Maternal Mortality in Anime
Anime characters almost always have at least one missing parent. If the tragic murder, untimely sickness or completely unexplained absence of said parent isn’t driving a plot it’s probably haunting the main and supporting characters throughout. The maternal mortality rate specifically is probably the foundation for our attachments to a lot of our characters; if the writer can make us witness enough tragedy in a characters life we are likely to root for them faster and harder. Who could possibly be better to eliminate than the most important person in their life? Perhaps this is engaging to some people but it has definitely had its disturbing moments. So here is a breakdown of three popular anime that have eradicated the primary caregiver and why it simply is not cute.
Most of the mother’s deaths, or the beginning of the illness, begins before the anime has started and we’re thrown into the aftermath of the protagonists’ trauma. The Attack on Titan writer’s were very generous though; they start their story slightly before the life-changing event, so that we get to see just how perfect Eren Yaeger’s life was. The first episode’s entire aesthetic is clear skies, chirping birds and wind blowing through grass. Of course, we see how Eren is dissatisfied with his life and this directly linked to his mother’s style of mothering. He want’s to run off and lead a life of danger while his mother resolutely against it. Indeed, this make’s the blow a little more tragic when we watch a titan flop her already crushed body around like a cheese string and chomp her down like Sunday dinner. I, personally, was eating when I first watched this and I almost brought my food back up. It does rile Eren up and make him the main character that we see in the series. However, his deep-set issues, like his hero complex, are rooted in her death. We constantly see Eren dive headfirst into dangerous situations, something his mother was buffering while she was alive, and everyone including Mikasa and Armin having to improve themselves to cover his flaws. The delusion is that Eren is a hero and that his mother’s violent death triggered this inside him but he’s really just an unflattering, toxic response to his childhood feelings of incompetency.
There are few of these maternal situations that I considered to be heart-wrenching but Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood siblings, Ed and Al, almost had me for a second. After their mother’s illness kicks in full force the pair attempt to use Human Transmutation and Equivalent Exchange to bring their mother back from the dead. Initially, this is heart breaking because the two brothers are only five and four years old, respectively, when she passes and the hold on to the desire to bring her back until they have perfected the Equivalent Exchange theory (or so they think). The scene in the anime when they attempt to bring their mother back really hits home as it forces viewers to consider what the essence of a mother is: it cannot simply be the core elements of the human body and, whatever it is that is missing, cannot be reclaimed. The obsession manifests slightly different to Eren Yager’s and becomes destructive to the boys, instead of everyone around them. Al loses two limbs and Ed loses his entire body. Alchemy being the only thing that makes their mother smile since their father’s abandonment they ultimately begin to associate their mothers happiness with alchemy – and this is why they pursue it with so much vigour. Supposedly, for these two their healing and growth, in regards to their mothers death, begins at this point because they are forced to confront their grief and move on, having lost so much already.
The last is our example for the unexplained absent mother in Hunter x Hunter (2011). Ging, Gon’s father, returns to Whale Island from a lengthy absence with Gon, his son. When questioned about the boy’s mother he simply says that they had separated. Gon differs from Eren, Ed and Al because he has Mito there, who assumes the maternal role, she even goes to the extent of getting full custody of him when Ging proves himself unfit. Perhaps Gon is the abandoned child character that other manga writers should aspire to include in their stories. It would have been completely plausible for Gon to have just as many issues as previously discussed characters. In fact, through the tapes his father left, Gon is given the opportunity to learn about his mother, but passes; fully accepting that Mito is his mum. This situation is unique because it doesn’t rely on Gon’s unease or lack of fulfilment to spark interest in who his biological mother is for viewers. Instead, we want to know because the question of her identity is posed during a time that many things are coming to light for Gon. Our interest is systematically peaked because Gon begins listening to the tapes and stops (frustratingly) just before we get to find out. The pursuit then becomes focused around Ging and rightfully so, seeing as he dropped his child off and left to live his best baby boy life. However, the mystery of Gon’s mother will continue to hang over the story, especially since the lack of fathering has been addressed. We’ll wait in anticipation.