Image source: 「アニメガタリズ」公式 on Twitter
What happens when an anime character finds out they’re in an anime? Most of the time it’s played off for a laugh. But, what if it’s not funny. What if it’s a real existential crisis? What does a character do then? Anime Gataris gives us an interesting answer.
After saving her high schools anime club from disbanding, Minoa Asagaya starts seeing and experiencing strange things. Like jump cuts and her friend’s facial features changing. At first she believes she’s dreaming, but soon realizes it’s all really happening. Even more shocking, Minoa learns she’s actually in an anime and her world is slowly falling apart. Now, it’s up to her to save her world.
The mere fact Minoa learns she’s in an anime is both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. It gives her a power that very few fictional characters have, but at the same time it’s an existential crisis for her. Up until that point she had no idea she’s in an anime. So, this knowledge forces her to question the very fabric of “reality.”
But, how is it Minoa comes to realize she’s in an anime because it’s not as though the series is leading up to this reveal. In fact, the entirety of the series treats Minoa and her friends as living out their normal lives. Of all things, it’s by breaking the fourth wall (the invisible wall that separates the audience from the show). This is ingenious as it’s first played off as some sort of joke and Minoa is possibly dreaming or suffering from exhaustion. However, the idea is extremely insidious as it shows her, and by proxy us, the absurdity of anime. Some of this is mundane, such as jump cuts between two different times, but many other jokes play on the very nature of anime itself.
For instance, when Minoa is talking to her friends at school we see one of them has stars around her. Yet, what happens next is two other characters ask if they can have one of those stars. The mere act of acknowledging the existence of these ethereal stars is a great joke unto itself. In other anime series, these types of stars or other effects are generally unnoticed by the characters. So, by interacting with them we get a nice little joke. At the same time, though, it’s also cueing us in to how things aren’t necessarily right with Minoa’s world—after all, it’s mired in our understanding of the real world.
Image source: 「アニメガタリズ」公式 on Twitter
Granted, she plays off the early fourth wall breaks with quick quips about something not being right, but it tows the line of comedy and Minoa going crazy. However, as the fourth wall breaks become more extreme they start to become a serious issue for Minoa. Thus, forcing her to question what’s going on around her even more to the point it becomes an existential crisis.
Yet, Minoa’s decent into an existential crisis isn’t a quick burn. It takes its time to manifest as her world begins to fall apart around her. The first moment she questions her existence, though, is in the 11th episode when it’s suggested to Minoa she watch the opening once again to see what’s going on. Consider that for a moment. The mere act of a character saying, “Let’s look over the opening again” is a joke. Except, for Minoa this statement makes no sense what so ever. It’s because she believes her existence is real and isn’t predicated on openings, eye-catches, time jumps, or other staples of anime. For her, she experiences life as we do. So, to be told along the lines, “Oh yeah, just rewind your life” shatters her view of the world.
This shattering of Minoa’s world becomes even worse as she sees her family take on tropes from black & white anime to the cataclysmic reveal she’s actually just an anime character. Imagine how horrific that is for Minoa. Everything she once held as true about your existence is destroyed in one instant. She’s no longer a person with agency over her life, but figure of someone’s imagination. Hence, for Minoa this moment is where she’s given a few choices: accept her the fact she’s an anime character, deny that truth, or accept she’s an anime character while making the world bend to her will.
The 12th and final episode of the series does a wonderful job of addressing Minoa’s decision. It’s not that she can’t accept being an anime character so much as her acknowledging it. That means she has to come to terms with the absurd things that happen in her life like giant robots or weird effects. More importantly, though, Minoa has to accept that anime, the thing she’s in, brought joy into her life. From meeting new people, talking about anime, to even how people enjoy the anime medium, it’s all fun for Minoa. And she wants to keep that joy at all costs. That’s why Minoa’s final step in accepting her reality and escaping her existential crisis isn’t shunning what’s around her, but saying along the lines, “I love this anime. I’d hate it if I don’t get to be with my friends.”
In other words, Minoa is telling the Anime Gataris’ production team, “I love my life. Don’t make it bad.” And by saying that, she fully embraces her lot in life.