The representations of characters along the lines of gender and age is for the most part unsurprising in Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. Yet, the way in which these tendencies are presented redefines strength through the course of the film, shifting from drive and physical strength, to the acceptance and embracing of life. While the film portrays itself as an adventure, it more aptly addresses the tensions between morality and blind perseverance.
(A summary of the film can be found in the previous post.)
Asuna is the lead in the film, yet her background is the least flushed out. We know little more than that she lost her father, that her mother works to support her on her own, and that she prefers solitude over companionship. Her role is not based upon her background or some goal she is pursuing, but rather upon her actions when put in difficult situations. In contrast, the male supporting roles have their emphasis almost entirely upon their past and goals, to the extent that they are unable to make decisions morally.
Morisaki journeys to the underworld to with the clear goal of reviving his wife, the final step in the long and arduous path he has taken to get to the underworld. He joined a group bent on finding Agaruta, and conducted research for years, all in hope of seeing him beloved once again. His research, training, and connections allowed him to navigate into and through Agaruta easily, and brought him at long last to see God and beg him to save his wife.
His determination is his strength, so powerful that it allows him to accomplish the impossible: bringing his wife back to life. At the same time, it is his weakness, and his single-minded love for his wife devalues life itself. Not only does it render him incapable of letting go of his wife and moving on with his own life as she had willed him to, it also causes him to choose to return his dead wife to life at the expense of the life of Asuna. His love fails to recognize the value in life as something that is forever starting, stopping and changing.
In a similar way, Shin’s strength also become his weakness. Shin follows the orders of his village elders blindly and without comprehension. He goes to return the crystal that acts as a key to the underworld, but does not stop Asuna or the teacher from entering, reasoning that they had nothing to do with the assignment. He takes on the task of killing Asuna and the teacher, but without understanding who they are or what value their lives may hold. In this way Shin’s single-minded pursuit of his goals, while giving him a strong sense of purpose, also devalues life.
Unlike Morisaki, though, Shin is able to see that his goal is misguided and recognize the value of the lives he was sent to take. He ends up saving Asuna when she is about to be eaten by creatures whose nature it is to destroy outsiders. He further goes against his people to protect Asuna against them, and in doing so is thrown out of his own tribe.
Though forsaken by his own people, we can also view this as his release from the narrow and old-fashioned view of the world that holds his people. His passion and determination, which appeared to be his strength, show themselves to be not only his own weakness but that of Agaruta as a whole. His strength rather lies in his ability to reevaluate his mission and beliefs based upon his relationship with Asuna.
If we understand the strength of Shin in terms his ability to challenge his given mission and the assumptions of his people, and his ability to create his own goals, then perhaps Asuna is stronger than she first appears. Although seemingly floating along without purpose, her focus on deeper goals and relationships, such as combating her own loneliness and valuing the lives of those she encounters along the journey, allow her to proceed without being hindered by goals or beliefs that would disrupt her ability to make decisions based on her heart.
The clear exception to these stereotypical portrayals is Shin. Shin is male, appears to be in his late teens or early twenties, and is an important figure to the people of Agaruta. Yet, despite these characteristics, he risks his life to venture up to our world, though he knows it will kill him. He risks his life for a girl he doesn’t even know, Asuna. He goes against the commands of the elder leader apparent of Agaruta by going to our world and bringing the crystal that serves as a key to the underworld with him. In doing these things he demonstrates his ability to follow his hopes, dreams, and a deeper morality regardless the typical restraints of his age, gender, and duty.
Asuna and Shin have much in common then as figures of defiance and passion, of strength through morality. These characteristics present difficulties, putting Asuna and the people of Agaruta in danger as they go against set laws and warnings. Yet, they also allow for new knowledge, progress, and the embracing of life.