Man is a social animal. It’s one of the first things we learned as kids. But the meaning of it sinks in as we grow up. Man is a social animal. We are all about connections, relationships, companionship. So, what do we do when that innate need for companionship is left unfulfilled? We try to fill the void with other things. Food, media, and social networking. Some buy company, some post on social media as a bid for connection, while others turn to fiction.
Fiction has always served as an escape. It has always held the promise of more, of things better than reality. So, we went there looking for stories of honor, of selfless goodness, and, now, love.
Can Fiction Replace Human Touch, Human Love?
Maybe. For generations that grew up falling in love with animated stories of love and despair since the early 90s, heroic and beautiful characters from those shows now seem to be serving as the answer. And, honestly, why wouldn’t they?
Every time real-life disappoints and dating anxiety kicks in, your sassy yet subtly caring senpai is there for you. Just one click of the remote and your fantasy life-partner flares to life in front of you. Turn the volume high enough and it is as if the glaring void in your life doesn’t exist anymore.
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Can we choose anime over human company?
Perhaps. We know many do.
With social anxiety increasingly becoming a thing and, with more and more people struggling to find companions who don’t just care about them but their ideals, anime is easy to turn to.
After all, anime heroes are not just larger than life but they often promise to accept you as you are. For those with crippling anxiety, such acceptance and acknowledgment may be hard to find in real life. While people in reality violate consent in the name of love, 2D lovers are often empathetic, respectful of your boundaries.
Take Kinomoto Touya from the anime Cardcaptor Sakura, for example. Touya may appear too cool for school but is the personification of empathy and care when it comes to his partner – Yukito. He does not treat Yukito differently for being a magical creature. He is always respectful and protective of his boyfriend who is obviously more powerful than him. In the end, Touya gives up his own powers of magical vision – which let him see his dead mother – to protect Yukito. And he does it all while being heart-meltingly gorgeous. Basically, the definition of perfection.
As lovers of anime know all too well, anime protagonists are not just heroic but often tend to be obnoxiously supportive and, as absurd as it may sound, handsome. And, so, for a generation whose bids for connection and attempts to make people like them face constant rejection, resorting to dreaming about anime partners is not just about a search for companionship but understanding as well.
Characters like Shouta Kazehaya, from the anime From Me to You, serve as the answers to this quest for love and empathy. Shouta’s love interest – Sadako – is awkward and reminds everyone of the girl from The Ring. Kazehaya doesn’t pay heed to this creepiness of hers and sees her for who she is – a lonely, socially awkward girl who just wants to make friends. Imagine finding this level of acceptance from the one you love. For the Sadakos in real life, this is a dream that just refuses to come true.
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Be it Sesshomaru from InuYasha, Li from Cardcaptor Sakura, Kyo Sohma from Fruits Basket, or Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, anime senpais offer a kind of kindness and gentle understanding that fills you with a certain wistfulness, a longing that partners in real-life just cannot hope to fulfill. For lonely hearts who feel invisible and unlovable in the real world, such a love simultaneously seems too good to be true and the kind you aim for.
This, obviously, can lead to trouble in real life. Romantic partners in the physical world may find it difficult to live up to the standards of your 2-D boyfriend. Perhaps the only equivalent we have in reality are Korean idols. As untouchable as they are beautiful, the idols are part of an industry that commercializes the promise of companionship, of understanding, and unflinching acceptance.
In the end, it’s kind of like emotional porn. It sets unrealistic expectations of people, of relationships. If addicted, it may leave you feeling unfulfilled in any real relationship. Or, worse, have you give up on love and companionship altogether.
People often say that our generation chose animated partners over real ones for their unreal beauty. And perhaps that does have something to do with it. But the problem runs deeper. Ours is a generation so alienated, so alone that we did not quite know what to do with all this love.
And, thus, we turned to fiction.