Emotions are important. In these unusual pandemic-riddled times, some folks act out their emotions in less than healthy, self-destructive ways. Others internalise their feelings, retreating into dark bedrooms and small homes, brewing mental health problems for later.
Hence, our decision at AniTAY to write about our favourite anime that elicited strong emotions in us. Sometimes a book, or a movie, or a good quality anime is enough to make us lose ourselves in stories that provide all-important catharsis, grant us empathy for others who suffer, and help us to manage and understand our own emotions. The first article in this projected series is about the anime that made us cry. Not tears of anger or frustration, but tears of heartbreak, of sadness and loss.
Please join us as we expunge our emotional pain in the hope we inspire you to do the same. Sometimes we all need a good cry.
NOTE: DUE TO THE NATURE OF THIS ARTICLE, THE FOLLOWING ENTRIES WILL CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THEIR RESPECTIVE SERIES.
Deadman Wonderland by TGRIP
Spoiler-free Synopsis: After being framed for the massacre of his entire class, 14 year old Ganta Igarashi is sentenced to death via Deadman Wonderland, a vast prison that looks and acts like a demented themepark. Surviving by “performing” for guests, Ganta quickly realizes that the park/prison is a testbed for human experimentation and along the way meets several of the unfortunate souls imprisoned there, including Shiro, a mysterious, childlike girl who acts as though she and Ganta have been friends for years… Form Of Emotional Trauma: False imprisonment, gruesome deaths (albeit censored), child abuse. This show’s on par with stuff like Black Lagoon, so massive content warning for this series.
Why It Made Me Cry: It’s not easy for any form of media to get me misty-eyed. I don’t say that to brag, just that I’m… emotionally dense. It’s also why most “sad” anime don’t really get to me. Stuff like Plastic Memories, Your Lie in April, even the most infamous moments in Fullmetal Alchemist? Nothing. Now, surprising stuff, that can do the trick. Which brings us to the show I never expected to break me down like it did: Deadman Wonderland. This show, something bloodier than Black Lagoon, with an English script that adds a lot more fun to the preexisting material, one of the initial shows to air on Toonami when it returned in 2012… Yeah, when it got to me, I didn’t see it coming. The specific moment was halfway through episode 10, when Shiro contemplates her relationship with Ganta while satiating her sweet-tooth, and she starts crying while eating. “The candy tastes good, so why do I still hurt?”
A big part of this comes from Monica Rial’s performance, which perfectly captures Shiro’s childlike mentality of someone — who despite being the same age as Ganta — still acts like a kid. (Long story short, she’s gone through a lot of abuse, and it’s her coping mechanism.) So there is the element of a cutesy character going through pain. Instead of something graphic, however, it’s just this small moment where a character unintentionally acknowledges and processes their feelings. It’s unexpected, yet after the show’s events up to this point, it feels natural and, most importantly, earned. It doesn’t feel like it’s there to manipulate the viewer’s emotions, but rather feels like how something would play out for a character going through something. And thus… yeah, when I watched it over half a decade ago, this small moment got to me. Deadman Wonderland is definitely not for everyone. It’s brutal, it has a dark sense of humor (which the dub really adds to, so I wholeheartedly recommend it over the sub), but underneath the blood and brutality, it has a bittersweet soul.
Listen to me, Girls. I am your Father! by ShadowHaken
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Yuuta Seegawa is a college freshman with a normal life. He has a good time in classes, in his part-time job, and has even found a beautiful (albeit weird) girl who may/may not be interested in him! Sadly, he receives unfortunate news: his sister and her husband were in a plane crash and are presumed dead. So now, and after some tribulations with other relatives, their 3 young daughters are in his care.
Form Of Emotional Trauma: Death of relatives, forced maturity, economic problems.
Why It Made Me Cry: More than one moment made me cry, they were the various little scenes and realizations that came from the sides as opposed to those that hit me in the face, those that came after thinking about them a little. From the tragedy of the three sisters losing their parents (or father and stepmother for two of them); the fear of separation since the adults wanted to send them to live in different places; the fear of changing, and facing that change by masking terror with a fake smile.
Heck, it even slightly reminded me of my personal life when I had to leave my hometown and move out to a strange city without my parents to live with some relatives I only see at Christmas. Listen to me, Girls. I am your Father! was a big hit for when the novelty of being on my own wore off and it was time to enter reality. That is, without the trauma of the daughters in admitting the disease of their parents.
The show follows the good-hearted Yuuta, who follows the example of his own older sister in how to take care of his newfound family. This forces Yuuta to grow up and focus on bringing food to the table. Yuuta quickly realizes how important and difficult being a parent is, and the show takes the common anime trope of parenthood and frames it around ideas of absent father figures. This obviously was a big mistake on his part, and one that brought not only problems for his personal life, but to the three minors in his care, since a Dad has to be there, even for small stuff; he has to be a present figure in the life of the children. Luckily and in the most heart-warming form, he is able to vindicate that wrong and begin his quest to become a good father, even bringing in a fake Mom in the form of the girl he has a crush on at one point.
Another aspect of what made these scenes so special is how they develop the other relatives, especially an elderly couple, who at first only wanted to take care of the youngest daughter. Thanks to Yuuta´s effort, however, they come to understand that was cruel, they weren’t thinking of how the three girls should grieve and grow up together. Seeing Yuuta’s importance in their lives, they decide that they will support the new family with the keys to the kids’ house and financial support for Yuuta.
All these warm moments mixed with the fact it’s not afraid of throwing emotional punches at you is what makes this anime such a big tear-jerker.
Gunbuster/Aim for the Top! by Kinksy
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The year is 2023 and Earth is under threat from insectoid Aliens trying to destroy the human race. Noriko, a trainee Gunbuster (the titular mecha) Pilot, is chosen to join the space fleet in their battle for humanity’s survival.
Form Of Emotional Trauma: despair, hopelessness
Why It Made Me Cry: Gunbuster is a coming-of-age-story centered around Noriko Takaya as she grows from a ditzy trainee Gunbuster pilot into one of Earth’s greatest heroes. Noriko and the mecha pilot school’s ace Kazumi Amano are selected to join the space fleet to combat the hostile Alien force.
As the war progresses, Noriko loses several friends, strengthening her resolve to save humanity which culminates in her taking control of a prototype Gunbuster to save the fleet (and humanity) from certain doom. While Noriko’s triumph seems to signal humanity’s survival and the series’ climax, the Alien force proves to be too great, forcing the fleet to retreat to earth where 10 years pass and everyone’s lives move forward.
Noriko and Amano struggle to adjust to their new lives on Earth. During another mission when the time dilation increases again, Amano breaks down due to the pressure of the situation and the knowledge that one of her loved ones (Coach, the girls’ mentor) is dying while she is out in space fighting.
None of these particular moments are what made me cry, but each is an effective emotional punch that only makes Gunbuster ‘s finale hit even harder. The tears, however, come in the final episode. After 15 years and Amano having decided to stay on Earth to spend her Coach’s final years with him, he passes away. Noriko, meanwhile, returns to Earth still as young as ever.
Amano and Noriko are selected as humanity’s last chance to place, defend, and detonate a bomb with the power of a black hole in the heart of the aliens’ world to destroy them once and for all. As they are about to leave, they realise the bomb has been damaged and will not detonate without full power. In a final sacrifice, Noriko and Amano rip out their own Gunbuster’s core and use it to trigger the bomb, leaving the pair with no time to fully escape the blast. Due to extreme time dilation, they are flung 12,000 years into the future and are met with a cold, uninhabited-looking planet Earth. But the show doesn’t end here, as the Earth lights up with a message for them: “Welcome Home”.
It gets me every time even on repeated re-watches — the switch from despair to tears of joy as they leave behind the ruined Gunbuster is a perfect and emotional finale. I can’t help but cry along with Noriko and Amano.
Violet Evergarden by Dilkokoro
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Violet Evergarden follows a girl who searches to find the meaning of the words “I love you”. She helps convey thoughts and feelings into writing for the people of a country devastated by war and loss. As she helps others, Violet slowly begins to find answers to her original question as well as to confront her own demons.
Form of Emotional Trauma: PTSD
Why it made me cry: Violet Evergarden is, no exaggeration, the most I have cried watching anything I have ever seen. The emotions and messages conveyed are as breathtaking as the stellar visuals and hauntingly beautiful music. Young Violet meets people and helps to send their messages of love in a manner nothing short of profound. I tried giving it a few years before I compared it against my other favorite anime, and in hindsight it easily breaks my top ten. Depending on my mood, I might even go as far as putting it in my top five.
Picking the one episode that moved me most proves to be a Herculean task. There is the episode where a dying mother asks Violet to write annual letters for her daughter to read every year after she has passed away. I think of the episode where the grieving father needs inspiration to write his next play and Violet reminds him of his daughter who tragically died. Maybe even the episode where Violet’s very first friend finally reaches her brother to express how happy she is that he is alive?
No, the episode that made me cry like I have never cried before in my life is where Violet herself must dig out of the hell that her trauma has brought her to. Every detail about that episode, from her trying to choke herself to the realization that she is “burning” made me ache. The final moment, the beautiful conclusion to this conflict, comes when Violet asks Hodges a question I grapple with frequently: “Do I have any right to live?”. Hodges’ face as she says this makes me start to break down every time I see it. In the dub, Erika Harlacher and Kyle McCarley exchange this dialogue with the vocal shake that comes from crying. Hodges faces Violet and says something that gave me hope in life and rekindles hope in me every time I revisit it:
“You can’t erase the past… although… just know… everything you’ve done as an Automemories Doll…won’t disappear either, Violet Evergarden .”
Sound! Euphonium by TheMamaLuigi
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Following devastating loss at their middle school band competition, Kumiko Oumae enters Kitauji High School hoping for a fresh start. Before long, she finds herself re-enmeshed in the world of concert band and all the messiness that comes from a group of adolescents unwilling to let go of the past, realize their feelings, and embrace who they are. The curtain rises on Sound! Euphonium!
Form of Emotional Trauma: Not much trauma, per se. More so triumph, catharsis, and the burden of growth.
Why it made me cry: How do we become into ourselves, and what begets that becoming? Kyoto Animation’s Sound! Euphonium is a slice-of-life drama filled to the brim with teenage melodrama, with the small moments that, to those affected, serve as the catalysts for discovering who we are and where we are going. It is a deeply, profoundly affecting show and, for me, one with multiple distinct moments that make me cry — or at least get very emotional.
Most of these moments come in the first season. Not to say that the second is a step down in quality (it certainly is not), but the first season’s intense focus on Kumiko’s growth and the Kitauji High School Band’s journey to winning nationals creates a powder keg of cathartic evolution that, in the twelfth and thirteenth episodes, reaches the end of its fuse.
Episode twelve, “My Euphonium,” focuses on Kumiko more than any episode in the first season. Struggling to learn and perfect her part in their upcoming concert piece, Taki-sensei tells Kumiko that she will not be playing that section of the song, leaving her simultaneously shocked and surprisingly heartbroken. The tears, both for Kumiko and myself, come as she is walking home. A lethargic walk becomes a desperate sprint as she realizes that, yes, she loves the euphonium and desperately wants to prove to herself that she can and will master the piece. Kyoto Animation delivers potentially their crowning achievement in animation (before Violet Evergarden) in this section, tracking Kumiko as she sprints before following her to the side of the bridge as she repeats “I want to improve,” a battlecry and a signal of Kumiko’s evolution away from the malaise that plagued her at the series’ beginning. It is a stunning moment in every aspect, from voice acting to writing to art and animation, and it is one that, without fail, brings tears to my eyes.
The very next episode, Kumiko not only proves herself worthy of the piece but joins her peers in performing at the competition. An entire season’s worth of growth and change is captured in this one performance sequence rivalling the best in Your Lie in April. Kumiko’s internal monologue during this sequence reaffirms her change and her admittance that, yes, she has always wanted to go to Nationals — now she just believes it’s a reality. Following the performance, tensions are high as the band awaits results. Will they get gold and continue on, or will this be a repeat of Kumiko and Reina’s middle school loss? The results: gold for Kitauji High School Concert Band, and a place at Regionals. The music swells, Reina’s teary eyes tell Kumiko the results as much as the banner itself, and I break down into tears every time. If the performance in this episode captures the growth of the various band members, their win reaffirms that they are growing in the right direction, that their hard work was not for nothing, and that things will be okay in the end. Sound! Euphonium ‘s first season ends on this resounding triumph, on this coalescence of everything that makes this show fantastic and emotional and undoubtedly Kyoto Animation’s best.
Anohana — The Flower We Saw That Day by Doctorkev
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Five years ago, the six-strong “Super Peace Busters” — a close friend group of sixth-grade kids — was broken apart by the tragic death of one of their members, the white-haired Meiko Honma (nicknamed Menma). Now the surviving five are in eleventh grade and grown apart, only for something very unusual to reunite them to confront their unspoken resentments and rekindle lost friendships.
Form Of Emotional Trauma: bereavement, loss
Why It Made Me Cry: The experience of irrevocable loss is one of the defining experiences of growing older, whether that means the death of loved ones or the dissolution of friendships via distance or time. Anohana is a deeply emotional exploration of both these types of bereavement, seen mainly through the viewpoint of Jinta Yadomi (Jintan), a 17-year-old boy whose life has stalled since the death of both his mother and his best friend Menma.
Jintan has lost all hope, doesn’t attend school, and his lackadaisical father doesn’t challenge him about it. When we are first introduced to Jintan, he’s accompanied by a white-haired girl who keeps talking to him, and it’s only gradually that the viewer realises only Jintan can see and hear her. When we learn that she is an apparition of his lost friend Menma, there’s enough ambiguity that we could perceive her as either a product of a grief-stricken mind or as a true spiritual manifestation.
Menma pushes Jintan to reconnect with his former friends, who have all tried to move on in their own separate ways, but still harbour unresolved feelings and regrets. Initially, no one believes that he is communicating with Menma’s spirit, though some play along while others are more openly antagonistic. Watching their halting, broken interactions made me remember the friends I’ve lost contact with, or can no longer connect with. When I was 16, I lost a close friend to a tragic accident and I recall the visceral emotional pain of that sudden sundering of our friendship. It’s hard to move forward when the future you imagined for yourself is snatched away and replaced with something unfamiliar, empty, lonely.
There have been times in my life where I leaned hard on my friends for support, and vice-versa. Close friendships forged through adversity or during stressful periods like school or university often feel like they will last forever, but in my experience rarely do. People move on with their lives and leave past attachments behind, rarely ever fully resolving their feelings or needs. There are people I miss terribly — not because they have died, but because we have grown apart and can no longer connect.
Anohana made me cry because of the feeling of resolution conjured in that final, deeply emotional episode. For a brief moment, everyone can see Menma, everyone is able to express their deepest feelings, everyone is able to achieve closure, and most of all, they are able to finally say goodbye. I’m not ashamed to say that the final episode of Anohana broke me into pieces and left me a blubbering wreck. It’s one of those rare anime shows that I expect will only become more powerful the older you get.
Assassination Classroom by Arcane
Spoiler-free Synopsis: An alien arrives on Earth with a bang — he destroys half of the moon and declares that one year from that date, he’ll do the same to the planet if he isn’t killed before then. Oh, and also, there’s this one group of high school failures that he really wants to teach in that year… wonder what’s going on there?
Form of Emotional Trauma: Familial Death, Forced Maturity
Why It Made Me Cry: I already went on record a few months ago stating why Assassination Classroom was worth a look if you passed on it as it aired, but the events of the last few episodes are what really cement it as my favorite anime of all time. The longer AssClass goes, the higher the emotional stakes get, because as it turns out, not only is Koro-sensei not all that he seems, he’s a major victim in the show’s overarching story, trying his hardest to amend for the sins of his past despite being placed into a situation he never wanted.
Of course, the biggest victims are the children of class 3-E.
These kids were failures before Koro-sensei walked into their lives — intentionally ostracized and othered by their school for their poor grades and likely having given up hope a long time ago, many of them come from awful homes ranging from poor to tragically abusive. Koro-sensei ultimately becomes a symbol of hope and a surrogate parent to a lot of them through his individual attention and genuinely caring attitude, seeing each student more as people than the adults in their life ever did… and then, at the end of it all, despite having learned and loved and grown together, they still have to carry out their task to protect the human race from an extinction event that Koro-sensei himself didn’t want to cause. After almost fifty episodes of bonding and regaining hope in a future they never thought they’d get, Koro-sensei — minutes from self-destructing, and exhausted from the final battle to protect the class — is pinned down by the entire class working together, all of them emotionally distraught and ugly crying, and gives one last roll-call. Despite this being a pretty cheap ploy to get the audience to have feels, the show delivers so well on the build-up to this moment that it genuinely had me sobbing for hours, and after the killing blow is delivered, the students return to their remote classroom for graduation to find personalized diplomas, photo albums, and guides for each and every one of them, written by the best teacher they’d ever have.
The final episode of the series is an epilogue that shows us how the class took what they learned from their experience in the Assassination Classroom and used it to lead fulfilling lives and change society, capping off a major theme of the entire show and demonstrating such a mastery of character development that it made me cry all over again, even if the tears were happy this time. Assassination Classroom is cheesy, melodramatic, over-the-top, and wonderful, and I defy anybody to tell me they had dry eyes at the end.
Thanks for joining us on our first emotional odyssey and I hope you join us again for future articles in this series. Stay safe (and sane) out there.
Thanks also to our honoured contributors (in alphabetical order):
Arcane, Dilkokoro, Doctorkev, Kinksy, ShadowHaken, TGRIP and TheMamaLuigi.
Finally, thanks again to our ever reliable TheMamaLuigi for his editing skills and to the talented Stanlick for his awesome header image.
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Originally published at https://anitay.kinja.com on June 26, 2020.