[AniFemTalk] Disability in anime and manga

As Naoko Yamada‘s film adaptation of Yoshitoki Oima’s manga A Silent Voice receives consistently glowing reviews, we started thinking about other representations of disability.

  • Which representations of disability in Japanese pop culture are particularly realistic?
  • Which representations are particularly poor?
  • Who is your favorite disabled character in Japanese pop culture?
  • Are you a disabled fan who feels connected to a particular character?
  • If you are a disabled fan, how would you most prefer to see your disability represented in anime or manga, if at all?

 

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

Thanks to our generous patrons we are now able to pay all writers! Next we need to be able to pay members of the team for their work behind the scenes, especially their time spent editing the work of paid contributors. If you appreciate our work, believe in paying people fairly and can spare just $1 a month please become a patron today

  • [SPOILER WARNING for Yuki Yuna is a Hero!]

    There’s a character in a wheelchair in Yuki Yuna, and I really liked how they presented her – she’s just as strong as the other magical girls, and her disability is treated as normal, hardly ever pointed out…

    Until near the end of the series, when we find out that (again, SPOILERS) her disability is a side effect of her having been a magical girl previously (which she’d lost her memories of), and then everyone else gains different side effects too (one character becomes nonverbal, one loses her sense of taste??, etc.)… Which *might* still be fine if they continued to learn to live with them, but instead they all get magically healed at the end by a deus ex machina, meaning Mimori can walk again.

    Aside from being bad writing, it struck me as a terrible 180 to have a character who seemed like good representation be “cured” at the end. :’)

    • lmd84

      Agreed. The disabilities that the characters acquired throughout the series *could* have been dealt with much better than they were. The initial presentation of Mimori was a start (more reasonable than I expected, at least)…then it got magically undone at the end. A poor choice that I really disliked.

    • AntonyShepherd

      Definitely, after it all started out quite positive. One of the things that impressed me was the way the school building was depicted. Given just how many anime shows are set in schools this was the first one I can think of to be shown as having accessibility features – wheelchair ramps, a lift on the stairs, etc.

  • Anime Spambot

    The manga for A Silent Voice handles deafness beautifully. The anime Gangsta also has a deaf character in Nicolas Brown. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the anime yet so I cannot give a recommendation one way or the other. Togo Mimori (Yuki Yuna Is A Hero) is a wheelchair bound character, though (as Jenny points out in her comment below) it’s a bit difficult to keep her firmly in that category. Her transition from wheelchair bound girl to magical girl was wonderfully done, though. Yomotsu Hirasaka (Future Diary) is blind, though in the overall context of the show he ends up being very much an afterthought. Lastly, there is Tatsuhiro Satou (Welcome to the NHK) who has no physical disability, but the story chronicles his severe social anxiety and possible schizophrenia, which severely hinders his interaction with others around him. Overall, I wish there were more anime and manga like A Silent Voice where the character with the disability is a central part of the story.

    • rugose-appendage

      I’ll look into Welcome to the NHK then!

    • Blusocket

      Not to get too particular about details, but “wheelchair bound” isn’t really the most accurate or respectful phrasing–wheelchairs are mobility aids, they /facilitate/ movement rather than preventing it. Referring to wheelchair users as “wheelchair bound” is misleading language that supports the idea that disabled people lack agency and that their mobility aids are limiting or confining, rather than being, well, aids.

      Thanks for the interesting comment though! Mentioning Satou from Welcome to the NHK made me think of Tomoko Kuroki from WataMote; I haven’t seen the whole show yet, but her social anxiety clearly impacts her life–particularly her relationships with her peers, but also in her ability to communicate with authority figures like her teachers. Her situation certainly isn’t as severe as Satou’s (she can still leave her house) but it’s arguably still somewhat disabling.

    • Brainchild129

      So Cute It Hurts also features a deaf character. The male twin protagonist (while disguised as his sister) falls for a deaf classmate and even goes so far as to learn sign language to communicate with her.

  • rugose-appendage

    I thought Orange did a good job at portraying depression. It empathetically showed Kakeru’s maladaptive behaviours and how they kept his depression going. You could understand why the way he behaved would make sense to him at the time. It also showed his friends behaving in practical and supportive ways. And it managed to remain a generally upbeat show about the magic of friendship throughout (which can kinda helps make sad subjects more approachable).

  • rubi-kun

    I’ve wondered if L from Death Note was intended to be on the spectrum. Probably not but the whole Sherlock Holmes-ian socially-challenged eccentric genius character archetype always ends up resonating in that way.

  • jtron

    I have arthritis, and walk with a cane. Oddly, though, the anime character I identify with the most in regards to disability is Machi, the dullahan from INTERVIEWS WITH MONSTER GIRLS – partly because of the staring factor (I look “too young” to have to use a cane) but mostly because of the myriad little adjustments she has to make to live normally, including not having full use of her hands because they’re busy dealing with a head (or cane, in my case)

  • ML Tyler

    Kakeru Naruse from Orange is a sensitive portrayal of a clinically depressed person. He is lucky to have wondrfully supportive friends, but some of the rifts and misunderstandings that occur ring very true for someone who is close to a person with a severe depressive illness.

  • SC

    I think Space Brothers is the only manga I’ve ever read that features a character with ALS. Sharon plays an important role in the protagonist Mutta’s life as a friend and a mentor both before and after she develops the condition. She eventually loses her ability to move facial muscles, but the mangaka Chuya Koyama does a great job conveying her emotions.

    I’ve also been waiting for a new volume of REAL, a wheelchair basketball manga by Takehiko Inoue, for over 2 years now. He is committed to the sport in real life too and published REAL x Rio Paralympic -a book on the Japan men’s national wheelchair basketball team- last year.

    As for A Silent Voice, I kind of like the UK trailer better than the original Japanese one; it’s minimal, but with no spoken words, it feels more sincere to the subject matter. It reminds me of the controversy over the film’s accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people here in Japan. When the film opened, it followed the industry standard and captions were only available after the second week. Many people felt the distributor and the production company should have done more since the film was about the disability.

  • Bundt Lust

    I live in Japan, and the disabled are virtually invisible here. Although you will occasionally see a wheelchair user, or someone with a cane, disabilities are just not part of common consciousness.

    Not manga/ anime, but may I present an inspiring, bittersweet example that breaks my heart? I’m a huge fan of men’s rhythmic gymnastics here in Japan, where students spend hours a day pouring blood, sweat, and tears into perfecting synchronize tumbling, flips and routines. The sport is virtually unknown outside of Japan as men’s RG does not have recognition from the official gymnastics federation or the Olympics and there are no international competitions for men’s RG. Once the students graduate from college, there is virtually no opportunity for them to use rhythmic gymnastics professionally, so many turn to coaching or join performance groups like Cirque du Soleil.

    I’ve watched hundreds of MRG videos, and the one that breaks my heart is the one that is a farewell tribute to Kazuki Suginami, former high school men’s rhythmic gymnastics champion who became a paraplegic after an accident. One of his dreams was to perform rhythmic gymnastics one last time… So rhythmic gymnast teammates incorporated him and his wheelchair into a floor routine. I I can’t find much about him after this 2012 performance, but it appears he did coach at least one gymnast for his old high school as an extra coach. I truly hope he remained involved in the sport he loves so much.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPUPBlesHCs&t=11s