Kafka Hibino from Kaiju No. 8 anime

Can ‘Kaiju No. 8’ Please Chill Out About Its Protagonist Being 32?

Going into 2024, Kaiju No. 8 was pinpointed as one of the biggest new series of the year. It’s like Chainsaw Man, but with kaiju! No, wait, it’s like Jujutsu Kaisen, but with kaiju!

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Needless to say, I had my hopes up. And while there’s a lot about the show that’s solid, one of its most distinct and interesting points is also the one causing me to squirm in my seat as I watch the show: Its protagonist, Kafka Hibino, is 32 years old, and Kaiju No. 8 really wants to make sure you know Kafka is “old.”

Accentuating that Kafka is in his thirties is fine—in theory. After all, most shounen protagonists are around 16, which makes Kafka literally twice as old as the average shounen hero. I’ll admit that makes him relatively “old.” It’s the methods through which Kaiju No. 8 drives home Kafka’s 32-ness that have me, a real-life 32-year-old, feeling frustrated.

Thirty, flirty, and thriving (as a kaiju)

So much of global culture is obsessed with youth and therefore fixated on the outdated and completely false idea that your life is “set” the second you turn 30. Your youth is over! As a woman, your looks and general appeal are on some kind of countdown to doomsday! Your career is locked in place now, so buckle up at your job and wait for retirement, knowing the music you listened to in elementary school is now starting to trickle onto the oldies station! (No, I will not be admitting what in there was genuine insecurity.)

The truth is that, while a small portion of the population receives fame, fortune, and/or success in their 20s or earlier and are highly celebrated for it, for most of us, our 20s are a goddamn storm. Your 30s are when a lot of that work starts actually bearing fruit. Plus, you know yourself better. It’s definitely not smooth sailing (especially not in this economy, amiright), but even though our society is prone to shaming people for not “figuring it out” early, there’s a marked improvement.

Kafka is actually a great example. In his 20s, he resigned himself to grunt work while not having the skill set to follow his dreams—which, in turn, caused him to nearly give up on them. But thanks to encouragement from a sprightly junior, he gave his dreams one more try, and the accumulation of all his experiences caused him to pass the Defense Force test (ostensibly—the anime hasn’t gotten there yet). Ah yes, your thirties!

If this was all Kaiju No. 8 said about the matter, I would love it. Unfortunately, it goes for the dig.

Oh my god, leave Kafka alone

Some of Kaiju No. 8‘s digs on Kafka’s age are unfortunate but expected, given they’re low-hanging fruits of jokes that series have tread before. Take, for example, how Shinomiya insists on calling Kafka an “old man.” That was expected and even funny, but when his friend Leno joined in and also called him an old man, I was like, “Oh c’mon.”

But fine. The real kicker came later, when Kafka comes near-last at all his physical attribute and fitness tests and the series solely pinpoints this failure on his age. “I can’t keep up at all!” Kafka bemoans. “I’d been keeping up my training out of habit! … Before, I used to be just below average! Do you really get this weak when you turn thirty?”

The answer is of course you freaking don’t! There’s not some magical button that gets pressed the moment you turn thirty that makes you instantly physically weak compared to everyone in their teens and twenties. Yes, Kafka’s up against some prodigies, but he’s also surely up against a bunch of normies. Lionel Messi is 36, people! LeBron James is 39! This is a weird message to confidently put in your anime!

There’s a vibe in the test arc that if Kafka can’t pass, his dreams are kaput. I can’t deny there’s some reality to this. As youth-obsessed as society is, after I turned thirty, I started becoming more concerned about how long I really have to make my dreams come true. The darkest moments there were indeed dark.

Kafka grapples with this. But the way Kaiju No. 8 phrases the question is what bothers me. As he’s faced with multiple injuries during the final part of the Defense Force test, Kafka says, “I’m too old for dreams.” He then says he “knows [he] looks like an idiot.”

He gets up and decides to “chase his dreams” anyway, thereby refuting his own words. I understand this is part of the point that Kaiju No. 8 is trying to make—it will allow Kafka to achieve his dream, which therefore supports the claim that 32 is not actually too old to dream. On the other hand, the proctor of the test has been making fun of Kafka.

But of course it isn’t. 60 years old, 80 years old, 100 years old—you’re never too old for dreams, and you’re not an idiot for pursuing them. Kaiju No. 8 thinks that, too, but it bungles the message a little.

(image credit: Production I.G.)


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Author
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.