It’s kind of strange to look back at the younger me back when I was starting college and to know that there are so many things I am familiar with these days that I had almost no knowledge of back then. Several TV shows and anime fall into that category. And one of the strangest things to realize is that each show has shaped me into the person I am right now. This ended up being much longer than I originally intended, but here is a exposition on the shows that have influenced me–and what each one has taught me.
Avatar: the Last Airbender — Integrity
A:tLA was probably the first TV show that I fully got into. I kind of was introduced to random bits and pieces of Doctor Who throughout my first freshman semester, but it wasn’t really until most of the way through my second semester that a couple friends managed to get me hooked on it. As a result, watching A:tLA towards the end of my first semester in college makes it the first time I really followed a show.
What did I learn from A:tLA? I learned that while compromise and making allowances for what must be done are important, preserving one’s integrity and remaining true to the beliefs one is grounded in is also important. Without honorable integrity, Zuko wandered far from home. When Katara lost her integrity and sought vengeance, she lost her footing until she found herself again in the eyes of the first (and presumably only) firebender she bloodbent. Aang held onto his integrity and, while it made him an abrasive little git for a while near the end of the show, it made him also someone worth honoring.
Doctor Who — Bravery
I was first introduced to Doctor Who through the episode The Angels Take Manhattan (rather than the more typical introductory episodes Rose or Blink). Sadly, this episode still remains almost the only one I ever liked Amy Pond (the character) in. While I think that Karen Gillian is an awesome actress and hold nothing against her personally, Amelia Pond is one of the characters I have a hard time enjoying and accepting. Her personality is, to me, brash and uninspiring compared to those of Donna Noble and Clara Oswald. But I digress.
What have I learned from Doctor Who? I learned that fear is important and that it is okay to be afraid. The moments when you are afraid are the moments when you can be brave. You can be the smartest person in the room, but that intelligence is useless if you are also the most yellow-livered person in the room. You can be the most powerful person in the room, but that strength is wasted if you are also the meanest person in the room. Courage is important.
Avatar: Legend of Korra — Identity
After watching A:tLA, it was only natural that I would follow A:LoK as it aired. I loved Korra and I loved the show . . . mostly. The romance aspects of it were generally in poor taste and appealed frequently to the baser drama instincts of the younger teenage audience, and at times the story line was weak, and I definitely still dislike the last 5 minutes of the show, but Korra as a character still stands out in more ways to me than Aang ever did.
What did I learn from A:LoK? I learned that in this world you can easily get lost (both physically and psychologically) if you lose sight of who you are. Korra struggled with self-doubt about being a “half-baked Avatar” when she had issues learning airbending. When Amon locked her bending, Vaatu destroyed the past Avatars, Zaheer ruined her health, and Kuvira cast doubts on the Avatar’s relevance to the world, Korra came close to losing herself, and it was only by finding her center again each time that she got back on track.
RWBY — Duty
Since I am listing these shows in chronological order of when I at least started watching them, RWBY comes next, though in many ways it and Doctor Who form the foundation of my show experience. I have been a RWBY fan since shortly after RoosterTeeth aired the four well-known trailers (Red, White, Black, and Yellow). At this point, the characters are so dear to my heart that I can channel most of them with little prep work required, and I am eagerly awaiting the next volume.
What have I learned from RWBY? I learned that no matter how much you might question yourself and your world, making the world a better place lies in your hands. For those who choose that route, there will be doubt. There will be seemingly useless death. There will be companionship and there will be intense isolation. And maybe, just maybe, in the middle of all of that, love and hope and faith can still bloom.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion + R2 — Self-sacrifice
This was a show that I had had strongly recommended to me by a couple of friends. After being badly scared away from anime by other friends attempting to show me episodes from the shows Nichijou and My Bride is a Mermaid (the latter show is especially horrific and I would never try to introduce anyone to anime with it), I finally agreed to watch Code Geass. I was glad I did–seeing Lelouch vi Britannia (aka Lelouch Lamperouge) rising and falling helped me to understand a lot about human nature that I as yet had not understood.
What did I learn from Code Geass? I learned that putting your own life on the line is often necessary to get anything serious done. As Lelouch says, a king should always be willing to fight and die alongside (if not before) his soldiers. And sometimes what others need from you is something strong enough to override any personal desires. Sometimes the only way to make the world a better place is to put yourself on the line.
Angel Beats! — Compassion
This show is bittersweet for me, because I was introduced to it by someone I am no longer friends with. It was the most awesome thing I’d experienced back then, but the quick fission of our friendship after that (due to other factors) now makes some of the music hard to listen to without feeling the pain of loss.
What did I learn from Angel Beats!? I learned that it is worth it to give others reason to desire to live through showing compassion. Compassion is a powerful gift that can change an entire world that has not known the full extent of love for a long time. And when you change the world with compassion, you may be the one to suffer the most . . . but it will be worth it all in the end.
Plastic Memories — Loyalty
Being introduced to this anime fairly soon after rewatching Angel Beats! caused a bit of an emotional storm in me, since there are a lot of points at which Isla, the main female lead of Plastic Memories, seems very similar to Tachibana Kanade, one of the two main female leads of Angel Beats!. Not only are they animated similarly, their personalities are not too different from each other.
What did I learn from Plastic Memories? I learned that even if you know that you have limited time left with someone, that is no reason to push them away from you. If anything, it should make you want to stay even closer to them. Watching Mizugaki Tsukasa summon his courage to stay loyal to and smiling for Isla all the way to the end is an extremely powerful moment for me.
Sword Art Online — Companionship
Yes, I know that SAO is often classed as one of the low-quality anime. And to be fair, I’ve only really watched the Aincrad arc in the first half of the first series. However, I enjoyed that arc and my only beef with it is the overuse of time skips. Other than that, I really do like Kirigaya Kazuto and Yuuki Asuna, at least as they are in Aincrad. This is partially because they do remind me, in that series, of many of the other characters from other anime and TV shows that I’ve loved so far.
What did I learn from SAO? I learned that loneliness is rarely the solution to making oneself powerful. Even introverts like Kirito need companions like Asuna to help and support and strengthen and complement them. It is especially easy to seek isolation when it seems like allowing oneself to become close to others will only serve to hurt or destroy them in the end, but through Kirito and Asuna I learned that we all need someone with us.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso — Perseverance
This anime, also known as Your Lie in April, was another one recommended to me by the same friends who got me to watch Code Geass. I am so very glad they recommended it, since I can deeply relate to Arima Kousei (the male lead) as a pianist, as someone struggling with depression, and as someone who often communicates his emotions most clearly through playing music.
What did I learn from Shigatsu? I learned that once you find your way to speak out, you should never let go of it. I learned that even when great obstacles enter your path, it is worth it to struggle through them, for sometimes it is the struggle that can teach you the most and propel you forward the farthest.
Charlotte — Humanity
Like Plastic Memories, the anime Charlotte is a recent production. However, in my opinion it holds its own well, even surpassing Angel Beats! (which was actually made by the same company and suffered, from what I’ve heard, from a production accident which cost the series half its content too late in the timeline for the lost content to be remade). One of the things I loved about watching Charlotte was its use of communication through music, a theme very fresh on my mind after having just watched Shitgatsu wa Kimi no Uso.
What did I learn from Charlotte? I learned that as awesome as it might be to use the talents you have been given, and as powerful as those talents might make you, it is always crucial to remember the things that make you human. Watching Otosaka Yu struggle with the slow departure of his humanity, and his desperate fight to find something to hold onto, and the way that the final ability wielder helps him remember what it means to be human, was a powerful experience for me.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai — Self-Forgiveness
I nearly chose not to watch this anime, simply because the first episode has several extremely awkward moments (due to one character not thinking about the consequences of the fact that all of the relevant characters are currently in the midst of adolescence). However, once I got past those moments, I found AnoHana to be a very powerful and emotional show. And since I watched it only a couple months after graduating from college, the themes of people moving on (or thinking they have) and of time freezing for some while flowing for others really struck home to me.
What did I learn from AnoHana? I learned that it is important to learn how to forgive oneself even after something that seems so destructive as to seem unforgivable. Watching Yadomi Jinta and his friends (especially Hisakawa Tetsudo, once his backstory was revealed) come to terms with the past and with each other and understand how to begin moving forward again taught me a lot about how I need to learn to forgive myself for things I’ve done to others in my own past.
Shokugeki no Soma — Soul
I almost decided not to include this show, because it is an anime that I cannot comfortably recommend to most of my friends. It is an anime about high schoolers learning to become top chefs, but the show is so full of unnecessary fanservice (especially during the first season) that I almost stopped watching it myself. While I am often able to look past and ignore such elements, this show almost degrades itself by rubbing it in your face. However, if you can deal with those aspects, the evolving of the characters (especially Yukihira Soma and Tadokoro Megumi) is quite well-written.
What have I learned from Shokugeki? I have learned that technical skill is not the most important when one’s service to others is at stake (or at steak, to make a Shokugeki-themed pun). And one cannot depend on a single specific talent, such as a refined sense of taste or smell, or expertise in a specific cooking style, to rise to the top. It has not been lost on me that the three strongest characters in the show right now are characters who are defined not by a specific skill but by their ability to make their cooking contain foundational elements of who they are. For Megumi, that is her compassion. For Aldini Takumi, it is his creativity. And for Soma, it is his ability to rise to any occasion.
Are these the only lessons that can be drawn from these shows? By no means! This is just what I have drawn from each of them. I am glad that I’ve experienced each one of them, and I hope to continue learning many things from many more shows as I introduce myself to them.