Trauma is horrifying to go through, especially when watching anime characters go through it.
Trauma manifests itself in many ways, from PTSD to depression to flashbacks. Recovery from trauma usually involves getting help from other people, friends, family, and therapists. Those that do recover from trauma have support. Those that don't, usually refuse any help or try to tackle it alone.
Here are five anime characters who overcame their trauma and four who didn't.
Note: This article discusses traumatic experiences, such as physical abuse and wartime violence. Reader discretion is advised. Spoiler warning for all the anime discussed.
5 characters who overcame trauma
1) Shinji Ikari (Rebuild of Evangelion)
Shinji was barely 14 when he was forced to pilot an Eva and fight a godlike monster called an Angel. His father Gendo abandoned him at a young age, resulting in Shinji being maladjusted towards other people and relationships.
Being forced to fight the Angels caused Shinji to shut down and run away multiple times, especially after nearly killing fellow Eva pilot Asuka. He's afraid of making social connections for fear of being hurt because of Gendo, and that nobody gave Shinji any kind of a break.
One of the worst breakdowns happened in Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, where Shinji went nearly catatonic after Kaworu (one of his only friends) died by suicide via an explosive collar meant for Shinji to save his life. It only worsened after his attempt to save Rei from an Angel nearly resulted in the extermination of life with the Third Impact.
In Rebuild of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, Shinji recovers. Everyone helps him: Rei Q (by engaging and talking to him), Asuka (force-feeding him and trying to get him to move), high school friends Toji and Kensuke (helping him work and see that life continues), Mari (constant encouragement), Misato (apologizing and taking a bullet for him), and Kaworu (empathizing and befriending).
Because of these people, Shinji managed to move on and gained the strength to stop Gendo's horrific plans to cause a Fourth Impact.
Shinji made Gendo apologize, made amends with Asuka, made sure Rei was at rest, and then erased Angels and Evas from history, which ensured a happy ending for all.
2) Simon (Gurren Lagaan)
Simon was a boy born into an already traumatic world. Humanity was forced underground by the Beast Men and kept there for generations. Only the discovery of an old robot, and a girl with a sniper rifle named Yoko, made him and his brother Kaminia break away to the surface.
Simon has survivor guilt resulting from losing Kamina in battle. He believed that Kamina died because of Simon being despondent over Kamina and Yoko kissing, causing their mech to stop. Simon recovered from his trauma when Spiral Princess Nia helped him out.
Nia was kind and sincerely caring about Simon, and the two formed an eventual romance. Though she died before they wed after the defeat of the Anti Spiral, Simon didn't relapse. He helped people plant flowers in Nia’s memory and moved on.
Like Shinji before him, Simon had help along the way, which made all the difference.
3) Gaara (Naruto)
Gaara of the Hidden Sand Village's trauma started with his mother dying when he was born. He survived assassination attempts from his father and his beloved uncle. Gaara's trauma manifested in killing anyone who got in his way and a twisted form of self-love.
He would eventually cross paths with series protagonist Naruto Uzumaki, who sympathized with Gaara. After an epic showdown, Naruto told Gaara he was able to find friends, find love and attempt to do that himself.
He found his own love by becoming the Kazekage and protecting his village from Deidara’s giant bomb attack that would’ve destroyed the village.
Gaara, thanks to Naruto's efforts, has recovered from his hateful past trauma and every day continues to recover as Kazekage.
4) Blake Belladonna (RWBY)
Blake Belladonna has always been a civil rights activist, on the front lines of every Faunus rights protest with the White Fang organization.
Everything changed when she fell in love with Adam Taurus, who turned the White Fang to terrorism. Burning down shops, assassinations, and bloodshed became the status quo. Five years later, Blake left the White Fang with spousal abuse trauma after enduring emotional abuse from Adam.
Despite Team RWBY’s formation promising a new start, Blake withdrew into herself. She drove herself to sleep deprivation while investigating White Fang's new human criminal connections and internalized Adam's abusive rhetoric (she always runs, she's a coward, etc.).
Thanks to timely intervention from teammate Yang Xiao Long (she nearly got killed trying to find her mother by over obsessing) and a Faunus named Sun Wukong helping her relax and let loose, Blake began to show optimism for the future. Ruby Rose's infectious optimism and Weiss Schnee's down-to-earth mannerisms also helped Blake.
When Beacon Academy came under attack, Blake confronted Adam. He got in her head and managed to stab her, then sliced off one of Yang’s arms after swearing to Blake that he would “destroy everything (she) loves, starting with (Yang).”
Blake fell deeper into self-loathing after these events, abandoning her team to avoid bringing them more harm. It took discovering a White Fang conspiracy to bomb Haven Academy (with Sun and her parents' help) to start recovering. Together, they rallied a Faunus militia and stopped the bombing.
After reuniting with her team, she and Yang killed Adam in self-defense after he stalked her halfway across the continent for foiling his plans.
Blake is well on her way to recovery, thanks to her team.
5) Guts (Berserk)
Guts was born as his mom was lynched. A mercenary group rescued him, and his surrogate mom died three years later. His surrogate father, Gambino, physically and verbally abused Guts until Guts retaliated and killed him.
Griffith unleashed a demonic eclipse that destroyed the Band of the Falcon and gave Guts' lover Casca brain damage. A two-year war against cults made him cynical and anti-social.
He formed The Black Swordsman Party to aid in caring for Casca. Originally just himself, Casca, and an annoying elf named Puck, more people joined in caring for Casca. Over time, he came to appreciate the band he created as they helped him keep his head up.
Gut's story is of resilience against apathy and the horrors of the world. But the acts of one can only carry someone so far without aid.
Four traumatized anime characters that never recovered
1) Cinder Fall (RWBY)
Don't be fooled by the picture of a relieved young Cinder Fall here, this isn't a happy story. When orphan Cinder Fall was adopted into the rich kingdom of Atlas, she hoped life would improve.
It didn't. Cinder was forced into service at a lavish hotel, she was shocked via a collar if anything appeared amiss. She was malnourished and forced to sleep in a storage room.
Her would-be savior, Rhodes, gave her one of his swords and secretly trained her to get her to a combat school in five years. This continued for five years before she was discovered with the blade by her abusive adoptive mother and sisters.
With happy tears in her eyes, Cinder told Rhodes she wouldn't have to run now. Rhodes, however, stated that this isn't all she'd ever do and tried to arrest her. The ensuing fight killed Rhodes, cementing the failure by everyone involved to do right by Cinder and condemning her to a villainous life.
Even in adulthood, Cinder hasn't escaped her trauma. She dresses akin to her abuser, slaps around her lackeys, spurns any affection, and has based her whole being around power being equivalent to freedom. While successful in destroying Beacon Academy, she lost an eye and an arm, which main villain Salem replaced with a Grimm arm to control her. It writhed and shocked Cinder whenever she disobeyed or spoke out of turn in Salem's presence.
Cinder realized that she'd traded one abuser for another. Future volumes of RWBY will see how this tragic Cinderella story ultimately ends.
2) Char Aznable/Casval Rem Deikun (Gundam)
Char Aznable. A consummate traitor.
As a boy, Casval Rem Deikun's father had a heart attack that was engineered by the Zabi family. He survived several kidnappings and assassination attempts. This trauma set him on revenge.
On his way, Casval killed the real Char Aznable and stole his identity. Whether through "accidents" or refusing aid, Char cut a swath through the Zabis during the One Year War.
He appeared to change post-war, advocating peace between space and Earth-borne humans. He seemed to have let go of the need for revenge, treating the last daughter of the Zabis with extreme care. He and Amuro Ray, once fierce combatants, seemed to bury the hatchet.
That didn't last. Several years after the One Year War, Char attempted to smash asteroids into the Earth. His belief that all Earth-born humans were corrupt was total and he refused Amuro's aid repeatedly. He died Gundam's greatest villain.
3) Suzaku Kuraugi (Code Geass)
Suzaku Kuraugi. Where to start with this poor kid's trauma? He was a well-meaning but naive idealist, easy prey for the corrupt system of Brittania. He had to kill his father and regretted that every day. He was forced to nuke Tokyo with the FLEJA and had a Joker-esque laughing fit afterward because he couldn't die or self-terminate because Lelouch put a Geass on him.
He was forced to assume the role of Zero to slay Emperor Lelouch, and was used by Charles of Britannia to ensnare Lelouch, and generally yanked around like a dog.
He's here because the series left his trauma unresolved.
4) Getou Suguru (Jujustu Kaisen)
Getou was assigned to protect a girl meant to be a vessel for an immortal sorcerer. The girl was killed thanks to a human religious group believing the merger was "impure." His friend Haibara getting killed later left him pondering why sorcerors had to die for ignorant humans.
He massacred a village after being asked to kill two young female shamans. Afterward, he declared humanity as 'monkeys' and dedicated himself to eradicating them.
His trauma came from depravity and fell into darkness from it. He never got a chance to get any help for his trauma because he was always on missions alone.
While trauma manifested in different ways for these nine characters, the ones that eventually overcame it did so because they had help and support along the way.
Those that didn't overcome their trauma were: failed by the system (Cinder), used by the system and everyone else (Suzaku), drowned in their own fantasies of revenge (Char), or bore witness to depravity and fell into darkness because of it. (Geto).
If this is any indication, trauma cannot be fought by oneself alone and requires professional and familial aid to fully recover from.
Note: This article reflects the opinion of the author.