Exploring Grief in Tokyo 24th Ward
Part 1: Introduction and Background Part 2: Who Was Asumi? Part 3: Processing The Grief Part 4: Closure Part 5: Final Thoughts
1) Introduction and Background
Grief effects everyone to at least some degree at some point in life. It's what happens when you lose someone you love. Profound grief can be experienced whether or not the person you lost actually died. It can also be experienced if the person you lost was not someone you regularly spent time with. But how much worse is the grief when someone actually dies? How much worse would it be if it was someone you were with all the time? The example of grief we're discussing today involves the death of a character who was very close with the three main characters of the story.
Tokyo 24th Ward is a 2022 anime produced by Cloverworks studio. The reception wasn't great, and reflected the fact that the show was weak and disappointing in several ways. Although I am forced to admit Tokyo 24th Ward is not a good anime overall, it does have some positives. One element that was handled fairly well was the theme of grief that lies at the heart of this anime. The three main characters are young men by the names of Kouki, Ran, and Shuuta. They have lost someone important to them: a girl called Asumi.
During their last year of highschool, the three boys and Asumi were involved in a project to repurpose an old school. They saved it from demolition, decorated it with art, and used it as a community center. One fateful day, the newly decorated school mysteriously caught fire. A small girl was trapped inside. Asumi ran into the flames to save her. One of the boys, Shuuta, followed. But by the time he reached the girls, Asumi was critically injured. She had shielded the younger girl from the collapsing roof. Shuuta carried Asumi out of the fire along with the younger girl. Unfortunately, Asumi could not be saved. She passed away.
Today, we'll explore the grief experienced by the main characters in Tokyo 24th Ward. To start with, we need a good understanding of Asumi. Who was she to each of the boys? What was their relationship like? What was her personal significance to the ones with whom she spent most of her time?
2) Who was Asumi?
Asumi was Kouki's younger sister. It's possible that he knew her better than anyone else. At the very least, he spent the most time around her out of the three boys. Kouki is not as expressive as the others, and maintains an emotional distance even from everyone. Despite personality differences and Kouki's way of keeping a distance, it's still clear that he loved Asumi. As the older brother and a responsible person by nature, he wanted to protect her and set a good example for her. Asumi was a part of Kouki's life every day. To Kouki, Asumi was the cute little sister, someone to defend and teach as they shared their lives.
The exact nature of their interactions is unknown, but Asumi and Ran were known to be good friends. Both of them loved art, and Asumi praised Ran's early graffiti work. She also shared Ran's passion for helping the minorities of Shantytown. While she was alive, Asumi was a constant inspiration to Ran. She was creative, kind, and beautiful. Ran doesn't seem to have been romantically or sexually attracted to Asumi, but nevertheless, she was one of the most important people in his life. She was his best friend and his muse.
Shuuta was also close friends with Asumi, but unlike Ran, he was romantically interested in her. They were friends since early in elementary school. However, their bond wasn't particularly strong until after Asumi's mother was killed. When Asumi was lost in pain and grief, Shuuta was there for her. He promised to be her hero and always save her. Asumi held on because of Shuuta. Their bond was sealed, and it continued up through highschool.
Although it was rather obvious to everyone that Shuuta loved Asumi, he never told her how he felt or started officially dating her. However, Asumi was always hanging out with Kouki, Ran, and Shuuta, so they saw each other frequently and spent time together. Shuuta and Asumi have very similar personality types, and although all friends have fights, they got along very well in general. To Shuuta, Asumi was the one he wanted to make happy. He wanted to protect her and cherish her. He wanted her to be his lover.
Asumi was Kouki's sister, Ran's best friend, and Shuuta's romantic interest. As you can see, she was a critically important existence to all three young men.
3) Processing The Grief
"I'm Asumi's older brother. When I wake up in the morning, when I'm eating meals, when I go home... she's not there. She's gone. She's just not there!!" ~Kouki Suido, Tokyo 24th Ward
With Asumi gone, the three remaining friends each responded to the loss a little differently. At the start of the anime, it's been one year since the death of Asumi, but the boys are still emotionally compromised in their own ways. We'll take a look at how each one behaves with regards to Asumi's death. Following that, we'll see how their experiences fall in line with our understanding of the five stages of grief.
First, take Ran. He responded to the loss by idolizing and glorifying the memory of Asumi. He made her the subject of several pieces of his artwork, including an immense mural of her on a wall in Shantytown. Ran now thinks of Asumi as a Goddess who temporarily blessed him. This attitude is quite relatable to me. I too have idolized people I've lost, holding them on perfect pedestals in my mind. It's an easy thing to do when you're grieving. Remembering someone fondly and using them for artistic inspiration is fine, but regarding them as a God or Goddess in comparison to yourself is not healthy long-term.
Next is Kouki. He can seem cold-hearted at first because he has supposedly accepted Asumi's death. He's insistent that Shuuta and the others should move on like he has managed to do. Kouki behaves this way because he feels like he should always be mature, responsible, and logical. It's his personality as well as pressure from his father. And yet, when Shuuta brings up Asumi, Kouki usually responds with anger. This likely reflects the fact that he's angry at himself. On some level, he thinks he should have prevented his sister's death. He's frustrated with himself and lashing out at others and the world when they remind him. Despite his insistence on moving on, Kouki hasn't yet processed his grief.
Lastly, consider Shuuta. Although it wasn't severe enough to stop his normal functioning, Shuuta did become depressed. Sadness and depression were the main signs he exhibited. But there was more too it than that. Shuuta also felt guilty. He viewed the fire as his fault. (It was an electrical fire that began because of rats chewing up wires. Shuuta knew there was a rat problem but didn't check the wires in the breaker room.) Before Asumi's death, Shuuta was wrapped up in the idea of being a hero. Afterward, however, he stopped all his hero shenanigans. As a hero, he had already failed because he didn't save Asumi. The guilt and sadness were crushing.
The three young men were trying their best to cope. Each of them were grieving. From psychology, we know there are five general stages of grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some people go through the stages in that order, but it's different for every person. Some move between the different stages for a long time before reaching acceptance. There is another version of the grief model where there are seven stages. Shock is the initial stage, and the last one is processing (after acceptance). Grieving can last a long time, and it's not uncommon for it to take a year or more. The grief experienced by Ran, Kouki, and Shuuta is not unusual.
In terms of the five stages and the grief timeframe, let's see where our three characters fall. I believe Ran is very late in his grief process, but still dealing with some level of depression as he approaches true acceptance. That would put him between the fourth and fifth stages. Kouki is still dealing with a lot of anger despite trying to force himself to reach acceptance. He is in the second stage of grief. As for Shuuta, his grief seems to be the most chaotic, moving mostly between bargaining and depression. He is probably mostly in the third stage of grief, which is the one most associated with misplaced feelings of guilt and blame.
In Tokyo 24th Ward, the three boys are given an opportunity for closure that would be impossible in reality. This is what sets them each firmly on the path to healing. In the next section, I'll briefly explain what happens. After that, we'll discuss how the event brought closure to Kouki, Ran, and Shuuta.
"I can't accept something like this. I don't get it. Because I became a hero for you, Asumi. It was for you. Because it brought you joy. Because it made you smile." ~Shuuta Aoi, Tokyo 24th Ward
After Asumi was confirmed dead, her body was secretly utilized for a forbidden technology invented by her parents. Her body was kept fresh in a tank where her brain served as the processing center of a vast network system called the Hazard Cast. The system was used to monitor the entire 24th ward and make accurate predictions about crimes and accidents that were likely to happen. Although parts of the brain were biologically alive, there wasn't supposed to be anything left of Asumi's consciousness. It was purely for computing. The tech team of Hazard Cast continued to run the system with that assumption.
The assumption was a mistake. A fragment of Asumi's consciousness still remained, slowly regaining awareness as it uploaded itself into the network and monitored the city as a whole. Asumi was only conscious sometimes, and did not understand what or where she was. But she did remember her friends. She experienced the Hazard Cast's reports and footage of crimes as terrible nightmares she couldn't wake up from. However, she wasn't completely helpless. Asumi's digitized "soul" hacked into the phones of Ran, Kouki, and Shuuta to give them warnings about the worst disasters ahead of time.
In the last episode of Tokyo 24th Ward, the three boys fight their way to the heart of the Hazard Cast system, where they have one last chance to speak to Asumi's consciousness. After their conversation, Asumi wanted to move on, and she could do so by essentially deleting herself. The boys understood that this weird limbo consciousness was too painful for Asumi. So, they each got to say their own goodbye to the one who had enriched their lives so much.
Shuuta, Ran, and Kouki all assured Asumi that she didn't have to suffer anymore and that they would find a different way to run the city. Shuuta finally told Asumi he was in love with her, and she returned his feelings. Kouki and Ran both told Asumi they loved her, too. Then it was time for Asumi to go. With tears in his eyes, Shuuta faked a smile and said goodbye to Asumi. As she vanished, Ran and Kouki were there with their hands on Shuuta's shoulders. They all shared in the bittersweet moment of closure.
5) Final Thoughts
"We'll most likely fail. We'll lose something again. But what's important is to accept the result, no matter what happens." ~Ran Akagi, Tokyo 24th Ward
Tokyo 24th Ward failed as a thriller and as a good sci-fi anime. In some ways, it was even lacking as in the drama and character development departments. But this anime succeeded in being a story about grief. I enjoyed the emotional ride as these three young men processed their bereavement.
One of the hardest things about severe grief is that it makes you less hopeful about the future. You can be paralyzed by the fear of losing someone. And it's true that the future will continue to be riddled with the loss of what we love. It's easier said than done, but the quote Ran said is right. Ultimately, we must accept what happened. That's the key to not being weighed down by grief forever. However, everyone should take their time to process grief and loss. We shouldn't judge our unique experiences of grief, either. Everyone is different.
I hope that when you read this article, you are not grieving. But if you are, then remember to take your time and accept yourself and how you process things. Someday, you will be able to come to a place of acceptance. I believe in you. Stay strong.
Thank you for reading~