WARNING: The following contains discussion of child abuse and suicide.
Anime is full of tropes, but none are quite as common as the hardened protagonist harboring a traumatic childhood spent with abusive parents. These parents sometimes become the villain of the protagonist's arc, and the audience gets to relive flashbacks of the physical and mental abuse via traumatic memories.
However, when push comes to shove, and the protagonist finally confronts the parent(s) about their behavior, most anime flip a 180 and force them through a rushed redemption arc. The audience and protagonist often find out that the parents' abuse was simply out of misguided love. With a wash of holy lighting and sad music, the anime then forces a forgiveness narrative. This is wrong; anime needs to stop excusing abusive behavior and terrible parenting and sweeping their actions under the rug for the sake of "happy families."
Terrible parents flood the world of anime, and the list of series that include the trope feature some heavy hitters, like Saki Arima from Your Lie in April, Endeavor from My Hero Academia, Hiashi Hyuga from Naruto, Hanesaki Uchika from Hanebado, Asami Nakiri from Food Wars! and Hiromi Shiota from Assassination Classroom. From caning their children for a missed piano note to abandoning their children to make them a better badminton player, these parents unapologetically leave their children with emotional and physical scars.
Going back to some of the previously listed animes, Kousei Arima could not hear the piano due to stress. Shoto Todoroki was beaten and pushed to the point of vomiting. Nagisa Shiota was borderline suicidal, and Erina Nakiri was left with severe issues regarding food. The impact of these abusive parenting styles leaves these characters traumatized, needing to spend several episodes overcoming their past and developing a healthy self-image.
Despite the damage these terrible parents cause, most anime are strangely determined to push the idea that children must forgive their parents. Saki Arima from Your Lie in April is an egregious example, where we see her beating Kousei bloody and screaming at him for minor mistakes. Kousei has to deal with the fallout of this for six episodes where he has nightmarish visions of her that also prevent him from hearing the piano. Although Saki is dead and cannot apologize to Kousei, in one vision, the anime paints her with an angelic halo, and her actions are explained away as expressions of love. Thus, Kousei's trauma is minimized, and he is expected to forgive his mother on the spot because she wanted the best for him.
Abuse and traumatic experience can significantly impact the story a series is trying to tell, but the constant desire to give abusers a redemptive arc is frustrating. There are also cases of abandonment, where an anime may frame the choice as a parent selflessly protecting their child from their dark habits. Though they recognize their shortcomings, that self-awareness shouldn't be enough to excuse certain examples.
Examples range from Hiashi Hyuga from Naruto, who happily kicks Hinata out of his inner circle so "she can become stronger," to Hanesaka Uchika from Hanebado leaving Ayano and adopting another child -- all in the name of improving her daughter's badminton. Neither parent apologized for their actions, and the two series are happy to glide by without examining them further.
Both the audience and protagonists are often made to forgive the parents or understand why their misguided choices were made -- sometimes due to their own abuse. Anime is a major influence on a vast, global audience and should not normalize or find ways to justify certain behaviors. Victims are not obligated to forgive their abusers and abusers must acknowledge what they have done and try to better themselves at the very minimum. The tendency to preserve the family can be detrimental.
One anime that handles abusive parenting better than most is My Hero Academia. Endeavor is widely hated among many fans for being the textbook example of an abusive anime parent. He had children with his wife to breed a child capable of surpassing All Might, beat his child and traumatized his wife. Endeavor uses the people around him to fuel his egotistical dreams, and he's unforgivable, isn't he?
My Hero Academia says yes, Endeavor is unforgivable and gives him a story to portray that. Later on, once Endeavor understands the error of his ways, the anime doesn't force Shoto and the rest of the family to forgive the fiery hero. Instead, Endeavor admits to his wrongs and promises Shoto that he'll become a better person and buy a separate house for his estranged wife and family. This is a refreshing take that returns agency to the victims and refuses to excuse Endeavor's actions.
Other anime series need to take a hint from My Hero Academia and stop excusing child abuse. Abusive parents are never in the right, and it's in poor taste that the medium continually sugarcoats their behavior and forces the audience to forgive and forget. Abuse leaves emotional and physical trauma, and it's time anime stops breezily waving this problem away.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, freephone the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. For a list of crisis hotlines, click here.
For more information on the warning signs and prevention of suicide, click here. If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you live outside the U.S., click here for a list of international hotlines.