Throughout our lives there will be many moments that feel unfair and downright deplorable. In those instances we may feel weak, sad or depressed. But there is always a way to deal with these moments and one method is escapism. Escapism is a method used to divert the person's mindset from unpleasant aspects of life and focus themselves on fictional things that are more enjoyable. People escape from harsh reality into a world of their own, where they become the hero of a world more interesting and diverse than the norm. In anime, escapism is prevalent in various anime but the focus will be on two more recent and popular anime: Sword Art Online and Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
Disclaimer: Spoilers for both anime are imminent.
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One of the more common means of escapism is virtual reality, specifically MMOs. A place that is different and unrecognizable from the real world and bustling with thousands of players offers a magnificent place to escape to. As with Sword Art Online, the main character, Kirito, spends a lot of his time playing MMOs. In this case, Kirito played MMOs to escape from the truth - that he was adopted and not his family’s biological son. He spent time cherishing and playing with his sister Suguha, whom to him is now a stranger that betrayed his trust. He escapes to the virtual world to deal with his unease and avoid the confrontation with his ‘family.’ A fictitious world where everyone is equally a stranger becomes Kirito’s home while he ignoring more serious problems with his family. As Kirito was further engrossed in the fictional worlds his relationship with Suguha deteriorated. But after spending his years in the trapped world of Sword Art Online, Kirito began to understand that the virtual world shares no differences with the real world; people were honest and being themselves and the only way to be happy is to both trust and accept them for who they are.
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In a real life context, escapism into MMOs is a common practice. Millions of people play MMOs everyday for enjoyment and to leave their tiresome lives behind. This means of escaping reality envelops the person in a fully realized world with thousands of other players playing in real time. In MMOs you are able to forget the worries of real life, the stressful moments and harsh treatment from the most loathesome people you know. You are no longer the weaker man in a judgmental world; you become an individual with no history but a future to be forged. Being in a complex and unique environment, you can make friends easily and share bonds stronger. Since everyone shares a common goal - either completing the quests, leveling up to max or helping others out - you feel accepted, and belong to a world where you can be happy and enthralled. No one initially cares about who you are in the real world, where you live or what kind of ice cream you like; they will judge you and accept you for your present actions.
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In Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! the term 'chuunibyou' is associated with a syndrome for adolescents who believe they contain special powers, display a polar personality, or do strange things percieved to be as 'cool.' In the anime’s case, the syndrome causes a state of delusion where they escape their real life in pursuit of a more fascinating life. Having magical powers, leading an army against an evil corporation and summoning a chimera, are all examples of this particular type of escapism. One of the main sufferers of chuunibyou is Rikka, and she escapes her life to become a sorceress armed with the Tyrant’s Eye. Her father passed away at a young age; they shared a close and strong bond and his passing scarred her severely, leaving her unable to internalize and accept his death. Rikka, in the midst of her suffereing, sees an energetic boy who was engaged in his own delusions, Yuuta. She was amazed and began to copy his energetic spirit and ‘powers.’ She then sets out on a mission to find the 'Ethereal Horizon,' a place where her father is still waiting for her.
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Her entire delusion was based on the hope to see her father again, whom in reality was dead. She held strong to that belief and false hope but it ultimately hurt everyone around her. Her mother had to move away, her sister had to deal with her delusions, all because Rikka couldn’t accept the death of her father. Accepting the truth for many people can be one of the toughest moments in a person’s life, but it is all for the better. Yuuta forces Rikka to realize the truth - that her father is dead and she cannot keep running; Rikka at first gives up on chuunibyou entirely and loses her personality, but her friends help her through her struggle and find balance in her life. Though things worked out towards the end (despite being unfulfilling) her delusional state still put her family through much pain. There have been many cases where further delusion has caused mental disorders - or vice versa- and can be a dangerous issue for the patient and the people around them.
Both Kirito and Rikka were escaping from painful moments that they decided not to accept. It takes time to accept a painful truth, and escapism is one method. But don’t fret! - it is absolutely healthy to escape from life in little doses. Media and entertainment are some of the most prevalent means of escaping from life: reading and indulging in a book that engrosses you, playing video games after a hard day of work, or even watching anime can be a form of escapism. Anything that allows you to forget the day’s worries, to motivate you to drudge through the crap is something that we shouldn’t belittle. Whether it’s your Secret Garden, the Bridge to Terabithia or an internal paradise, a place where you feel accepted and celebrated is a world worth escaping to.
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