A lot of the post below is inspired by--and paraphrased from--the book "The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Check it out if you want to learn more.
Hikikomori refers to people who shut themselves in their house or even in their room for an extended period of time. Coming from the Japanese language, it reflects a certain, somewhat unsavory aspect of Japanese culture where the pressure to perform causes some young people to crumble under stress, thus causing them to shut themselves in, while the shame associated with having to seek out a therapist prevents that person's family from getting him/her help. As such, it comes up a fair amount in anime. However, anime portrayals of hikikomori are quite wide-ranging, and many of them simply have such characters be treated as comic relief or even as some kind of remote superhero that fights crime from within her room.
Every now and then, though, anime provides a look at the seriousness of the problem of being a hikikomori, and what it is like to be one. A recent example of this is Outbreak Company episode 8, in which the empress, Petralka, overburdened with all the duties of being the empress of Eldant, decides to lock herself in her room, seeking out what it means to live the hikikomori lifestyle. When Shinichi arrives to help her, at first things start out humorous as he, a former hikikomori himself, instructs her on all the proper ways of being a proper shut-in, letting Petralka indulge in all the enjoyable aspects of such a life. However, things later turn serious as he talks about how being a hikikomori is not all fun and games, and how it is actually a rather painful way to live.
Of course, hikikomori are not solely a Japanese phenomenon, and shut-ins of various sorts can be found in all kinds of media. In fact, the Bible has its own example of a hikikomori, even if he did not shut himself in the house, so to speak; at the very least, it would not be hard to imagine this guy as a hikikomori.
Be warned that there are some spoilers for episodes 7 and 8 of Outbreak Company after the jump.
|Those tiny shoulders bear the weight of an entire nation. Art by ユイザキ.|