T.W. mentions depression, self-harming coping mechanisms, bullying.
Sawako and Kazehaya playing with their dog Maru Chan
Loneliness is a complex feeling, a hidden pain. Can a loving relationship wash away feelings of loneliness? Does the onus lie on the lover to ‘help’ the beloved with their ‘loneliness’?
While Horimiya and Kimi ni Todoke may seem like mainstream shoujo anime (a genre of Japanese animated films aimed at a younger female audience), they touch upon many underrated topics.
Everyone hides a part of themselves, except for people who are really close to them. Horimiya revolves around a group of students as they navigate the last few months of their high school. The protagonists, Miyamura and Hori, accidentally reveal their deepest secrets to each other and thus begins their endearing camaraderie. As they get closer, they become each other’s closest confidantes.
Parallelly, Kimi ni Todoke centers upon a crucial aspect in relationships: communication. It is no secret that much heartfelt love has been lost to time. The anime revolves around Sawako’s struggle in making friends and her journey through high school with her newfound friends.
Looking ‘Different’: An Aggressive Isolating Experience
Miyamura's dual appearance; him in class, and him with his piercings
Both the protagonists, Miyamura Izumi (Horimiya) and Kuronama Sawako (Kimi ni Todoke) are mocked and bullied for their outward appearance. Miyamura had long hair, nine piercings including one on his lip, and tattoos, so people always likened his appearance with that of a delinquent. Sawako had long hair and gloomy features that earned her the nickname ‘Sadako’, as she resembled the girl from The Ring. Her gloomy appearance became so intrinsic to her identity that people always misnomered her. The experiences since childhood had rendered her incapable of conversing freely as everyone usually got scared of her, apologized, and ran away from her. These protagonists had internalized others’ opinions of themselves and adapted to their outside image in the world. They were self-conscious and constantly belittled their unique traits.
The Lover Coping with the Self-Depreciating Beloved
It is heartwarming to see Hori and Kazehaya see Miyamura and Sawako with utmost love and adoration. Miyamura and Sawako had been so used to being ostracized and pushed aside that accepting caring words or kind gestures seemed monumental to them. The anime shows the protagonists struggling to come to terms with their new friends and, at the same time, dwells on what it is like to love someone who refuses to believe that they can be loved.
Both Miyamura and Sawako needed to re-affirm their friendship with their classmates, as they were so unfamiliar with such relationships. Ishikawa and Miyamura met on the terrace and had a heartfelt discussion. Miyamura’s starry eyes gave the viewer a peek into his emotions on having called someone by their first name. On a similar note, it was a life-changing moment for Sawako to call Yoshida chan and Yano chan by their first names, Chizu and Ayane.
Healing the Inner Child
Miyamura comforting his inner child
While there is no absolute mention of Miyamura suffering from depression, the creator alludes to such feelings entrenched in his heart through color play and imagery. The younger Miyamura hated breaks, special occasions, and teachers, as they constantly reminded him of his lack of friends. In his dreams, Miyamura comforts his younger self by affirming that he would meet some amazing friends in the future and so he should not kill himself yet.
Miyamura eventually finds trustworthy friends in Shindo, Hori, Ishikawa, Yuki, and others. On graduation day, his younger self comes to haunt him again. Miyamura apologizes for having ignored him for so long and admits that he had been in denial of his feelings of loneliness.
By acknowledging his feelings, he did not ‘cure’ his depression. In fact, his past self came to haunt him every now and then, but he was able to comfort his inner child regardless.
There is no such clear mention or imagery in Kimi ni Todoke, probably due to it being a relatively older anime (from 2009) when mentions of depression were scarce in media.
Pain as a Coping Mechanism
On a particular day, at being scorned by a fellow classmate, Miyamura pierced his ears with a safety pin. Maybe, the physical pain distracted him momentarily from the hurt in his heart. So, one can discern that piercings and tattoos became his coping mechanisms over time. Or, maybe, Miyamura accepted others’ perceptions of him and began dressing like a delinquent as an act of silent protest.
Changing for Love
As days passed, piercings and tattoos became Miyamura’s way of expressing his identity. To me, it felt like a betrayal when he chopped his hair and assumed a ‘clean’ appearance for Hori’s sake in high school. While it is true that Hori had never told him to do so, Miyamura had changed his appearance to salvage Hori’s popularity and tried to match up to the standards of being Hori’s boyfriend. Miyamura could not shake off outside criticism so easily as he had been on the receiving end of it for so long. Sawako had also risen in protest to defend her best friends against malicious rumors, which was quite unlike her quiet self.
However, the characters made these choices themselves. Maybe this was Miyamura and Sawako’s way of beginning a new phase in their lives and leaving their insecurities behind.
Both Hori and Kazehaya never dismissed or eulogized their partners’ weird traits. They loved them with their supposedly ‘socially unacceptable’ traits. Miyamura and Sawako pushed their partners away on some occasions, for they felt they might ruin the popular ones’ reputation. Hori and Kazahaya encouraged them to communicate instead of bottling up their feelings, and it worked wonders for their self-confidence.
This brings me back to the thought that I opened this essay with. While partners do not owe their loved ones the services of a therapist to ‘fix’ them, the question arises if one needs to be ‘fixed’ in order to be loved. In both the shows, the simple act of love and acceptance acted as healing balms and made the recluse protagonists quite sociable and accepting of themselves.
Love may not always be enough to ‘fix’ someone. What is important is deducing if the beloved wants to be ‘helped’ through their negative bouts. That is what loneliness and its small remedies grounded in love are all about.
Shaona is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University. When she is not procrastinating or reading in cozy spots, she can be found sampling desserts from local cafes and daydreaming about traveling the world. She loves to cycle on random lanes, turning wherever the wind takes her.