[Anime News Network] “Rimuru Tempest and Robinson Crusoe: How to Build a Civilization”

Non-management: We’ve been flooded with a lot of anime isekai recently, much of it generic, some of it harmless fun, and several examples being… arguably harmful for impressionable anime fans. Many anime fans are young after all, and many haven’t made their minds up yet about a lot of stuff. As for me, I’ve never hated isekai, and I probably have a higher opinion of it now than other anime critics. That dot made, I admittedly don’t try every new isekai-themed anime that comes out every season (it’s not my job), and yet I’ve been getting worn down by them as well. I’ve been yearning for that one isekai that that’s able to take advantage of its setting to talk about something relevant and meaningful. Log Horizon has managed to do that on a big-macro-idea-level, but it’s been years since its production-troubled 2nd season ended. So it is a relief that, years later, That Time I Reincarnated as a Slime (aka Slime Isekai) carries on with that tradition of political philosophizing and society building, with great animation, no less. One other tradition Slime Isekai is carrying forward is the Robinsonade genre. It’s just a shame that Slime Isekai isn’t as… thoughtfully put together as it could be.

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:

I remember reading The Swiss Family Robinson over and over when I was little. Washed ashore in a strange land, marooned away from everything comfortable and familiar, a family must learn to thrive in their new unfamiliar home. Unlike the post-disaster tales saturating our contemporary mediascape, where people must do drastic things to survive savage environs, The Swiss Family Robinson is a story where the land is not altogether hostile, and the characters are optimistic about their future, acting more cooperative than territorial and more curious than fearful. The book begins in fair weather with enough food to get by, so our protagonists begin exploring. In this world, they are allowed to marvel, and in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, readers are invited to do the same.

So The Swiss Family Robinson isn’t too different from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (henceforth Slime Isekai because the official title is a mouthful) at heart. Deadly disaster strikes a modern-day Japanese salaryman, reincarnating him into a strange land as a powerful slime. Finding himself relatively well off in his new body, the slime monster later named Rimuru Tempest decides to sate his curiosity and explore. He finds other monsters with sentience like himself, living in fear and tatters. Like his last name suggests, the changes he brings about for them are as paradigm-shifting as the eponymous Shakespearean storm. He builds a nation of monsters by introducing his ideas about civilization in this anime Robinsonade… READ MORE HERE

 

Advertisements

[Update] Christmas and New Year’s in Japan

Non-management: Baby, it’s cold outside… no, it really is cold outside. It’s really freaking cold inside too. It’s cold in Japan now. I mean, it’s probably not as cold here compared to other places in the world. It’s probably not as cold here compared to other places in Japan. I think that it’s cold though, and because of that, I’m thankful for my kotatsu. And I guess I’m grateful for other things too.

Gratitude. Thankfulness. I was asked in the waning days in the year at my junior high school to talk about Christmas in America. I decided to center my presentations around the things that people are grateful toward, the folks that people are thankful for. Looking at it one way, what I said may have been a little disingenuous. I didn’t talk about the rampant commercialism of the season. I didn’t talk about the religious origins of the holiday. I did talk about the food, trees, presents, cards, gatherings… simple things. I talked about how those things brought friends and family together. I talked about why friends and family are important on Christmas. I mentioned the coming winter. I mused about the enveloping darkness, the food scarcity, the biting cold. I made my case: amidst difficult times, Christmas was about being thankful to those who love and support you. I… think that only half of my students got what I was saying.

Continue reading

Panties and Cults Are the Punch Line

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 Punch Line anime.

You think that a show that front loads the first-time viewer with shots upon shots girls flipping up their skirts wouldn’t have anything sophisticated to say. You would be mistaken though, because it’s Kodaka Uchikoshi of the Zero Escape game series that’s behind the show’s writing. You’d also be off, in my opinion, assuming that Punch Line’s narrative strength ends at being a compelling mystery. The popular mystery game writer has inserted strong sleuthing elements to the show, to be sure, but the show’s ultimate puzzle pales in complexity to the games of his that I’ve played before. More than its mystery and certainly more than its panties, the depth of Punch Line lies in how well it sets up its commentary on how people are attracted to and fall into cults.

Portrayals of manipulative and millenarian religious cults have featured fairly frequently in anime ever since the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks on the Tokyo Subway line by the notorious Aum Shinrikyo. In the aftermath of those attacks, novelist Haruki Murakami put together a book containing an essay on his musings about the event and interviews he conducted with those involved in some capacity with Aum Shinrikyo: Underground. It’s the same book that I referenced a while back in a write-up on Psycho-Pass and the muted Japanese reaction to developing disaster. Compared to Psycho-Pass ‘ treatment of the average citizen, I’m more interested in the embattled cultists of Punchline, and most specifically Guriko. How is it that of the experimental orphans three, Pine, Chiyoko, and Guriko, Guriko became the antagonistic cult leader? In contrast, Chiyoko and Pine became heroes and protagonists. Didn’t they grow up together? Weren’t they once all good friends? How did they become so different?

Continue reading

Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Heroes of the Postmodern Era

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 Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime.

Since its release, a lot of buzz has been made about Puella Magi Madoka Magica as this revolutionary deconstruction of the mahou shoujo, or magical girl, genre. A lot of bickering and controversy has ensued from arguments pertaining to deconstruction: about whether Madoka Magica qualifies as a deconstruction and whether its supposedly nature as a deconstruction is meaningful. It’s true that the writing of Madoka Magica subverts myriad elements of magical girl anime into a variety of horrific scenarios. It’s true that those subversions do violence to preconceived notions of what magical girl anime could be until now.

But as far as the connotations of revolutionary are concerned, Madoka Magica doesn’t really overturn anything in the magical girl genre that is worth a revolution. More than a few prior and acclaimed magical girl shows have already played with darker themes and sterner material, if not quite to the degree of Madoka Magica. Furthermore, Madoka Magica doesn’t really dissect any of the troubling subtext that the magical girl genre has a history of presenting. Magical girl anime has a  record of being vehicles for capitalist consumption in the form of selling toys and other merchandise. Magical girl anime has a past of placing limits on the girls they claim to empower by retiring them from action before they grow up.

But even whilst magical girl shows moved product into family households and placed limits on what young women were allowed to do, the magical girls themselves were doing other things that weren’t questionable and were in fact quite admirable. They fought for others out of a sense of community and altruism. They saved and protected people because they believed were worth saving and protecting. Magical girl anime showcased kindness and heroism as good things. They taught compassion and community as principles worth emulating. And yet, it’s these virtues that Madoka Magica scrutinizes in its take on magical girls, and not the others. But why these qualities? Is there something so sinister about them that they need to be proven as entirely disingenuous?

Not sinister, in Madoka Magica‘s case, but naive.

Not naive in that everyone who believes in them in real life are cons or suckers.

Naive in that it’s challenging in real life to stay committed to them.

On storyboards, modern fictional heroes such as magical girls can make it look so easy folks to be better versions of themselves for their communities. By contrast, the newspapers can make it look like people are little more than animals, with their communities being little better. If you will, imagine, visually, the human lifespan: people being kids and people becoming adults. Your average well-adjusted first-world child is probably informed by the optimism of the superhero media that they regularly consume. Their optimism becomes tempered by knowledge of how malicious and indifferent people continue to be with each other. They look back to their superhero media of yonder and re-evaluate their relationships with them. They make a determination. Do they break up with their old stories like a spouse who’s discovered evidence of cheating?  Do they reject their old heroes for betraying their trust by speaking lies or half-truths? Or do they negotiate a different understanding with them because, at the end of the day, you can’t help but wish for the naivety to be true?

To me, the depth of Madoka Magica lies less in its debated worth as a magical girl deconstruction and more in its painful resonance as a critique of modernism through the magical girl genre. The darkness in Madoka Magica is not so much an exercise in self-indulgent edginess as it is a reflection of the systematic coldness and callousness of postmodern living. In many ways, the thematic priorities of magical girl anime, as with other works of heroism, reflect modernist assumptions: an optimism towards humanity and an idealism toward humanity’s future. As is per convention, the magical girl heroine fights for people and the world because of the underlying assumption that they are universally worth saving. Madoka Magica challenges that convention by portraying these same people and the very world as the cause of their suffering. Compassion in contemporary society not so much demonized as it is sparing, and cruelty of postmodern life seems so profusive as to be unstoppable.

Continue reading

Your Name: Disastrous Places and Liminal Spaces

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 Your Name anime.

We’re acquainted with these tales of from folklore and myth, the premises of horror stories, those testimonials people caught on special TV channels: a place of some awful significance is haunted by undead spirits. Moldering graveyards, abandoned asylums, scarred battlefields, places of disaster… In the fields of Gettysburg, for example, some locals claim that they can hear the dead, soldiers from long ago who haunt the former battlefield. Gettysburg was the location of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle, and its legacy as the site of mass slaughter has made the more superstitious perceive it as a site of restless energy. In the popular imagination, these places serve as liminal spaces, locations and sites where all-too-natural dichotomies are not normally observed: death intermingling with life, life intermingling with death. The dead have not passed into the afterlife, the ether, or permanent rest as they ought to have. Instead, their undead spirits wander the grounds, bound to some place of awful significance.

While Your Name is not a horror film in the way the genre is conventionally understood, the narrative of Your Name plays an awful lot with liminal spaces. The concept of liminality in religious and anthropological studies has a definition that’s a little broader than just the spaces the mortal and the infinite occupy. Liminality is the concept referring to transformation and intersection, where clearly delineated dichotomies of “one” blur and bleed into the “other,” branching into or becoming new and distinct entities. Life and death is the domain of liminality, but so is the profane and the sacred; the child and the adult, the individual and the communal, this direction and that, this person and that, and even time and space itself. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name is a story layered with examples of its characters passing through various thresholds, states, and spaces of liminality to resolve a conflict. The film starts with the blurring of one traditional dichotomy: the inexplicable bleeding of its two protagonists into each others’ lives, a body-swap. Midway, the film grounds its supernatural gimmick with its extant reason: a place of disaster.

Continue reading

Angolmois: The History Behind the First Mongol Invasion

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 Angolmois anime.

Introduction

Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the destiny of the Mongol people was transformed. From the squabbling horse tribes of the steppe, they were now the mounted conquerors of empire. Unified as a people, the Mongols challenged the august authority of the Celestial Empire: China. They took that authority for themselves, tearing the stars from their skies, crushing Chinese resistance in the north and declaring themselves China’s new rulers. The grandson of Genghis Khan and the third leader of the unified Mongol horde, Kublai Khan turned his conqueror’s appetite toward the Land of the Rising Sun and ordered the first of two Mongol invasions of Japan.

It is in this historical backdrop that Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion finds its setting and conflict: Tsushima, 1274 – the first frontline of the first invasion of Japan by the Mongols. Kuchii Jinzaburo and a band of exiles – a fellowship of petty scoundrels and disgraced warriors – find themselves ferried out of death row and shipped into a battlefield. There, those among them willing to fight alongside Tsushima’s defenders make their own contributions to this drama of bloodshed and sacrifice that, judging by the history, will amount to little more than a delaying action for the Mongols’ ultimate goal: the Japanese mainland.

But how did it come to this? How do the events from the history inform this animated fiction?

Continue reading

[Update] About One Month into Living in Japan

Non-management: Long time, no hear? Well, this hiatus in blogging hasn’t been as long as others I’ve taken. Some of you still might be curious about when I’ll get back to writing. I’m curious myself about when I’m going to have the time and drive to get back to writing. My hope is that I’ll be able to do so pretty shortly now that I’ve settled my Japan situation.

Right. I’m living in Japan now.

Continue reading