A Life in Graduation: Why one of the most common plots in anime still makes me cry

As I’m writing this, I’m about four weeks from moving out of my home in Alamogordo, New Mexico. It’s my third move since 2017, fourth since 2015, and probably something around my eleventh or twelth in my memory. It won’t even be the last one this year. My life, as a result, is a collage of goodbyes: I arrive, breeze through a bunch of (un?)lucky people’s lives, and disappear after a year or two. Sometimes I stay in touch with a few people for a couple of years, but for the most part, what lasts is the memories.

In anime’s undying romanticization of youth and especially of the late teens of high school, I ended up finding a reflection of my own lived experiences long before I ever experienced a real graduation myself. Azumanga Daioh was the first to introduce me to the concept in 2011, and the lightness and sincerity with which it handled it’s sentimental material fascinated my 14 year old self and opened my eyes to a few things I didn’t know to even look for before then.


No anime captures the spirit of my life more so than Love Live! School Idol Project and it’s obsession with the ephemerality of its subject matter. The actual in-universe time the girls of µ’s spend together is incredibly short: all of its events transpire in merely a year, and with the graduation of its eldest members, this chapter of their lives is over. As such, Honoka’s spirit is one I feel deeply connected to. Her motivation throughout the series is often little more than “Let’s make this count”, and it leads the show to get incredibly slushy at times, but it’s also the reason virtually anything in this show works. When faced with their parting, pain is felt, tears are shed, but in the end, it is with joy for the good times they had that the girls turn away and face the future.

The little bird’s wings have finally grown large
It’s a day to take flight
The wide sea’s warm color beckons in the distance
It’s painful, just like a painting drawn within a dream
Would you like to try winding back time?
No no no, this moment is the greatest!

–µ’s official final song, Bokutachi wa Hitotsu no Hikari

I’ve left a lot of people behind in my life, many of whom might have been lifelong friends if my life were on a different track. It has left me feeling like a pariah at times, because my ideas of what is normal are just so different from most other people’s. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to have a geographical home to identify with, for example, and having people outside of my immediate family becoming a long-term part of my life is a strange and unfamiliar thought to me. And so, graduation became my home in fiction. A story to remind me that, while I may have had a few more goodbyes than most people, it’s still an experience people know. It lets me know I’m not alone. It lets me feel like it’s all worth it, that the experiences were real and the memories are valuable. I’ve led a different life than many. And these experiences are my strength. No going back.

Ima ga saikou.

So when you see me go absolutely nuts for a show, it will usually be doing things in a certain emotional space: I’m a sentimental person; with few other constants in my life, my memories are probably disproportionately important to me, and if a story similarly values those experiences, especially in the face of an important end, an important goodbye.. well.. I’m probably gonna end up crying a whole lot.



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