Instrumentalism, Masculinity, and Humanity in Dororo

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 Dororo anime.

Due to the ambiguous nature of Dororo’s gender, I’ve elected to use “they” for Dororo’s pronouns. A tailored discussion of Dororo’s gender is beyond the scope of this essay, but I invite anyone who’s interested in talking about it to contribute their own piece.

Instrumentalism, Expressivism, and Dororo

Wooden statuette carving of the Boddhisattva Kannon, Buddhist saint of compassion and patron of mothers. Typically depicted in Japan as a woman.

Historically, many societies have long associated certain actions and behaviors as being discretely masculine or feminine. At some point, academics came up with whole new terms to describe what makes some actions masculine and other behaviors feminine: instrumentalist and expressive. Instrumentalism is concerned with material provision, action, and violence. Expressivism is associated with emotional consideration, empathy, and caring. Given the patriarchal structure of the these societies East and West of the Bosphorous and up until (sadly) the present day, there’s long been argument and conflict between the assumed dichotomies of male and female as to which gender is superior over the other. Unfortunately, the female gender role has often been relegated the short end of the stick.

Despite the seemingly eternal, historical, patriarchal constant of male superiority, uneven past and more recent developments in societal gender relations have made egalitarian statuses for male and female gender as more the norm. Still more recent discourse has sought to claim that it’s natural and healthy for men and women to possess varying degrees of instrumentalist masculinity and expressive femininity. Some especially recent thought in gender studies, influenced by postmodern theorizing, argue that instrumentalism and expressivism aren’t inherently gendered at all. Following that logic, a sporty self-identifying girl isn’t anymore performing masculinity on an objective basis than a sensitive self-identifying boy is performing femininity. Conditionally speaking though, postmodern thinking of gender relations is especially recent and not very widely accepted as standard in today’s Japan.

Just because the latest thought isn’t standard, though doesn’t mean that older gender critiques present in anime storytelling lack any bite. Take the Dororo anime, for instance. Through its narrative, the show argues that, less than making men “men,” instrumentalism without any expressivism makes people inhuman, literally “demonic.” According to Dororo, being human is to be both masculine and feminine, or at least have a healthy mix of instrumentalist and expressive qualities.

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[Update] Seeing #PrayforKyoAni

Non-Management: This post is partly meant for me to exorcise my demons out of this whole  sad event. I ended up describing in somewhat graphic detail what I saw during my visit to Kyoto Animation, Studio 1 in the aftermath of the arson. If you’re sensitive to that, here’s your trigger warning.

Fortunately or unfortunately… the whole event has been… It feels bad to describe it all as normal luck… dumb luck? Maybe coincidence? Coincidence. By coincidence, I planned a summer trip to the city of Osaka. Osaka is pretty close to the city of Kyoto. Between Osaka and Kyoto is Uji City and Kyoto Animation and…. well, something terrible happened at KyoAni two days prior to my trip. I was already pretty close to the place from my Osaka, no more than an hours-long train ride north, and I decided I might as well pay my respects in-person. I intended to go right after starting my day in the morning, but the florist shops near my hostel had yet to open. Outside of convenience stores, Japanese businesses tend to start their earlier that what I’m used to in America. I decided to bide my time until the afternoon visiting the Kofun tumuli, but I had a hell of a time after circling around the tombs finding a place nearby that sold flowers. I eventually found some, bought some, and brought them on ride up. The ride was so smooth rolling into Rokujizo station that the sight of Studio 1 caught me surprise.

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Higurashi: It Takes a Village to Make Change

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 Higurashi anime, especially Higurashi Kai (i.e. the 2nd Season) Episodes 6-12.

One thing that a lot of good horror stories have in common is an isolated setting. Good horror involves some dimension of disempowerment, the inability to do anything in the face of an oppressive force. The small village tucked away in the mountains, hidden from the rest of civilization, is as good a place as any to promote that anxious and hopeless feeling. An almost inevitable sense of suspicion and paranoia lingers on the outsider looking in. An all-too easy fear and anger festers in a community that’s supposed to be tight-knit. Disempowerment seemingly and realistically encroaches into the lives of its protagonists from multiple facets: the interpersonal, the political, the Kafkaesque. Higurashi’s “Hinamizawa” village embodies all those aforementioned aspects. They infect the protagonists and affect all the village’s denizens, eventually, and lead them to a gradual but inevitable doom.

Well, Kafkaesque might be a little hyperbolic a descriptor for Higurashi, at least when compared to the systematic and soul-crushing absurdity of Franz Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares. But there’s a relatable enough parallel in the story arc of one small Higurashi girl. In the latest of a series of unfortunate events, a parent-less and brother-less Satoko Hojo finds herself suffering under the roof of her domestically abusive uncle… yet again. Satoko considers herself complicit in both her parents’ deaths and her brother’s disappearance, feels duty-bound to protect her family home and beloved brother’s room from her uncle, and suffers from a pathological predisposition to panic attacks. Satoko’s small frame bears the weight of terrible emotional issues, and being just a little girl, we might expect our society to have some mechanism in place to take her out of there ASAP, even as Satoko herself is hesitant to admit she’s being abused.

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[Update] Letting Go and Blog Rec

This picture of the Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is from a Jodo-shu (Pure Land) temple.

Non-management: During my latest trip to Tokyo, or I guess it’s more accurate to say the Kanto, there were two kinds of Buddhist temples that struck out to me:  Tendai and Zen. In many ways, the differences between the two temples are night and day: Zen temples are serene and Tendai temples are metal. That’s not to say that neither of these Buddhist denominations are lacking in grandiose buildings. Far from it, the most impressive temples I visited of these Buddhist orders, the Tendai Kita-in Temple in Saitama and the Zen Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura, boasted larger-than-life structures and sculptures placed down over vast tracts of land. They also charged me entrance fees, those cheap tonsured bastards… or is it me that’s being unreasonable? I imagine it costs a lot to maintain these massively historical properties, and following Meiji Restoration “reforms”, active temples could no longer count on estates of parishioners supporting their conditions and activities. While they probably don’t appreciate the occasional obnoxious party of tourists, the monks and laity at the bigger temples probably count themselves lucky their centers of worship are big tourist bonanzas, complete with nearby omiyage storefronts and sweet-smelling food stalls. The smaller temples of old probably struggled adapting to the changing age.  But I digress.

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[Update] Graduations and Spring in Japan

Image result for cherry blossoms japan cold

Non-management: I’d like to say that the cherry blossoms are in full bloom now and the seasonal warmth has returned like a lover’s caress, but it’s still freaking cold here. On the bright side though, the days are long enough now that I can enjoy sunset walks after work, and the mosquitoes have yet to emerge out of their spawn pools in force. Wait until the middle of spring and the approaching summer though, and you’ll see me taking a piss again about the bugs and heat. I’m always complaining about something.

Though I admit some of those “somethings” are things that are somewhat in my control. I do feel like that I’ve slipped in my diligence at learning Japanese. I hope to rectify that somewhat come the Japanese spring break, but mere hopes do not translate into results. Effort’s needed. Teaching elementary school students, I remember my own elementary school days, struggling with learning the ins-and-outs of English. Thinking about how much I struggled with English grammar back then, it’s a wonder that something thinks I’m adept enough now to teach English as a second language. Between all the time allotted in a week, I spend it assisting hundreds of students in English, writing about anime when the mood strikes hot, and self-medicating on videos to stave off a gnawing sense of inadequacy.

That inadequacy stems less from anything about Japan specifically (because that inadequacy’s more or less followed me from America) and more broadly from a gnawing sense of loneliness. I’ve been trying to spread out more, being social with people without being weird, visiting landmarks that I’ve always wanted to see. I’m an introverted nerd in the end who hasn’t fully shaken off his lifetime of social awkwardness though. There’s only so many days I can take off for extended vacations and mini-holidays. And… I suspect that I’m in love.

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[Anime News Network] “The History Behind Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo”

Non-management: I wrote before in a previous article that I thought Land of the Lustrous had the makings of a modern Buddhist classic. Well, I got a second story in that category to nominate: Dororo. I actually ended up getting noticed by ANN for said Land of the Lustrous article when initially pitching to write for them. Land of the Lustrous is a show that’s far too over and done with right now to write about again for the website, but I’ve been waiting for an opportunity ever since I was accepted as freelance to write about Buddhism in anime again. Dororo was that opportunity, and what’s more, the show was set in Sengoku Jidai. I had plenty to write about, and not enough space to write it all. I did the best I could fitting in all the relevant information, but some things I’d like to have mentioned had to be cut out. Regardless, I hope the article helps the anime community understand the history and culture of their favorite media better. I’ve seen too many anime fans scratch their heads and gawk with incredulity at the foreign beliefs and values professed in their anime. Their reactions make some sense: Dororo was primarily made for a Japanese audience. But context does not that doesn’t preclude people from learning about the world outside them.

I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Zac Bertschy for commissioning my article, and Jacob Chapman for editing it. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

The blood of a cleric coats a sanctum’s interior like mud. The broken neck of an idol resembles a tree wrenched crudely from its stump. Dororo begins not with the adventures of its mischievous and eponymous protagonist, but with the bloodshed and sacrilege behind his future friend Hyakkimaru’s birth. Dororo takes place during the Sengoku Jidai era, a time when warfare was rampant and religiosity ran deep in Japan. Confronting its viewers with the religious and political violence of the era, this show lets its audience know up-front that the history of Sengoku Jidai is a history of war and faith.

People can enjoy Dororo without knowing the history of its setting. The show’s direction is compelling on its own, the animation is stunning, and the heroes are equal parts sympathetic and badass. Anything by the renowned “godfather of manga” Osamu Tezuka is worth a look, and his reputation precedes him in this story of a wandering swordsman and his plucky companion. However, the layers Tezuka wove into Dororo‘s story produce a depth that draws its power and inspiration from real history… READ MORE

Dororo: Buddhism and a Spider Girl’s Thread

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 Dororo anime, specifically Episode 7’s “The Story of the Jorogumo Silk Spider.”

If I’m not already on the public record for this, I guess I’ll make it here: I like Spider Girls. I like Spider Girls a lot, and I don’t mean the Marvel variety. I mean the monster-kind: half-carapace and arachnid appendages, top hair and human flesh. Hell, I wrote a fan fic about Spider Girls and Dark Souls once, but never mind that. I like Spider Girls for reasons other than the suggestive ones you’d might suspect. I like them for ways that set them apart from the other popular monster girls.

I like Spider Girls for their baggage. People fear spiders, after all. People loathe them. They see the multiple eyes, multitude legs, mandibles, cuticles. They see spiders and other features related to them, and their foremost instincts to them, their gut reactions to the critters, are to jerk away immediately or smash them into paste. People will recoil or lash out at spiders, their fight-and-flight mechanisms on the fritz, even if they’re non-venomous or really quite harmless. I don’t necessarily blame folks for doing that. It’d be hypocritical if I did. I’m guilty of one and the other, many times over, paths less frequently tread, blood on my shoes’ soles.

That terror and fury isn’t an unusual condition of the mind, because your brain rationalizes it as being better safe than sorry. People aren’t born with discriminating eyes, after all. They need to be trained on the details. They need to be taught what means danger. In the light of this perspective, phobias are shortcuts — they have their uses. Yet even then, it’s not as though the more dangerous spiders mean anything spiteful or cruel when they bite you or brush up against you or find themselves in their way. Everyone finds themselves in the wrong place and time. No one really knows any better when first contact is made.

Buddhism builds on this empathetic logic to approaching life. From the strongest human to the smallest spider, every life is subject to the cycle of samsara, or reincarnation. Every entity is subject to the pain of existence. Every life is a precious thing. Life reincarnates into higher or lower forms of existence when they die. A spider may have once been human, and a human may yet arise from a spider. In the light of this perspective, Buddhism asks us to have pity and compassion for living things, regardless of their past misdeeds or current station. Buddhism is a deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and spider encounters are a common Japanese experience. It’s no surprise then the country is home to all kinds of tales combining spiders with Buddhism, from a Ryunosuke Akutagawa short story to a Spider Girl in Dororo.

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