Home > anime > Wolf Children: Hana, Anime’s Single Mother

Wolf Children: Hana, Anime’s Single Mother

“I realize mama really paid the price
she nearly gave her life to raise me right” – 2pac

Wolf Children (Hosoda, 2012) is narrated from the position of Ame, the daughter who chose to live among humans. Naturally, speaking from my position as a child in a single parent household, I relate to this narrator, more so than a lot of other narrators especially since Ame as wolf-child embodies alterity, choosing to wear the mask of humanity and calm her inner-storm. I understand where critics, who charge the film with cashing into the ideal image of motherhood, the mother who gives her all to raise her kids to quietly allow their children leave once they’ve grown up, are coming from. While it may seem obvious that having the story told from the Ame, a child who has just left her home, skews the truths, and there are truths to the way in which this film cashes into the myths of motherhood, displacing full truth with sentiment. However, the unspoken theme of survival changes things.
Something that I think criticisms of Hana miss is the complex play between opacity and surveillance. In order for her children to live, Hana has to bob and weave through the surveillance of child services, neighbors and land-lords. Someone who hasn’t lived with the fear of sitting in the back of police cars, being driven to social services not knowing if they’ll ever see their parents again, may not come out with the same experience of seeing Hana shut the door on the prying eyes of social workers to keep her children’s state hidden. Hana’s children, as wolf-children, are not yet housebroken, and the social safety nets that someone on the outside may assume to exist for such a situation (single mother), are unavailable (1) given their situation. Hidden beneath the rhetoric of the Department of Human Services is the language of policing since it is the parent’s duty to produce ideal political subjects who are law-abiding and hardworking citizens. Single parent households are scrutinized and policed since, as eugenics textbooks will tell you, the ideal household has a mother and father where the father, as patriarch, is the breadwinner and the mother stays at home taking care of the children and the household.

Hana cannot become the breadwinner since the kids can’t go to daycare and she doesn’t have relatives or friends who can watch the kids. Much like Barefoot Gen’s wheat, Hana will overcome everything the world throws at her for the sake of her children, which, as I understand is the center of “feminist” criticisms. And don’t get it twisted; I don’t think that Hana’s character is without problems. She is one-dimensional and this dimension also cashes into Japan’s treasury of rhetorical wealth that determines not only how social relations work but also how people construct their identity. Just like how society is centered on what kind of adults they kids turn out to be, this film’s starting point is the children (2). Yuki, the youngest child observes very quickly that wolves are the villains, the threat of the wild. In choosing the path of the wolf, he becomes a failure in the eyes of human society. Ame, the eldest, chooses to walk the path towards human-hood even though we know she suffers the psychic trauma of trying to genocide the wolf within. What I find interesting is how the roles of prey and predator get are fundamentally reversed for Hana, because she is part wolf she is a sheep for slaughter in human society. In walking this path, Ame is the success child who falls into her role as productive, law-abiding woman.

That this film engages alterity on the level of family structure and the children within the complex web of surveillance that is the city is a well needed critique, and not one that I’ve seen in any other anime. I don’t know if fantasizing about the alternative, a sort of utopian rural life is the way to live, and perhaps it is just the sort of strange bohemian in me that is speaking, but I can’t come out and say that this was the wrong choice to make (the film unabashedly affirms that we leave the city for the mythic, ”natural” countryside). As I see it, starting criticism at the level of one-dimensional mother who sacrifices all she can for her children, misses a lot, not just the fact that anime doesn’t tell these kinds of stories.

I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who has had to live this life, but perhaps this is more of my position as the child that makes me more forgiving of this film than the cold-hearted Internet critics who may or may not have the experience feeling that the world will destroy you if they found out who you really. Perhaps it is the feeling of insult that comes from shock and subsequent praise of how you somehow came out “right” despite of your skin color and single mother, but this criticism does lead me to ask, why do you want to see the moments in between the ellipses where mom is no longer superhuman, but the failed parent who won’t remarry for her children? This may be a little controversial, but the libidinal drive to consume the images of suffering and survival is the same drive that creates this Christ-like mother figure that is capable to taking all the hits her children need her to take in order to become proper citizens. It is, in my opinion, better to stay invisible, but when you do tell the world what happened, remember that mom that it really was you and her against the world, so either way the whole scenario feeds into the system of valuation that made your life miserable in the first place, but if you have to choose, I think it’s better to make your mom into the Jesus-figure you know she is because fuck the world we’re trying to do more than just survive, we’re trying to live no matter how hard it gets.

“We ain’t meant to survive because it’s a set-up, but you got to keep your head up” – 2pac
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1. The national average for single parent households in Japan is 2.84% (stats Japan).
2. This is kind of a strange trait to have and the film doesn’t really explain this, but we do know that it is dangerous for others to know about the existence of the children, and given my own life experience I have learned that you can’t trust grandma, grandpa or any of your aunts and uncles just because they’re related to you, even they can sell you into slavery.

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