I think one of the many aspects of anime that drew me to the medium the most is the fact that despite being cartoons the content and stories can be at times quite mature. In this article I want to discuss one facet of anime, specifically the frequent use of tragic origin tales with protaganists. While this could totally go the route of a Joseph Campbell book, I will not try to explain in too much depth the reasoning behind this tragic motif. Instead I simply want to highlight some of the characters I’ve come across who have such tragedy in their early life, discuss the event(s) that came into play, and perhaps describe briefly how this affects them in the story.
Corpse Princess (aka Shikabane Hime)
Corpse Princess is a story about monstrous poltergeists who form from humans with deep regret. Instead of simply becoming ghosts as western culture understands them these individuals become monsters that slay humans. A sect of monks have tried to fight these creatures and in doing so discovered a technique to turn certain shikabane into shikabane hime. Shikabane hime are girls who are able to combat ordinary shikabane. Corpse Princess focuses on one such shikabane hime named Makina who has a particularly tragic history.
As a young girl, based on looks perhaps in middle school, Makina’s family was attacked by several shikabane. During this attack she herself hid, saw her family killed, only to then be discovered and essentially tortured to death.
Makina in the show stands out from the other shikabana hime primarily because her motivation is not salvation. Instead she is driven by revenge and only thinks about killing those who killed her and her family.
While Naruto has been glossed over and glazed over, often due to both the early hype and the negative backlash, it truly is a series defined by two young boys’ painful life experiences. This is what really makes the pairing of Naruto and Sasuke as both friends and enemies work on so many levels.
Naruto of course never knew his parents, but even more than that he was isolated at a young age by the burden he had to carry. Sasuke on the otherhand seemed to have the ideal childhood until his brother murdered his family and his whole village. Further in the story you learn that it’s much more complex, but still no less tragic for Sasuke.
Sasuke’s motivations are solely based on his pain, so he is obviously affected by his tragedy on a daily basis. Naruto still endures pain throughout the series, but he has certainly learned to not only cope with his own burden but to also help heal others.
If you’ve watched the anime of Berserk and reached the last episode then you know that Berserk is already one of the dreariest series out there. Well if you’ve only watched the anime then you’ve just seen a portion, admittedly large, of the iceberg that is the tortured world of Berserk.
Guts, who is the main protagonist, early on in life had a less than perfect family life. Still his real scars developed when he was traveling with a band of mercenaries, including one member in particular that was the closest thing to a father he ever had. While travelling with the mercenaries Guts was sodomized. This incident, and aggression from his surrogate father, led to Guts first kills ever.
Despite Guts battle hardened appearance later on in the series, both in the manga and in the anime, he is clearly affected by these incidents. That’s why I feel Guts really grew fond of Griffin, because till then he had few people he could trust, and even fewer who would give him the time of day.
This series, much like Berserk, is another where if you’d just watched the anime, in this case the first version not Ultimate, then you would’ve never known about Seras uber-tragic past.
Seras as a young child endured a similar tragedy to Makina’s (Corpse Princess), where she witnessed the murder of her father and mother. While she was spared from death, she was forced to watch the further desecration of her parents corpses.
Surprisingly enough she doesn’t seem overtly scarred; however, especially in the manga and Hellsing: Ultimate one might wonder if this doesn’t help fuel her vampiric rage. She certainly became a police officer though to follow in her father’s footsteps, and I feel her sense of justice is tied to this career choice as well.
Do you know of shows that feature main characters with a scarred past or a tragic history? Feel free to discuss those shows and the ones already listed below in our comments section.
Coming up – Tragic Origins: Antagonists in Anime