I want to make one thing perfectly clear: depression sucks. I don’t mean that in an all-encompassing way either. I mean suffering from depression is just that, suffering. It is an unenviable state of being, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
While depression has no cure, there are several treatments available out there, both prescribed and unprescribed. For some, like myself and other self-described otaku, anime has served to heal the gnawing hopelessness we feel on a daily basis. That being said, the tale I’m about to tell is hardly unique; however, it is mine, and I feel like I should share it.
This story starts in 2007, my junior year of high school. At this point I’d been watching anime for about a decade or so—a seasoned veteran, or so I thought at the time. For nearly as long, I was also sad, lonely… depressed. I had few friends, and those I did have I made no great effort to keep. I was shy and isolated, and anime was one of the few saving graces in my life. Spending afternoons after school watching Naruto, InuYasha, and definitely not pirated copies of Neon Genesis Evangelion was a great way for me to stave off the ever-encroaching despair my mind constantly threw at me.
Except, I wasn’t doing that.
About two years prior, I’d stopped watching anime. In fact, it’s fair to say that I had cut anime out of my life entirely. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t even think about it. Anime had become persona non grata to me. To this day I couldn’t tell you why I extricated myself from otakuism like this, I just did. The problem became—as it does with so many depressed people—that, without anything to replace anime, my depression came rushing in like water to fill in the gap I’d left behind. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.
Without a replacement, I was left to wallow in the futility created by my own mind. I started to hurt, badly. And then I started to hurt myself, intentionally. Eventually, even the self harm wasn’t enough. So, during my junior year of high school, I attempted to take my own life.
For those who have never been through it, I can tell you that rebuilding yourself after a failed suicide attempt is not the easiest thing to do. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. But you do it anyway. I found out that the few friends I did have were really good friends, and they certainly got me part of the way back to being whole. However, another discovery I made got me the rest of the way back. I discovered an anime called Spice and Wolf.
How I happened upon the existence of Spice and Wolf in the first place, I don’t exactly recall. However, I do know that I started watching the first season just after I’d graduated high school. Something to keep in mind is that, in those days, Crunchyroll was a relatively new thing and Funimation didn’t even have a streaming service. So I did what every irresponsible (read: broke) otaku did, I pirated it. To this day, I tell people I’m not especially proud of that fact, but it was what it was.
Disregarding the everlasting shame I have over pirating Spice and Wolf, I jumped head first into it. The show was so different than other anime I had enjoyed up to that point. Before Spice and Wolf I guess you could say I was a typical teenage otaku. I liked the typical shounen fighting anime of the day. I liked battles, and explosions… and battles with explosions. I liked long, over-the-top monologues about vengeance and honor. I liked illogically spiked hair, and mustache twirling villains who were evil simply for the sake of being evil.
Spice and Wolf was none of that, however.
I remember watching the show and falling in love with its European Middle Ages aesthetic—very atypical at the time, mind you. I loved the slow, yet methodical pacing of the story. I loved (and still love) Holo’s personality, as well as the confrontational dynamic between her and Lawrence. And, although Spice and Wolf gets some flack for it, I loved the economically-driven plot. In fact, I learned more about capitalist economic theory by watching, and subsequently reading, Spice and Wolf than I did from my high school economics classes.
Something else happened while I was watching Spice and Wolf though. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but in retrospect the show was healing some of the wounds I’d incurred during my anime hiatus. As I binged the first season, I started to forget the loneliness and isolation I’d felt. I forgot about the mind-numbing, soul-crushing sadness. I forgot the fact that just months before, I’d tried to commit suicide. Indeed, I even started to forget that I was depressed in the first place. Spice and Wolf also provided another valuable service to me: it reignited my passion for the medium of anime. Again, I rabidly began to devour as much as I could get my hands on, at a pace nearly double that as before. And, no longer having a gap to fill, my depression returned to the recesses of my mind.
I don’t say all of this to proclaim that Spice and Wolf is a perfect anime. It has flaws, just like all other works of fiction. Nor do I claim that anime can or should be considered a cure-all if you are a depressed otaku. It isn’t, even for me. There are several factors I use to live with my depression on a daily basis, anime is just one of those factors.
I tell this story now to explain how Spice and Wolf came to hold such a special place in my life. It helped me find a path through the darkness of my own mind at a time when I desperately needed it the most. It was a guardian beside a self-inflicted tragedy. It was a spark that rekindled a blaze in my heart. And it was a beacon which made me realize that being an otaku is not what I do—it’s who I am.