Why do so many anime protagonists live without parents?

Anime protagonists often have parents absent from their lives. They may be at work, on vacation, or deceased. Anyway, they left.

There is a debate to be had about Dragon Ball Z Goku as Gohan’s father. He spent much of the boy’s early years either dead, out of the world, in training, or somewhere else where he couldn’t be a father. Despite this, however, Gohan, knowing that his father still loves him, is able to grow up physically and mentally healthy. Other anime protagonists aren’t affected by parental absence either, which is part of why it’s so hard to tell why they’re being removed in the first place.

Many anime characters go through their series having one or both parents absent from their lives. It can happen for all sorts of reasons and therefore has all sorts of effects on the characters. Understanding why this is such a common trend in anime will require taking a closer look at how or why it happens and what impact it has on the story.

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Perhaps the most common way for anime characters to lose their parents is by their tragic death. If this happens when the protagonist is too young to remember it, it really won’t mean anything to them. If they remember it, it’s usually a traumatic experience that twists them from the inside. This key context behind parental death can greatly change how the characters think and feel about it.

A good example of this contrast would be with narutoit’s titular character and his friend Sasuke Uchiha. For Sasuke, the deaths of his parents and the rest of his clan caused him such pain that he spent the entire series seeking revenge. Naruto, on the other hand, never knew his parents, so he wasn’t really influenced by their deaths, nor could he understand the pain of losing them. Sasuke called him out on both of those in their first fight in Final Valley. The difference between when and how one grows up without parents can create a wide range of reactions.

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If a protagonist loses his or her parents because they were killed, this can become the driving force behind their actions. This often manifests as a strong desire to defeat the culprit, usually out of revenge. For those who recognize Sasuke as a deuteragonist, there are plenty of protagonists who share this distinction; popular examples include Eren Yeager (The attack of the Titans), Lelouch Vi Britannia (Code Geass), Shinn Asuka (Gundam SEED Destiny) and Rin Okumura (blue exorcist). For these protagonists, losing their parents and parent figures is a source of both great pain and anger that they can hopefully overcome by the end of their series.

Another lighter reason for absence comes from the parents of the harem protagonist. In harem anime, parents are kept away from the house so that it is easier for the protagonist and her girlfriends to get into all sorts of ecchi hijinks. They could be busy with work or jet set for most series. These series include live date and monster music.

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Unfortunately, parents not being home because they are busy with work is a common occurrence not only in anime, but in all of Japan. The best depiction of this in the anime comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion. In this series, Shinji Ikari’s father, Gendo, keeps his distance because of the importance of his job, but also because he really doesn’t know how to communicate with his son. This form of neglect leaves Shinji with horrific anxiety and a lack of self-esteem.

Another type of absent parent is the deadbeat. They are alive but they are not raising their children for one reason or another. Goku probably qualifies as this, but a better example would be Hunter x Hunter Ging Freecs. He left his son Gon and the rest of his family so he could pursue his hunting goals. Rather than challenge his abandonment, Gon became curious about the Hunters and became one with the hope of finding his father. Whether the resulting quest is good or bad is debatable, but Gon seems content with his decision.

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A more positive look at missing parents is how the protagonists make up for them. Even without parents, they can still lead a fulfilling life with good friends and other people who care about them. This is true for Naruto and many other shonen protagonists; Monkey D. Luffy (A Room), Natsu Dragneel (Fairy tale) and Goku. In that sense, these characters are almost better off not having parents.

Anyway, there are a lot of things that can happen if an anime protagonist doesn’t have their parents. It all depends on the story to be told and the need for absent parents to move the plot forward. This usually has a negative effect on the protagonist, but not always. The responses to these absences are as varied as the people who experience them.

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