Showa Nostalgia in Anime: What’s the Deal?



Showa Nostalgia in Anime: What’s the Deal?

Erased (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)

Recently, many anime from multiple genres have been making explicit references to the “Showa period.” For example, in the first episode* of the comedy series Osomatsu-san (aka Mr. Osomatsu), its iconic characters (who are based on the classic 1960s series Osomatsu-kun) lament the fact that their "Showa humor" might be outdated. In the first episode of the new supernatural mystery anime Erased (aka Boku Dake ga Inai Machi), the 29-year-old main character questions if his younger co-workers sense of humor is the result of being born after the Showa period before he is transported back in time to his childhood. The drama anime Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, is about two generations of “rakugo” performers and literally has the word “Showa” in its title. What exactly is “Showa,” and why does there seem to be such a massive wave of nostalgia surrounding it?

The Showa period refers to the period from December 26, 1925 and January 7, 1989, which coincides with the reign of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. In Japan, it is common to give the year in relation to the current emperor; 2016 is Heisei 28 because it’s the 28th year of the Heisei Emperor Akihito’s reign. While it might seem unusual to those outside of Japan, it’s not unlike calling the current US presidency the “Obama Years.”

Showa Emperor Hirohito
It has almost been 30 years since the end of the Showa period, and those who lived in the Showa period are seeing their children’s children grow up. Those born in the Heisei period can only experience Showa through history books, videos, and other resources. These multiple perspectives, along with the sense of an era gone by, probably account for a good deal of Showa nostalgia. However, I believe that it is also because the Showa period has six decades’ worth of world-changing history that makes it an especially strong vessel for nostalgia.
The Showa period encompasses World War II, post-war reconstruction, the creation and popularization of modern anime and manga, and the height of the Japanese economic bubble. The same year that Hirohito passed away, so too did the god of manga Tezuka Osamu. A few years after the end of Showa came Japan’s economic recession from which it still has not recovered to this day. If you were to call the Showa period tumultuous, that would be putting it lightly.

Osomatsu-san

Because the Showa period represents multiple generations of people and massive highs and lows for the country, this also means that one’s view of “Showa” can vary tremendously. It can be seen as an era of simpler values, such as when the relatively innocent personalities of the Osomatsu-kun characters are contrasted with their adult portrayals in Osomatsu-san. It can be a complex time of hardships, such as when the government censors rakugo performers in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju during the war. While Taisho Baseball Girls and its story Japanese girls playing baseball against the boys references the liberalism of the Taisho period (1912-1926), there is simply much greater potential for “Showa” to mean different things to different people.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

There’s nothing that says that the world has to change as a direct result of the birth or death of an emperor, but at the same time it becomes a way to frame one’s life. Nostalgia is a part of life. People, technology, and society inevitably change, and those who grow older tend to reflect on the past. Anime and manga are no exception, and one day the Heisei period will probably receive a similar look back.

*Note: The original first episode of Osomatsu-san is no longer available due to legal reasons.