Hits Close to Home – Sports Anime and PTSD

2018 was full of surprises. There were a lot of hyped anime that ended up being duds, others that surprised us all. Honestly, for me it’s a little bit more personal then that. In 2018 anime, I was surprised at the bold takes a few anime chose. Specifically, there were two characters from sports anime that surprised me the most. These two characters did something I haven’t seen portrayed accurately in anime (if at all) in a long time and that is that both characters were affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Oof.

Quite a bit of lead up to that statement. I’m not saying that anime doesn’t have characters with PTSD, nor is this the first time I’ve seen PTSD in popular culture. Slowly but surely, much like mental illness in general, PTSD is slowly being incorporated into more mainstream shows. It’s a good thing, when done well. Unfortunately, many of these series tack it on as a personality trait, or didn’t fully elaborate as to why the character might have flashbacks or other issues. Moving forward, there’s the two characters from last year that this post is about.

Megalo

You can imagine my surprise in spring 2018, when we were introduced to Tatsumi Leonald Aragaki; Nanbu’s former student, and a war veteran in Megalo Box. I don’t want to get too far into spoiler territory, but honestly I was shocked by this man. Firstly, was the portrayal of war. Japan tends to do one of two things when war is a theme in anime; it’s either glorified, or anti-war sentiment. Megalo Box tended to push war as a sub-theme, and therefore was depicted as almost neutral. Obviously, it was bad since Tatsumi lost both legs in the fighting, and then suffers from PTSD.

I remember tearing up on the train with Tatsumi’s arc on the train rides home from work. It was real, almost too real. Despite not being a combat veteran myself, I saw a piece of me in Aragaki that I thought at the time I had ‘dealt’ with. My trauma was in my past, and no where near as bad as Aragaki’s; why was I crying? It sounds a little stupid, but it’s a reoccurring theme in my life, that I didn’t realize what I had been settling for as my new ‘normal’ until I saw that it wasn’t.

Aragaki was actively working through it his condition, and his progress wasn’t linear. And that was okay! Despite being a war veteran, he was never told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘suck it up’. He never told himself that, nor did any of his support group. They actually worked with him to stabilize his new physical condition, which helped improve parts of his mental condition. His crew knows what Aragaki is dealing with mentally, even though it’s never called by it’s name, nor verbally acknowledged between any of them. However, the crew, and Aragaki are working through it all in a healthy and realistic way, given their circumstances and it brought tears to my eyes.

Which, brings it back to the big picture in Japan, there is a lot of ‘tough it up, suck it up’ mentality of mental illness, if it ever even gets acknowledged. Japan might have a lot of advancements, but mental health and treatment is still way under developed. That’s why, for better or for worse, a lot of ‘new’ ideas are introduced into the populace via anime/manga/dramas. What I mean by that, is things like mental illness, gender identity and other societal changes will often be depicted here, and then transplant itself into reality.

(The butterfly, the FUCKEN BUTTERFLY…)

It sounds ass backwards, and in many ways it is. As someone whose studied this, and now living in this I can say it’s mostly true. So the fact that PTSD was depicted, and depicted accurately matters a lot. For many viewers, this was probably the first time they ever were exposed to the ‘idea’ of PTSD. It’s shown how it changes Aragaki’s personality, his whole life beyond just the physical changes, and how it impacts his day-to-day. It’s not perfect, verbal confirmation would be amazing, but it’s a huge step forward. It’s not a matter that takes up the main point of the series, but it’s not brushed aside, belittled or underplayed.

It inspired me once more to talk with my loved ones about my own condition. It was a rather small conversation between my twin and I, and then my mother and I. My mother and brother were much more accepting and with this knowledge were better equipped to work with me when I get triggered (which is incredibly rare for me, and I am thankful it’s not a larger issue), or on the increasingly rare occasion when I have flashbacks.

It’s not a perfect depiction, nor should it take an anime to make me address my personal issues. I’m not perfect either. However, on a grand scale, if one character inspired me to make changes for the better; picture what it will do multiplied. Even if it’s just exposure to the idea, having these depictions matters and matters a lot. One small change, can have such an impact.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 5.12.48 pm

Moving forward into the second series,  I’ve written before about Tsurune. I even mentioned in said review that Minato really resonated with me for this particular reason. Obviously, the series is beautiful with solid pacing, plot and just so many other things I’ve addressed in my review. Seeing Minato flashbacks, aside from Aragaki, I had never seen a character that very clearly, without out right saying, have PTSD. I’d ever argue that perhaps Minato has something akin to Complex PTSD, although obviously I’m not a doctor.

Minato’s PTSD is a lot less straightforward then Aragaki. Aragaki has a pretty easily understood form of PTSD related to his time as an active combatant in war. This sort of PTSD, has a well understood trigger and be addressed quickly and effectively since it’s widely studied and understood. In comparison, Narumiya Minato’s symptoms are less obvious and a little harder to put your finger on when viewing.

It’s implied that Minato was traumatized by his mother’s death, via how obscured the flashbacks are of her. It’s not heavily explored, nor is the exact circumstances of Ms. Narumiya’s death known to the viewer. We don’t even see her face in the series, even in the warmer flashbacks where we view the initial archery competition. To me, that shows a lot of under-addressed issues with Minato, that the series just didn’t quite have enough time to further elaborate one.

The positive of this is that, the physical damage is addressed. In Minato’s doctor visit, the doctor does state that the injury has been consistently treated over the years. It’s a small demonstration of new steps in care and physical therapy are taken seriously.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 5.17.54 pm

Next comes the more obviously, and clearly stated target panic that Minato and Takigawa Masaki deal with. From my very simple research (aka Wikipedia), is that target panic tends to manifest in three major ways, which I will outline below.

First, is the experience of prematurely anchoring, where the bow appears to become more heavy and it’s difficult to anchor. Anchoring meaning that the set position before drawing the bow, it’s depicted in Tsurune and explained without using anchoring actually from my recollection.

Secondly, is premature hold, where the archer may lock up/hit a wall/otherwise come to a standstill, and be unable to properly align their arrow with the target. We see this in the series when Minato is put on the spot and asked to shoot a demonstration shot for the club.

Thirdly, is premature release, which is a combination of unable to anchor properly, and release the bow without aligning to the target properly. This third one is something Minato foreshadows about another character actually.

If you’ll notice, none of these symptoms have anything to do PTSD. None of these parts of target panic, have any indication that there would be flashbacks. Target Panic is actually considered a psychological condition, and on some occasions a neurological condition as well. It’s largely considered rooted in anxiety, fear of failure, and even reflects on the the brain learns on a neurological level.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 5.23.55 pm
A great mentor for someone with target panic, since he also has it.

So, where am I going with this? Obviously, Minato has Target Panic, it’s stated by himself, other characters and largely understood within the series. This is where my conjecture comes in that Minato’s target panic is a bit more then just that. Yes, it’s rooted in a fear of failure and anxiety, as shown by the flashbacks. What I think though, is that perhaps maybe, just maybe this target panic wasn’t just developed in archery.

It’s a big stretch, but I think the flashbacks show something a bit more. Minato’s flashbacks to developing target panic, serve to show the circumstances and situation of how it came about. It’s for developing the story and moving it forward rather then having a full recap of how/what/when/where it happened. The way these flashbacks are presented so similarly to Minato’s accident, just has me thinking. It’s a very slim possibility, since the exact timeline isn’t know (I might need to find and read the light novel) but I think, genuinely that Minato’s PSTD manifested secondarily into his archery and caused his target panic.

The use of flashbacks, timeline and what could be delayed addressing of feelings just really, really makes me think that way. It’s my pet theory that I don’t quite have the exact background, and words to articulate accurately. It’s a little reflective of my own situation, since my PTSD isn’t rooted in my sport either. However, the incident that caused me to develop PTSD has given me a physical injury, like Minato, that makes performing my sport impossible. (That’s a story for a different day.)

Much like Aragaki, Minato doesn’t magically get better with the power of friendship and or having a team behind him. Seiya’s almost overbearing nature tends to do more harm then good, at times. Seiya’s intention is that of someone who knows there’s more going on then the sufferer will state. Minato’s progress isn’t linear either, nor does he have the opportunity to open up the way Aragaki does. Eventually, Takigawa is introduced who also has long-standing target panic which allows Minato to confide and address that issue.

Largely, Minato does not appear to have someone to confide in about his PTSD. Seiya is aware of it, but isn’t equipped to work with Minato on that level. All he can do is be as supportive as possible. It really shows that there’s more then one way to address things of this nature, especially since well they’re high school boys.

Tsurune never labels Minato with PTSD. They get as absolutely close as possible to saying it, but shy away from it at the last minute. The series instead focuses on the more easily acceptable concept of target panic. As stated before, I wouldn’t expect that from Japan quiet yet. It’s still under diagnosed, and misunderstood that labelling it outright would do more harm then good. To see it shown at all, even as an almost abstract starting point is still a good mark of progress.

Unlike with Megalo Box, I wasn’t able to quite have a heart to heart with anyone about Tsurune. It was more a sense of self reflection for me. Unlike Minato, and Aragaki the nature of my physical injury renders me unable to perform my sport of choice anymore. It originally made me bitter, but this bitterness has subsided. Instead of being able to play, I can now appreciate and watch. I was never set to become a pro in my sport, but I still love it all these years later. Being able to watch, and appreciate all the technical perfections of other players has slowly grown into a personal joy for me.

Seeing something I work through regularly represented in a realistic manner, is incredibly important and why I’ve grown to love these two characters and their respective series. If you stuck through all this, thanks for reading and would love to read your comments if you’re so inclined.

8 comments

  1. I have PTSD, and it’s usually so difficult to find good, accurate representation of what it’s like to live with this mental condition as well as what triggered episodes can encapsulate. Most of the time in media, people who have PTSD are depicted as being violent monsters who need to be institutionalised, but the reality is that not all people who have PTSD are that way; most of them aren’t. It’s so damaging and dehumanising. I think in anime/manga especially, now that it’s becoming kinda mainstream, having good rep of important subject matter is so incredibly vital. There’s one manga series I’ve read that has phenomenal rep of Queer characters without dumbing them down, sexualising them, or making it seem so abnormal and theatrical. It felt SO great seeing that rep as someone from the community. Same with PTSD. When the rep for it is good and genuine, it makes me feel like my condition is human in nature and doesn’t make me some “crazy freak with violent tendencies.” If that makes sense. This post resonated so much with me. Thanks for writing it! 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree. There’s so many shows/medias that attempt to include characters with PTSD but it’ so varied and complicated that it’s really hard to find something well done. Having a better depiction is something I’m really hoping other medias pick up as well, even if it’s not specifically just in anime.

      Do you mind name dropping that manga? The only series I’ve read that’s solid in my book was ‘Aoi Hana’ which mostly focused on bisexual and lesbian girls (which was still great!). I’d love to add another title to positive representation.

      I’m really beyond flattered that this post resonated with you. It’s moments like this in blogging that really make it all worth it, so thank you for taking the time not only to read but to comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m kinda hesitant to name the manga because the anime adaptation was so fucking terrible and didn’t adapt anything that makes it so brilliant but it’s Devils’ Line by Ryo Hanada. The main romance is pretty trophy, but there are SO many Queer characters and there’s even rep of a girl who’s very insecure about her body since she’s not stick thin. I like how it talks about sex and romance as well. Just so mature and it doesn’t dehumanise any of the topics either.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I had my thoughts that it was that series! I’m a huge fan of the manga as well (The anime is… meh). The anime leaves a lot to desire but at least the manga reps everyone incredibly well!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful post and about two of my favourite 2018 animes.
    I think you are right about Minato. And I think proper representation of mental issues is incredibly important and tearing up over it does not sound stupid at all. I won’t pretend to understand what it feels like to have PTSD but I do have an appreciation for the hardships it brings. The frustration of being ignored or misrepresented. And that warm sense of gratefulness when a work gets it right without vilifying or romanticising the condition.
    I myself have diagnosed OCD, leaning more to the O scale, which is very different from what 99% of people think OCD is and I’ve yet to see an accurate depiction although Clean Freak made a really valiant effort! (Another Sports anime….hmm Sports and Mental health – maybe here’s something there…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, it really means a lot! Our tastes really do seem to overlap a lot lately.

      It really rings true that seeing a positive, or just accurate dipiction really does something when watching. I know I think of these series really highly, and I do wonder how much of my enjoyment is due to this fact…

      I have to admit I’m embarrassed that I never quite put together that OCD has a scale to it, which in retrospect, makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing that bit and letting me have a learnable moment! Now I’m curious about Clean Freak so I might have to check this series out myself… (And you know… we seriously might be on to something here…)

      Like

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