Death is a strange thing in animation. Whether or not it affects you usually depends entirely on your own feelings towards the recently deceased individual. By rule of thumb, even if I do love a character, I end up feeling simply let down or sad by the event. Very rarely do tears come to my eyes.
It wasn’t until I had finished watching Rideback for the first time that I noticed why I have such a shallow reaction to many death scenes. For as much as I liked the character who is, well, for lack of a better term, “beheaded” in this series, she wasn’t at the top of my list. Yet tears poured forth. Why? Well, it wasn’t an immediate action. The tears didn’t come at the death itself, but seconds later as the main character, having seen it happen, slowly begins to shake and then clutch her friend next to her. It was the disbelief at first that tipped me over the edge. This same reaction of mine happens at the burial scene of a murdered military officer in Fullmetal Alchemist as the man’s daughter keeps asking what they’re doing to “daddy.” And as comical as it sounds, I also have this crying issue with Pokemon the First Movie as Pikachu attempts to wake up his master, who is no longer living.
The reasoning behind these instancing being more effective than most animated death scenes is actually very simplistic. It’s more real. When someone dies, the first response for most people is disbelief. We don’t want to believe someone we love is dead. Depending on the person, this initial disbelief can then turn into denial. When the person finally accepts the death, which could take a moment or many years, that is when the grieving can begin. When these same early emotional responses to death are reflected in the characters we’ve come to love in a show, it can make for a very potent event. And ultimately it wins a special place in the hearts of their viewers as well.