Hey everyone, I’m back from my hiatus. I might get around to telling you guys what I’ve been up to since or where I’m going in another post. But right now, I’d rather just dive into what I do best on this blog: share my in-depth thoughts on recent anime.
So this series was notoriously received poorly by a lot of fans, with plenty of polarizing opinions. And honestly, I kind of liked this one. But I’m not here to defend it per se, I’m just here to describe how I felt about this anime original as a whole and what makes it worth watching, despite its many, many criticisms.
So let’s dive right into it, because right now, my own personal demons have been kicking my ass as of late, and I won’t let that happen in the little time I have!
The Lost Village (Mayoiga) follows a group of people who come to a remote place called Nanaki Village. They were led here by a tour ad posted on the Internet, and were all led here for one reason: to start a new life for themselves. This anime presents itself as a what-if scenario for an anarchist utopia, but concludes with a very poignant message about the nature of psychological trauma and how we, as an individualistic society, might deal with it.
Nanaki Village itself is loosely based on the infamous urban legend of Inuaki Village, an allegedly lawless place in Japan that, as many urban legends go, aren’t true. We see that with the strong interest in this place with a wired generation that gets all of its information from the Internet. This show’s cast is pretty large, so I won’t be describing each individual in detail. But what I can tell you is that all of them have anonymous nicknames and have completely different ideas of what to contribute to a new society.
Just imagine about 20 people from an anonymous message board website coming together to create their own community, and that’s close to what this show’s all about.
I suppose the biggest criticism I have for the show is that the characters are almost too real. That’s not to say that’s a turn-off for me, but part of what I like about anime is that it has room to be idealistic: to show us another way of looking at our situation, and what we might change about ourselves, once we learn from the protagonists that overcome all kinds of challenges, from saving the world to simply becoming a more refined person.
However, the characters presented in this series are already very idealistic. And as a result, they’re often at odds against each other, coming down to some very antagonizing moments that could have ended their society much quicker!
But that’s where The Lost Village makes a criticism about us: no one really knows how anyone else thinks or what motivates them to act in certain ways. We don’t share our entire experiences!
This is expressed strongly in their search for the Nanaki, the mysterious thing that haunts the people and the village. What we see as an audience are things that perhaps each individual perceives, but not everyone reacts to them the same way or even agree that they are describing the same thing. No one really knows, but whatever it is that’s out there, it’s going to give these lost villagers a rude awakening!
Before I can really describe what the Nanaki is, I have to reiterate the kind of characters we are dealing with. Everyone on this trip wants to start their lives anew. That’s why they change their names, let go of their attachment to things like money, and otherwise have different personalities from where they came from. But when they come to Nanaki Village, they cannot forget their own history.
Memories hold a strong impression on how we react to things, from our greatest fears to our greatest desires. And when these individuals come to establish their own society at Nanaki Village, those ideas clash with each other. But if there’s anything that anyone who wants to start their life anew have in common, it’s that they all felt the same way about their past selves.
You probably know this feeling yourself: anguish.
Part of what keeps this society fragmented is that every person introduced to this series has undergone some traumatic experience, whether it was domestic violence, losing a job, going to war, or death of a loved one. They all feel that their experiences are personal, and that nobody will understand them. That’s what makes them lose trust in others, and ultimately themselves so quickly.
The people of The Lost Village aren’t your idealistic heroes who have everything figured out when challenges are ahead. They’re flawed human beings like you and me. And if you think that they could somehow make their lives better by running away and establishing their own community, well I’m sure they thought they could too. But the truth is, people can’t change that easily.
The mysterious creature that haunts Nanaki Village takes on many forms simultaneously for a fairly simple reason: it is the manifestation of one’s most traumatic experience. Some of these are common fears, while others are bad spirits from past memories.
Perhaps the most recognizable of these is Mitsumune’s deformed penguin monster. Mitsumune vaguely remembers this as the plush toy that belonged to his twin brother, Tokimune, and has become a token for him to remember that he was a different person. This became his traumatic experience not only for the death of his brother, but because his parents always forced him to be Tokimune’s replacement. Mitsumune never had a chance to be himself, so coming to this place would allegedly help him realize that.
Past traumatic experiences are very powerful, and no one else seems to recognize them other than oneself. I suppose there is one way to defeat the Nanaki, and that is to let go of the past memory and remove the trauma. This is an absurdly common belief in how psychotherapy “works” even in our society, that we can somehow easily forget that something like that happened, and that’s how we’ll become happier. But simply put, not only does this not work, but suppressing these memories can be incredibly dangerous to the individual and communities at large.
This same caveat is expressed in the very exposition of the Nanaki and what happens to the people who live in the Village. For about half the cast, the Nanaki does disappear, but at the cost of essentially losing their sanity. They grow accustomed to life in this mysterious village and vanish from our plane of reality, and all their past troubles go away.
You might say that they’re dead inside, but there is an alternative solution of how to overcome the Nanaki. As for the villagers who have “lost their minds,” I’ll get back to them later.
To overcome the Nanaki, one must learn to accept their traumatic experience for what it is: something that comes from us. Sure, external forces may have caused it, but the idea manifested from us as individuals. That’s why no one else will recognize it right away. But simply acknowledging the Nanaki isn’t enough. And that’s where I think this series takes a (somewhat) radical approach to how we see our traumatic experiences. We don’t just overcome the past memory. We embrace it.
I can’t end this review without talking about its other central character, Masaki, so I found it appropriate to share her experience toward the very end of this review. Unlike the other characters, Masaki’s Nanaki doesn’t come in the form of a powerful fear or a painful memory. Her traumatic experience was losing her brother and going missing for several years in search of him. It thus follows that her Nanaki is no monster or eerie sound, but her brother instead: kind, familiar, and unfortunately, not at all real.
To be perfectly honest, Masaki learning this truth didn’t hit me as hard as Mitsumune’s journey to embrace Tokimune. I don’t know. Maybe that’s because I’m a guy and I don’t really know what it’s like to long for someone’s return for prolonged periods of time. But like Mitsumune, Masaki comes to accept the very fears that grip her and embraces them one last time. After all, the manifestation of her brother, her Nanaki, is a part of herself.
A few other villagers come to learn of this truth about their own Nanaki, which allow them to return to our reality. But in their own way, they don’t return as the individuals they once were. For them, Nanaki Village did help them start their life anew.
But like I said, some of them manage to return. Like I said before, some of them overcome the Nanaki by removing their past traumas and giving up their past lives, which gives this show an incredibly bittersweet ending. But for what it’s worth, this is a very realistic approach.
If you are following this anime as a narrative that starts out as establishing an anarchist utopia to a message about psychological trauma, not everyone is going to recover right away. I may have overgeneralized that those who remain in Nanaki Village have lost their minds, but some of them also recognize that they are simply not ready to return to their original lives yet. And we can’t expect them to be either.
I suppose one might hope that one day, people like them will learn to adjust themselves once more and return from Nanaki Village. But then again, maybe this is just their answer to starting life anew. And that, to me, feels liberating in its own way.
I know this will be hard for some people, but if you are looking for a series that takes an unflinching approach to psychological trauma and how we as individual and a society learn to overcome them, check out The Lost Village. And if you’re watching it for a second time, you might see it in a different way.