Netflix’s addition of Kotaro Lives Alone to its catalog adds another way of processing and understanding trauma to the streamer’s Anime catalog.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Kotaro Lives Alone, now streaming on Netflix.
The traumatic story is one of the oldest in storytelling. From the Bible to Saga, trauma is discussed and negotiated throughout the story as humans attempt to cope with the cruelty of the world around them. Anime is no exception, with Kotaro lives alone serving as the last to embark on the exploration of the characters through their trauma.
Launching last week on Netflix, the series follows 4-year-old Kotaro, who has determined that it is better for him to live alone rather than with his father. It also focuses on his new neighbors, who watch over the boy and become his newfound family, and act as the viewer’s voice throughout the series.
Kotaro is slowly gaining in complexity
The plot of Kotaro lives alone is both simple and silly. A child who thinks he’s a feudal lord after watching too much television moves into an apartment. The eccentric people who live around him influence his life as he influences theirs. The early episodes feel like a slice-of-life comedy with meaningful messages about being kind to others and looking at the world through the eyes of a child. But then the show takes a rough turn.
While there are plenty of early clues, Kotaro’s trauma is truly revealed for the first time regarding a relatively minor aspect of her character: the tissues. The boy was introduced as he was buying boxed tissues to give to his neighbours. As viewers, this may seem both quirky and silly. Naturally, this 4-year-old would think tissues would be an appropriate move-in gift for her neighbors. He also bought several sets of them throughout the show until one night one of the other characters watches a random show that mentions that children who are left alone often resort to eating tissues to survive. A bit like in the Grave of the FirefliesKotaro starved once, and he was afraid he would starve again.
Kotaro has suddenly transformed from an evil child, who happens to be overmature, into a tragic figure. He’s no longer just obsessed with high-quality fabrics; rather, it is a sign of his trauma. Suddenly, every aspect of his character is questioned. Kotaro’s lack of childish antics is no longer entertaining. Suddenly, history shows that Kotaro is something beyond what he seems.
Kotaro’s Companions Serve as Trauma and Hearing Sheets
Much like Kotaro, his apartment complex companions serve as traumatic foils, but in a different way. Isamu, who is heavily involved in the Yakuza, is a divorced father who gives Kotaro the love he cannot give his own son. Towards the end of the anime’s first season, Isamu showed a tough side to Kotaro that the boy and the audience had never seen as the character has to fend off his own child. Mizuki, another neighbor, was always a bright and cheerful presence. That was until Kotaro and the viewer learn that she is in an abusive relationship and no white knight will come to her rescue. She unceremoniously left her friends, including Kotaro, and there was no justice or fairness. There was only pain and trauma of reality.
The two most important non-titular characters in the narrative, however, are the first person Kotaro meets at the compound, Shin Karino, and Takei, one of the last to move in. Takei has a lot in common with Kotaro, and recognizes one aspect of Kotaro’s life that was previously hidden: his mother never touched him. While Kotaro viewed the gloves as good things since they were the only way his mother could touch him, Takei thought they were emblematic of abuse. It included what she went through, and she exploded on Kotaro for that reason.
Shin, however, serves an entirely different purpose. It serves as the viewer’s voice, noting that he needed to take care of Kotaro so he wouldn’t be kidnapped. He started the show as a somewhat rude man who was unlucky and treated others in his life horribly, but soon became a guardian to Kotaro. It also served as the viewer’s voice, asking questions and indicating when things were bad or bad. He ends the season by smashing this aspect of his character, tearfully denying Kotaro the opportunity to learn that his mother is dead.
Kotaro lives alone starts out pretty simple. It’s a funny show about a little boy and his friends. However, just as the greatest children’s stories deal with deep and dark concepts, so do Kotaro lives alone use comedic characters and silly situations to highlight trauma in children.
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