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The Anatomy of an Anime Mental Breakdown

  • Posted on February 17, 2015 at 11:58 pm

As defined by TV tropes, Sanity Slippage  is when it is apparent that a character is losing their edge, and slowly sliding down the slippery slope to insanity. It may be that they now have a verbal tic they didn’t before, perhaps they’re spouting a Madness Mantra. Perhaps they’re simply not sleeping, or not eating, or maybe, just maybe, they’ve gone off the deep end, and are completely different from the character they were before.

So, how does one define a Mental Breakdown of this sort? How does one describe and even characterize such a thing? After all, nothing is more interesting than the breaking and splintering of a human psyche. Nothing gets us more than the suffering of another. Perhaps it’s Schadenfruede, or perhaps it’s just a need to see how far a person can be pushed before they break.

That's one hell of a smile you got there, Shinji

See, Shinji knows what I’m talking about.

So, we’re going to break down that amazing phenomena that is the Anime Breakdown.

Step One: Stress

So, How do we take a perfectly normal character, and make them into something broken and weeping? First, we have to start with that perfectly normal character! Whether this is your villain or your hero, or both, you need a base line for them. So start them off at their normal. Perhaps they’re a normal high-school student?

Yeahhh, I'd be bored in geometry too.

Take Light Yagami here. He’s a perfectly normal, bored high school student.

Stressors would be required to remove them from this normalcy state, and into something close to the sanity slippage we mentioned earlier. In the case of our example here, Mr. Yagami is introduced to a book titled the Death Note. This Death Note provides him a literal example of how “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility”.

Over time, the toll of his body count, as well as the things he needs to do to keep from being prosecuted, begin to take a toll on his sanity. Light grows paranoid, increasingly so, and emotionally manipulative. He hides from those who care about him, and performs actions that most would consider appalling. He meets people he’d never thought to meet, but can’t really call any of them friends. In fact, he’s withdrawn from humanity so much that he honestly begins to believe he’s a god.

These stressors cause his reactions to become more and more terrifying and odd, until we get this lovely number:

Yeahhhh….

So Stressors. But what happens once stressors take their toll?

Step Two: Symptoms

This is when we begin to show our homework. A lot of this is going to require research, because honestly, every character is going to react differently. Your stressors are different, and while there will be some crossover sometimes, you can’t just slap a sticker on it and call it good.

So, first, take into account the exact stressors. Is your character being spoken to by the whispering voices of dark gods, dreaming in the beyond? Well then, maybe they’d start listening to music, accidentally yell at their friends, maybe they would end up gouging out their ears? Oh, wait. We’ aren’t there yet, are we…

Here are some common symptoms and examples:

Madness Mantra – A character begins to repeat over and over something that was said to them, something they heard, something they thought, some small phrase that means a lot. This could also double as arch words, if the author is thoughtful about it!

Room Full of Crazy – Perhaps the character begins posting pictures of the victims on their walls, writing the connecting facts between them? Perhaps they start carving out a calender, representing all the times they’d lost time. Or maybe they simply don’t control their room any more. Things go missing, they can’t find something, and then it turns up in places they didn’t put it.

Paranoia – They may begin to grow distrustful of those they once loved, and those they cared about. Maybe they don’t quite know who they can trust. Maybe they worry that someone they don’t know at all will turn out to be their downfall? Who knows.

That’s right Shinji, You listen to Evenescence. That’ll fix everything.

Running Away from Responsibilities – That’s right. When a person is pushed to the limit, they often try to escape from the pressures restraining them. In this case, that means they refuse to fight, they hide. There might be a scene in which they lay about, while others do important things, or perhaps the character hides under blankets.

Now these are just a few symptoms, and to be honest, there are as many symptoms as there are characters. Each one is going to have it’s own reaction. But now you have a general idea of what to do.

Step three: The Catalyst

On  TvTropes, this is referred to as The Despair Event Horizon, which basically just means, the thing that pushes them over the edge into complete and utter breakdown. My favorite culmination for this is into what is known as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Which is basically a character who has undergone such a life of misery and woe, that they have decided the only way to end it is to kill themselves and everyone else along with them. It’s a great trope, give it a read!

Anyway, so the Catalyst can be just about anything. From a Woman in the Fridge to a Kick the Dog moment, it really depends. Basically, the final straw that breaks the camels back. This is the thing that will finally cause that “Everything is over” moment that shatters the character’s (and if you did it right, your reader’s) hearts. This should be your climax, the high point in your story, and the culmination of this character’s arc. After this, it’s all downhill, and healing.

So congratulations! Those are the three big ingredients to writing an Anime Mental Breakdown. There are of course other tropes you can invoke, or even revoke, in order to make it more interesting, and more unique, however, these are the three main things you need. I would recommend reading through those pages, if only so that you can get an idea of what’s already been done. You don’t wanna accidentally overlap, after all.

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