Brief Thoughts On: Wandering Senior Don Quixote

One of my all-time favorite anime movies is Roujin Z. A 1991 film principally about the struggles we face as an aging society. Young people are having fewer children while, at the same time, life expectancy keeps rising. We call it “vergrijzing” where I live. Society is literally getting more grey, more elderly. Roujin Z approached this topic from the perspective of how to provide care for all these old coots we got kicking around. Wandering Senior Don Quixote, on the other hand, deals with the alienation felt by this growing community of elderly people.

PHOTO: The wandering senior dashes out of a toilet in a heroic pose.

It does so by drawing on the classic story of Don Quixote. A Spanish novel about a delusional man who fancies himself a chivalrous knight on an epic quest. In this modern reimagining of the story, Don Quixote is an elderly Japanese man who lost it all. His job, his home, his money, even his wife. He now wanders the streets in nothing but robes and a silly hat whilst carrying a spear. Believing himself to be on a quest to free his wife and all of society from the clutches of demons.

The parallels between Wandering Senior and the original Don Quixote are very effective. Our protagonist regularly mistakes ordinary people and concepts for more dangerous, exciting alternatives. Bullies become monsters or a skyscraper becomes a false God. A part I really liked is when Quixote storms into an apartment building and starts hammering on the doors. People understandably put the chain on so he can’t come in, which our protagonist sees as prison bars. These people are already scared witless, only for him to then start hammering away on their doorchains to “free them from imprisonment.”

PHOTO: Some old ladies turn into monsters in the eyes of the Wandering Senior.

This is also where a lot of the societal commentary comes in. We’re dealing with people here who have lived for decades. Many years that brought on many changes to the way people live. Some, like the protagonist here, struggle to cope with all this change. To them, this no longer feels like the world they knew.

Many of the evils that Don Quixote faces here are actually symbolic representations of society’s changing norms. Our obsession with TV and celebrity gossip, our inclination to ignore issues, or the ever-changing habits of trendy young people. Change is likened to a tsunami throughout the manga. A tidal wave of strange, obscene people washing over Japan. Threatening to destroy everything that is good and proper.

Whether this perception is valid or not is left unstated by this manga. What matters is that these “delusions” mirror how a lot of older people experience the world now.

I felt that Wandering Senior Don Quixote was very powerful. Its story is gripping and it does a fantastic job getting its messages across. Those who are interested will have to learn to appreciate the artstyle, however. Kotobuki Shiriagari is known for his experimental style, both in storytelling and art. A lot of his manga, this one included, have a rough look to them. Certainly not low on detail, but very different from what we conventionally perceive as being aesthetically pleasing manga.

3 thoughts on “Brief Thoughts On: Wandering Senior Don Quixote

  1. This sounds like a fascinating and relevant manga. Also, major props for mentioning Roujin Z. That movie doesn’t get enough love which is crazy given how it’s from the creator of Akira. Whenever I break my hiatus, I should definitely review it. That’s cool how they do parallel storytelling with Don Quixote and covering the issues of aging and how society changes. There’s also a movie that’s based on a Spanish comic book called Wrinkles which deals with aging characters and the main character is sent to a nursing home since he was getting early-onset Alzheimer’s which is such a unique topic. Even the ending text of “Dedicated to the old people today and tomorrow.” was quite haunting.

    1. I like that dedication you mention. It’s tempting to treat the elderly like annoyances and stuff them away in some nursing home. “Not our problem.” But that same fate looms over all of us. How would we want to be treated when old age comes for us? How would we feel if our relatives collectively turned their backs when we could no longer take care off ourselves? The society we build today will determine whether we spend our final days in comfort or misery.

      1. Thank you. It’s a sad state how people do this in a lot of Western countries by putting every elderly person in a nursing home or hospital. Sometimes I wonder (and occasionally fear) how Millennials or Gen Z-ers will be treated once we get old enough to be grandparents and at “nursing home” age. Even more shuddering could be how this current generation of children those not born yet will treat people close to our age when we get old.

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