Who cares about “anime”? Lots of people, evidently. In 2009, the anime (Japanese-style cartoon) industry in Japan alone was worth 77.7 billion yen ($865 million) from DVD and Blu-ray sales. And though the industry seems to have peaked around a decade ago, anime have become an international cultural product that people who feel absolutely no connection to Japan consume (many don’t even realize that they are made in Japan). Just like American movies have become a worldwide phenomenon, so have anime. But anime fans the world over were shocked a few days ago by the connection between two teens who just died. One was the Japanese anime character, Itachi Uchiha. The other was the real Russian boy, Leonid Hmelev.
The Daily Mail reports:
A 14-year-old boy leapt more than 100ft to his death from the top of an apartment block in Chaikovsky, Russia, after seeing his favourite manga character killed in a cartoon.
Police say Leonid Hmelev died instantly.
The boy was reportedly devastated after seeing the death of the character Itachi Uchiha in the animated movie ‘Naruto – Hurricane Chronicle’.
He left home after posting a message on a social networking site saying he was also ‘planning an ending’.
His worried parents raised the alarm after he did not return home and a search was organised together with neighbours.
His body was found about a week ago, by his father. “I always told him he spent too much time watching the TV,” he said. “He didn’t know what was reality and what was fiction anymore.” Compounding this sad and absurd (not to sound disrespectful) death was the fact that it had been known that the beloved character, Itachi, died in 2008. The manga are released earlier than the anime, and they come out sooner in Japan than the rest of the world.
Perhaps this was not even as tragic, however, as the 10-year-old boy who in 2008 tried to recreate an apparent scene from Naruto in which a character fights by hiding in the sand. His friends, at his request, buried him in the sandbox in his backyard, but he did not come up for air. Before they realized that something was wrong, it was too late.
But what’s surprising about this case is that it doesn’t seem particularly difficult thing to prevent. That is, if we really blame it all on the TV show.
However, I suspect there’s more to this case than just the anime viewing, though there is not enough information to move beyond speculation. Speculation such as whether or not the boy faced any abuse (e.g., at home, at school), had any mental illness, or if there was a completely separate factor all together. Whatever the case, it’s clear that life imitates art – even its ugly side.