Growing up is one of the scariest things anyone can do. When you’re a kid, it’s a lot easier to think about doing what you want to do, or be whatever you want to be. But there comes a time in every person’s life, whether sooner or later, when reality hits and the dream is over. And we come to realize that we are not immortal.
Such is the tone of this series about children who are given supernatural powers. This is a series about teenagers who have the power to change the world, but the lesson to be learned is not that one must be responsible in using these powers. Rather, it is a question of what happens when they are taken away?
With that said, since today is Good Friday where I am, let’s begin with a word from the person in this series who comes closest to being an anime Christian saint!
Charlotte puts us in a world where children with supernatural powers exist. But unlike certain other comic book series that grant these powers at birth, these are powers that one realizes, or awakens. As you might imagine, a lot of kids don’t know how to use these powers properly, and unlike a typical tale of heroism, they hardly use them for good.
Yū Otosaka is one such delinquent. For five seconds, he can place his entire soul into another and possess them. In this time, he takes advantage of the situation, such as cheat on a test or make someone fall from a tall building. And yes, he does both!
But just as there are a lot of strengths, there are a lot of weaknesses to this kind of power as well. In Yū‘s case, he may be given five seconds to do as he pleases, but his body goes completely unconscious while he’s possessing someone! But it’s not just Yū. Every supernatural ability wielder in this series has a weakness.
So just having that kind of power… isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
The kids with supernatural powers will use them for a variety of reasons, whether or not they are aware of their own strengths or weaknesses. Some of them will use it to get ahead, while others might use it to help those in need. Still, some others will use it for fun, and others don’t even want to be bothered with these powers.
But even though there are different uses for these supernatural abilities, every child or teenager with one has at least one thing in common: they’re all misfits in their community.
Just because some of these children have them doesn’t mean everyone is okay with that. In fact, supernatural ability wielders in this show are hunted down by scientists who want to experiment on them! They are not treated as human, and as such, they are not heroes, but victims.
Since there is a hunt for supernatural ability wielders, student council president Nao Tomori has taken it upon herself to gather every child with an ability and put them in a safe school where having a supernatural ability is normal. Thus, it becomes Nao’s goal, along with the nerd Jōjirō Takajō, the idol Yusarin, and the delinquent Yū to find all of these children and bring them to their school.
One other thing I should mention is that every supernatural ability has an expiration date. When the teenagers in question turn 18, they become an adult. Thus, their powers disappear.
You might say that either Nao or Yū is the central character of this narrative. I can make arguments for both. But here I want to talk about people. And more specifically the “coming of age” point in our lives, where we transition from child to adult.
As we have seen in the vast majority of anime and manga, adolescents make the best subjects for narratives because they are caught between innocence and reality. They are allowed to dream big. You can even say a lot of them have an immortality complex, as if they can do anything. Like a lot of anime fans, I am often stigmatized for denying my role as an adult, and I don’t think that anime fans are exclusive to that kind of criticism. They think we’re not aware of how things really work. They don’t think we can take responsibility and accept our position as adults. They think that we think we’re still invincible, as if we were still pretending that we have supernatural powers.
In a few days, it will be exactly 10 years since I became an adult according to the rules of Charlotte. And having watched this, I can agree: growing up is still one of the scariest things anyone can do. And every time I read the news or discuss anything with actual people, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better.
The people in this series aren’t unaware of their reality. They fear it. Having a supernatural ability only alleviates some of this anxiety, but even then, their power is severely limited. Changing the world isn’t that easy, and yet we like to think that it still can. Am I being too naive to believe that? Or am I just exercising my privilege that I can believe that?
I won’t deny that I thought I had supernatural abilities at one point in my life, that feeling that I can do anything so long as I worked hard at it. But the truth is, that kind of power doesn’t exist, and it scares me that I have limitations! To this day, I find myself wishing that I could do better or change something about myself or the world. But then reality hits me, and before I know it, I find myself becoming more destructive. Even with my abilities, I am still, in many ways, powerless.
The people in Charlotte are also aware of these limitations. But what they might not be aware of is that these limitations do not define them. So like I’ve asked in just about every anime review I’ve done this month, what makes us who we are?
Charlotte suggests a somewhat simple answer: our aspirations. We may associate each character in this series with a supernatural ability, but to them, that ability was just a tool for what they really wanted to do. Whether it was to get ahead in life or to save the world, whether for fame or for convenience, supernatural abilities didn’t help make those dreams come true. They helped their wielders realize them.
Having a goal helps us realize our distanciation from where we are now to where we want to be. Often times we think of that distance as something upward. However, Yū and Nao’s final goal was not progressive for supernatural abilities, but regressive. Having seen what these abilities are worth, with the weaknesses and consequences at play, their goal becomes more clear: they must purge all supernatural abilities.
I won’t go into the details as to how they arrived at this conclusion. But I will say that Yū discovers that he alone has the power to do that. But his end goal wasn’t to take these supernatural abilities and become a god. Instead, when he becomes an adult, the world would no longer have supernatural abilities.
But this is not an easy task. Yū has a time limit to reach this goal. There are times when he is almost killed, and there are times when people died because of his actions. There are times when his cause seems noble, but there are also times when he loses sight of what’s important. And yet, through this entire process, Yū doesn’t lose his humanity. No matter how crazy he would get, something always beckoned him to come back to his senses: something that he longed to return.
Yū made a promise to Nao that he would come back. Had he forgotten about that, he would have lost his goals, and who knows if he could have made new ones? But thanks to a little keepsake, Yū had a purpose. He had something to remind him of where he always was, and where he needed to be.
Growing up is still a scary thing, but perhaps, it doesn’t have to be as scary. We know the reality, and we know what we can do as well as what we cannot in that situation. We set a goal for ourselves to see how we would like to change, but recognize that the final product isn’t going to be how we imagined it in the first place. We allow for modifications in our goals, in that we can make new ones. So long as we have a goal in mind and acting on it, we are growing.
And perhaps, if we realize that that’s all there is to “growing up,” then perhaps we have already grown.
So if you are looking for an anime with supernatural abilities that might also help in making growing up less scary, watch Charlotte. And with that, I have to go back to trying to be an adult again. But maybe it won’t be so bad.