Editorials · On Characters

Me, Myself, and Watashi: The Identity of Anonymity

Not so anonymous?

“I shall write a book some day about the appropriateness of names. Geoffrey Chaucer has a ribald ring, as is proper and correct, and Alexander Pope was inevitably Alexander Pope. Colley Cibber was a silly little man without much elegance and Shelley was very Percy and very Bysshe. ”

–  James Joyce

Whether it be storytelling, a lame game of Dungeons and Dragons, or even just real life, the ceremony of giving a name is a powerful moment. To say that the gift of a name is just a tagline would be truly an understatement; not only is a name the title from which you are – and will always be – known, it is both a source of empowerment and perhaps the ultimate symbol of identity and individuality. Whether in a form of media or not, a simple name can indicate many patterns and motifs. Be it literature or cinematography, a mere two-syllable title can foreshadow to future actions, imply character traits such as one’s boldness or timidity, or even be a sarcastic quip at a man’s personality. Even a name’s final letter such as  “-o” can display masculinity and power, while a soft “-ru” can give a character’s persona delicacy and meekness. Despite what we may think, the reveal of a character’s name is actually a very momentous occasion. So when a character has no name, what gives?

In Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, the name of the protagonist is purposefully omitted from the narrative. Instead of being given her real name, the attractive young woman is curiously dubbed Watashi, the Japanese pronoun for “I.” However, this actually isn’t the only unique occasion where this has happened. Another rather well-received anime, The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei for you Japanese-only purists) featured a young man named Watashi going through the pangs of college campus life. Rolling the clock back even further, in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, our beloved male lead Kyon has his true name kept in the shadows, away from the audience. So while this particular technique only appears once in a while, it actually has been done before and to surprisingly great effect.

Don’t let the nickname fool you. He’s about as Kyon-ymous as they come (horrible puns aside).

If one has seen all of the aforementioned anime series, then it’s easy to note some interesting key similarities between the three. While there exists a significant number of parallels on the superficial and cosmetic level such as time travel and the presence of an omnipotent figure, the real stocks are in both the mash-up of genres and exploration of themes. As one may recall, all three titles are heavily ingrained in meta-humor, social commentary, witty comedy, satire, and general absurdity. In addition to this, the previously mentioned titles also employ heavily exaggerated side characters to highlight both the specific interactions of the leads and the underlying themes. As oddly specific as all of that sounds, it is precisely in these set conditions that the unnamed main character thrives and prospers.

The primary use of the unnamed main character is the voice of reason. In all three incarnations, the said character is a sharp, fairly intelligent being who points out the absurdities and flaws within the worlds they inhabit. Tatami Galaxy’s Watashi is constantly surrounded by ridiculous buffoons who hilariously destroy his “rosy” campus life, Jintai’s Watashi is frequently the first to point out the explosively silly setting and actions of the characters, and Kyon is the only member of the SOS Brigade to question and challenge Haruhi despite her sometimes unreasonable requests. Now, clearly the voice of reason is always tailor-made to resonate with the choices that the viewer would make. After all, how would it make any sense if our representative inside the screen performed actions which we wouldn’t perform ourselves? For this very reason, the characters remain unnamed and shrouded. Their perspective is an odd combination of the second and first person, and while we point out the stupidity and craziness to no avail, the act in our stead. Their anonymity truly isn’t anonymous after all; they exists as our first person guides inside their universe who always tread a set path, much like those on-rails shooters (read: Time Crisis) which you may find in a rustic arcade.

Adorable, but still pretty goddamn venomous.

The use of a sharp monologue is also constantly employed by all three anons, who act as their stories’ narrators. In fact, all three narrative styles are shockingly similar. Not only does the triad happen to laugh (and by extension, criticize) alongside the viewer, all three of the incognitos are vicious snarkers. Every single chance they get, they’ll fire off an acidic mental discharge at a target. Whether it be the use of garbage in bread production, the bizarre choice of having a rock climbing boob wall, or even the unreasonable pushiness of a certain titular character, they’ll throw out a wicked bite for the onlookers, inside or outside the screen. Not only does this benefit directly from them being the sole voice of reason, but the internal monologues also help the audience settle into their roles. This implied sense of self and awareness is especially beneficial in anime as knee-deep in meta-humor as these, where the comedy is almost completely derived from the viewer’s knowledge of certain topics.

Kyon, Watashi, and (the other) Watashi are supposed to be as anonymous and undefined as humanly possible. After all, the source of anonymity is the lack of any identifying characteristics, and what could possibly be a better source of identity than a name? With the absence of a name comes the near complete loss of an animated individual’s ipseity. The triplet of anons also lack any defining outward features, as even their appearances and abilities are almost as average and non-distinct as they come, especially when compared to the other denizens of their universe. They’re the everyman of their universe. Just like the genres the trio inhabit, their thoughts are taken straight from the audience’s mind and plastered on to the screen. Through doing this, the viewer can naturally fill the gap in their personality and cozy into their role without any kinks. Odd as it may be, the comedy comes easier, the points and lessons taught by the show seem more clear, and the surrounding universe seems all the more insane. In the midst of certain chaos and the bizarre, a nameless, cynical voice of reason will always stand out and shine. Then again, I guess the biggest joke in all three is that their obscurity gives birth to their rather unique identities.

Stray Snippets

  • Halfway through this I had to thesaurus more words for “groups of three.” Yeah, not too proud of that.
  • Couldn’t really figure out how to wrap this editorial up. Somehow took two days to come up with that completely horrendous end paragraph. But you’ll already have read it before you read this. Zing!

2 thoughts on “Me, Myself, and Watashi: The Identity of Anonymity

  1. Hmm. I really dig the point made about the characters being sort of the voice of reason in the case of Jinrui’s Watashi and Kyon, but when it comes to The Tatami Galaxy’s Watashi, I feel as if that point can be generalized a bit. That Watashi had a few instances where he had a hand in digging his own grave; he wasn’t always free of blame when his rose-colored campus life imploded in his face, and The Tatami Galaxy did a fantastic job of never painting him with the exact same brush with every passing iteration.

    In line with the grand scheme of things, TTG’s Watashi had to act out his own different perspectives, and consequently he doesn’t come off as candid of a voice as the other two; I can’t help but take his thoughts with a grain of salt because of how easily he stoops down to mischief in some time-loops. Like the other two, he definitely gets cynical in regards to the world around him, and from his view it’s pretty justified (and hilarious). I just think calling it the voice of reason is giving him a little too much credit.

    Hope you don’t mind some stray sticking his head in here, by the way.

    1. No problem. I love comments, especially ones as insightful as this. I hope you stop by some more.

      That’s definitely the one I was most iffy about, especially since The Tatami Galaxy runs on an especially unreliable narrative, unique among the three. However, I’d argue that while he acts as a very simplistic voice of reason to Ozu, Jougasaki, and the other nutters around him, he’s mostly an unknown adviser to himself, which finally hits him in the later episodes.

      While he does dig his own grave in many cases, he always makes rather reasonable decisions that we, the viewers would make. All of his mistakes are genuine and while his guidance is both reasonable and authentic, it’s also somehow wrong and potentially fatal. Through the use of parallel worlds, he’s able to teach himself, but still remain oblivious and in the dark. He’s the voice of reason to many, including himself, but at the same time, the buffoon.

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