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anime

Kotaro Lives Alone

The Sun
The Moon
Have switched places

Kotaro lives alone is an anime about the titular character Kotaro and a few of his neighbors, how they influence each other’s lives, as well as a very raw and surprisingly direct portrayal of a group marginalized children in Japan.

Kotaro is a cute, energetic four-year-old boy who lives alone in an apartment complex which has 5 more units. When he moves in, he buys everyone in the building the most expensive tissues he could find. While he likes to walk around with his toy sword, he is very well mannered and polite, using honorifics every time he meets someone. Like other kids his age, he likes cartoons and imitates his favorite one, Tonosaman. Later down the line he also starts kindergarten.

In the unit next to him lives Karino, a late 20s early 30s slacker. Karino is a talented manga artist, who even has an editor, but he is so far away from a responsible adult that it isn’t even funny. When you watch him, you think he simply doesn’t care, that with just a bit more ambition he could start earning money with his talent, or at least get up on time and go on a prearranged date with a girl, whose name btw he doesn’t never remember…

Next to them lives Mizuki, a dashing, bubbly and cheerful young woman. She works at a host club, and seems to be enjoying life, always smiling and bringing smiles to everyone else who crosses her path.

The last occupant is Tamaru, a yakuza looking dude who melts into sweetness every time he meets Kotaro.

This seems like a very basic formula for a kid with adults’ slice of life show, something similar to Barakamon or Bunny Drop. The kids will make the adults life fuller, giving them new ambition and purpose to explore new avenues or take bigger new steps in their lives. Its easy to imagine Kotaro being a cog in that machine, where Mizuki and Karino fall in love etc. But this isn’t that type of show. Not in the least. There are thick abysmal shadows in the lives of these characters, and we explore them.

From the beginning you notice something is off about Kotaro, for better or for worse. He has this unusual ability to read adults and their behavior. One is realized when they are pretending to be happy or see through their lies. He wasn’t born with these amazing perceptive skills, his harsh young life made him develop them. He was raised, for a short while in a dysfunctional family that probably featured a lot of abuse, physical, emotional etc. He hears him say that he saw adults cry quite often when he was younger. We never get explicitly told what happened, but it seems like his father had issues with violent behavior and his mother, who struggled through mental illnesses, post-partum depression being one of them clearly, or being forced to give birth in a conservative town. Kotaro tries to make his mother happy; he would do all kinds of silly stuff to make her smile, most of all doing Tonosaman impressions. Rarely did they work. She withholds affection towards him, at times I even wonder if she had any affection towards him. There are flashbacks where she uses rubber gloves to touch him, not being able to handle skin on skin contact with her own child. Eventually she left him on his own, She died shortly after that, we don’t know how, but we can infer based on her condition. He spent some time alone, to survive he had to look for food in the woods, something his mother taught him to do. When he was out of food, he would eat tissues. She even taught him which tissues to buy, meaning which tissues have to most nutrients… Tragic destiny for a child, and makes one realize just how lucky everyone is who has at least an average upbringing. Privilege is everything you don’t’ worry about.

His father was in and out of the picture. There are good and bad memories with his father, but the bad ones really prevail. He seems like an obsessively possessive person. Something probably happened and he got violent with Kotaro’s mother, that made her, wisely, move away with Kotaro. Ever since then his father has been on a rampage trying to find him. Kotaro is his son, and he is obsessive with finding him, needs to possess him and make him a certain way. This doesn’t stop now either. Kotaro moved multiple times, he even escaped from the orphanage he was in for a short while, a place where he finally found a few people who truly care for him.

And how did all this trauma reflect on Kotaro. Well first of all it really warped his mind. When he moves into the apartment complex, he buys everyone tissues. He doesn’t do that just for kicks, but because to him, tissues have so much value. They can help you in so many ways, and when things come to their worst, you can use them as nourishing food. He can’t sleep unless he watches his favorite show. While Tonosaman plays on high volume, he repeats every word the character says even louder, probably out of a habit to muffle other sounds he wishes he didn’t hear. His mother probably called him smelly and pushed him away, that’s why he’s obsessed with being as clean as possible at all time. While every other kid in his kindergarten class loves taking their photos, Kotaro can’t. His father keeps looking, trying to find him. The photo they took of him in the orphanage was the reason his father found him last time, and had another outburst of violence. This taught him to pretend. There is a play the kids put up for their parents and he has to be the smiling son. He looks so happy smiling, but its all for show. Its heartbreaking really. And yet, he can’t help feeling lonely and can’t help wanting things. That’s why he asks Karino to draw a bunch of faces on his balloons. Karino follows him one day and notices that Kotaro spends time in the park, pretending that he 4 balloons are members of his family and that they are having a delightful day out. The worst part of all, Kotaro blames himself for everything that happened between his parents, and for every action that they committed towards themselves and towards him. The poor boy works out every day because he thinks if he gets stronger, his parents will love him more and stop doing what they did. At least he has Karino now, who told him that they will get stronger together! But he is also very smart. Knowing that he is alone and if something went wrong that nobody would find him, he subscribed himself to five newspapers, telling every single delivery man that if they see multiple newspapers outside to contact the police. But that isn’t the only reason why he does that. He reads the newspapers because he tries to see if his parents appeared there, probably in the obituary section. After everything, he still hopes they could be a happy family. He still hopes that he can live with all his friends, both old and new. Kotaro is just four years old. There are more Kotaro’s in this world than we dare to imagine.

The biggest impact Kotaro has is on his neighbor Karino. He really transforms his life. Karino is a lazy slacker who doesn’t care about a single thing, not even bothering to wake up on time for important events. They do share a bond, since Karino was orphaned as a very young age. With Kotaro in his life, Karino learns to deal with obligations, to work hard every day both for his own wellbeing and of those of others. Even his editor and his ex are impressed. Karino is finally a person with set priorities, a strong

Kotaro isn’t the only child or person who went through horrible, mind shattering trauma as a child. One day, as he is searching for food, not knowing that he has enough money now to buy it, he stumbles upon three children, an older brother with younger siblings. Their mother left them, even if Kotaro doesn’t want to acknowledge it. All the kids that were in the facility with him went through something similar. Aota, a man who his father hires to find him is also a former abused child, with a body full of scars, even if he looks like a perfectly normal young man. The final neighbor that moves in, Sumire was traumatized by her mother. Much like Kotaro’s her mother withhold affection from her regularly. She also used gloves on her, much like Kotaro’s with her. And now Sumire, who wants to be a normal person, even a mother one day can barely stand next to children. And most societies being as they are, everyone judges her. A woman must know how to deal with children, and with Sumire’s traumatized condition, society just injuries her even more. But kudos to her. She is determined to be better and to improve upon her condition, striving for a sense of normalcy.

There so much pain in this anime, an incredible amount for 10 episodes. But there is also plenty of hope and will to live, will for a better tomorrow. Even with all their scars, everyone finds a way to live another day and to strive towards something. Even after all the pain, life can still produce moments of incredible joy, love and bonding, perfectly depicted in the big party the characters have in the closing shots of the series.

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