On paper, Charlotte is a chuunibyou fantasy. Its main character, Yu, is first introduced to us as an abuser of his power and gets promptly thrown into a special school because of it. There, he discovers that there are more people who have supernatural powers like he does, and it becomes his job to find them and subdue them before they harm either themselves or others. And then you get the typical anime shenanigans like Yu learning the power of friendship and having episodic hijinks before the plot gets serious (read: plot jumps the shark) in time for an exciting and memorable (read: nonsensical and forgettable) ending. I’m almost surprised at myself that I didn’t expect the show to be so basic at heart. But thinking back on the show now, I don’t think I had much reason to believe that in the first place. Something about Jun Maeda’s latest indulgent teenage fantasy seemed… off.
You would think a power fantasy of any kind, especially ones concerning teenagers, would not be so concerned about things like consequences and punishments for irresponsibility. You would think that these fantasies would encourage their subjects to embrace their powers, or at least teach them ways to use them without harming other people. You would think that having superpowers would be considered cool. Charlotte doesn’t think so. Charlotte thinks your adolescent superpowers are a bad thing.
In Charlotte’s universe, gaining a superpower meant a life of constant fear of being caught using it. Characters in the story are not told to use their powers constructively but are instead told to stop using their powers altogether. Why? Well, you better stop or else the scientists will find you and catch you. They’ll strap you to strange instruments and experiment on your body until you’re catatonic. You’ll be stuck to a hospital bed for the rest of your life. If you’re lucky, you’ll die in the process instead. Do you want that? Do you want that to happen to your loved ones? No! So you’re better off forgetting that you have superpowers at all. Just try to live a normal high school life under our supervision and eventually your power with disappear. That’s the correct decision to make. Please listen to us because we know what’s best for you. Don’t think about what I might mean by some nebulous term like “scientists”. Just keep quiet and nothing bad will happen.
For Charlotte, adolescence is no fantasy. It’s a terrible storm meant to be waited out.
I thought about other kids vs. adults narratives when I watched Charlotte. Peter Pan was the most obvious one, followed by an anime called Toward the Terra plus an old kid’s cartoon called Kids Next Door. Watching Charlotte even reminded me of when I read The Little Prince. Of all these stories, though, I think Charlotte is the most afraid of adults. Peter Pan and Toward the Terra showed their characters fighting against actual named villains in a very capable manner, whether it’s flying or telekinesis. Kids Next Door also feared growing up, but in a more cartoonish and cheeky manner that didn’t feel very serious. The Little Prince mostly just comments on how you end up losing your imagination and creative drive as you age in modern society.
In Charlotte, though, adults aren’t only evil: they’re faceless. We’re never told who these “scientists” are, nor if they’re sanctioned by society/the government. We’re also not told any specific names nor are we given the chance to see any specific face attached to these nefarious “scientists”. Instead, we’re just told that they exist and they’re out to get us. Adults in Charlotte, at least the ones we’re supposed to hate, seem more like a force of nature, or a universal truth, than actual people. Which then seems doubly odd considering how insistent our main heroes seem in normalizing all of their targets. Who in the right mind would advise a kid with superpowers to sit down and obey their superiors until they grow up? In a universe where growing up meant being some faceless concept diffused in the ether of our imagination, used to scare children into doing what they’re told, why would it be considered the better alternative?
Is this show even supposed to be adolescent fantasy?
I think that’s what drew me into Charlotte so strongly at first, seeing such a fundamental contradiction in the way its system worked. The kids, and by extension us as the audience, are told contradicting information about what it’s like when adolescence is over, once someone with superpowers reached the “other side”. Nao’s older brother is a “victim”, shown stuck to a hospital bed after getting caught using his power and being subject to experiments by the scientists. Another adult, Sala, comments vaguely on how she regrets using her power the way she did in order to get where she is now. I didn’t see this as a flaw or a mistake on the show’s part. Instead, it contributed to the uncertainty. For a show that focuses on adolescence, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t being idolized, at least at first, and was more surprised to see it being kind of demonized in this manner.
AND THEN EPISODE 9 CAME ALONG AND THREW ALL THAT ANALYSIS OUT THE WINDOW SO HOWABBOUT DAT ONE GUYS
WE ARE NOT WORTHY
- Of all the meaningless speculation that went on with this show, the one I seriously entertained was the possibility of Sala being an older version of Nao that traveled back in time somehow, which would explain Nao’s obsession with the band, the fact that Nao’s brother mentions her name when hearing Sala’s voice, and Nao being strangely insistent on not meeing Sala at all since it would cause a paradox. I wouldn’t make much sense if you thought about it, but it’d certainly be a better plot twist than the shit we got instead!