My Famous Grandfather: The Burden and Blessing of Succession

Horizontal relationships with other peers are especially important to adolescents engaged in identity formation. Though these relationships often mark a departure from the identity provided by family of origin, the vertical relationships to parents and grandparents remain important parts of our identities. This is particularly true when the parent or grandparent in question has cast a large shadow. The response that children and grandchildren make shapes who they will become. In anime we have a variety of responses

A grandparent's legacy can be a scary thing

to growing up with a famous grandparent, the three we will consider today are: Kindaichi Hajime from Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, Natsume Takashi from Natsume Yuujinchou, and Nura Rikuo from Nurarihyon no Mago.

Young Hajime was born into a crime solving family. His grandfather Kindaichi Kosuke was Japan’s most famous detective. Though few in Hajime’s acquiescence seem to expect much from him, he clear feels the weight of his grandfather’s reputation. When inserting himself into an investigation he declares to solve the case “In the name of my grandfather.” His response is a great example of fulfillment. As Hajime has begun to build his identity it is with an eye to living up to and continuing the greatness that his grandfather demonstrated. More real world examples are people who continue family professions with the pride of generational succession as one of the main attractions of the job. Fulfillment responses provided the newer generation a sense of rooted-ness in the traditions of their family, but provides extra pressure to succeed at a level at or beyond that of their forebears as well as providing an identity crutch that might delay the formation of and independent identity apart from that of successor

Natsume Takashi’s grandmother Natsume Reiko has left quite a mess behind in her adolescent stomping grounds. Her habit of subjugating the local monster population has won her very few friends, despite her overflowing collection of names in her “Book of Friends.” When Takashi moves to town he begins to understand just what carrying the name Natsume can mean. Natsume decides to work against his grandmother’s legacy even as he tries to understand the impulses that drove her in the first place. His response might best be described as opposition. As Takashi works to undo the things that Reiko has done he is given a chance to make different choices than she made. His current identity is being shaped by the activities of his famous grandmother, but nobody mistakes his actions for those Reiko would have chosen. Oppositional responses can create tension within family systems, and when taken out of feelings of anger can leave one without a feeling of a place to go home. When the activity of the earlier generation is seen as unjust, the opposing successor can experience feelings of reconciliation with the wider community and his or her actions may help promote and independent identity while still acknowledging a connection to a family system.

Nurarihyon no Mago goes through some distinct stages, but for the purposes of this article let’s confine our scope to the Nura Rikuo we meet in the first couple of episodes. Rikuo’s entire existence is steeped in the power and reputation of both his powerful father and grandfather, but the Rikuo we meet seems to want nothing to do with his yakuza style youkai family. Uncomfortable with the apparent differences between his ability and those of his father and grandfather he spends his day pursuing the life of the average adolescent. At this point in the game Rikuo’s response is to reject the role of successor. In part this saves him for experiencing closely the disappointment of those around him who measure him against his father and grandfather and find him wanting. The path of rejection is a tricky one; it is tempting to loose sight of the shaping power the legacy has on identity creating a psychological blind spot. Family systems will often have trouble maintaining strong, open relationships when one member of the system rejects roles and values handed on from another generation, so the rejecting successor may find him or herself rejected in turn.

Now while few of us will find ourselves in a situation to take up the mantle of a famous forebear, nearly all of us are presented with choices about how we will carry on the shaping factors from our families of origin. This is true as we begin to think about parenting styles, household arrangement, maybe as regards attitudes toward work or people different from ourselves. The three responses listed above are broad and non-exhaustive, but provide both clear examples and an easy starting point for discussion.

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