A mass-scale example, as Isao Takahata wanted the viewers to think that Seita was being an overly proud little boy for not simply apologizing to his Aunt and asking to move back in. The majority of the audience, needless to say, saw him as one of the biggest victims in cinematic history — partially due to the lack of Jerkass moments compared to his Aunt.
Furthermore, it looks like aside from pride, there was the very pragmatic issue that his aunt was struggling to take care of them, and with the newly decreased rations they would have imposed on everyone beyond their abilities.
It's also easy to see what drove him to that decision - that he was afraid his aunt would insist he would conscript, which would ultimately separate him from his sister. Given how little resistance she put up when they left, it's easy to see why he thought going back wasn't an option.
Angst Aversion: Grave of the Fireflies "enjoys" a reputation as one of the saddest animated films ever made – one of the saddest films ever made, period – and there's no shortage of people who refuse to watch it for that very reason.
Angst? What Angst?: It is rather incredible how much time Seita spends with a smile on his face. However, it’s mainly for Setsuko’s sake and it’s quite fake. The best example is when he starts doing gymnastics on a bar to try to distract Setsuko from the fact their mother just died. It doesn’t work.
Anvilicious: Not towards who or what you'd expect, though. The film was meant to be a kick-in-the-pants to the youths of 1980's Japan, showing them the horrors their parents and grandparents went through, and that they ought to be more grateful and quit being delinquents.
Glurge: Bennett the Sage and some other critics who know Takahata's actual motivations for the film have accused it of being this, essentially exploiting the tragedies of World War II in order to guilt 1980s youth into falling in line and being more like their parents’ generation.
Harsher in Hindsight: The ending is meant to be at least somewhat uplifting, as a clean, happy Seita and Setsuko look down on the modern, rebuilt city of Kobe. The only problem is, this is the Kobe that existed before the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. The movie itself is tragic, but if you happen to have lived in the area when the earthquake happened (or lost a relative/loved one, which was not uncommon considering the number of deaths), that’s an extra - albeit unintentional - punch to the gut. Even worse when you take Word of God into account and look at the movie as an "anti-rebellious-youth" film as opposed to an "antiwar film".
It Was His Sled: The fact that the children end up starving to death is the most well known thing about this movie. To be fair, the main character mentions his death as the movie's opening line.
Misaimed Fandom: This movie has been lauded by many as one of the greatest antiwar films ever made, and has gained fans in antiwar movements due to its unflinching depictions of the cruelty and barbarity of war. However, Isao Takahata – no fan of war himself – explicitly stated on several occasions that the movie is in no way, shape, or form intended to be, nor should it be taken as, an antiwar film.
Nightmare Fuel: Seeing your mother (or anyone close to you for that matter) horrifically burned and bandaged like a mummy. Along those lines, there's the face of Setsuko in her last moments. Both are this in horribly heart-twisting way.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: This was Takahata's opinion during the movie's production. As mentioned above, though, the anvil being dropped is not the one people assume. Seita is not meant to be a sympathetic character. For context…
From the mid-70's to the mid-90's (particularly the latter half of that), juvenile delinquency was at an all-time high in Japan, and the nation had worked itself into a full-blown moral panic over it. Takahata explicitly pegged the intended audience for his film – which came out right in the middle of all this – as Japanese teens whose parents had been of Seita and Setsuko's generation. The intent was to say to them: "Look, you ungrateful little hellions, this is what your parents had to suffer so you could have your comfortable spoiled little lives."
To give it even more context, Japan in 1988 was at the height of its "bubble" economy, so Japanese children were living great lives. With prosperity came boredom, and these comfortable children who had never known war began striking out against their parents – a big no-no in Japan – when they were blamed for being lazy, much as Seita's aunt had done to him.
Squick: In the original short story, since Seita is deprived of all female contact and Setsuko has to mature really quickly, his and his sister’s relationship develops Brother-Sister Incest undertones. No, really. And remember, this was a semi-autobiographic short story.
Stoic Woobie: Seita, who is proud, courageous, and remains impassive in all but the most desperate moments.
Strawman Has a Point: The aunt, from a modern viewer’s perspective. Setsuko’s night terrors and loud crying disturbs the rest of the family’s sleep in a time when they need all the energy they can muster, and Seita doesn’t help around with fire extinguishing duty or earning a living when it’s very sorely needed, especially after the rations decrease. Note that Takahata intended for the audience to sympathize with her, not Seita. In that, he failed.
Values Dissonance: Both a cultural and generational example. It was the director’s intention for the audience to see Seita as wrong for running away from home. Contemporary audiences tend to side with Seita and view his aunt's behavior as antagonistic and needlessly cruel – she repeatedly calls them "ungrateful little brats" and "annoying", sometimes to their face, even though their mother has just died. She also tries to pressure Seita into going to his distant relatives in Tokyo, even though he doesn’t even know their address. And when 12-year old Seita announces he is going away, taking his toddler sister with him, she simply reacts by saying, "Oh. Goodbye then!" It's All About Me, indeed.
Due to the Animation Age Ghetto and the fact that it was accompanied by My Neighbor Totoro during its theatrical run in Japan, this has shown up in the kiddie section of some American video stores. Not good. It was also shown at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival.
On Netflix, this movie was listed in the "Kids’ Anime" genre. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, and the description on the website even says "[Seita and Setsuko] come to the somber conclusion that they can neither escape the hardships of war nor find enough food to survive."
"Suggested 3 Up" is on the back of the cover for Central Park Media's second DVD release. It does say "parental discretion advised", but that's rarely followed.
The original Central Park VHS contains the descriptor "suitable for most audiences".
Averted in the case of the Australian DVD release, which is rated M: recommended for audiences 15 and up.