[AniFemTalk] Representations of abuse

In the most recent episode of My Hero Academia, a character opened up to protagonist Deku about abuse they experienced at the hands of their parents. This treatment has resonated with some fans, who appreciate the way this character has coped with and responded to the abuse, providing a good opportunity to take a look at the way anime and manga handles abuse.

[This is of course a very sensitive subject, and nobody is required to disclose any information about their background in order to participate in this discussion. If you feel comfortable sharing details of your own experiences, our moderators will ensure these contributions are treated with the utmost respect by our community – not a difficult task, since our community is one of the most supportive and respectful out there.]

  • How did you respond to the scene/character referenced above from My Hero Academia?
  • Which representations of abuse or abused characters in anime or manga have resonated with or otherwise affected you personally?
  • Which abuse tropes in anime or manga do you particularly wish creators would stop using?
  • What are the worst examples of abuse normalized or even romanticized by an anime or manga?
  • Which types of abuse do anime and manga fail to represent, either accurately or at all?

 

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  • Amy Notdorft

    I’m somewhat on the fence with this scene, and I think I’m still waiting to see where they go with this from here (if anywhere). While the child abuse element was horrific, and Todoroki’s response is really interesting… I felt like there’s a lot more to be said about the abuse (and implied rape) that his mother endured. While it doesn’t justify what she did to her son, I feel like her character and the concept of “Quirk marriages” needs to be better fleshed out for it not to become trope-y.

    For me, Tokyo Ghoul resonates with my personal experiences. I come from a background of emotional abuse and was raised to be silent and endure. Kaneki’s struggle with his aunt’s abuse of his mother and his realization that inaction is a choice that comes with consequences and responsibilities helped me finally give myself permission to stand up for myself and family members. It helped me realize that letting myself be hurt wasn’t a “kindness” to the people I loved. Obviously the representation isn’t perfect — if I remember correctly there’s a bit of victim blaming with regards to Kaneki’s mom — but for someone who is taught to accept (and even expect) emotional abuse, it provides a compelling alternative perspective.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, I’ve never thought of Tokyo Ghoul in that light before. It will indeed be very interesting to see where MHA goes with this – my understanding is that it’s the start of an arc for Todoroki, and if the series is long-running enough (which seems likely) there’s no doubt we’ll meet all of his family at some point. It would be a good for thing for them to be consistent with this storyline so that when we meet his mother they can explore the same experience from her perspective. Fingers crossed they continue to treat this idea with respect, and that the Quirk marriages concept wasn’t just a throwaway line.

  • arcelian

    I’m not an abuse survivor so I can’t speak for anyone who is, and I’m also more caught up on the manga than the anime (I’m assuming the anime hasn’t covered the resolution to this character arc yet!), but I will say that one of my favourite parts of this particular depiction in the manga is how it’s not just brushed aside once the immediate drama is over – without going into too much detail, even when the situation is not being addressed there are throwaway background lines that mention that yes, this is a problem that is (thankfully) being worked on, and will hopefully end with the victims in a better place. It’s a small detail, but one that a lot of mainstream media tends to drop the ball on, that trauma recovery is an ongoing process. (I also personally think MHA does a pretty good job of avoiding both victim blaming and excusing behaviour based on past trauma in the metatext in general, assigning responsibility for actions while allowing that the root cause was someone else’s fault. Of course, that’s a YMMV and also based on events that are currently manga-only, so whether the anime gets this right or not remains to be seen.)

    As for other depictions, I have to say that Natsume’s Book of Friends is my go-to for respectful depictions of abuse recovery in anime. It could definitely be categorized as iyashikei, so it’s somewhat to be expected, but the sheer amount of respect it shows Natsume regarding his past trauma, both in and out of story, is impressive. The abuse itself isn’t described in much detail (I could probably count on one hand the number of times anyone makes more than a vague allusion to it), but it doesn’t need to be. Natsume’s behaviour, especially his defensive mechanisms, are logical and understandable, and those close to him respect his boundaries even when they’re pushing him to step out of his comfort zone. (Anyone who doesn’t is clearly stated to be in the wrong, and is either rebuffed or recognizes and apologizes for their actions.) Also, Natsume’s parental figures are just SO DANG SUPPORTIVE, they’re some of my favourite anime parents ever.

    One thing that does bother me about abuse in anime (and manga), though, is how often harassment and abuse that’s not parent -> child is brushed off or used as comedy or fanservice. I will admit to not being a huge anime watcher, but I feel like there’s a lack of acknowledgement that any type of relationship has the potential to be abusive, whether it’s family, friends or work related. Of course, that’s a problem everywhere, not just in anime.

    • This is so true – there are a lot of times where I see relationships portrayed as romantic which ring all sorts of alarm bells for me (for example: http://www.animefeminist.com/discourse-force-him-not-me/), or at least normalised workplace abuse etc. As you say earlier, trauma recovery is an ongoing process, and it would be great if we could see the impacts of this kind of treatment on characters more often.

    • Amy Notdorft

      I forgot about Natsume! Such an amazing example. Ancient Magus Bride has a similar plot with regards to the familial abuse and being tossed from one home to another. I’ve only read one volume so far though, so I really can’t say whether it will follow through as well as Natsume.

      I’m really glad to hear MHA’s source material seems to treat the issue thoughtfully. Maybe I’ll have to check out the manga. 😀