I came across a Facebook post my friend Rachel wrote that sparked this article. It was her 6 a.m. musings about Sailor Moon and the lack of father figures in the show. After getting the go ahead to use thoughts in an article, I proceeded to write. Every observation she made was true. Most of the Sailor Scouts do not have active fathers in their lives. Most of them had absentee fathers either through work, divorce, or death. The gears in my mind started turning towards other anime where there weren’t any father figures.
In Fushigi Yûgi, Miaka’s dad was absent from the picture. Gaara from Naruto was fatherless. Those are just the ones that I can from the top of my head. The missing father trope is common in most forms of media. However, in Japanese anime, it seems a bit more common. There are exceptions, such as My Neighbour Totoro, where fathers are a large part of their children’s lives. However, many anime do follow this social construct. The absence of a father is a reflection of certain aspects of Japanese society. I never noticed when I watched these shows during my anime heyday, but living in Japan showed me that magical girls have their own issues.
Men are still expected to the be the primary breadwinner in Japan. It’s naturally assumed in Japanese society that women stay home and take of the kids while fathers spend much of their time earning the bacon. Fathers (not in all cases) don’t spend much time at home because of work and after-work obligations. The family dynamic is based around the mother. In Sailor Moon, Rei’s father was a politician who worked all the time and her mother was dead. That is why Rei lived with her grandfather. You can probably name multiple other anime where the father is off working. The family dynamic gets further skewed in the case of divorce.
Japan’s divorce system does not have joint custody. In most cases, the child or children remain with their mother. The mother usually returns to the workforce or does part-time work. Only a small percentage get child support. Ami’s mother worked all the time and her father was absent in her life. In cases of divorce in Japan, fathers don’t see their children. I remember a student of mine in Japan with divorced parents. Her wish was for her father to come see her graduate from high school. I could tell from her tone they were close before the divorce happened.
If you closely watch anime, you will consistently see this situation. It’s a sad theme that mirrors reality. Watching Sailor Moon as a kid, I never picked up on it. The same goes for other anime that I watched when I was younger. The anime don’t show the reforms that divorced mothers and fathers are struggling to obtain in Japan. Hopefully, one day, anime will mirror more fathers being in the children’s lives. However, in the world of fiction, that doesn’t make for dramatic storytelling.
Stay tuned for more theme examination articles in the future!