Smoking in Anime: The Oddly Intrusive Habit

A slow draw to the mouth. Drag in, followed by a puff of smoke outwards. It’s the ultimate sign a ‘cool’ character has entered an anime. But why? Why is smoking the ultimate sign of a badass character?

Now i’ve got nothing against smokers – while i’m personally not a fan it’s also not my business what others do. But I do have to call into question the use of cigarettes in anime – because the more I think about it the more I realise it’s actually hilarious – especially in action-based anime.

We all know there’s rarely a smoking middle ground in anime. If a character smokes they don’t part ways with that cigarette (mostly). They’re literal chimneys and seeing them without their cigarette is like seeing a celebrity dress in a potato sack – it just doesn’t happen. And if it did we’d all feel rather weird about the whole situation and be very confused. So much so is this cigarette obsession that in the midst of battle they’re often there with that cigarette in hand… like bitch please you’re facing death, about to get your head chopped off and all you care about is your nicotine craving.

Ahh Rindou, so cool he can fight with one hand and smoke with the other. Source: ufotable
Ahh Rindou, so cool he can fight with one hand and smoke with the other.   Source: ufotable

But besides the cigarette cravings trumping the will to live there’s something else that doesn’t add up. Being key fighters for their respective faction or group i.e. Rindou (God Eater), these smokers are often heavily reliant on their physical health. To voice my confusion simply, where is the person who goes “Hey…HEY…You’re needed and you’re going to get emphysema and be useless in battle and we’re all going to die.” Because that’s what I would say if my physically dependant hope of survival was intent on smoking. But rather everyone seems to sit back and be totally cool with it.

Now i’m happy these characters don’t drop dead from smoking – that would be a huge anticlimax rivalling every time I think it’s Friday when it’s Thursday. But like, the day Sanji (One Piece) gets emphysema or chokes on his cigarette mid battle is the day anime becomes too real (i’m still undecided if this is a good thing or not).

But this isn’t all. Often times (no character mentions because spoilers are the devil) characters who smoke seem to die. And maybe i’m jumping to conclusions – I do that a lot, but I almost feel it’s to justify them smoking in the first place. You know, in the same way people would say it’s ok a farmer smoked his whole life if he got mauled by one of his cows, as smoking wouldn’t of prematurely ended his life. I feel like i’m being conditioned to think sympathetically every time I see a character who smokes, because we all know there’s a pretty good chance that poor character is going to be killed off. And yes, half the time it’s with a cigarette dangling from their mouth…because nicotine.

I sometimes wonder, where are these characters getting the cigarettes from? Yes, in some anime it’s completely understandable. Yet in others where humanity is clutching for survival in limited space with next to no food (hi, God Eater) I can’t help but think, why are you producing tobacco which kills the limited people you have left in stead of food. May my mind be blown.

Nothing quite completes a shirtless workout like a cigarette...*looks at ceiling*. To be fair Kougami from Psycho-Pass actually smokes in moderation. Source: Production I.G
Nothing quite completes a shirtless workout like a cigarette…*looks at ceiling*. To be fair though Kougami from Psycho-Pass actually smokes in moderation.   Source: Production I.G

And I know. I should calm my farm. Anime is not reality. I completely agree with you. And there are also some good applications where I thought the character smoking wasn’t forced, such as Ladd Russo (Baccano!) and Kougami (Psycho-Pass), who smoked but weren’t stupidly addicted and used other means to define their character.

It’ll be a great day when smoking isn’t simply used as a character trait thrown in to make a character edgier or more badass. Because really, smoking as a standalone trait means nothing. While on one hand I kind of understand, there is a perceived correlation between smoking and being a typical ‘bad boy,’ but there’s more than one way to make a character seem like the cool kid on the block who gives zero fucks. It’d be cool if making a character smoke wasn’t often the default go-to option.

Thank you for reading my thoughts!