One of the defining elements of storytelling in anime is that — in sharp contrast to anything we had in the West — it’s a medium that’s free to tell dramatic stories in which characters are in deadly peril, even to the point of dying. Back in the days when animation was viewed as being for children, it was unthinkable to ever show an on-screen death, but anime changed this expectation forever. Here’s a blog post exploring the 14 saddest and/or most important anime deaths, with input from J-List’s awesome customers!
The 14 Most Influential Anime Deaths!
Death is part of life, and in good storytelling, it’s impossible to tell a dramatic story without your characters being in danger at some point. But traditionally animation has been aimed at children, and there was a strange taboo about showing anything related to death, which resulted in ridiculous scenes in which pilots would always parachute out of their jets before they exploded, insulting the intelligence of fans. Happily, anime comes from an entirely different tradition, and there are no limitations to the kinds of stories that can be told.
Note: Spoilers! While I’ll avoid identifying specific character(s) in cases where their fates are not already widely known by fandom, obviously this is a list that will give away some important story elements. If you’re a newer anime fan who plans on watching some of the classics, you might want to skip this article. Also, this is a data-heavy post, so check wifi.
Roy Fokker from Macross / Robotech was a huge turning point in how anime was viewed from the West. A major character dies! We experience grief alongside his friends as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives! The high drama Robotech offered caused it to be described as “Dallas in Space” back in the mid-80s.
When a film has a title like I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, you know some shit’s going to go down. Of course it didn’t happen exactly as planned, and this is a wonderful film that everyone should check out.
Code Geass was one of the best-executed anime series of its era, with amazing characters and writing, especially in season 2. With so many amazing anime deaths in this series, it’s hard to choose the best one, but I was deeply affected when Shirly was killed by Rolo.
Let’s all pour one out for Eren’s mother, whose tragic death in episode one showed fans that Attack on Titan was not fucking around.
Death Note was another incredibly executed series, with some of the sharpest writing and story structure around. The dramatic death of the quirky L left a big hole in fans’ collective hearts.
Steins;Gate is one of the most awesome anime series out there, based on the legendary visual novel that we published. Okabe’s mission to save a certain important character is one of the best stories ever told in anime.
What happens when you let Japan’s best writer take on magical girls? You get an amazing post-modern look at the popular genre, with the best writing and characters around.
Then there’s Plastic Memories, about a world in which humans live alongside A.I. beings called Giftia who are perfect in every way…except for their built-in life span of nine years and four months. What could go wrong?
Gurren Lagann was the end of the line for the mighty Gainax, once one of Japan’s premier animation studios, before their staff would move on to form Khala and Trigger. It was an incredible tale of human struggle against the evil Anti-Spirals, and had some of the most memorable characters in it.
Your Lie in April is another unforgettable series about a piano prodigy named Kosei and the people who he inspires with his music, notably violinist Kaori. This is an amazing series in part because of all the classical music we get to listen to, and everyone should watch it, sad story and all.
Made in Abyss is a beautiful adventure story about a girl and her robot boyfriend searching the mysterious and deep Abyss to find her mother. It features one of the most poetic and beautiful deaths I can think of…go watch it now!
One of the most important anime films Japan has ever made, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies shows the events of WWII through the eyes of two children in Kobe, which mirror the actual experiences of writer Akiyuki Nosaka.
One of the anime deaths that affected me the most was when Captain Okita/Captain Avatar dies right before seeing Earth one final time, after successfully completing his mission to bring technology from Planet Iscandar that can remove the radiation that is killing his homeworld. This extremely dramatic scene was the exact moment I became an anime fan for life.
Of course the anime most fans reported being deeply affected by was Clannad, which starts out as a pretty standard harem anime, but then (in After Story) switches gears to become a classic Jun Maeda tear-jerker, which re-affirms the importance of treasuring every day we have with each other.
Thanks for reading this blog post about the most important anime deaths! Did we miss your favorite character? Post them below, or reply to us on Twitter!
As Covid recedes, we’re all super happy about the prospect of getting back to anime conventions. While we prepare for Anime Expo and the San Diego Comic-Con, we’re happy to let you know that J-List’s sister companies JAST USA and J18 Publishing will be attending Anime Boston this weekend, in booth 1802. We hope to see you there!