Chicken soup and comfort anime

What do you like to do on days that are a bit ‘bleh’? Usually I curl up and listen to music, play something easy or cook a warm meal. On truly bleh days – when I want a distraction but don’t want to do much either – I sometimes put on anime. It has to be a certain kind of anime though. I want something optimistic but not triumphantly bombastic; something poignant without making me cry; something that feels good, gets the job done, and can be neatly shelved away afterwards. To put it plainly, I’m picky about my comfort anime. 

What exactly makes for good comfort anime? You might refer to any anime that is wholesome and easy to watch – indeed, there’s essentially a whole genre for that. Much like comfort food, comfort anime should elicit certain emotions. It should make you feel content and heartened. It is the consolation of something familiar, the nourishing bowl of chicken soup, the warmth of a cosy blanket. However, you can also consider the concept more specifically in the frame of personal experience. Going back to our food analogy, comfort food is ‘prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal’ according to Merriam and Webster. The key takeaway here is that comfort food typically has some personal significance or relationship to the diner and its charm is directly informed by the diner’s identity. As a fun classical aside, nostalgia come from the ancient Greek word νόστος (nostos: the act of returning home) and ἄλγος (algos: pain). Nostalgia is the bittersweet pain when you yearn for home or the past but can’t quite touch it with your hands. It’s not just any soup – it’s the chicken soup your mother made when you were sick as a child or something that reminds you of that. Likewise with anime, when I want to watch something comforting, I simply go for something that will lift my mood but my favourite comfort anime are special in the sense that they’ve personally impacted me. They represent a particular part of my life, remind me of a nice memory, or have influenced my present self. 

When I planned this post, I was going to talk about cosy anime that are easy to watch (go watch Super Cub this season!) but in the process of writing I’ve found myself considering the anime that best define my time in this hobby. They’re the ones I’ll go back to and think most fondly of, even if they aren’t the ‘best’ or my favourites (although some of them are and I’ll readily recommend them to anyone). So, yeah, this is a more personal post. Here are my comfort anime, which funnily enough work out to be rather comforting anime as well! 

The one that got me into otakudom: Detective Conan

I pretty much have a Conan shrine

The manga is actually what got me into this blackhole. I started collecting with Detective Conan, although I eventually ended up with more physical copies of other series once I relented and started buying Conan digitally. I have a nice memory where my mum once surprised me with a whole bunch of volumes when I was a kid and Waterstones used to have a 4 for 3 offer on manga. I used to save up my pocket money and blast it all on books or games. Nowadays I don’t need to think very hard whether I want to buy a volume so those old ones feel pretty special in comparison. 

I’ve read/watched to death this series about a detective prodigy turned kid who solves far too many murders on a daily basis. What I like about Detective Conan is that it’s an evergreen show. My decade old manga copies are looking weathered now, but the series has barely changed over its run of almost three decades. Conan is forever solving ludicrous mysteries, hunting the Black Organisation and dancing around his relationship with Ran to Katsuo Ono’s awesome sax theme. It doesn’t matter that the phones have changed from bricks to tablets, Beika City occupies a space where belief is happily suspended and you can always count on the mystery being solved and the same characters sticking around. The result is a satisfyingly repetitive show, like a sitcom with a triple digit body count. Over time I’ve consumed far better mysteries but I still hold Detective Conan dear as a touchstone for my childhood tastes. 

The one that really got me into otakudom: Love Hina 

One looks way more worn than the other

Okay, what I wrote about Detective Conan earlier? Yeah, that’s technically the first series I pursued independently but the show that got my interest rolling in the first place was Love Hina and it was all because of my older cousin. My cousin is basically the older brother I never had and he got me into all the geeky pursuits I’m still chasing. We played Tekken and Dynasty Warriors (even though I unthinkingly button-mashed my way through) and we watched a hell of a lot of anime together. Love Hina is one of those shows that felt pivotal for me. It came with the realisation that anime was distinct from other cartoons along with a heavy dose of desensitisation to fanservice and corny gags. Jokes aside, my cousin didn’t discriminate with shows, even if the ecchi comedy wasn’t quite appropriate for a ten year old… Alongside Love Hina, we watched Dragon Ball, Fruits Basket, Naruto, Escaflowne, and a whole bunch lost to memory. My tastes can’t be pigeonholed easily and I think it’s in part due to growing up watching any and everything with an open mind. 

For a long time I didn’t think about Love Hina much but I recently came across the first volume, which I had bought long ago when Tokyopop was the big daddy of manga distributors, and I decided to start collecting the omnibus reprints. I’m happy to say Keitaro’s silly adventures with the girls of Hinata House still make me giggle. My cousin now lives across the world. I haven’t seen him in years and I can’t talk to him as easily anymore. He’s grown out of the otakusphere while I’ve only gotten deeper. Returning to Love Hina is definitely a wistful experience for me as we both have changed so much, but I’d like to think that our feelings will stay the same the next time we meet. 

The one to share: Spirited Away 

Funny story, I actually have two copies of Spirited Away due to inadvertent double-dipping

Spirited Away is that one anime movie you can generally recommend to anyone, right? It pretty much has universal appeal with its timeless coming-of-age story and fantastical animation. Spirited Away turns 18 years old soon and even though there’s nothing I can directly relate to in Chihiro’s story, I somehow associate the movie with my childhood. There is a nostalgic quality in the dreamlike soundtrack that never fails to move me (Sixth Station harrows the heart in a good way). I’ve collected most classic Ghibli movies so that should tell you how much I like them but Spirited Away is unique because it’s been such a wonderful experience to share. There are two times I’ve particularly enjoyed watching it with others. First with my mum back when she was relatively unfamiliar with anime. She has always supported my hobbies and did sweet things like recording anime marathons for me, but it wasn’t until I was a teen that we sat down and watched stuff together. First Spirited Away, then Naruto, and then before you know it watching anime was just one of those things we did together. Spirited Away was also an icebreaker when I was taking an obscure class in university and didn’t know anyone. It turned out that the only other girl doing an MA was a big anime/otome fan too. What else do you do but have Ghibli sleepovers and go to conventions? Seven years later, she’s ended up as one of my dearest friends and is still giving me adorable No-Face memorabilia! 

The motivational one: Mob Psycho

I try

I simply love Mob Psycho, which was a surprise since I couldn’t get into the over-the-top humour of One Punch Man but Mob captured my heart. Stripping away the dizzying psychedelic animation and the clever subversion of shonen tropes, I think it has one of my favourite messages in anime. Namely, that it is okay to be ordinary and weak and say ‘no’ when things get too much. Our hero, Mob, has world-destroying ESP powers but the punchline is that he’s also one of those ‘mob’-like NPCs, a nondescript, non-confrontational kid unconfident in expressing himself and his boundaries. His main ambition is not to utilise his OP powers for his own benefit but to build up muscle and get moderately popular through hard work. Anime and media in general tend to focus on lofty ideals. Aspirational figures. Grand deeds. Be unique, strong, the best. Mob Psycho takes it all back and I took away the message to live in the way that makes you happy, true to yourself regardless of expectations, self-imposed or otherwise. If you can actually follow the lyrics of the rapidfire first opening, there are two parts I really like: 

If everyone is not special
Maybe you can be what you want to be
Even if you’re burdened by happiness and sadness…
Your life if your own, OK? …It’s OK to not be special 
Everyone will surely find their own answer

And a similar refrain later…

If everyone is so special
Maybe you can’t be what you want to be
Even if you breed falseness and contempt…

Your life is your own, OK? …Would being special make you feel OK? 
Everyone will surely find their own answer
(Mob Choir, lyrics taken from Genius)

These lyrics really resonated with me. I’ve been guilty of excessively comparing myself to others and the sort of unhealthy all-or-nothing perfectionism where if something isn’t perfect, it’s worth nothing. I’ve given up on things and other people because I was too scared to fail. Over time I realised that I didn’t want to live my life doing things I thought I should rather than because I wanted to. Letting go and accepting being good enough was liberating. I wouldn’t have started this blog otherwise. I don’t need to be conventionally successful for my life to have meaning. Maybe I won’t do anything ‘noteworthy’ but I can make the people I love happy. Mob gradually learns to express how he feels and what he wants better. Happiness for him has nothing to do with being a ‘special’ psychic – instead, he finds joy in the mundane reality of living a good life and being a good person. Mob wasn’t the biggest trigger for this change – and truthfully I’m still changing – but it’s one of the few anime that told me something I needed to hear. If you aren’t occupied with being special, then you can be yourself.

The one I’ll watch over and over: Baccano! 

I’m trying to find the fourth novel but it’s sold out in most places

I’ve watched Baccano four times now – twice alone, once with my mum, and most recently with my partner – and each time I’ve found something new to appreciate. I’m a big fan of Ryogo Narita and his other work, Durarara!!, although I think Baccano has a bit more heart than DRRR and that pushes the former slightly ahead for me. Anyway, Baccano is three stories woven together. It’s simultaneously about a group of alchemists searching for the elixir of immortality, a war between rival mafia suits, and a three-way train robbery. Baccano is one of my all time favourites and I think it’s because I truly adore both the content of the anime and its execution. The narrative is convoluted, dropping in and out with various characters across several years in non-chronological order, but it all works out beautifully by the end. It unfurls like a jigsaw, complicated, even intentionally deceptive, at first sight then elegantly simple when the pieces fall together. The plotline is full of unpredictable moments, seemingly random as suggested by the title (Italian ‘baccano’ means ruckus/din/row), yet when you look deeper you’ll see nuance everywhere. Then you have this wonderfully detailed cast of charming but also disturbing characters. It’s genuinely funny and also rather romantic at times, like the best comedies in my opinion. All in all, just a brilliant mix of elements. I’m collecting the light novels and I think this series is a rare case where I can’t pick a preferred medium between animation and written word – they each offer something unique of value.

So, you can probably tell that I’ve thought about Baccano a lot and that is because it is the kind of story I’ve always wanted to write myself. I haven’t mentioned this before but I like to write creatively and one day I want to publish a story I’ve been working on/off for nearly a decade now. Like many writers, I regularly go through periods of self-doubt, revulsion and contradictory feelings towards my own writing. Baccano was a revelation to me. I first watched it at a time when I needed a push and it motivated me to keep writing. It reminded me first and foremost to write something I want to read myself. When I watch it, I feel invigorated, envious, but inspired too. I still struggle with confidence. Going into a bookshop is overwhelming sometimes – there’s so much to read and write and will my book ever end up here?! – but Baccano remains a comforting source of encouragement and aspiration when I need it.  

The one that led to the best friendship: Steins;Gate

I’ve mentioned how certain anime can be just the thing that makes you click with another person. Spirited Away sowed the seeds with my friend. Steins;Gate with my partner. When I started dating, I decided that there was no way I could hide the full extent of my geekiness nor did I want to. Luckily neither did he and our first conversation started with Steins;Gate, namely how we both rate it as one of our favourite anime. It’s easy to rave about the well-strung mystery; even easier, the character development and emotional payoff after the cast overcome increasingly difficult ethical conundrums. However one of the things my partner and I fixated on was how much we admired the representation of romantic and platonic relationships in the anime. We loved how organically the romantic relationship between Okabe and Kurisu developed. The two are very different in multiple ways with contrary backgrounds, values and ways of approaching problems. Nonetheless, they make for a great team as they transition from being two bickering individuals to mutually respected colleagues and lovers. Ultimately, they make each other better people. Okabe teaches Kurisu flexibility. She teaches him integrity. I wouldn’t say they drastically change as people but they elevate each other in ways that enable them to be the best they can be. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts is the platitude I would apply here. They learn to reveal their vulnerabilities and wholeheartedly support each other, even though this encompasses great self-sacrifice, tenacity, and tolerance in an intolerable situation. Love – and here I’m not just talking about the main couple – isn’t presented as an easy solution for the cast’s issues but it’s an empowering force and makes the hardship worth it. After all, it is the convergence of ingenuity and affection that leads to the ideal path of the Steins;Gate world-line. 

To this day, I love to mull over Steins;Gate and its equally epic and sentimental soundtrack. I wouldn’t say the anime has had an explicit bearing on my partner and I, besides being the door we entered through, but it is funny how well it models my ideal relationship. Without getting too personal, I absolutely believe respect and kindness are the lifeblood of companionship and that we have gotten so far by acting as a team despite and because of our differences. We still have room to grow and I’m glad we’re doing it together. 

Closing words

You can never return to the past but the truly significant things don’t leave you and sometimes they’ll resurface at the most unexpected times. I hope you can find comfort around you. Let me know in the comments about your ‘chicken soup’ – anime or otherwise.  And, as always, thanks for reading my awfully long post!

Published by nonplayergirl

Long-time lurker turned blogging newb. Lover of all things otaku but especially JRPGs, anime and manga. Always adding something to the backlog. Probably descending into K-Pop hell right now.

3 thoughts on “Chicken soup and comfort anime

  1. This post turned out really good. I don’t have much input on it, because honestly, I think you said all there is to say. Seeing these more personal reasons why people like some of these series is always so cool to see, and I’ll never get enough of it. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it! It’s always a bit nerve wracking putting yourself out there but I’m glad I did it in the end, even if I ended up talking about myself way more than I’m usually comfortable with 😅

      Liked by 1 person

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