Rock: What is a NEET anyways?

So one of the common stereotypes within otaku culture is known as the NEET or Not in Education, Employment or Training. While the term was first used in the United Kingdom and in a similar manner in regards to the word otaku, NEET is a loanword in Japan with a similar meaning.

What I find interesting though is that, while being a NEET, which in the otaku subculture is stigma on top of stigma, there seem to be two types of NEET that recently have been reoccurring.

The first would be the stereotypical NEET, a person who has withdrawn from society, its obligations and does not pursue any productive means to be part of society, which most otaku actually do (hence the extra stigma within an already stigmatized group). This is demonstrated in the web manga via the Comico app and now in a newer slice-of-life comedy anime that airs throughout this fall called, “Recovery of an MMO Junkie”.

Screenshot of the main character Moriko Morioka in “Recovery of an MMO Junkie”.

The plot in the anime centers around 30-year-old Moriko Morioka, who quits her job at a corporation, disillusioned by the real world and becomes a NEET, playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, MMORPG, called “Fruits de Mer”.

So far the show (I need to read the manga and watch the all the episodes that have aired so far, three as of writing this), has been very upbeat, despite drawing some basic similarities to the much darker anime which portrays a NEET called “Serial Experiments Lain”. It is also in direct contrast of the NEET stereotype, as Moriko is just like any other person, only she is coping from what was a high stress job in an unproductive way (and amassing a rather nice set of PC gaming equipment that makes me wonder how she was able to afford months without a job).

The other manga (also started on the Comico web app), anime and now live action film is called “ReLIFE”, about 27-year-old Arata Kaizaki who is stuck working at a convenience store, not living up to his potential, until Ryō Yoake from the NEET rehabilitation company ReLIFE and offers him a second chance by going back to high school for one year, as a high school student, thanks to a pill that makes him look 17 again.

The ReLIFE main title showing 17 year old Arata Kaizaki (left), Ryō Yoake (middle) and 27 year old Kaizaki (right).

In the story, it is revealed that Arata’s circumstances that led him to quit his first job out of graduate school only three months was from the trauma he suffered after the colleague who trained him committed suicide after suffering from long term harassment from other employees in the company. Afterwards he was unable to find another job and it was taboo to explain the circumstances that led him to quit after only three months.

So, there is the NEET by choice and the NEET due to circumstances outside the person’s control. And even with Moriko, the NEET by choice, the stereotype of a lazy, withdrawn, socially awkward nerd is not the case with her. From what has been shown in the anime so far, you would never know she is a NEET from meeting her on the street. Even her choice to be a NEET was not born out of a social inability or general laziness, but rather depressive symptoms that are common from working in the corporate world.

In Arata’s circumstances, being a NEET was far from what he wanted and his character is anything but antisocial or lazy. He is in fact helpful, caring, hard working and unselfish (even if he still has a lot to catch back up to in terms of school work). Arata’s situation also reflects the harsh realities of the current state of the corporate, globalized institutions both in Japan and abroad. His back story also touches on the limited ability people have in society to talk about topics that are (but shouldn’t be) taboo, such as mental health, harassment and suicide in an open manner.

While there are people who by choice for unhealthy reasons chose to be a NEET or worse hikikomori, which I have seen the extreme version of the stereotype oddly at conventions where they gather, or rather retreat to a specific area at the convention, ignoring everyone and everything except whatever media they are focused on. I would assume they do interact with each other and at the events at the convention, but they also don’t leave the convention location if it is an option, so the smell is, well not good. Once again this is an example of the extreme cases that create stigma for otaku for which otaku don’t acknowledge NEETs and hikkomori as otaku for this reason. But what these two manga and anime portray are a very different, a much truer to life presentation of a NEET and brings up topics that need to be discussed.

There is also a strong underling message about the “blaming the victim mentality”, covert aggressive behavior and the not speaking about the trauma theme throughout our readings; all of which are barriers that prevent those who would otherwise seek help for their mental and/or emotional well-being before things worsened.

In my previous “rock” post about the negative impact that the influx of fan-service anime has brought, it seems that there is also a slowly growing trend of anime and manga that seem to aim to be a counterbalance for that negative press.

As the latest seasons of anime have come out, it is notable that in comparison to the previous years that there are more slice of life anime and another one that stood out to me called “The Ancient Magus Bride”.

Poster for “The Ancient Magus Bride”.

At first glance it may seem like a mail ordered bride twist on the “Beauty and the Beast”, but in reality it is much closer to the themes and design of Studio Ghibli’s work. The most recent episodes, focused on the main character Chise Hatori’s backstory, are very reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s works, including a magical library in the woods that Chise escapes to as a child while running from evil faes and spirits that only she and the librarian are able to see and begins to learn not all of the ones she sees are evil. The librarian could almost been seen as a hikkomori and book otaku, if it weren’t that the circumstances around why he never leaves the library were out of his control.

It is also interesting that the NEET based anime are geared toward a different audience than the young male group that had been dominating. “ReLIFE” and “MMO Junkie” both have characters that are in the college to post college age group, and with “MMO Junkie”, featuring an older female lead character, which taping into the female anime and gaming fans, which is a largely ignored group in general nerd and geek culture.

And even though the subject matter of the NEET can be sensitive in nature, depending on how it’s handled, the way these NEET characters are presented and behave is pleasantly comical, often with inside jokes that are for the otaku community specifically. They so far have avoided the pitfalls of fan service and stereotypes while still addressing the topic using humor.

Another light novel turned anime that also features a hikikomori, an extreme form of a NEET known as the modern day hermit and is seen as a health issue in Japan as they withdraw from society for several months, is the main character in “Re:Zero” or “Re:Life in a Different World from Zero”.

Image featuring Subaru Natsuki (left) and Rem (right) from “Re:Zero”.

While this anime does include fan service, it does not overtake the show or create the awkwardness that has been an issue in anime lately. In fact, the main character, Subaru Natsuki, finds himself transported to a fantasy type world completely like in the video games he had been holed up playing for months. His personality also isn’t the stereotypical recluse, in fact he’s fairly loud and energetic.

In this new world he immediately he assumes he is the protagonist with powers and must go find the princess he is destined to save. Except he finds he is powerless, there is no princess to save and the only special items he has is the food he purchased from a convenience store right before being transported, where he quickly dies. The only thing that is different about him in this world is that he returns to life after dying, like a save point in a game and if he tries to tell anyone about it, he dies again and comes back to life (the repeated dying and coming back to life plot device, actually makes this a fairly intense and dark anime at times with excellent character development).

There are more anime and manga that are following this trend, but it has yet to overtake the influx of fan service based anime over the last decade or so. Like in “Re:Zero”, there likely will be shows that will have compromises, but at the very least is not the main subject of the plot, like in harem anime (though looking through some of the newer ones and reading reviews, apparently there are a few that actually have decent plots, or at least don’t forget the about the plot in the midst of massive fan service, but not enough to be able to ignore the harem).

Overall some of the newer anime and manga seem to be showing promise of a both a shift in anime and manga content, and using anime and manga to help bring a better understanding of these subgroups with the otaku subculture.