Art imitating life, I’m sure you’ve heard that one before; the idea that the thoughts and fears of our generation are somehow reflected in the art (and therefore, entertainment) that we create. Life now, at least in developed countries like Japan, North America and the UK, is a lot calmer than it was 50 to 60 years ago; basically, you aren’t waking up in the morning and expecting a nuclear apocalypse in the face, yet still, there is an shiver of social unrest.
Two of the most popular anime characters from 06/07 are Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass) and Yagami Light (Death Note); both are terrorists – charismatic, dashing vigilantes hell bent on suicidal missions to rebuild civilization according to their own designs; they have no qualms about murdering their way to the top; they are guys who, despite living comfortable lives, decide to take on the “all powerful” government for the sake of an ideal, or remarkably, out of boredom.
The importance of these dark social creations reflects a growing dissatisfaction felt by many people in Japan who have spent large periods of their lives reaching for the sky. When the dream inevitably crumbles and the daily grind sets in, so emerges world changing, embittered characters like Lelouch and Light. They truly are children of the 21st century; yuppies with broken dreams, ready to risk it all to make a difference.
Of course, that’s not all – right now, the majority of first world countries, without a world war to distract themselves, have hit a slump of inward-set paranoia. Basically, no-one trusts their governments anymore. Japan is no different; consider that the heroes of One Piece are law-breaking pirates while the enemies are the bumbling World Government. Claymore is another mainstream Shonen Jump anime in which the mysterious “organization” betrays its own children, while the ruling State Alchemists in Fullmetal Alchemist are riddled with corrupt, shape shifting homunculi. They all resonate with an audience because they feel relevant, important.
What is clear is that we’re just now beginning a new era. After the financial boom-time of the 80s and the electronic revolution of the 90s and early 00s, these are gray and direction less years, saturated by media hype and flooded with pop culture. The underground dissatisfaction is just about ready to boil over; it’s already happening in Gurren Lagann!