9 votes

Best portrayals of children in anime?

A sizable part of my aversion to a lot of anime is probably related to the fact that the majority of titles in the past couple decades are centered on children or teens, and by and large cater to that demographic. That in and of itself is fine, and some of the best anime explore the important themes of that stage of life, but the portrayals of kids in most shows are usually reductive, unrealistic, immature, shallow, or just plain stupid... and while most kids undoubtedly aren't quite ready to forge their own way in the world, I think children are more complex and often more savvy than they're popularly given credit for.

Having said that, what are some shows that do a good job of showcasing the depth of their young cast? Two have stood out to me:

  • Hourou_Musuko / Wandering Son. If this series can't humanize the struggle of growing up trans to you, you're dead inside. It's only 12 episodes if you watch the two specials (necessary to get the full story, they were edited together into one of the main episodes), but pretty much every one gave me so much pause to reflect on my own childhood.

  • Dennou Coil / Coil - A Circle of Children is the best depiction of children I've seen in anime. Creator and director Mitsuo Iso's respect for the characters, despite their age, is impressive, and I felt it captured the perspective of life at that age - the intra-group politics, the uncertainty, the courage, the discovery, the disappointments - very well. I think its strengths elevate what could have otherwise been a pretty straightforward adventure story with an interesting premise into something rather special.

15 comments

  1. [4]
    vegai
    Link
    Grave of the Fireflies. Both protagonists are children, and behave painfully realistically in a dreadful situation.

    Grave of the Fireflies. Both protagonists are children, and behave painfully realistically in a dreadful situation.

    5 votes
    1. [2]
      cfabbro
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Seconded. But Grave of the Fireflies recommendations should always include a serious warning, IMO. The movie is absolutely beautiful, and everyone should see it at least once because of how...

      Seconded. But Grave of the Fireflies recommendations should always include a serious warning, IMO. The movie is absolutely beautiful, and everyone should see it at least once because of how important the message it conveys is, but it's also utterly emotionally devastating too. So people should make sure they are in a sound enough mental state that they can handle something like that before they watch it.

      p.s. It's made even worse when you realize it's based on an autobiographical short story, and how things played out in real life was actually far more heartbreaking than how it was portrayed. See (spoiler warning): Grave of the Fireflies (short story)

      5 votes
      1. vegai
        Link Parent
        True enough. It's like 10 years since I last saw it, and I teared up just thinking about it after writing that comment.

        True enough. It's like 10 years since I last saw it, and I teared up just thinking about it after writing that comment.

        2 votes
    2. culturedleftfoot
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Funny enough, the common complaint I see from people who don't like this movie is that they think both Seita and Setsuko act unrealistically and/or stupidly. I don't necessarily agree. I haven't...

      Funny enough, the common complaint I see from people who don't like this movie is that they think both Seita and Setsuko act unrealistically and/or stupidly. I don't necessarily agree.

      I haven't gotten around to enough of them to say for myself, but I'd think most Ghibli films with young main characters would probably qualify for capturing the essence of childhood perspective. I don't know if they're long enough to provide meaningful nuance though.

      1 vote
  2. [2]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      I quite liked Michiko to Hatchin, and you've described it rather well. Even so, while she's on the good side of the spectrum, I don't know that Hatchin's an especially well fleshed-out character...

      I quite liked Michiko to Hatchin, and you've described it rather well. Even so, while she's on the good side of the spectrum, I don't know that Hatchin's an especially well fleshed-out character by anything other than anime standards. It's been a few years since I watched it though, so maybe I'm being harsher than is warranted.

      1 vote
  3. asterisk
    Link
    Are children until 18 years old? If that so then I would mention Tsuki ga Kirei. The anime is a simple romance and even has problem with 3d for background animation (I dunno how about BD version,...

    Are children until 18 years old? If that so then I would mention Tsuki ga Kirei. The anime is a simple romance and even has problem with 3d for background animation (I dunno how about BD version, it is maybe fixed) but it is very realistic, mature, not stupid etc for almost all time.

    2 votes
  4. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    What do you think of Spirited Away?

    What do you think of Spirited Away?

    2 votes
    1. culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      It's fantastic, my second-favorite Miyazaki film. It's kinda the easy/obvious answer though. I know it wasn't all just her imagination, but for all intents and purposes it probably sets the bar...

      It's fantastic, my second-favorite Miyazaki film. It's kinda the easy/obvious answer though. I know it wasn't all just her imagination, but for all intents and purposes it probably sets the bar for representing a child's imagination and sense of wonder onscreen. Copying what I mentioned to vegai above:

      I haven't gotten around to enough of them to say for myself, but I'd think most Ghibli films with young main characters would probably qualify for capturing the essence of childhood perspective. I don't know if they're long enough to provide meaningful nuance though.

      2 votes
  5. [2]
    Pistos
    Link
    I'm not sure this fits what you're looking for, but the protagonist and a couple supporting characters are high school students. Here's a review I wrote last year:

    I'm not sure this fits what you're looking for, but the protagonist and a couple supporting characters are high school students. Here's a review I wrote last year:

    The Twelve Kingdoms - An old anime (4:3 aspect ratio), but it's intrigued me and drawn me in because it doesn't pander to the viewer by using cookie-cutter character stereotypes, or by explaining up front everything about the world, or the characters, or what's going on. The world, setting, story and characters are deep and rich, but the details are unfolded and revealed bit by bit, and the viewer is presented with a sort of puzzle in trying to piece it all together, and you are regularly pleasantly surprised/entertained as some new revelation is made to make the world make more sense or be more interesting. From the get-go, you are not sure what to think of a certain character, what their motives are, what kind of person they are, how they might respond to a given situation or confrontation. It's not black-and-white where everyone who appears to be "good guys" is good, or "bad guys" is bad. Characters do not just "stay in their lane"; their personalities morph, ebb and flow as they experience things, and grow or change as a person. Trauma traumatizes them, or overcoming struggles makes them grow beyond an apparent emotional or psychological maturity ceiling. Terminology is used to refer to regions, creatures, people, positions (roles/titles), and it's challenging (in an enjoyable way) to keep track of it all, and remember what each term refers to. Again, the viewer is not babied by having the anime introduce and define a term in a super clear, grade-school manner. Instead, the characters in the scene just use the term, and the viewer is left to try to work out what it might mean, as though a tourist in a foreign land. Anyway, I highly recommend this anime to someone who is looking for something more mature, targeted to older audiences. Genre-wise, I guess it is a mixture of supernatural, fantasy, pseudo-historical, seinen.

    2 votes
    1. culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      One of my faves! Discovering The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my most treasured experiences with anime; I binged the entire thing over four days or something like that. Youko's inner struggles and...

      One of my faves! Discovering The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my most treasured experiences with anime; I binged the entire thing over four days or something like that. Youko's inner struggles and growth are believably and wonderfully well-charted throughout the series, but I do recall noting at the end of it all that there were a couple ill-defined character motivations (my hazy memory is suggesting her male classmate who reappears late on, for example). So, some inconsistency on that front, maybe? Nevertheless, a terrific series overall. I was so disappointed to learn the director passed away and it'll probably never get the conclusion it deserves.

      Actually, I just looked it up and discovered the male classmate, Asano, never even existed in the novels, which probably explains why his arc ultimately didn't make sense to me.

      2 votes
  6. [3]
    Akir
    Link
    I’m not a fan of children so perhaps I am not a good judge, but I think that Wolf Children is probably the most realistic, mainly because the movie doesn’t really try to force you to understand...

    I’m not a fan of children so perhaps I am not a good judge, but I think that Wolf Children is probably the most realistic, mainly because the movie doesn’t really try to force you to understand the children’s perspective And even though it’s heavily centered around children, it’s not really about them or even catered to them. It’s probably a good recommendation for OP if they haven’t seen it already.

    The same creator also made a movie called Mirai which is a strange little film. The main character is a very young child and the portrayal is spot on, which I personally think ruins the entire film. 😹

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      That's a pretty good shout. It was realistic (if you accept the premise in the first place, I guess) and accurate in the kids' behaviors, just being kids. They neatly sidestepped most of the...

      That's a pretty good shout. It was realistic (if you accept the premise in the first place, I guess) and accurate in the kids' behaviors, just being kids. They neatly sidestepped most of the trouble with representing their perspective while they were little, but actually that's where I think Hosoda fluffed it a little with the ending, when the kids had grown up some. Still, a really good movie.

      I haven't been moved to watch Mirai no Mirai, it didn't look particularly interesting. I do recall seeing an interview with Hosoda talking about his own young child(ren?) being the inspiration behind it, so I can believe it's that spot on.

      1 vote
      1. Akir
        Link Parent
        Here's the thing; I don't actually like kids. I just don't have the patience for them and don't have the experience of being invested in them. If Wolf Children was actually about the children, I...

        Here's the thing; I don't actually like kids. I just don't have the patience for them and don't have the experience of being invested in them. If Wolf Children was actually about the children, I would have probably hated it. And that's why I don't like Mirai. It just wasn't for me. But honestly, I could see a version of myself who could have been a father at one point, and if I were that person Mirai could have even been one of my favorites. But as it is, I feel like a young adult reading Catcher in the Rye and thinking that it's main character is an insufferable prick.

  7. [2]
    Buck_Rogers
    Link
    Dennou Coil is great. Also Asobi Asobase, Hidamari Sketch, Mitsuboshi Colors, Minami ke. :)

    Dennou Coil is great.

    Also Asobi Asobase,

    Hidamari Sketch,

    Mitsuboshi Colors,

    Minami ke.

    :)

    1. culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      Can you say a bit more about any of them? To say I'm struggling to find anything hinting at depth in the clips and trailers I'm seeing is putting it mildly.

      Can you say a bit more about any of them? To say I'm struggling to find anything hinting at depth in the clips and trailers I'm seeing is putting it mildly.

      6 votes