I’m standing at a crossroads when it comes to my favorite entertainment media. Growing up I was able to freely enjoy anime and manga regardless of how the cast composition was in terms of character ages. Younger characters closer to my age obviously resonated with me, because I was in the same age range, while the awesome older characters were often just that, pretty chill grown ups who merely added to a series. But now that I’m in my mid-twenties, those “chill grown ups” are now the characters that I resonate most with, and it is only now that I’ve realized how comparatively few major adult characters there are in anime and manga. Hell not just adults in the conventional sense, but anyone over the age of 17 really.
But this is a bit of a problem as the older I get, the less invested I am finding myself in many series simply because they lack a suitable audience insert or anchor for me. I’m finding that, outside of comedies and series of such high quality that they are able to override this hurdle of mine, if a show doesn’t have such an adult character I can project my interests into, my ability to fully invest or immerse myself is starting to wane more and more.
Let’s use a pair of recent shows to set an example for what I am talking about. One show that fails in this aspect for me is Aldnoah.Zero. I had a really hard time buying into the fact that the two principal characters in this interplanetary mecha war drama were teenagers. It kept nagging at me that these two teens were so great at military and political tactics while the adults did pretty much jack shit. And to make things even worse the adult characters, especially on the good side, were easily among the show’s weakest overall characters.
Here we have this high profile, blockbuster series that people left and right couldn’t stop talking about (for both good and bad reasons) and its writing had failed me. I just couldn’t fully buy into the series (though I still enjoyed the silly robot fighting, which was more than entertaining enough to get me to finish the show).
On the flip side, a much more low key show, one ostensibly aimed squarely at kids (and ironically had its first two cours animated by Sunrise, a studio famed for its mecha series) has me fully invested hook, line, and sinker. That show is Tribe Cool Crew, a colorful, low budget kids show about the virtues of dancing (not even kidding about that part). Yet it does pretty much the exact opposite of Aldnoah.Zero, in that while the two absolute main characters are young teens (who by the way are not experts at their craft nor are they outshining all of the adults), they are surrounded by three other main characters, who are all adults. Not only are they competently written characters, they are actually better written characters than the two central leads.
Now I’m not saying a show needs to have adult main characters (though that would be nice to have more of too), just at least one well developed and regularly seen adult supporting character is enough for me. I’m not adverse to shows following teens on important, possibly world-altering adventures. My favorite anime and manga franchise is Fullmetal Alchemist for crying out loud. That series predominantly follows the awesome teenage brother duo, the Elrics. But they are surrounded on all sides by a cast of well thought out adult characters I can attach myself to.
A similar thing is happening with my absolute two favorite shows of this season; The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and Blood Blockade Battlefront. Arslan follows a deposed teenage prince as he gathers the necessary allies to retake his kingdom, and needless to say, that means surrounding himself with badass adults. As for Blood Blockade Battlefront, I don’t exactly know Leonardo Watch’s age, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s a teen. Either that or one short as hell baby-faced young adult. But that’s ok, as my favorite character in that series is the hulking mountain of badass and class, Klaus Von Reinherz.
And going by those glorious mutton chops, he’s no teen.
Another thing an increase in prominent adult characters would be beneficial for is, at least in regards to women characters, it would decrease the creepy sleaze factor that permeates the anime and manga industry right now. Of course, not by much mind you. But, if there must be sexualized merchandise as an unfortunately necessary byproduct of anime being greenlit, I would vastly prefer it be of adult characters, instead of teens. Frankly I’d prefer it if it wasn’t a “necessary evil” at all, but progress is a slow process.
Which is actually one of the reasons why my favorite currently running manga, and most anticipated Summer anime is Monster Musume. It’s a harem series where, get this, all of the characters are adults. It has the same kind of content for a harem series that runs in a magazine that is a bit more lax with nudity, but because they are all adults, it isn’t as skeevy to me as the typical harem series.
Lastly, as a person with a time consuming job, I enjoy seeing characters in a similar situation to me. Some of my favorite slice of life shows from the last two years have been Servant x Service, Barakamon, and Shirobako. All of which are shows that follow working adults in their mid-twenties, just like me. Now I know many people use their entertainment media of choice to relax and take their minds off of work, but I don’t know, there’s just something about seeing other working stiffs struggling with their jobs that makes me feel better. These are the kind of characters I can connect the most with, because they are the ones in the same boat as I am.
Now of course I still enjoy plenty of series without prominent adult characters, it’s just a lot less all encompassing nowadays. My second and third favorite shows from last year were Ping Pong the Animation and Silver Spoon Season 2, respectively, and both don’t really have adults in that big of a role. Oh to be sure adults played huge parts in the actual stories of both, but they weren’t around all that often. But both series were just so damn good that I didn’t mind whatsoever.
I get why so many anime and manga series focus so much on teens, and hell I had an enjoyable high school experience, so I’m nostalgic for those days, too. But those days are distant memories nearly a decade old by this point for me. The person I was in high school is different from the person I am now, and it is getting harder to connect with characters that would better resonate with the me of olden days. At the end of the day, I guess I am just saying I wish my favorite media grew up with me, instead of making me slowly feel like I’m outgrowing it. And is that really a bad thing to wish for?