But We Are Young, We Get By: Charlotte

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Are we like you? I can’t be sure

Of the scene as she turns.

We are strange in our worlds,

But we are young

– Supergrass, “Alright”

In a standard narrative of special teenagers, the special – be it a superpower, ability to slay vampires, or magic – is held in high esteem, especially upon discovery. There’s a reason why, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” rings true with so many readers. After all, who doesn’t want to leave their figurative cupboard underneath the stairs and be introduced to a world of magic?

Who doesn’t want to be special?

The cost of becoming special often presents the mundane as desirable or, at the very least, worthy of one’s attention. Special also complicates the usual wish to fit in or be normal. Young adult literature and media often misses the tug and pull between the two. How does one resonate with the desire to be special while also taking note of the difficult time one has as a teenager who stands out?

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Charlotte has special teenagers. In fact, the entirety of the series is dedicated to teens with superpowers. Like many of the narratives before it, these powers are both a blessing and a curse. However, the way Charlotte handles the powers themselves as well as adolescence as a whole sets it apart from the rest.

First, the powers themselves come either with specific rules or as incomplete versions of how similar abilities are presented in other fantasy or science-fiction works. Yuu Otosaka can possess others, but only for five seconds. Nao Tomori can become invisible, but only to one person at a time. Joujirou Takajou can teleport, but can’t control where he stops.

More importantly, these powers manifest in one’s adolescence, and disappear once it passes, much like adolescence as a whole.

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It’s not unusual for supernatural powers to act as real-life analogues. The supernatural presumably stays in these stories, acting as a genuine stand-in for adolescence itself. Once you become a teenager, your body starts doing unrecognizable and oft-uncontrollable things that you usually grow into through maturation. The ready-made comparisons to a werewolf transformation or similar supernatural metamorphosis are all too easy, and learning to live with one’s self is always part of the process.

However, Charlotte doesn’t stop there. It adds serious repercussions for the special kids who are caught by scientists and subsequently turned into human lab rats.

Here’s where it becomes impossible to ignore the pedigree of Charlotte. The series’ writer, Jun Maeda, is infamously known for co-founding Key/Visual Arts and penning many of the company’s visual novels – Air, Kanon, Clannad, and Little Busters among others – along with the more recent Angel Beats!. All of these aforementioned series dabble in the melodramatic and the supernatural, often leading to the lead character’s, or one of the heroines’, untimely demise. One comes to anticipate death in Maeda’s works more often than not, to the point where they’re expected catalysts for the player character or protagonist. Naturally, for some viewers, this causes death to lose its dramatic weight.

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Angel Beats! took a slightly different tack, placing its characters in the afterlife already. There, the concern became disappearing or passing on from the limbo-like setting. Much like previous Key works, there is a distinct lack of adults, leaving the adolescents to figure things out on their own without guidance. Charlotte takes this a step further, making all known adult authority figures the enemy: potential agents of scientists that would ruin the teens’ lives.

Well-known adages for teenagers include that they’ll learn when they get older, or that the awkwardness will pass. While it’s true that the powers presented in Charlotte will pass with adolescence, the end result should they be captured by scientists – as demonstrated by Nao’s older brother – will be arguably worse than dying.

This effectively makes the world of Charlotte, especially the supernatural school that Yuu, Nao, and others attend, one isolated from adults. Whenever a new talent is discovered, it’s all up to the kids to suss out who it is and convince them of their impending plight. There are silly moments, and the teens of Charlotte are conveniently allowed to run free – as of the series’ third episode – allowing the supernatural elements of the series to both shine and take a backseat when necessary.

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