Over the years, fans of anime have been introduced to countless characters, from the bustling heroics of All Might in My Hero Academia to L in Death Note, or for the old school, Char Aznable in Gundam. For creators of anime, creating a relatable yet powerful character is essential to any mainstay show. With many characters over the years gracing screens, which is probably the closest to the best representation of the spectrum? Here in this article, we will look at some characters that closely resemble those on the spectrum.
Before we go any further, I would like to help paint a picture of what the autism spectrum is. Now the word 'autism' itself tends to be defined as (according to the CDC and most medical documents): "a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction." Now, often most people are aware of some of the signs of autism: a strong desire and habits of repetitious acts, social awkwardness, their intensity about topics of interest (either they are highly committed, or will show little interest), and lastly, just the overall difficulty to read emotions. Growing up with relatives and friends who have autism, these are common tendencies that I can also attest to being true.
The last bit here is to explain that the autism spectrum is just that: a spectrum. The range can be varied from mostly self-reliant yet high-functioning (for example Asperger’s’), all the way up to needing full-time help and care. However, no matter where one lands on the spectrum, all should be treated with the same amount of respect; we're all people at the end of the day.
What I found interesting while I was writing this article is the lack of officially diagnosed autistic characters. Japan is somewhat notorious for keeping mental health issues private, so while there are no 'official' autistic characters, many showcase traits or act relatively in line with those on the spectrum. Note, these characters are not officially autistic. Most tend to be headcanonned as such-(headcannoned is typically defined as, while an aspect about a character isn't official, that aspect can be commonly accepted by the fan group or a person) because of one or many tendencies that they portray.
We will be looking at just four characters in this article. However, these four are characters that I have noticed to be the closest and best representation of the autism community. So, by no means is this an end-all, inclusive listing.
His particular sitting position alone is rather famous amongst anime fans, with his legs close to his chest whenever he sits down. He also tends to be quite awkward when engaging with police officials or other people whenever he is on the job. Continuing that topic of his social capabilities, he tends to be somewhat logical-minded, not really catering to emotions or understanding why people get emotional. While this is helpful in his duty as a world-class detective, it does make things hard for him when engaging with others, whether it's a familiar face or even his caretaker.
Now, this might just be signs he's just generally a quirky person, but we often see similar cases in the spectrum as well. The hyper-focus on interests, limited functioning skills, little understanding of emotions. I find him fascinating in this case because he showcases that while someone maybe not only is on the spectrum but relatively high (Watari does tend to his well-being), one can still do significant work and have a successful career.
The next character mentioned in this list just made too much logical sense to NOT include-Senku, ie. Doctor Stone! He is very similar to L in that; he is very blunt when interacting with people and is hyper-focused on his work. However, one of the most significant differences between the two is how they express themselves and approach their line of work. L is very closeted when interacting with others, tending to only talk when needed. Senku, on the other hand, is much more vocal, being rather boisterous at times. Dr. Stone's interactions also tend to be blunter because he is more vocal, despite being socially inept.
I relate to him most of most modern anime protagonists because of his hyper-focused, vocal attitude. He seems like a solid representation of people, even in general, who may be socially inept and awkward but want to try to put themselves out there.
With Asakusa, I will preface by saying that in her case, she likely ISN'T as autistic as some of the others in this list. In contrast, she just finds communicating rather difficult; she still seems to fit the quota enough to make a case to be autistic. Starting with a relatively late episode, episode 11, she admits to talking to people to be rather tricky, if not intimidating. This is a trait often found within the community, as with the subsequent trait: her hyper fixation on anime. Hyper fixation tends to be quite the normal amongst autistic people, most of the time with tech, media, or robotics. Also similar to L, she has a type of stress reliever, helper. In this case, a stuffed rabbit.
Overall, her quirkiness is definitely a note for autism.
Recently, I just got done playing Persona 5+, and one character that stuck out was Yusuke. In the game, Yusuke is a playable character and joins your team after the Madarame palace. How Yusuke sticks out as a potentially autistic person is due to a few of his traits.
The first is his intense drive for art. Similar to Asakusa, he is highly driven by his passion for art, often hyper-focused on it. In fact, in his early interactions with your team, his biggest goal was to get Ann to pose for an art piece. However, there was some conflict due to his inability to read between the lines.
The second trait is just that, his difficulty of reading the room. Again, we see this as in the game, as in one social event called "Dancing in the Starlight," he finds it hard to express his emotions. Additionally, when he comes across two NPCs talking about yukatas, he doesn't seem to understand the mood.
Lastly, he seems to have a similar viewpoint of primarily seeing things as black and white. A relatively rigid, routine mindset, which most people on the spectrum also display.
To reiterate, this list here is somewhat subjective, and one made up of characters I personally relate to. In conclusion, mental awareness in Japan is a rather sensitive topic, as Japan is a collective conformist-based society. However, while more doctors worldwide learn more about the spectrum and the awareness of the range becomes more commonplace. Hopefully, we see more representation within the medium.