Nisioisin, Nietzsche, and the Tyranny of Morality

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay discusses Zaregoto, Medaka Box, Katanagatari, and The Monogatari Series. Several points on The Monogatari Series were borrowed from previous posts on the show here, here, and here.

Monogatar Series 22

The first Nisio Isin/Nisioisn work I encountered was The Monogatari Series, specifically Bakemonogtari. Nisemonogatari followed shortly after that.

I admired how closely the narrative formula of Bakemonogatari’s supernatural apparitions and normal school girls paralleled Sigmund Freud’s concepts of neuroses. Ambivalent feelings and beliefs become so sharply contested between the other for dominance that a cognitive dissonance, an unbelievable amount of mental and emotional stress, is almost bound to plague the person afflicted. Take, for instance, Hitagi Senjougahara’s conflicting feelings of affection toward the mother that raised her and rejection toward the mother that let her almost get raped. To avoid this debilitating stress, a person may develop a neurosis. A neurotic dissociates himself/herself from the current reality that is painful and a creates a new reality that isn’t. In the Monogatari verse, neuroses manifest as the oddities of the series. For Hitagi, that oddity was a weight crab deity that unburdened her of both the physical weight of her flesh and the emotional weight of her feelings toward her mother, feelings pleasant and painful.

And then I watched Nisemonogatari, an addition to the Monogatari franchise, I’m told, wasn’t originally supposed to be published and, given this fact, should be seen as more frivolous than fascinating. Fascinated I was though by what I saw despite its fan service, especially with anything involving Kaiki Deishu, but for reasons I wasn’t initially entirely sure of. I felt there was some profound message that Nisemonogatari was trying to communicate that wasn’t entirely pretentious. I also felt there was more thematic fruit to Bakemonogatari than I originally took for digestion.

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Cults in Anime Post-Aum: Post-Aum Anime TV Series as Reflective Screens into the Japanese Psyche

Management: The final version of an anthropological research paper I’m working on connecting Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese psyche, the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, and cult tropes in anime post-Aum. For anyone who cares to be patronized, thank you for patient with me when my blogging activity became slow to writing this damn thing. I managed a pretty decent grade on this paper, but my anthropology professor is ultimately just one (albeit highly knowledgeable) person who’s critiqued my work. I’d welcome more if you guys are willing to provide feedback.

With the emergence of Aum and its heinous crimes, a great many Japanese were shocked, lost their sense of logic, and screamed out hysterically in condemnation of it. But the “darkness” of Aum is connected with the “darkness” concealed in the subconscious of us all. We Japanese abhor confronting “darkness” and taking the media uproar as a form of catharsis, have refused to gaze at this “darkness.”

– Mori Tatsuya (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 148)

Now of course a mirror image is always darker and distorted. Convex and concave swap places, falsehood wins out over reality, light and shadow play tricks. But take away these dark flaws and the images are uncannily similar; some details seem to conspire together. Which is why we avoid looking at the image, why, consciously or not, we keep eliminating these dark elements from the face we want to see.

– Haruki Murakami (Murakami 2000, p. 229)

Introduction

The mainstream Japanese reaction to the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks is the capstone to what Sakai Shinji, a writer for the Katorikku Shinbun’s opinion column, has called “the end-of-the-century unease (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 122).” The Japanese bubble economy had burst in the early 1990s. The Japanese Great Hanshin Earthquake had taken its toll in 1995. Popular political distrust and turbulence gripped the public due to the Japanese government’s widely perceived incompetence in handling these two crises. Just a few months after this natural disaster, an artificial one in the form of a religiously-motivated terrorist attack by Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) struck the Tokyo underground subway lines, killing twelve and injuring over a thousand (p. 123). Further revelations of heinous crimes and inflated coverage from the so-called Aum Affair in the ensuing weeks and months would further stoke the hostility and fear of mainstream Japanese toward Aum and whatever was widely perceived to be a cult like Aum. While the Aum Affair certainly terrified mainstream Japanese, the combined economic, environmental, and political trauma of the era were also responsible for the shaking the ease, security, and certainty they found in what Yukio describes as their modern myths:

…the myths of economic development and permanent employment based on a work ethic of loyalty toward one’s company, the myth of a secure environment guaranteed by modern technology and government administration, and the myth of a harmonious society based on national ethnic homogeneity (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 163).

The pressure that these repeated traumas inflicted on Japanese and the extent to which the Japanese obsessed over these myths played a part in contributing to the severity of mainstream Japanese reaction to Aum and cults.

Even decades later, the trauma still lingers in the Japanese psyche. This trauma reverberates throughout Japanese popular culture in the form of subject and trope matter about cults. The Japanese subculture of manga and anime are no exception. The narratives of many manga and anime feature humor, references, and commentary about cults and cultist behavior. Scholarly works such as Jolyon Baraka Thomas’ article, “Horrific ‘Cults’ and Comic Religion (2014)” and his book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (2014), have led the academic charge in drawing connections between popular manga and anime films and the Japanese pre-Aum and post-Aum zeitgeist. In particular, Thomas’s book demonstrates, through his manga analysis of 20th Century Boys, that mainstream Japanese are “attracted to stories that present superhuman, righteous individuals and their unwavering efforts to save the world” despite “how much [they] may criticize specific religious groups” like Aum “for their deception, their fraud, or their violence (p. 152).” However, his analyses have tended to avoid manga and anime film examples that are not narratively tailored to what he defines, according to his book, as epics (p. 129). Furthermore, Thomas has also confined his analyses to popular anime films, neglecting the plethora of anime TV series that contain subject and trope matter about cults and cultish behavior in their narratives. Accordingly, this paper will analyze how post-Aum anime TV series are reflective screens into the Japanese psyche.

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Cults and Anime Post-Aum

Management: Some of the early fruits (part of an annotated bibliography) of an anthropological research paper I’m working on connecting Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese psyche, the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, and cult tropes in anime post-Aum. I’ve honestly been busy to the point that I’ve only managed to come up with one of my more usual complete and lengthy pieces for next week, and I feel bad for not updated the blog for so long. Hopefully this slapdash analysis will soothe those disgruntled until then.

The full essay is here. Check it out.

What may be regarded by society as religious “cults” have permeated history from ancient and modern times, with their latest widely accepted mass incarnation in modern times emerging in its latest wave in the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of globalization and Western values of individualism, materialism, and secularism. In response to a world increasingly tied together through markets of economics and ideas, culturally closed and colonially bitten portions of society, rather than accommodating and resigning themselves to what they see as the imposition of moral and spiritual depravity, have produced new age religious movements attempting to cater to the socially disaffected. Born out of a highly materialistic, highly competitive, and highly oppressive (so they say) Japanese culture within the context of other existing and soon-to-exist new religions throughout the world was Aum Shinrikyo.

With the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks and other acts of violence and deviancy, Aum Shinrikyo would leave an indelible scar in the Japanese psyche that, to this day, permeates in popular Japanese culture and even anime subculture as negatively connotative “evil cult” tropes. Some anime embrace them, others make light of them, others still challenge them, and others utilize them in all three ways. Some recurring themes to keep in mind as you scan down the following seven, alphabetically ordered shows that feature some use of this trope:

a charismatic, eccentric, ominous, and/or megalomaniac leader;

world-rejecting and anti-social behavior;

eschatological, millenarian, and apocalyptic worldviews;

claims to supernatural powers;

eccentric, nonsensical, and/or suspicious deviancy;

financial exploitation;

sexual exploitation;

conspiratorial thinking;

brainwashing;

fanaticism;

violence;

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Monogatari: Is She My Sister?

Management: While I overall hold a positive opinion of the Monogatari Series, this piece in no ways serves as a comprehensive review of the series, but rather an articulation and analysis of an interesting set of ideas brought up.

I’ve also written a response to this. Check it out.

Monogatari Series 2

A Peculiar Adult Threesome 

A particularly enduring presence in a lot of recent anime is the lack of presence of a certain, rather important demographic of the human race… adults. Much of the time, if any adults are present, they’ll appear in limited numbers, with limited screening time and limited spoken lines.

Monogatari plays a bit with this trope, a demonstrable lack of any adults appearing in the show at one time, not because the show itself only seems to fleetingly recognize the existence of the adults in the everyday. It’s because the main protagonist, Koyomi Araragi, only fleetingly recognizes the existence of adults in the everyday. In fact, it’s a habit of his not to realize anyone aside for himself and his immediate circle of loved ones, his sisters featuring rather prominently. Karen and Tsukihi, after all, people that he would protect and, if it comes to it, die for.

The lense we, the audience, look through when watching the show comes not from a impartial third party, but rather from an unreliable narrator. Everything we perceive in Monogatari Series: First Season (Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, and Kizumonogatari, whenever in the far future it comes out) and parts of Monogatari Series: Second Season (Kabukimonogatari and Onimonogatari), in other words,  is what Koyomi perceives, and perceptions are something that tend to be colored by the perceiver. Whenever we watch a story in Monogatari with Koyomi as the narrator unfold, we aren’t seeing the story on its own unfold before our eyes. We’re seeing the story unfold through Koyomi’s eyes, who tells us the story as he sees it. And what he sees may not match up with other people see, such as adults. Something like that is immediately apparent upon beginning Monogatari Series: Second Season.

The exception to this peculiar world view of his comes from three even more peculiar adults who happened to be colleagues from university. They’re adults, sure, but they leave such an impact on Koyomi that he has really no choice but to acknowledge them. Well, that might not be entirely true for one of them. One of them’s a friend of his, Meme Oshino, that he spends the better part of Bakemonogatari working with.

Monogatari Series 5

The other two, on the other hand, leave indelible marks on him from limited contact.

The con-man, Deishu Kaiki…

Monogatari Series 3

…and the hero of justice, Yozuru Kagenui.

Monogatari Series 4

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The Monster Within | Bakemonogatari, A Review

Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching.

I suggest clicking the “SHOT” links in order for novelty effect. For other Monogatari related reading material, I have a couple of other pieces I’ve written, Of Epistemological Positions: Monogatari and the Death of Gods and Monogatari: Is She My Sister?

Monogatari Series 19

He runs up a spiral staircase that’s seemingly never-ending.

He sees a girl falling in slow-motion from the top of the stairs, the radiance of her skin accentuated by the radiance of the light.

Falling.

Floating.

Falling.

Floating like a feather.

Dropping his things, he reaches out to catch her.

Catching.

Caught.

Their eyes meet.

She was light as a feather.

Monogatari Series 16

 

SHOT.

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