Content Warning: Ableism, child abuse, grooming, medical abuse
Spoilers for The Day I Became a God
Disability representation has always been something of an uphill battle, and the worlds of anime and manga are no exception. While manga is more willing to take risks when exploring marginalized communities, with titles such as My Brain is Different letting neurodiverse people speak for themselves and That’s My Atypical Girl centering an autistic love interest (albeit with debatable results), anime has been mostly lacking on that front. Many viewers have to resort to headcanons drawn from implications, such as Hirasawa Yui from K-ON!, Shiina Mashiro from The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, and Yano Mitsuki of Yuri is My Job!.
The Day I Became a God, while not featuring representation of a specific, real-world disability, features a lot of insidious ableism in its last few episodes. This final arc of the show perpetuates a lot of harmful ideas around how those who are disabled should be treated, and the agency that they often do not have, serving as a painfully apt example of the clichés and stereotypes narratives about disability often fall into.
The basic premise is that one day, a young girl by the name of Satou Hina arrives into the life of the main character, Narukami Youta, and his friends and family. She’s dressed in robes and claims to be a goddess, and that the world will end in thirty days. What follows is nine episodes of fun slice of life shenanigans, with Hina’s clairvoyant powers providing our cast of characters with many over the top experiences before the world supposedly ends.
While not an amazing show, it had some real high points, like a touching subplot about a side character learning to let go of a deceased loved one. If the show continued on this route, it could have been a fun, if not remarkable, experience. Maeda Jun, the show’s writer, had already made several classics, such as Clannad, Angel Beats, and Little Busters!, all of which are bittersweet tearjerkers with adoring cult followings. While not every single one of his works has been met warmly, such as the infamous Charlotte, Maeda’s pedigree earned his new show an extra degree of trust from the audience.
Of course, it’s revealed that the world isn’t going to end in thirty days. This is the show’s big plot twist, and it’s also where the ableism kicks in. Hina is not in fact a god, but was instead born with a debilitating mental and physical disability known as Logos Syndrome, which caused her parents to flat out abandon her. Her grandfather, wanting to help her, implanted a quantum computer in her brain. This helped overcome her disability, but also gave her the unintended side effect of being able to predict the future.
This already ties into the trope of “disability superpowers”, as in getting these powers, Hina is “cured” of her disability and becomes an inspiration to those around her, mirroring many an inspiration porn story. It gets worse. Governmental organizations, fearing that those powers will be used for nefarious purposes, kidnap Hina, and remove her quantum computer before dumping her into a care facility. The last three episodes involve Narukami sneaking into the facility in order to get Hina back, and this is where it really gets bad.
Hina, without her assistive device, has the mental age of a three-year-old, can barely move, and has developed a fear of men due to the trauma of her kidnapping. Narukami, despite having absolutely no experience or qualifications to take care of someone like Hina, tries to get her back. His “rescue” involves many upsetting moments of Hina freaking out because Narukami is too loud, too aggressive, and well, a guy that triggers her trauma. Seeing Narukami not even try to regulate himself and ignore everything the care facility staff tell him about Hina is unfortunately reminiscent of how often abled people speak over disabled communities, and the high rates of abuse of disabled children.
Groups such as Autism Speaks, who amongst other things is not staffed by a single autistic person and for a while recommended the infamous Judge Rotenburg Educational Center where kids were tortured with electroshock therapy, are prime examples of how organizations often claim to speak on behalf of the disabled community without ever consulting them. Narukami isn’t framed as being in the wrong; on the contrary, he’s the hero who really knows what Hina wants, and he’s fighting against a cold, unfeeling care facility that can’t see Hina for who (he thinks) she actually is.
This is even more upsetting when Hina is shown to thrive in the facility. One might have expected the series to depict the care facility as a place that neglects or harms Hina; there are plenty of real-world horror stories of disabled individuals being abused by caregivers, particularly children. It would have been an easy, understandable way to frame Narukami as imperfect, but more empathetic to Hina’s needs. But that isn’t the depiction the show pursues. Hina’s caretakers are all women who know how to act around her, doing activities that she enjoys in her state, and are sensitive experts who know how to care for kids who have these types of disabilities.
However, in the climax of the show—featuring sweeping, heartfelt music and the apparently gleeful return of Hina’s memories of Narukami and his family—he is able to successfully convince the facility to place her in his care. He states that even if he doesn’t know how to take care of her, he will at least try and learn along the way. This entire section of the story frames him as someone inexperienced but earnest, which is not something optimal in a situation with such high stakes. Narukami’s well-meaning failures come at the risk of medical danger to Hina, but as an abled hero he is framed as somehow being entitled to her. It bypasses any critique of actual risks or critiques of care facilities to exclusively pursue the wants of the abled protagonist.
Now, there’s obviously many more issues present here. Firstly, the idea that Hina had to be given something to literally overwrite her disability instead of treating her normally as she is, is reflective of many attitudes with regards to how those who are non-disabled view disability. Often, there is talk of wanting to “cure ” certain disabilities, most often autism, something which the aforementioned Autism Speaks actively promoted for many years. It’s a mindset that sees disability not as something that should be accepted as a part of society, but as burdens that need to be overcome in order to assimilate, with similar attitudes to things such as Down syndrome and dwarfism.
The fact that Hina’s parents flat out abandoned her due to her disability is also quite troubling. There are many such stories of parents being made incredibly upset and even depressed by having to raise disabled kids, seeing them as nothing but burdens that don’t deserve to be given love. People respond to these parents sympathetically, understanding their supposed plights. In the series, Hina’s grandpa is focused on a cure to the exclusion of all else, even if it means making Hina a target thanks to the computer in her brain. Her normalcy is more important than her safety.
This segues nicely into another big issue: dehumanization.
While Narukami obviously doesn’t see Hina as a burden, considering the lengths he goes to in order to get her back, Hina’s input into any of this doesn’t come into play at all. Her agency had already been taken away with her relapse, turning her once energetic, assertive self into a shell of what it once was. But when you consider the large age discrepancy between her and Narukami, it makes it all the more disturbing. Hina is essentially an object to Narukami, and his desire to have her near him is treated as more important than her safety.
The narrative might argue that in the end, Hina did agree to come back with Narukami, and that as such her agency does matter. This, however, ignores the previously mentioned large power imbalance between the older and neurotypical Narukami, and the younger and disabled Hina. It is hard to take the unlocking of her “true” self sincerely when it comes after Narukami repeatedly scaring and pressuring her until he gets what he wants.
However The Day I Became a God might try to frame their relationship as love conquering all, Hina is (at most) a young teen and Narukami is a high school graduate by series end. Throughout the show, Hina is talked about as a “loli” who Narukami feels for on more than a platonic level. While it’s not super explicit, it’s there enough that this also adds an incredibly uncomfortable sexual undertone to it all. This would be predatory even if Hina were neurotypical, but in practice the coat of romantic sugariness feels like an attempt to hide how truly messed up it is that a character with the mental age of three is being seen as a subtle love interest. According to the Vera Institute, children with mental or physical disabilities are three times as likely to be sexually abused, and in romanticizing Narukami’s quest to “save” Hina, it leaves the possibility of potential abuse to happen.
All of this is compounded by the way Japan views disability. There is still a large culture of shame regarding disability in Japan, with many of those hiding it out of fear of societal stigmatization. One Japanese book on autism even compared those who are autistic to foreigners, effectively othering those with autism as “less Japanese”. While the manga listed in the intro might be furthering a more nuanced discussion on neurodiversity and neurodiverse voices, The Day I Became a God is a television anime by a popular writer, promoting a regressive if not outright dangerous narrative about disability to a wide audience.
All of this begs the question: are there any good recent examples of disability in anime? Yes, at least in the world of coded disability. The Duke of Death and His Maid uses its premise of a supernatural curse to show how those with disabilities are often told they will never be loved, and then rejects that narrative with a sweet and mutual romantic storyline. Alice, the titular maid, offers a good counter to Narukami, as a non-disabled person who listens and cares for her disabled lover as an equal, not as an object she needs to save without his input at all. She doesn’t ever put pressure on him to try and lift his curse, only attempting to do so after he says that he would like to cure it; unlike Narukami, who doesn’t even consider the fact that Hina may actually want to stay at the care facility. It overall provides a much better experience with regards to treating disabled people with respect and giving them a voice, something which The Day I Became a God most certainly doesn’t.
Disabled people are the best to ask about what’s best for themselves, followed by trained abled caretakers and assistants, not the average uneducated abled person. Disabled people also should not have to change anything themselves to fit into larger society, and should be cared for as equals who need the proper help they deserve, not props for abled people when they are able to fit in. Media has slowly started to embrace these facts, including anime, and the world doesn’t need to return to stories that reduce disabled characters to objects in an abled narrative.
Editor’s Note (2/13/23): This article was edited after publication to acknowledge the issue of abuse in long-term care facilities and change a reference link. Thank you to the members of the AniFem Discord for raising these issues.