Over the last past 7 years that I have been into anime and manga, it is hard to deny that the mediums are something of an all-encompassing menagerie where there is something for everyone. Whether you happen to be in your adolescents or adulthood, it is kind of awe-inspiring for any type of media to reach such a wide demographic. And yet, a large majority of projects center around or contain school students – especially those in high school. Why the emphasis for an art that contains so many varying venues and concepts as they are consumers? There is sort of an correct answer to this question, but do have a more interesting alternative I would like to share.
When you really stop and think about it, the answer is sort of self-explanatory. High school is the time in your life when you are no longer a child, yet also not an adult. It’s a weird type of purgatory where you forget childish things and yearn for something better. Looking at series like Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, the sentiment undoubtedly exist in the protagonists to do away with their humdrum ways of living leading to the rather unorthodox premises they are bound to. In terms of the viewer, entertainment is a prominent concern, but just like the characters having their lives inexplicable changed, these shows do hope to change the way the viewer lives or at the very least, inspire them to accomplish more. That might be a very elementary or obvious perspective, but one that I believe is at the forefront. Seeing how Japan specifically is facing the prospect of an all time low with birth rate, a little inspiration might push its youth to work harder and eventually, begin to have children. Of course, this statement is a bit of stretch and arguably, seen to be part of the problem (14:37-26:48 sums it pretty well).
Being someone who personally relished graduating high school, for the Japanese audience, that period of time does represent one of great freedom and comfort that really doesn’t exist anymore when you leave it. No financial responsibility, no pressure to work, a bigger network of peers, most of your time is spent there and afterwards on extracurricular activities and studying. If that doesn’t embody escapism I don’t know what does. Looking at series that have enjoyed some popularity like Haruhi Suzumiya and Love Live to even some contemporaries that have aired like Sound! Euphonium, Tari, Tari, and even School-Live, the idea of youth and living a fulfilling school life sets at the center. Like with a lot of things in life, youth is something that you only get to experience once and being able to go through that period of time with no regrets and inspired to reach greater heights is an aspect I think most series (in their own weird way) are trying to illustrate.
In terms of other works meant to speak to younger audience like the genres of shounen and shoujo, the goal is almost the same with inspiration, but in a different way. With Shounen series usually pitting the main character against insurmountable odds in a means to force them to become stronger, not only does this inspire self-improvement, but also fosters a sense of responsibility. For every battle fought, choice made, and romantic interest pursued – an equally and tantamount level of responsibility is also gained that not only teaches the character they have freedom to choose, but also deal with the consequences that follows their decision. Sport titles and the like also teaches the same lesson, but emphasize the typical camaraderie, group collaboration, and social relationships that transfer over into other areas of life such as the workforce. Shoujo works can be said to embody the same idea, carrying greater emphasis on love and ideal relationships that in many ways correlate to soft skills such as better communication. In the case of adults that work and constantly bogging down into the realities of life, these lessons probably won’t speak much too them, but in terms of reminding them of fonder times (if you consider your formative years in school fond) and opening a door to the realm of escapism as aforementioned – it does at least provide that much. Personally speaking, while it was fun to get home and choose anime series to watch or manga to read over the weekends for fun during my high school days, they did assist me a lot getting through my stressful college years, and even now, as I try to hold down an even more stressful job position.
While the lines do sort of blur when speaking about what types of anime and manga are meant to ensnare a specific demographic or group and a severely myopic lens to view things in, I can only speak for myself and in many ways, it really doesn’t matter since whatever message the show is trying to get across will resonance with the audience or they will find something completely different based on who they are and what point they are in their life. Of course, that doesn’t mean some 7-year-old should read a volume of Berserk and automatically come up with the idea human beings are flawed, damaged creatures rather than think it looks cool or be afraid to sleep at night. Even though anime and manga is the equivalent of western cartoons and comics respectively (being another name for them), I do sort of think that the demographic it is meant for still stands. For example: Even though Ledo, the protagonist of Suisei no Garugantia is of high school age during the production of the series, Gen Urobuchi specifically announced on the series website that the message was meant to be directed at teenagers and those in their 20’s in mind as a message of hope and encouragement. To quote the original message via my own translation:
“During the 1st half of the animation’s planning, I originally aimed the ideas presented toward those in their late teens and 20’s, in other words, those entering society or challenge the ideas of those that will do so in the near future…Tough as it is to find employment, I do hope that this work will act as a cheer song to encourage them that going out into the world isn’t a fearful prospect.”
Combined with the notes from various designers on other aspects of the show such as Chamber’s role and cosmetic looks compared to the other mechs – Chamber being a personalized A.I meant to act as a guide to Ledo during his primary mission and help him grow as he interacts with the outside world, then it does seem clear that those in the intended audience will get more out of the series than those falling outside of the bracket. Although most creators don’t explicitly come out and say what their work comments on (if anything at all) and prefer to leave that up the viewers discretion, in a lot of ways, the target audience and the ages they may fall into tend to be a null point when all the creator is doing is simply making a space. A space for conversations to happen, a place invite something new into the viewer’s life, and more importantly, give the viewers something that they can hopefully use and enjoy. High school kids and youngsters might be an overused vehicle of transport for the ideas and concepts to use, but at least it does share some semblance of a life that we can or could relate at one point. Of course, I could be completely wrong about that…