Making Time Stand Still: How Sand Chronicles Tackles the Issue of Mental Health and Women

When I was in High School Shoujo Beat started running a manga entitled Sand Chronicles (Sunadokei) which tells a story I still carry in my heart nearly eight years later. Sand Chronicles is the journey of a young woman (Ann) as she grows up with the weight of depression while dealing with the daily struggles of an average teenage. I say one girl but really the story focuses on a few more; Ann’s mother plays a huge part in the story as well as her friend Shika. Really, this story is about all three of these women and how they each handle depression differently.

In 2005  it was awarded the 50th Shogakukan Manga Award for shoujo manga, and is well deserving of it. While the story focuses on Ann’s progression in life and love it also focuses on how she deals with depression over the course of years. It shows how she and those she love struggle with the mental illness. It’s a story any teenager or adult can sympathize with.

This article will look at the examples of depression shown in Sand Chronicles that reflect the realistic struggle that makes this manga both a difficult and a astoundingly rewarding read.

Triggers warning for Suicide and Character Death

Miwako:

To start off we’ll have to look at Miwako, Ann’s mother, who moves herself and her daughter back to the country after divorcing her husband. Miwako is a very beautiful woman, who comes from what appears to be a strict home. She and her husband moved to the city of Tokyo shortly after getting married, but his gambling brought them in debt.

After moving back to the country Ann (11 years old at the time) quickly grows use to the new way of life. She makes friends, has a crush on a boy, and starts to get along with her strict grandmother. Meanwhile, it’s clear Miwako is struggling. She’s often shown by herself, with no new friends. Other character’s describe her as being very gentle and quiet.

She works hard to provide for her daughter and even “over works herself” after a series of fainting incidents. It is implied that Miwako is working herself to death to provide for her daughter and this will become a common theme throughout the manga. The idea that society’s pressure on working women is too overwhelming.

In many cases work overload has been cited as a reason for depression. According to the Mayo Clinc, the stress of both working full time while doing housework duties and the additional pressure of “being a good mother.” A 2012 Japan Times article found that depression among women in both Eastern and Western cultures were about the same. Where Women had the highest rate and outnumbered men roughly 3 to 1.

Miwako is struggling but no one notices until one winter day when she goes for a walk and sits out in the cold until she dies.

It’s a very sad moment in the story because a explanation is never given to what makes her give up on life. Like many who face depression, Miwako doesn’t appear to be in pain until it’s too late. To those around her it comes as a shock.

Her struggle is one many women of all ages can relate to. The feeling that you’ve messed up because of divorce, your family’s judgments, or the judgments of your friends. Miwako isolates herself and tries to handle her emotions by herself. We can only assume that the fact that no one identified the issue is the cause for her downfall.

Ann:

Her mother’s death is the root cause for Ann’s own depression and it introduces another issue when discussing mental health: Is it genetic? Ann sees a lot of herself in her mother and often wonders if she’ll meet the same fate. Ann carries the sins with her mother well into adulthood.

After her mother’s death Ann’s life shifts in a major way. She finds herself moving back to the city to live with her father and having a long distance relationship with her boyfriend Daigo. This would be a lot to take on for a normal teenager. As the years go on, Ann can’t move on from the hole her mother leaves in her heart.

The reader, however, can’t help but wonder if she’s okay. We often see Ann smiling, making her long distance relationship work, and hanging out with friends. She has the support her mother didn’t, thus we can assume she won’t meet the same fate. But there’s more to it that even the reader doesn’t see. In Volume 4  a woman comments to a friend of Ann’s, “That girl is barely staying together.”

By having another character notice something even the reader didn’t strikes a real sense of fear for Ann. She seems happy but there is clearly something under the surface that no one can truly see. This quietly touches on that fear that we can often times over look those who are suffering because they try to hide it.

Its not long after this Ann sees herself and her mental state as a burden on Daigo. She forces the two of them to the break up so she won’t drag him down as well. Ann doesn’t believe his love and support will be able to help her. After all, her love towards her mother did nothing to help. It’s possible she doesn’t want to hurt Daigo the same way her mother hurt her.

Part of Ann’s story arch is learning how to accept the unconditional love of those around her. She tries desperately to move past her depression. By dating other boys, living her life in Tokyo, and moving on with life. But despite it all she can’t move past the loneliness she feels about missing her mother (and now Daigo.)

Like her mother, and many women her age, Ann throws herself into work in an attempt to move on. In her late twenties she works as a typist and we see many of her female co-workers gossiping about her because she’s such a “hard worker.” During this time she even meets a accomplished business man and they become engaged. It’s the first real relationship she’s had since Daigo and she often reflects on how much stronger she’s become since her youth.

A job, a man, and money are a few of the things Ann uses to reassure her new found strength. Again, we see the staggering amount of pressure that comes with being a successful woman or even a strong woman. And when a woman fails at even one of these things, that burden can be too much. When depression returns to Ann, who has believed she’s put those feelings behind it, it results in a trigger a well.

Eventually Ann’s engagement collapses before it can even take off and she finds herself in the much tighter spot then before. She had been about to quit her job for her fiance’, and now the gossip of her failed engagement follows her at work. Her support system of friends, and even her boss, can tell that this is a recipe for distress for anyone’s emotional psyche, but when they ask Ann only smiles and brushes it off. We see her struggling with the same feelings she’s stored away her entire life and finally she has a mental break down.

Out of the three character’s we’re looking at Ann is the only one who eventually goes to a doctor. For the first time in the series we see someone finally suggest that she might have a problem. Which, Ann doesn’t deny, but violently reacts to. She doesn’t take his suggestion of therapy and in fact the doctor’s suggestion seems to be something that tips Ann over the edge. After the visit she is resolved with herself that she will never get better and attempts suicide.

The good news is Ann does find the happiness she’s constantly searching for when she and Daigo finally get back together. Her and Daigo’s reestablished relationship isn’t as simple as “love made her better.” It’s deeper then that. Ann learns to except his love for her despite her illness. And Daigo learns that he can’t just wave a wand and make her feel better. In this fact, Sand Chronicles notes an important aspect of loving someone with a mental illness.

The manga doesn’t go into much detail if her mental state continues to haunt her or not, but Ann does get closure as far as her mother goes. After she realizes she needs to let go of her anger towards her mother she is able to move on with life.

 

Shika:

Shika is a childhood friend of Ann’s who comes from the wealthiest family in the village. She’s sheltered, beautiful, and a little naive in the ways of the world. Just as we watch Ann grow, we see Shika struggle in her adolescent years. Without her best friend, she befriends Daigo and slowly begins to fall in love with him. This all happens around the time Shika learns she’s the illegitimate child from her mother’s affair.

She feels unwanted by her family and soon by Daigo after he rejects her. Shika becomes an outcast among her age group and comes close to killing both herself out of jealousy and depression. After this incident her brother Fuji is the one to talk her into action. For years we see Shika bottle up her feelings and with Fuji’s assistance she finds the strength to tell her family how she’s been feeling.

What’s interesting about Shika’s story line is how she moves past these dark moments of her youth. She finds herself after she finally leaves her sheltered home and goes abroad to study. She even writes Ann a letter and through their postal writings they both find forgiveness and comfort in each other.

Shika moves on by leaving the toxic environment of home and forcing herself in a situation where she needed to grow. By doing so she was able to give new meaning to herself and become a stronger person. When Ann and Shika meet again in their 20’s she comments on how “strong” Shika has become. Shika, despite being the youngest character in our main cast, is the first be victorious against his depression.

Shika is able to find a reprieve quicker then Ann, but her situation is also entirely different. Still, seeing a character take their depression into their own hands and find a solution to it was inspiring to read.

Conclusion:

You can see these three characters each struggle with a different aspect of depression. Miwako, a mother, struggles with her feelings of isolation and despair after separating from her husband. Out of the three characters Miwako has been struggling with depression the longest.  While we only get a quick glimpse of her in the manga before she dies, it is hinted that these emotions were not new and her suicide is a result of a long term illness.

Then we look at Ann, her daughter. We see how Miwako’s death effects her at a young age and carries on into her late twenties. Ann’s journey is one where she keeps fighting, as she struggles for normalcy and even fakes it in a effort not to be like her mother. With Ann, we see a character learning to live with her depression.

And finally there’s Shika, a character who starts off a lot like Miwako. People see a meek and quiet girl, one who have the odds stacked against her as she struggles with her illness. But she’s the first to accept the support of her family (her brother specifically) and actively pursue a life away from the things that trigger her depression. Shika’s youth doesn’t make her another victim of mental illness, instead she decides to shape her life in such a way that she can overcome it.

Sand Chronicles deals with a variety of characters suffering with depression and also includes how these characters handle the disease. The story isn’t just about one character’s challenges but those faced by the entire cast, showing that we are not alone in our suffering. I found myself identifying with each of these characters on different levels of their struggle and was elated with their victories.

 “Do you remember what you told me Ann? You said the problem was yourself. That you had to change yourself.” -Shika

Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research. 

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