In the majority of Japanese anime works, the main characters are high school students. Come to think of it, out of all the statuses in life, such as being a student in elementary school, middle school, college, or being a working adult, it is very interesting how high school is chosen as the setting in many anime.
One reason may be that the social position and environment of high school students are easily understood by people of any generation, and therefore, the viewers can empathize with the characters. Making high school students the main characters means that the anime needs to illustrate their daily lives.
Some anime illustrate the scenes of school life with rather less detail. Other anime may illustrate those scenes very comically and with an attention to detail. There are also anime in which the lives of the high school students in Japan are illustrated very realistically. When I say ‘realistically’, I am talking about not just the fun things of school life, but also the bad side of being a student. By illustrating these realistic aspects, it is likely to gather a lot of empathy from Japanese viewers.
Today, I would like to introduce to you 3 anime which have become popular for realistically illustrating the lives of high school students in Japan.
Anime 1: ‘A Silent Voice’ (Koe no Katachi)
I mentioned earlier that a realistic anime will illustrate both the good side and bad side of high school life. One of the anime works which clearly includes both of these aspects is A Silent Voice.
The manga on which the anime is based is written by Yoshitoki Ooima, and it is a story about the relationship between a deaf girl and a boy who tries to support her. The manga deals with many serious themes such as bullying and physical handicaps, and it also illustrates our feelings of loneliness and despair. The manga gathered a lot of public attention when it was being serialized.
The manga was later adapted into an anime film produced by Kyoto Animation and won many anime awards in Japan.
The Realistic Aspects in ‘A Silent Voice’
One of the distinctive factors about A Silent Voice is that it illustrates the scenes of bullying and loneliness with great detail from the perspective of high school students. The viewers get to see the dark side of human relationships. The anime also shows how difficult it is to express one’s true feelings.
Not every student can spend a fun and easy high school life making many good memories. There may be students who look happy and are always smiling, but are actually hiding the fact that they are being bullied. There may be students who show nothing on their faces, but are actually bullying others violently.
It is very difficult for many Japanese people to express their feelings in a straightforward way. To find out more about how Japanese people treat their and others’ feelings, it may be interesting to make observations from the anime film A Silent Voice.
Anime 2: ‘K-On!’
K-On! is an anime series which is known as one of the pioneers of illustrating high school club activities. Although it was first released in 2009, the anime is still strongly loved by many Japanese fans. I’m sure there are many fans living overseas, too!
The story is about four high school girls who become members of the light music club, which was about to get abolished as all the former members had graduated in the previous year. The four girls form a band and start to get fascinated by playing music together.
The anime became popular not just for its music, but also for the cute daily lives of the characters in the light music club.
The Realistic Aspects in K-On!
The realistic aspects in K-On! can be found in the behavior of the students and their loose and entertaining atmosphere.
Thanks to the beautiful and high-quality drawings created by Kyoto Animation, the eye movements, gestures, and behaviors of each character were very realistic, and I bet there were many viewers who had felt that the anime knows how high school girls move!
Another realistic factor was how the girls spent their club activity time. Although they were in the light music club, they often enjoyed having tea or just chatting with each other. The scenes of the characters enjoying this fun and relaxing time after school were very realistic. In fact, there were many adult viewers in Japan who felt nostalgic after watching K-On! The anime made them reminisce on their own past, ‘Oh, it was so fun in high school! I wish I could go back!’
Also, the viewers could enjoy watching the realistic scenes of part time jobs, term-end exams, school festivals, and many other high school events. Such a unique atmosphere of high school life is vividly illustrated in K-On!
Anime 3: ‘ReLIFE’
The anime ReLIFE tells the story of a 27-year-old NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) who one day is made 10 years younger and relives his high school days.
The original manga is written by Sou Yayoi and started serialization on the manga app comico in 2013, and it was adapted into an anime in 2016. In the past, there have been many anime in which the story is about reincarnation or ‘time-leaping’, and a story about a NEET trying to redo his life may be categorized under similar themes. However, what’s unique about ReLIFE is that the protagonist goes back to his younger self, having the same appearance of when he was 17, and once again lives out his high school days. This peculiar setting was one of the reasons the anime gained popularity.
Although the protagonist looks like a 17-year-old, his mind is still the one he has as a 27-year-old. He has already experienced many things in life, so it is very entertaining for the viewers to watch him spend life in high school from a whole new perspective. It is interesting how he starts to change the way he thinks and establishes new relationships.
The Realistic Aspects in ‘ReLIFE’
ReLIFE illustrates the friendships and romantic relationships among high school students in a detailed and realistic way.
Boys and girls who are 17 years old tend to be sensitive, and it is sometimes difficult for them to express their feelings to others. These realistic psychological depictions are illustrated in ReLIFE.
Also, the anime is like a simulation of what an adult would do and how they would feel if they suddenly went back to high school again, so the viewers can easily empathize with the protagonist. For example, the ways high school students today communicate with each other is completely different from the ways from 10 years ago, and this can be very surprising for adults.
So, have you become interested in some of the anime? Of course, there are tons of other anime which illustrate the daily lives of high school students in a realistic way. I’m sure every high school student, living inside and outside of Japan, are very sensitive and they think about many different things. I think Japanese anime will give viewers the chance to learn about how students in Japan would feel and act in certain situations. I hope you enjoy watching these anime and learn more about young people in Japan!