It is not uncommon for anime to lack parental figures. Many shows, especially the more popular ones, have mother/father figures who are either deceased, absent, or never mentioned at all. Anime tends to lean on the coming of age story structure, because a great deal of it is aged at children/adolescents/young adults. These groups will gravitate to imaginative spaces where parents are dead, absent, awful, or even outright villains, because that allows for the young heroes to take center stage.
Thank goodness mom isn’t around to keep me from achieving my goal.
I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity. Sure, not every story needs or benefits from parents for any number of reasons. They may be outside the scope of the work, not particularly interesting, or the author simply does not know how to handle them. This is perfectly fine, but there are real advantages to adding parental figures to a work. Parents are very easy hooks for most viewers, as if they exist on this earth of ours then they have at least some personal dimension with parents whether they are biological, adopted, brought in through marriage, or of a more spiritual variety. Even if someone’s parents are completely absent, that absence plays some part in their story.
I was both absent and a villain. Behold my incredible parenting abilities.
Parents also tend to be rather complex parts of our lives, as few people have entirely perfect relationships with the people who have raised them. They provide food, shelter, guidance, nurture, stories, and attempt to pass on a series of virtues to us, but can just as often be overbearing, overprotective, naive, or antagonistic to our desires. This kind of multi-layered complexity practically comes prepackaged with the use of parental characters, and authors should certainly not ignore the potential they have for telling stories
To show what I mean, I will pull examples from three (relatively) recent shows that use parents to great effect. To further compound things, all three will be shonen coming of age stories!
Major Hughes – Fullmetal Alchemist
The Why – In a sense, Major Hughes is almost a bit boring. His entire character is literally Hey Look At Me I Love My Family. While that seems a bit one-dimensional (probably because it is), he definitely earns points for being one of the few characters in all of anime (or fiction, for that matter) who is just an out-and-out adoring father. I wish I could complain with something like, “Ugh, another good father, seen this a thousand times.” But truthfully good dads in anime are pretty similar to their real life counterparts – few and far between.
The Hook – His genuine goodness only magnifies the feels as the series progresses.
Rinko Iori – Gundam Build Fighters
The Why – A somewhat typical maternal figure, Rinko gets bonus points in a few categories. Firstly, she has an earnest interest in her son Sei’s success, but is not overbearing/too nosy/obnoxious in any way. She clearly cares and encourages him without interfering with his life in any undo manner. Furthermore, she feels like an actual mother rather than a caricature of one – quietly supportive when Sei is around his friends, excitedly cheering for him when watching him compete. On top of that she is a successful businesswoman, has some great (if sparing) dialogue, and the audience can’t help but root for her while she roots for her son.
The Hook – A mother whose role is a bit traditional, but is refreshing in its sincerity.
Joseph Joestar – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
The Why – Not only is Joseph one of the better leads in the various arcs of JoJo’s, he really exemplifies the advantages of using these sorts of parental figures in anime. As an audience we see his journeys as a young man, and by Stardust Crusaders (JoJo’s 3rd arc) he is now an older man leading his grandson to save his daughter. The incredible dynamic that his legacy hook adds to the show as a whole gives everything that much more impact. Now the audience can juxtapose Joseph with his daughter and grandson, as well as seeing him continue on to have new adventures of his own. By including him as part of the adventure all of the events that take place have an additional sense of meaning, because this is both a new story for a new hero and the continuing tale of yesterday’s legends.
The Hook – Not your granpappy’s Grandpa character, an elder warrior who provides guidance and punch.
So there you have it folks, three examples of great parental figures that really add to the stories they are in. Do you agree or disagree with our picks for great parental figures in anime? Or can you think of any others we should have included? Tell us in the comments below.