight.

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