Men don’t like crying (obviously an intentional generalization, so relax dear sensitive reader)… so much so, that when men (I’m being generous with my extending the classification to adolescent males) watch shounen anime or robot anime and they find themselves sobbing, they feel the need to qualify their tears as manly. So yes, in this rhetoric, to be womanly is a bad thing. They must retain their manhood in the face of an outward display of perceived weakness. The male viewer appropriates the behavior and makes it a code-word for an even manlier virtue: that is to honor the fallen, or to honor a moment of heroism.
Is there a fundamental difference? I doubt it. Human beings cry when we are saddened, usually do to perceived loss (loss of opportunity, loss of affinity, loss of person cared for, loss of face, etc). To create a distinction for manly tears is sophistry. I’m not judging it is bad, or wrong. I am merely articulating the behavior as I read it.
Overt masculinity as a character (or even narrative) aesthetic is quite popular among anime fans. I wouldn’t know how the demographics are actually represented, but I’d wager that it’s still more popular than moe (which is also due to overt masculinity being around longer). Also, I suspect that there is a large overlap, i.e. fans of overtly masculine shows would feel moe for many moe-moe characters and patronize their shows/games, and related merchandise.
Assuming this is probable, I can suppose that anime fans are not only emotional, but particularly sentimental. I’m not sure if this fits with the female ideal of the ‘sensitive male,’ but yes, male anime fans are actually quite sentimental. Their choses sentiments are quite common: rooting for the underdog, protecting those who can’t do so for themselves, become a man (grow up and be manly), trust and support your friends, and protect who you love, among others. Demonstrations and portrayals in anime of these sentiments in a powerful way is how to impart strong emotions among male viewers, and possibly make them cry their supposedly manly tears.
But I’m going to give men some slack. For men, it is sacrifice enough for them to sublimate their egos and their manhood when they feel GAR for someone. Remember that to feel GAR for someone is to be is such awe of another guy’s manliness that one agrees to follow and be protected by that dude. It is an acknowledgment of someone else’s obvious superiority in manliness. If that sounds like a big deal, I wager that it probably is (even if not overtly so). Related to this, is how moe is such an attractive feeling, since it enables the male viewer to imagine himself (overtly or not) as someone who can protect or take care of the subject character.
Anime that made me reach for the kleenex:
First Tier: The Manliest
Tenggen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Man, this is the drill that pierced the dam. While there are many moments for this throughout the series, the finale just wrenches it out from me. Very, very powerful. While I can’t be sure, the meme I CRIED MANLY TEARS, became really popular during the heyday of this show.
Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
This is also very powerful and appeals very strongly to a male sensibility due to the father and son themes that permeate the narrative. While there are more than several moments throughout the seven episodes that can initiate the waterworks, there are at least two in the finale that I have no defenses for. In TTGL I actually look forward to the catharsis of tears, for this show I still felt surprised at how violent my sobbing became.
Gunbuster! Aim for the Top!
I find this case remarkable in that the hero is a girl, and in fact remains a girl throughout the story. Sure, she followed her coach’s advice of putting in the hard work and guts, but her general behavior is otherwise feminine. But my oh my, I am GAR for Takaya Noriko. Gunbuster! is also remarkable in that the specific moment that the robot itself emerges from its ship for the first time, with the theme playing, moves me to tears.
It’s quite awesome (both the scene and how I find myself sobbing while it plays). Why? I don’t think a freaking march is designed to move a man to tears. Inspire and embolden maybe, if one is marching to it on the way to battle. But as a witness to the ass-kicking about to unfold I find myself breaking down in tears.
Second Tier: Has some hot-blooded quality, but is closer to heartwarming
The finale, the most awesome dogfight in anime… where a long-time friendship and rivalry go through bitterness and explore the possibility of redemption. This did not provoke as many tears as the other examples because I was too busy oohing and ahhing at the spectacular aerial maneuvers. Nonetheless, there’s something very strong about best friends and fighting with each other. I very much felt the sentiment and this set of scenes in the finale is quite brilliant, really.
Eureka SeveN: Psalms of Planets
I probably have sobbed more for this show than for any other anime I have ever seen. I value it as a masterpiece of ‘remembering love’ for mecha anime as a whole, but a big part of that success is its triumph in emotionally charging its big moments. No other show does falling through the sky and catching with love than Eureka SeveN. What’s pictured here is arguably not even the best example in the show.
Diebuster! Aim for the Top 2!
The finale. I won’t be an idiot and spoil it. Suffice to say that the masculinity in the feeling is in acknowledgment of all the grit and strife that led to the final moments; but the rest of it is heartwarming emotion of the strongest order.
Perhaps tiering isn’t the best way to organize these categories. After all, the second tier examples actually evoked from me more powerful emotions and more tears, truthfully. In any case I put them here to distinguish them from near complete pathos moments, e.g. Grave of the Fireflies, Hachimitsu to Kuroba 2, or 5 Centimeters per Second; or near complete heartwarming moments e.g. Aria the Origination, or Spirited Away,or Umi ga Kikoeru.
The manly sentimentality I speak of here is very much related to hot-blooded, or even stoic, heroism. Personal sacrifice is common and valued, as well as ‘shouting from the depths of one’s soult to express who one really is.’ Yes, the shouting and the hypermasculine rhetoric can make for tearful viewing, depending on the range of the character and/or the story.
Personally, I feel less and less need to distinguish my tears as manly. Usually, the source anime is enough context and there really isn’t any need for further exaggerated assertion of masculinity.
(Note: I totally cried like a girl at the finale of Revolutionary Girl Utena)