As someone who has battled mental illness for a while now, anime has always been an escape. For example, it is through childhood classics such as Beyblade and Pokemon that I can feel a sort of familial comfort when anxious. And then there are shows like SK8 The Infinity, which is an extremely colorful and fun sports anime that ends up serving as instant serotonin. But what about anime that can tend to make you feel depressed?
So, I don’t think anime can make you any more depressed if you are already diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. I’d argue that sometimes, anime that have heavier themes can serve as an outlet for your repressed emotions, where crying over them ends up making you feel lighter than you did before. I’ve dealt with this situation before, it’s part of why I love anime so much.
There is a lot of hope in stories that stem from pain. And that hope can be so relatable to many people that consume the content, which can end up helping them in real life. Depressing anime doesn’t mean you watch a doom-and-gloom spiral with no salvation. But then again, not all sad anime have a happy ending. Which could lead to post-anime binge depression.
However, I’d argue that anime that seem depressing of the shock factor of it all, aren’t well written. However, there are some deeply moving shows out there that don’t need a bad ending to make you cry over them. But how does a fictional animated story invoke so much emotion in the first place? Let’s discuss using my favorite anime as examples.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Be Careful What You Wish For
I vividly remember watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica and slowly getting more and more horrified as the episodes went on. It is the best example of trope subversion in anime, and I will die on that hill, period.
This was the first proper anime I remember crying at, completely unprovoked. And I remember the exact scene it happened at. Mami Tomoe was fighting a Witch and she was so happy because Madoka Kaname had agreed to join her as a Magical Girl. She was exuberant, fighting like she won the world because finally, she wasn’t going to be alone anymore!
And then the Witch catches her. Bites her head clean off. And we see her body fall.
The way this anime went from bubbly cuteness to existential horror, I couldn’t stop crying. Because every wish-fulfillment came with a price. And as we went down, we saw Sayaka lose herself because she asked to heal the person she loved, only to see that person choose someone else. We saw Kyoko Sakura lose her entire family to zealots because she asked for more people to come to her father’s church. It was so jarring but also humbling.
All wishes are inherently selfish, in the end.
Violet Evergarden: Love Is What Makes Us Human
Violet Evergarden was the first anime I picked up after a self-imposed anime hiatus at university. And, in hindsight, it was the best and worst choice I could’ve made. Best because it is one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. And worst because I couldn’t stop crying afterward
First things first, Violet Evergarden is a visual masterpiece. That is just a fact and its sweeping visuals add to its ethereal feel. And second, the story is so genuinely heartfelt, that you can’t help but fall in love.
Violet Evergarden, our protagonist, has gone through a literal war and is an amputee with some clear PTSD. And yet, her resilience to learn what love means through her job as an Auto-Memory Doll is so inspiring. You see her encounter all these people, these different shades of love, and learn what it means for her in return. Familial, romantic, platonic, there are just so many she never experienced before. And you’re there, learning with her.
Every episode is a delight, even the ones that make you cry and get you depressed.
Given: Breaking Through The Depressed Phase Of Losing A Loved One
So, this one is special. Aka at one point I had to stop an episode midway through, call my partner and tell them I love them because holy hell, I couldn’t breathe through the tears at the story unfolding.
Given is a story of finally letting go of all your repressed emotions through music and finding healing. When guitarist Ritsuka Uenoyama finds Mafuyu Satou clutching a broken red Gibson guitar, he offers to fix it for him, and then eventually teaches him how to play. However, he doesn’t know that this guitar belonged to Mafuyu’s boyfriend, who had committed suicide a few months ago. And from there stems a journey of dealing with loss and finding love again.
Rarely do we get such understated, realistic stories told so sincerely in anime. When Mafuyu finally sings his song, it feels like he’s washing away all the guilt he felt. And you can’t help but cry with him.
Anime isn’t there to get you depressed, even if it’s sad. It’s all about rising above the pain, in the end.