Eyeshield 21′s Mommy Issue

I recently re-watched this school-life comedy about the American Football team of Deimon High School. Sena, the hapless hero, is recognized for his running skills by the demonic quarterback and encouraged to take on the titular identity and become the team’s running back. His incredible skill at running was developed over many years as a gopher and target of bullies. Sena turns out not only to have a natural aptitude for the sport, but enjoys the challenge of evading those who would stop him and the feeling of belonging and being needed. He agrees to keep his identity a secret going only by

Mamori protects her cub

“Eyeshield 21” when on the field in part because he is scared to oppose the quarterback who doesn’t want Sena playing for other clubs, but also because he worries that if his childhood friend and protector, Anezaki Mamori, were to find out that she would prevent him from playing under the claim that it is for his safety.

Mamori has staked her identity on protecting and mothering Sena. Even her name (for English speakers) calls to mind a mother nursing her child. She needs Sena to remain powerless so that she has some function to fill in his life. She has fallen into one of the classic Projective Identifications: Power. It is as if she had said to Sena, “without me, you can do nothing. You need me to take care of you because you can’t take care of yourself.” Projective Identifications were first described by psychotherapist Melanie Klein and became a part of the diagnostic toolkit for the Object Relations School. Other Projective Identifications include Dependence (“you must take care of me”), Ingratiation (“you owe me”), and Seduction (“you need me for your sexual fulfillment”). Each of these involves a manipulation on the part of one person to get others to behave in ways that support the identification.

Mamori cannot, on her own, imagine what a relationship with Sena would look like if they were equals. Sena, who is unskilled a confrontation, is unable to tell her that he no longer sees himself as somebody who needs to be cared for, but as somebody who needs his friend to be happy about his successes and supportive in his struggles. When Sena does finally reveal that he has become strong enough to stand on his own two feet, Mamori feels guilt and shame, but comes to see that, even if Sena and rest of the team doesn’t need another mother, she is a necessary member of the team and valued as their manager. In moving to this conclusion Mamori is able to better truly know herself and those around her and so has moved from an immature position (I can only handle a reality that is as I expect it to be) to a more mature one (I can handle a reality that is as it is).

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