Meaning Behind the Screen

Old and new anime that speaks to the heart.

Anime is a broad, capable medium that navigates different genres and ideas in ways that traditional live actions films may not. That is why anime is such a popular form of entertainment today. But just like other forms of film, it can do more than entertain. At its best, anime is something that can teach its audience important takeaways relevant to everyday life. Anime lovers — closeted and shameless — or anyone who likes a good story, here is a list of meaningful anime for you.

Violet Evergarden

 The series follows a young war orphan who is taken into the military and treated as a weapon for most of her childhood. Her cold-hearted nature and ability in combat invokes fear even amongst fellow soldiers. Her name, Violet, was given to her by the General, the single person she loves. After the war, she makes an attempt to reintegrate to society and works as an Auto Memory Doll (people who scribe thoughts and emotions for their clients). Although she excels in all technical aspects of her job, she lacks the single most important skill: empathy. 

Violet Evergarden offers a potential answer to the question: “what does it mean to be human?” Violet struggles to learn and understand the different facets of emotion from scratch: love, longing, regret, pain, sadness, and dealing with emotions through grief, anger, and coping. The connections she makes with all kinds of people is the catalyst of her growth; her development from an empty soldier to an empathetic human tells us that people can grow. It is a reminder of what separates humanity from other species; the gift to feel vividly and to understand others.

Grave of the Fireflies

This critically acclaimed war film does not glorify violence or patriotic victory; rather it focuses on the repercussions of war on civilians. Grave of The Fireflies is centered around a pair of siblings, Seita and Setsuko. They are neglected by their guardians, their aunt and uncle, which drives the siblings to run away.

The film showcases an upsetting reality for civilians of war, and in the process a collective behavior that appears to be entirely self-serving. Helping fellow civillians, even in a life-or-death situation, may not be an option for some. Not unless it came at the expense of their own well-being. How is one supposed to spare materials and care for others, when they are unable to look after themselves? To be in a position where one can offer help without fear of repercussions is a luxury not all possess. Additionally, the absence of this privilege in the film causes the audience to question themselves. It is enough to make us wonder, where exactly do our morals lie? 

A Silent Voice

This film revolves around Nishimiya, who is bullied in elementary school for being disabled. Her bullies are a boy named Ishida and his friends. When their parents learn about the bullying, Nishimiya moves out of the school and Ishida’s friends turn on him despite being complicit. However, the main story begins when they are both in their teenage years; Ishida is thinking about taking his own life, but first, he needs to make amends with Nishimiya. Can a bully and their victim reconcile?

A movie relevant to the modern epoch, A Silent Voice covers a multitude of mental health struggles such as isolation, regret, and suicide along side self-growth and love. These themes are handled with care, navigating them through brilliant animation and cinematography. But what makes this film stand out is the way it centers around compassion. The protagonists’ patient and understanding behavior toward the other helps them open up to love and growth. They both have been at such lows that they understand what it is like to hurt and to be scared. It shows us that empathy is a precious attribute. It enables us to form meaningful relationships, and in the process, learn to be kinder.

These titles are great for grasping valuable themes and lessons in a digestible and entertaining manner. Should you wish to further understand these anime and their meaning, there are video essays and analyses that examine them in-depth.