Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Re:Creators anime.
Suppose you grew up knowing nothing but war. Savages run amok in your homeland, burning villages to the ground, putting innocents to the sword, and committing all manner of vile crimes. You enlist in the armed forces and fight your hardest to drive them out and protect what what parts of your homeland that you can. You witness friends and family die. On more than one occasion, you despair at the recurring thought that everything you’re doing is meaningless. The suffering of your people never seems to end. What creator, what god would allow these evils to exist and persist if they were not cruel or callous? And then it turns out that your world is the manga creation of some person from another universe meant to entertain people. Protagonists like Aliceteria February agonizes over the destitution of her beloved country, a destitution willed into her universe by a creator for the purpose of making a living. Aliceteria’s god sounds an awful lot of like a merchant of death.
Re:Creators has many things to say about the creative process in storytelling, but it also makes a few comments about the audiences who engage with these creative works. What exactly are we getting out of stories that make their characters gratuitously suffer — stories like Aliceteria of the Scarlet or Code Babylon or even Berserk? There’s obviously a market for this kind of material, which is why these stories keep getting reproduced for mass consumption. In Re:Creators, the first two aforementioned stories are popular. If, hypothetically, a character from one of these stories came to life and demanded to know why their lives were so shitty, what answer could we truthfully give them? Re:Creators realizes this scenario and offers two answers, the first by Shunma Suruga (who created Code Babylon) and the last by Gai Takarada (who created Aliceteria of the Scarlet). One answer is mundanely cynical. The other is meant to be inspiring.
Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Re:Zero anime.
So there’s a number of games floating out there that market themselves on their permadeath mechanics or ironman modes. A member of your team or party dies, you make a misjudgment that locks you into an end you didn’t want, or something otherwise unfortunate happens during your run. If they don’t want to start a new game, all the player can do in response is suck it up and plow forward. The appeal of these punishing features is a sense of engagement, a sense of challenge that’s absent in a system that would allow you to re-do a serious mistake. If death gives life meaning, then its threat despite your best efforts at the time makes the lives of protagonists and friendly NPCs that much more precious, when combined with a narrative that makes them likeable, relatable. Of course, permadeath mechanics and ironman modes aren’t appealing to everyone. Not everyone sits down to play a game so they can get stressed from harsh challenges. Some of them want to relax. Some of them want to feel heroic.
My excuse was story. I’m not going to make a game unnecessarily hard on myself, I says. It’ll get in the way of me enjoying the narrative, I says. There are those games though, like Dark Souls, where the difficulty of the challenge and the appreciation of the story is intended to be inseparable from each other. Every normal playthrough of Dark Souls functions as an ironman-style run, and in the process of dying and reviving over and over during one of them, I began to scrutinize why I played like a save scummer. I would characterize myself as one. I often returned back to moments in games just before I made what I perceived to be a grave error. Thing was, though, the mistakes I made in Dark Souls never ended with a “Game Over” screen. The game would acknowledge where you perceived that you failed, resurrect you somewhere, and carry on — with all the consequences your failure would realistically entail. I wasn’t so much being locked out of the game’s narrative as I was stumbling into a new narrative branch, one where, for example, I did let someone die. Out of multiple narrative possibilities, that possibility became my narrative. Those kinds of narratives always troubled me though, and as I sought to reset the run, it occurred to me that, like Re:Zero’s Subaru Natsuki, I also tend to roleplay.
Non-Management: I sent another pitch to Crunchyroll, and another pitch got accepted. Here are the fruits of that: a piece on Juni Taisen: ZODIAC WAR.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Crunchyroll for commissioning my article. Below is the (summary) short to the article. If you’re interested in reading it, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the short:
How these shows care for their characters, even as they make their heads roll.
Some people, like myself, will scan over a seasonal anime chart and skip over the battle royale titles. They just don’t like the graphic and gleeful violence that the battle royale genre suggests they’re all about. There are a couple of battle royale shows that are more than that though. One is the Fate series, and another is Juni Taisen. They care about their characters, even as decide to kill them… READ MORE HERE
Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Land of the Lustrous anime.
Iconography is a powerful tool in storytelling. The power of icons belies and transcends the descriptor of them as being mere assortments of organized lines, shapes, and maybe colors. Even if audiences don’t fully understand their cultural context, icons hold a power over a people who are even just passingly familiar with them. The more ancient and fundamental seeming these icons are in a given culture, the more power they have over shaping the expectations of audiences when consuming a work of fiction utilizing them. Like money, icons are a currency that those in the know conduct exchanges with, with the medium of exchange being knowledge instead of paper or metal. For instance, the knowledge of whether or not your friend likes certain anime without asking him can be ascertained from the Homura figurine he positions on his writing desk or the Rem plushie he keeps at his bedside. The knowledge of your friend’s interest in certain religions can be deduced without direct inquiry based on the crucifix on her wall or the buddha on her nightstand.
Many storytellers set up expectations based on how audiences understand these icons in the real world. Religious iconography, even without much knowledge of doctrine, possesses the cultural currency of something deep and profound. Land of the Lustrous and the Evangelion franchise contain copious amounts of this kind of iconography. While Evangelion doesn’t demonstrate any deep or profound understanding of the Christian symbolism it mucks around in, audiences are nevertheless drawn to it by the iconography’s intangible appeal. Land of the Lustrous goes further with its iconography, exhibiting a more-than-passing understanding of the Buddhist symbolism it sculpts its characters out with. Most people watching Land of the Lustrous will at least recognize that some of its iconography is Buddhist in origin. Those with passing familiarity with Buddhism may find themselves attracted to these icons because of their pop culture associations with deep and profound powers or knowledge. Those with more educated backgrounds in the Buddhist religion may may also expect the themes of the story to unfold in ways that reflect a Buddhist worldview.