Posted by: AceRailgun | November 24, 2012

Dead Parents

Why is this so common? Not a lot of us can relate to it so that’s not the reason it’s common. Is it to show a strong independence, give a character a feeling of solitude or is it something much more? I might have laughed a bit after typing that because it’s certainly not the strong independence in 99% of cases. In actuality it give us a reason to sympathize with the weak willed protagonist because we’d have no reason to otherwise. 


Think about it for a minute and give me one case, just one case where the parents being dead helps the plot or character development significantly  You can’t can you and that’s because it’s rare. It took me a moment but I came up with one situation where a dead parent drives the plot and isn’t just a convenience to get the male protagonist to live alone. Full Metal Alchemist is the only case where the parent being dead is a critical part of the plot. If you haven’t watched Full Metal Alchemist and have no idea what I mean then shame on you and go watch it.


Now another factor in this concept is not dead parents it’s absence parents. I’m talking about the situation where the parents lives away from the male protagonist. India seems to be a hot destination for absent parents to live and the sole purpose of the absence is work 9/10 times. Shamefully I can only think of one case where the parents live with the children but are never said to be either dead/divorced or living over seas and that is K-ON. I haven’t watched K-ON in a very long time but if memory serves me well nobody had absent or dead parents in that the anime just cleverly avoided the parents because parents rarely help the story. Okay they are a key factor in Clannad but that’s a special case.


So in the absence of adult figures most male characters in the adventure style stories end up seeking adult role models. A father figure to guide them and be strict with them (Roy Mustang in FMA) or a comforting mother figure which gives the male lead a feeling of security in a foreign place. The character may only seek on of these characters or have delusions of what to expect and seek a character who can never live up to these expectations. The seeking of said characters is often subconscious and not the main plot.


Male leads who fall into the harem style anime don’t tend to seek parent type figures but often role models or adult figures tend to surround them anyway as part of the sub cast. Usually a landlord, teacher or employer fills this role. Either that or girls in the harem baby him and look after him like a parent would.


Strangely this doesn’t really apply to female characters. If they need support they tend to drift towards the male protagonist and subsequently love or in the rare cases such as Last Exile where the leads are a duo is a pair then the female tends to just do everything the male protagonist does minus the love interest. Well in some cases anyway.


Why is this trope so common and can anyone actually think of good anime with both parents present?


  1. Karin has two parents now that I think about it. Obviously in Crest of the Stars, taking into account the Abh’s rather peculiar familial relationships, Lafiel’s mother and father are not always present but they do play an important role. In Planetes and Stellvia the families are alive but far away, does that count?

    Usually, if there’s only one survivor, it’s the mother. Fathers seem to die or go off overseas quite easily 😉

    • Good point maybe it’s just because they are older anime that they were like that.

      It is usually the mother which lives but I can think of a few where it’s the other way around. FMA, Sankarea and Tomoya’s family in Clannad. But you are right for the most case in new anime it’s a missing father.

      • Whoops. I got sucked into the TVTropes hole! 😀
        But if you look into it, a lot of books or movies have the same issue. Always easier to deal with an orphan children than to have to deal with family relationships _in addition_ to the story, eh?


      • Careful not to spend too long on TV Tropes or it might get dark outside and before you know it it will be the next morning. It’s very very common it seems. I’d say easy over 70% of stories have some form of child abandonment. But yeah it’s probably easier just not to have parents so you can focus on other things instead.

  2. There’s always Shinji’s dead mom in Evangelion. Her death actually mattered, too.

    The only two shows I can think of where there are both parents are present and they actually affect the plot are Umineko and Gankutsuou.

    • There’s not many is there. Shinji’s dead mother was only the beginning of his problems but yes I’d agree it’s a very important character trait for him to have.

  3. It’s easier to allow special adventures to happen if the protagonist is out of “control” from adult members of society. That’s the main reason about why this trope is used.

    Rizelmine is an example of anime (quite funny too) leaving both parents in the main cast.

    • Maybe it just shows that nobody is up to the challenge of writing a story with parents. It’s not like writers can’t draw from personal experience and uses those experiences to help with the story. Maybe it’s just something we’ve come to expect from anime because full families are fairly common in western media.

  4. Sometimes the absence of parents can start to feel very silly, especially when they’re just at work all the time instead of actually dead. How long was it before we saw Sakai Yuji’s dad? Will we ever get to see Keima’s? In a lot of cases, I have to wonder if it’s really about what a lack of parents means to the character, or if it’s just the writer not wanting to add any more characters than necessary.

    • I’d say it’s a bit of both. Sometimes it’s totally reasonable to not use parents in a story but other times it feels odd considering that anime usually deals with students. I think it’s partially laziness on the writers behalf but considering the audience they are targeting doesn’t need those kinds of character there is no point in writing them into a story.

  5. Hmmm, both parents present . . . Oreimo perhaps? Though only playing a minor role (like usual), both parents had a part in the story’s overall progress. Anti-otaku father anyone?

    • oh yeah Oreimo had the whole father thing happened and I don’t remember the mother being dead either (I don’t remember seeing her though.) I think that father had more to worry about then her being an otaku *cough* incest *cough*

  6. This is definitely not something unique to anime–you’ll find this in all forms of fiction. I wonder if I can even name five fantasy novels I’ve read where the protagonist has both his/her parents? The #1 reason for this may be that it just makes it easier for the protagonist to go off on an adventure without having to deal with a bunch of family issues first. Personally I wish this shortcut wasn’t taken so much though, since having parents in the picture can actually add another layer of drama if handled correctly.

    Interestingly Shin Sekai Yori’s Saki has both her parents, and they’ve actually had some presence in these first nine episodes, which I’ve found interesting. (And helpful, since we’re being shown how families operate in this unfamiliar society.)

    One interesting anime that is a bit unique with all this is Allison and Lillia, which has the storyline split in two generations. What’s unique is that the main characters of the first half grow older into adulthood, but still play a very significant role in the storyline when younger protagonists (ie their children) take their place.

    • I forgot all about Allison and Lillia even though it is a great example. I don’t remember if Allison had parents when she was a child but maybe that helped her in the long run as she was a much better parent then her mother ever was.

      Unfortuantly it is a shortcut which is too often taken by writers but when it’s not taken so much more potential is open up to the writer like you said in Shin Sekai Yori. The parents are necessary to make us feel safer in the early stages of development since the world is highly fictitious. After nine episodes it’s possible to kill or separate the parents from the children which gives the writer potential to give us a very emotional scenes which we’d otherwise miss out on.

  7. Naruto’s parents being dead is (or at least, was) important for the plot. It meant he had no source of comfort when shunned by the other children of Konoha, no-one to vouch for him, which, in turn, meant he was angry and bitter for most of his childhood. The fact his birth resulted in the death of his parents (one of whom was the Hokage) probably aggravated the people of Konoha, who transferred their negative feelings onto their children.

    This is important as, not only does it show how far his character has developed (he is no longer that same bitter child), but a lot of Naruto’s strength comes from wanting to fight for his friends, not wanting to be alone again.

    And boom goes the dynamite.

    But you’re right, most of the time there is no reason behind making a child orphaned.

    • That’s one of the few examples it actually matters and effects the story. I just finished the first episode of Tamako Market and the main girl had a dead mother which didn’t seem necessary so that just reminded me about this whole concept of overused dead parents.

      Often like in Naruto a character can gain traits from having dead parents but it’s a lazy way to give a character a sad past.

  8. Porbably because animators and mangaka think a dead parent or being an orphan adds depth. I usually hope a protagonist’s parents are alive, especially moms. Anime dads are cool too but not as often as moms. If a child has both parents in an anime, lucky.

    • The mangaka may think it added depth but it actually the opposite since everyone did it they are just fueling an anime cliche instead of creating an original character. You’re right in saying that anime parents are cool. Dads are cool but it’s often the mums which make things interested since they always tend to know everything about their children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s