Anime for Adults? Too Kiddie for My Taste by Matt Brown

One of the things I always liked about the US anime scene is: without serious research, it can be difficult to choose an anime to watch based on its target demographic. Some are, of course, easy to figure out based on genre, but even they don’t fit neatly into our notions of appeal for specific groups. Because of this, I’ve exposed myself to anime ostensibly geared at young girls and boys, preteens, teens, adults, unscrupulous or bipolar adults, geeks or jocks, über geeks, intrigue junkies and the romantically inclined — possibly even infants and the undead. The point is: there’s a certain freedom in not knowing what you’re getting into. You’re also free to get burned, repeatedly.

I discovered Erin the Beast Player recently. It’s an adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi’s (Moribito) Kemono no Souja, but while the novels were targeted at teen boys, the TV series can easily appeal to younger audiences and both genders. It chronicles the growth of a young girl with an affinity for large and dangerous animals, in parallel with the increasingly volatile political situation in the nation she lives in. You’ll never guess her name.

Erin’s green eyes, green hair, and Western name set her apart from the Chinese-sounding names of all her fellow villagers — even her mother, Soyon, has a more “normal” name by comparison. As children, all we need is for our parents to tell us that we’re special, but in stories, it helps if it’s obvious. The early episodes establish Erin’s fascination with the Tohda: mythical fighting beasts her mother cares for, and the close relationship she and her mother share. Things get real a few times, but with a little support, Erin bounces back like a champ.

Something about fantasy shows for kids transcends age, gender, language, and background. It isn’t difficult to see why, if not what. They give us a sense of what it feels like to have a safe place to grow: a place where no matter the trials, support and comfort are within arms’ reach. I remember feeling the same with the old Disney adventure shows: Gummi Bears, DuckTales, TaleSpin…they allow you to feel what it’s like to have danger and excitement within a sphere of complete emotional security. When Erin starts learning to care for animals, she has her mother to protect and love her. Even when circumstance rips her away from that safety net, a kind beekeeper looks after her, until an opportunity to use her unique abilities (as a caretaker of another type of mythical beast: the ohju) arises.

Somehow it seems obvious why she can be brave around dangerous animals when we never could. She has every reason to feel wanted; important; significant; empowered. And so another flower is nurtured until she is ready to bloom, but while she sees the benefit only in hindsight, the viewer receives it all along.

A flower in bloom is beautiful, but afterward, there’s nothing to do but wither and die. As adults we work hard to preserve the purity built up during childhood, for some definition of purity. We can only fail. We still need and desire growth, but the notion of a safe environment for growth becomes a wish only the stories we heard and saw as kids can fulfill. We grow, then, as we need to, but the forces that produce that need exact their price over time. It may be that the only salvation for the flower in decline is in nurturing the flower that has yet to bloom. And so it goes.

Matt Brown is the editor-in-chief at Anime Dream.