One of the anime I’ve been fascinated with this season is Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko. What fascinates me is the portrayal of one the main characters, Erio, who thanks to a trauma she’s suffered, has become mentally unstable and a shut-in, as well as the interactions of others to cope with the instability the haunts her. Denpa Onna is far from perfect, but other animes that have approached the topic (Rozen Maiden, Welcome to the NHK) aren’t either. These other animes have chosen to also focus on people who became hikkomoris, while Erio’s insanity goes much further. Of the attempts I’ve seen, it’s the one that strikes a chord with me (someone with my own personal mental unstability) the most strongly.
When we first meet Erio, she’s a complete wreck. Erio has been kidnapped for six months, but her brain has repressed the memories of her experiance. The strain of having gone through that and then forgotten it has proven too much for Erio. She’s retreated into a fantasy world that she cope with rather then face a real world that is too anxiety inducing. Part of this world has her believing strange beliefs and delusions, including that she has beyond human powers when she doesn’t, and partcipating in strange rituals. The concept of becoming a hikkomori or a shut-in is very basic, although people with many mental disorders, particulary depression, general anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Becoming a shut-in lets one enter a fantasy world where they rarely or never leave. Usually it’s because the outside world contains some great trauma that they don’t want to face. As I’ve mentioned before, I know about being a shut-in very well, and state that it’s not Erio’s state of being one that fascinates one. I’ve been one before, and I’ve relasped, it’s a been there, done that, it’s a second nature I’m constantly fighting sort of thing.
What interests me is how other characters react to Erio, especially Niwa’s stubborness is trying to connect with her and then save her. After all, it’s those who has to live and cope with the person that has a mental illness that I don’t understand.
First there’s Meme’s choice to ignore her daughter. As Meme is far from mother or caretaker of the year, it’s to be expected. But at the same time, it’s hard not to she her point of view. Just coping with the fact that her daughter has become a shell of her former self must be hard enough. Her daughter also seems content in her life of being in futon 24/7–aside from the detail that she occassionally risks her life, why push the issue if it makes her daughter unhappy? As long as Meme is there to care for daughter and protect her, she doesn’t need to function in the world and be a part of society.
Niwa is significantly different then Meme. He decides to try to help her for his own selfish desire to get to know her better and understand who she was. Note that this complete opposite to Meme. Through this, he takes the hard path, and while he obtains a faint connection with Erio, that’s all he initially has. Through his journey with Erio only takes two episodes, we see glimpses of pain and doubt if he’d ever reach her. But because he’s absolutely smitten with her, he refuses to give up.
Then there’s also Erio’s former classmates, and how they describe her.
But eventually he does, and pulling her out of her fantasy is the right thing to do. The problem with locking yourself away in a fantasy is it’s happiness is shallow and superficial. It cracks sometime, and you have to face that there is a real world out there that you are avoiding. It honestly is no way to live. The real world is tough, but a fantasy world is ultimately empty.
When Niwa pulls Erio out, I think it’s accidental, but it makes sense she’s angry. Being pulled out of a fantasy world, especially suddenly, is painful. The only way to describe it is a feeling of something shattering. And then a sense of loss of purpose and direction. But the worse part is the initial pain.
After that, things get better. You learn to reenter the world. And you feel a feeling of fullness and completeness being locked away never gave. Being alive is 1000% times better, feeling, touching, and doing things, it’s all wonderful
Although what lies ahead for Erio isn’t easy. She has to heal from being a shut-in, as well as her past trauma to face. That, and as in the case of mental illness, it’s not something you ever get 100% better. I wonder if being a true shut-in is similar to other addictions, with the problems of having to find new ways to cope with stress. Some days are good and some days are bad. The people around Erio have to learn to live with someone who’s different, and she has to accept that she’ll never be a normal person and the bad stigma that comes with that. Luckily, Erio has a lot going for her, as she’ got a support system, and people willing to accept her the way she is.
Our society is one that paints mental illness as a very bad thing, with the people that have it as failures. Japan I believe, is even harsher. Yet Denpa Onna has given us a character that clearly struggles with mental illness. What makes her different then past hikkomoris was that she’s been made into a cute and lovable character. Denpa Onna is a story, while full of fanservice, set on presenting the story of a broken girl healing and reentering society. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction.
But I’m not going to try to explain her mom.