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

What is ability? What does it mean to have a “disability?” Are all “disabilities” known and visible? How do you decide who has been more successful at navigating a life? We’d expect that in 18if, it is always the witches who are the most lacking ability. The most in need of saving because the series has led us to believe that. What if we are wrong?

In 18if, our “hero,” Haruto, has already shown that he doesn’t always follow the script on what it is he’s supposed to be doing. Stuck in the world of dreams, his purpose seems to be to “save” girls and young women who have fallen into this world due to traumatic events. Unlike Haruto, these women are not themselves, but rather “witches,” with the special ability to affect their tormentors outside of the dream world.

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

Despite the formulaic episode structure suggested by the earliest episodes, it doesn’t take long to see that this format has only a passing resemblance to reality. If you can call it reality. In one case, Haruto has helped a “witch” murder her target in order to “save” her. In another, he fails to save the “witch” in a physical sense (she dies). In still another, it seems to be strongly suggested he refuses to save the “witch” at all.

In the most recent episode, we’re presented with a character who is deaf. Marginalized groups always need to worry about how they are portrayed in media. This is true of any type of media in every society globally. Animation lends itself easily to stereotypical or poor representations, and anime is no exception. For this reason, I paid very close attention. Representation matters and it’s important to see ourselves reflected in protagonists.

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

If the episode formula, suggested but not always followed, was grounds for issuing predictions, it’d be fair to think that Haruto’s intended role is to somehow “save” this deaf character. And, unfortunately, it is pervasive that characters in those marginalized groups, and persons with disabilities in specific, often end up as a means for the more privileged main character to do something heroic.

We get our first hint that something is amiss with the formula when the “witch” turns out to be not asleep at all (or at least not all the time). This, of course, is a unique ability. All previous “witches” accessed the dream world because a significant trauma sent them into a coma, called “sleeping beauty sickness.” However, Haruto’s adventure partner in the dream world, Professor Katsumi, has seen the “witch” in the real world. He follows her to a live house and discovers she’s a signing “vocalist” for a rock band.

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

So how did she get access to the dream world and why is she there? Those two questions are possibly, perhaps even probably, related. So far, trauma seems to be what creates witches, and she definitely has a traumatic experience: After a massive earthquake, unable to make enough noise or hear others above her, she becomes trapped in the rubble of her apartment building. We don’t see her rescued, but since she later performs at the live house, she was, at some point.

This seems like a good candidate for the trauma that would open up access to the dream world. However, her trauma is quite different from any of the other “witches.” It isn’t really possible for her to blame any person for it, and indeed she doesn’t seem to blame anyone. Not really. She gets upset that sometimes she cannot be understood or cannot articulate what it is she wants to say, but her annoyance at it taking so long to find her is relatively mild. It may have opened the door, but her purpose in the dream world is very different from the other “witches.”

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

The episode puts the “witch,” our deaf character, in the position of power. It’s the dream world, so there is no barrier for her to communicate. However, she also has only limited reason to be there, as she has a dedicated audience out in the real world. In her conversations with Haruto, it becomes apparent that he is the one in need of help. Which, honestly, makes a lot of sense. While he is the only male character stuck in the dream world (Katsumi uses an avatar and can come and go at will), we know from the first episode that even when he leaves the dreams of the individual “witches,” he doesn’t wake up. Why is he stuck there? Does he have “sleeping beauty sickness?”

The latest episode gives us a clue. Our most recent “witch” reveals that while Haruto has no trouble listening to and understanding cries for help from others, he is incapable of understanding when help has been offered. He appears selfless, but he also does himself a great disservice. Possibly, he even does himself damage. More to the point, he doesn’t seem to understand when help has been offered, and so cannot take it when he needs it. Perhaps his own trauma and reason for being in the dream world is related to this fact?

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

This places our “witch” in the position of heroine and Haruto in the position of distress. And so, that’s how it also places our deaf character into a position of power. She has always been in a position of being offered help. Even when it isn’t necessary. Sometimes offers or attempts at help can even slow down and impede someone who has already established coping mechanisms or learned skills to accomplish goals by themselves. And yet people will still offer help. While not all offers of help are in fact helpful, it is necessary to know when you must accept those offers. Haruto appears to need these lesson.

When Haruto becomes aware of the need to listen to others when they offer help, at least to some degree, he finds it easier to interact with our heroine’s dream world (was she ever really a “witch” at all?). Indeed, he learns an important lesson about himself which will likely be important later. With her mission apparently successful, she departs, willingly and intentionally leaving the dream world. Is he equally free to leave whenever he wishes, or does he actually have a form of the “sleeping beauty sickness” himself?

We’ll just have to keep watching to know for sure.

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

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