Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
The more anime and manga I experience, the more interested I become in the Japanese psyche. There are some really interesting differences, beyond the obvious like they think people should have eyes that take up half the size of their heads and that used panties in vending machines might be a good idea. What I'm starting to find most interesting about them is the extreme sense of ambivalence I get. Almost every part of their culture seems to be at odds with itself, and it seems to be a miracle that the strain doesn't pull the country and its people apart and dash them to bits.
Here's just one little tidbit that's struck me. In almost all anime I've seen which features a slice of life element, meaning that at least part of the storyline is just (mostly) ordinary people happily living their lives, it almost always comes with a sense of melancholy. There is always a moment where one or more characters will become reflective, looking around at the friends and family around them and wish aloud that they want these days to go on forever. The very act of making such a wish only sharpens the point that time is fleeting and, as Robert Frost so eloquently put it, Nothing gold can stay. I can't even begin to list the sheer number of anime characters I've seen who say something about doing their best to make as many memories as possible and cherish the time that's passing.
On the otherhand, this is a sentiment that you seldom see in American tv shows or even in the American psyche I would argue. Maybe it's because as a culture we're all gung-ho about the future or maybe it's because we're optimistic or maybe it's simply because we're oblivious and self-absorbed. For whatever reason, that sort of melancholy self-reflection seems to be missing and we define our existence by the obstacles we face or the goals we strive toward, rather than what we have at the moment.
Of course, I'm probably grossly over-generalizing here, but you can only see the same sort of theme play out so many times in such diverse shows before you start to draw some conclusions. It probably means something that the Japanese are so obsessed about Sakura (cherry blossoms). I was reading somewhere that to them, cherry blossoms symbolize the briefness of life as they slowly float to earth. It's probably best embodied in the concept of Mono no Aware, which wiki defines as "the awareness of the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing". A brief flash of beauty and grace, over before you know it.