Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

The subject matter of 18if has been dark… very dark. While the series has been incredibly interesting and faced some very important issues in Japanese society (and society in general), I can hardly say that the series has been “fun.” The latest episode of 18if does deal with a very serious topic, but resolves it in fun homage to the anime genres of demon exorcism, space opera, and giant robot series.

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

In each episode of 18if (each of which has a different director) there is a girl or woman who has fallen into a deep sleep (called sleeping beauty syndrome) due to some trauma. However, this is no ordinary sleep. First, because the young women end up in a dream world, and second, because they become “witches” capable of using their power in the dream world to attack those who traumatized them in the real world. A university guy, Haruto, also stuck in the dream world, is called upon to “save” them. I’ve written about a general over view elsewhere.

[This article contains spoilers for the sixth episode of 18if.]

18if Is the Dark and Trippy Magical Boy Anime We All Need

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

In the case of the latest episode, we have Natsuki, a victim of bullying by her junior high school peers. Most of the bullying to which Natsuki is subjected is the kind that I’ve seen occur in the Japanese schools in which I’ve taught (snide comments, cornering, and nasty LINE messages). However, Natsuki’s classmates go further than I’ve usually seen, by actually being physical (such as shoving her face towards a toilet or “cleaning” her with a mop). In addition, there is an element I’ve never personally seen and have only heard about from teachers or students: Natsuki is being financially blackmailed by her bullies—probably for actions she only did under duress in the first place. 

Before Natsuki becomes a witch, we learn (like ourselves presumably!) she’s an anime fan. Of course, the series’ examples we see in her bedroom and throughout the rest of the episode are not real anime. They represent known genres, and there are, however, specific references. Anime seems to be, as it is for so many young people who are bullied (myself included), a way to escape from the pain. However, when it becomes too much for her, she attempts suicide.

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

Like other witches, at first Natsuki’s dream world appears too be her ideal life. She takes the place of one of her favorite anime characters, a demon exorcist and delights at the ability to banish demons with the character’s usual chant. However, she quickly realizes that no matter how many demons she “busts,” she’s not happy. Then she realizes that she’s alone, and she runs “home” (in truth, of course, she’s in the dream world, so there are no other people), and faces her body bleeding into the bath tub.

This, of course, reminds her of everything she had thus far ignored, and she turns her “demon busting” towards her bullies. However, like the other witches, it’s fairly clear she doesn’t realize her curses are having a real effect on her peers. She’s also apparently unaware that the curses are expanding. At the beginning her curses only cause nightmares and torture for her bullies directly, but Haruto and his dream world advisor, Professor Katsumi, learn that the nightmares have extended to Natsuki’s homeroom teacher and students in other classes. 

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

Haruto’s role in the series is to help “save” the witches. I don’t always believe he succeeds—I’m not always sure he even wants to do so in every case. In one particular case, I actually think he “saved” a witch who didn’t need “saving.” However, in the case of Natsuki, Haruto seems to have taken the right track. Not only are we unclear to the extent of Natsuki’s own injuries, we are actually very clear that the extent of her curses on her peers is causing torture, injury, and nearly a death.  Since this is a dream world, how one deals with issues (in this case Natsuki’s suicidal tendencies and depression because of her bullying) can be represented in a wide variety of ways.

Being an anime fan, Natsuki’s feelings are communicated through anime references. Particularly, when Haruto and Katsumi initially fail to convince Natsuki, the scenery changes to resemble the opening scenes from Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers). Katsumi proves himself more of a fan (or perhaps it’s just the age difference) when Haruto says, “let’s defeat your bad feelings with giant robots!” and the professor responds, “Don’t you mean ‘battleship?'” The subsequent fleet battle to help Natsuki’s negative emotions also calls to mind various sentai shows (like Power Rangers), Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (Robotech), and giant robot shows like Mazinger Z

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

While the scene after the credits definitely suggests that bullying is a constant issue, ultimately I feel like the episode ends on a high note. In fact, I even believe the ending is, compared to the other episodes, a happy one. And the fact that I get to enjoy reference to some of the shows I grew up watching (and to think they’d be references that a junior high school character like Natsuki would get), made it very enjoyable indeed.

18if can be seen with subtitles at Crunchyroll and either with subtitles or dubbing at Funimation.

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