Toxic parental relationships are one of the hardest and most complicated relationships to explore. Though I am very lucky to never have experienced one personally, I had many close friends who had their fair share: friends with toxic parents who they never were able to leave, emotionally and physically; friends with toxic parents whom they eventually walked away from; and friends with toxic parents who actually mended their bonds and now remain incredibly close and loving.
This relationship is often a lot more multifaceted than it looks on the surface, which makes it hard to explore properly in mediums. It’s easy to simply write off the parents as terrible, evil people who do not deserve to raise their children and abuse them in ways unimaginable. Of course, that’s not to say that such parents don’t exist.
However, in my experience, as well as my mom’s experiences in her many years working for social services, people aren’t that simple. The majority of toxic parental relationships stem from parents who genuinely love their children from the bottom of their hearts but simply don’t have the mental or emotional strength to properly care for them. Their weaknesses result in them hurting their children constantly without ever realizing that it’s indeed their own problems that cause them to lash out – not the children. Sometimes, they are never able to see their own problems, and their children walk away to protect themselves. Sometimes, they realize too late, after the damage has made its mark, and nothing they ever do or say really will make up for the pain they had inflicted.
However, the bottom line is that the parents, though wrong, are not ultimately evil as stories easily make them out to be. They don’t just purely hate their children, dish out torture on a daily basis, or are incapable of providing positive emotions. They’re very flawed human beings who make terrible mistakes that unfortunately hurt the ones they care most about. And this is where Kono Oto Tomare excels in – the humanity behind a toxic parent – with Satowa’s mother.
Satowa’s mother, from the very start, was not abusive or toxic to her daughter. In fact, the memories proved that Satowa and her mother were incredibly close and lived happily together with their father. When tragedy strikes with the unexpected death of Satowa’s father, Satowa’s mother still strived to maintain that happy life with her daughter while thrust into a situation she never thought she’d find herself in: heading a school, upholding its reputation, keeping her daughter in check, and becoming the sole breadwinner of the family.
It is impossible to count the number of cases where parents who started out loving became abusive and toxic to their children. In practically every single case, these parents started to neglect and abuse their children because of something tragic that forced them into situations they never thought they’d find themselves in. Parents of a single parent who helped out suddenly died. A parent abandoned the other one. The economy takes a turn for the worse, and both parents find themselves without an income and with a family to feed and protect. And like Satowa’s family, a parent died.
The parents are often not given proper time or resources to regroup because their children depend on them, and their children are growing. It would be immensely easier to move forward and to get better without having someone wholly dependent.
There are many parents out there who succeed even in the face of adversity. They face their problems by themselves and continue to raise their children well and with love, never slipping the quality of their parenting. But unfortunately, it is not realistic to say that all of the parents turn out like Sachiko from ERASED, who, after getting abandoned by her husband and left with a young son, still raised him with diligent love. Many of them end up like Satowa’s mother – emotionally abusive towards her daughter because she could not find the emotional strength to face the sudden pressure that crashed down upon her.
Does that excuse Satowa’s mother and other parents who become like her? No, and the anime certainly doesn’t try to excuse her. After excommunicating her daughter and, likely finally having time to herself to think things through and focus on her problems, Satowa’s mother later admitted that she was the sole fault for everything and severed the only relationship that might’ve instead given her strength through her hardships. Satowa, despite describing her performance as a tantrum, was never to blame and no one blamed her – not her mother, not her friends, and not Akira. They all knew and acknowledged where the fault really lay.
But what makes Kono Oto Tomare even more unique in this portrayal is the pain that’s inflicted upon Satowa. She doesn’t simply just cry and leave and realize she is better without her mother as many stories in anime like to do.
On the contrary, she misses her mother. She wants to go home, and she thinks back to their happier days constantly, trying to find fault with herself. And these desires of those happier days never change, not even after two seasons. What makes it so hard for Satowa to let this relationship go is the fact that she knows her mother still loves her. She feels it from the bottom of her heart, and it’s so hard for anyone to let that go. And despite being a teenager, Satowa is ultimately still dependent on her mother. She has not grown and truly become independent yet, mentally or physically. She seeks guidance, and she seeks emotional fulfillment that only a mother can typically bring. Breaking off a toxic parental relationship at that age isn’t as easy as stories make them out to be.
“I want to go back because, at the end of the day, I know that he loves me, and he’ll never stop loving me. Boyfriends can fall out of love and walk away. Other relatives can stop caring and walk away. My dad though, even on his bad days, I know he feels guilt and that he loves me. He won’t walk away,” one of the children once told my mom. She now tells that to anyone who wonders why kids don’t simply run away and report abusive parents.
Kono Oto Tomare leaves this relationship with a happy ending. Satowa’s absence allowed her mother to recover emotionally and mentally and gather the strength to fight her problems. Despite feeling guilty and believing she could never be forgiven, Satowa ultimately found a way to use the koto, which once broke apart their relationship, to bring them back together. Satowa finally reunites in her mother’s arms, relieved to find the mother that she knew was still deep down in there.
I know many people would likely find fault with that ending. I’m sure many people who bravely walked away from their toxic parents do not believe Satowa should return, and that her mother doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. However, I also know people who would smile at this end, including a friend whose own mother made a complete 180-degree turn after getting the resources she needed to deal with her mental health issues. Just like Satowa, the mom my friend knew was always there had finally surfaced, and they reformed their bonds to become stronger than ever.