Little Witch Academia: Making Magic Transnational

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 post mainly references Little Witch Academia: “A New Beginning” and general elements and specific moments in the narratives of the Harry Potter franchise. 

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There were a number of things that I grew up on that I still look at fondly today whenever I’m feeling particularly nostalgic. The fact that I didn’t need to work, the first anime that I didn’t know was anime that really gripped me, and the Harry Potter franchise. I always thought that it was neat that the books became lengthier, featured more complex plots, and progressed into something that took increasingly higher language chops to read through with each installment. As Harry grew up, so did his readers. Say what you will about the literary quality of these children to young adult novels (the epilogue admittedly reads like cheesy fanfiction), I remember reading and re-reading each volume, voraciously, from front to back. The paperbacks of the volumes I owned began falling apart, and some of them did (like that monster of the fifth book). I got into heated debates with myself and other fans about a number of franchise-related controversies, like how the books were better than the movies and about which character should be romantically paired with who. I laughed, cried, got embarrassed and smiled widely. The world and its characters brought me a sense of immersive pleasure that couldn’t compare to anything else at the time.

It was a magical experience for me, and judging by the multimedia commercial empire this Wizarding World spawned, it was a magical experience for tens and, I daresay, hundreds of millions of people too. But then you experience life a little more and notice some things that you didn’t before, little idiosyncrasies that stem from the British author who wrote these things in. People engage with media in different ways, after all. These idiosyncrasies were even more apparent to me when comparing the Harry Potter franchise to a Harry Potter-inspired series like Little Witch Academia. It didn’t take away from what joy I felt when I first read the novels or watched the films. Nor did it reframe the stories that I cherished as a child and adolescent as this grossly insidious thing in lurking in the bowels that I now needed to purge from my system lest I be and remain an awful person deep down. And bear in mind, Little Witch Academia is just full of love for all things Harry Potter, and it illustrates that love through its numerous callbacks to its world and characters.

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While the Harry Potter franchise has been a wild international success, at the very end of the day, Harry Potter is a groundedly British product whose limited depictions of non-British cultures is marked by some exotic stereotypes. By contrast, Little Witch Academia is more reflective of the transnational nature of both the Potter and anime fandoms. The identity of its content is neither solely British or Japanese, nor does it treat the audience’s initial impressions of its non-British and non-Japanese elements as anything particularly special. That’s more uncommon in my line of entertainment experiences than I’d prefer.

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Danganronpa: War Guilt, Anti-sociality, Asociality, and the Animator’s Despair

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.

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To temporarily relegate the Danganronpa franchise’s rather passionate, colorful, and often on-the-nose discourse on hope and despair to the background, here’s a character in the Danganronpa 3 anime who caught my attention. With his status as the “Ultimate” Animator, Ryota Mitorai possessed not only the capacity to make media generally,  anime specifically, that people could enjoy. He also possessed the ability to create propaganda could brainwash the masses. Willingly, in the name of hope, and unwittingly, in the name of despair,  he appropriated his skills and had his skills appropriated to compel people to act.

To qualify, Danganronpa 3 rather oversimplifies the power media has at shaping viewer psychology. Animation is a type of media, and where influencing other people’s behaviors are concerned, the power animation has over our thought processes are limited and conditional. The show automatically assumes that it’s possible that media creators generally, and animators specifically, can brainwash other people at a  smartphone and TV monitor glance if they’re “Ultimate” enough. The brainwashing mechanisms themselves weren’t enough to get me to muse. What did get me to ponder were the references and parallels Danganronpa 3 seemed to be subtly drawing between Ryota and Japanese artists, cartoonists, and yes… animators from that channeled their skills, willingly and unwillingly, wittingly and unwittingly, to create propaganda for their causes.

As I recount Ryota part in the story as  the propagandist for both despair and hope, I’ll make some self-interjections in strategic locations to draw connections between two parallels in animated media to have made their notorious mark in Japanese history: war-time Imperial Japan and guilt, and asociality, anti-sociality and the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

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Thunderbolt Fantasy: A Mockery of Mastery

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.

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There are tales in every culture where strive to cultivate an art or trade to the point of perfection. While it might simply be due  to a personal lack of worldliness, I feel like that the Japanese have a particular fixation for crafting inspirational narratives around self-serious journeys to artistic and trade-based mastery. The  lines between profession and purpose in these stories blur in many cases, and become indistinguishable in others. Jirou Dreams of Sushi is a documentary of a master sushi chef’s work ethic. Various sports stories in anime and manga, whether they be about baseball or cooking, star their main protagonists honing their craft to performative excellence, if not total perfection. The Japanese government literally designates the masters of certain culturally significant vocations as “Living National Treasures.”

Gen Urobuchi has a few things he says about this obsession over mastery, several words to those self-serious egotists who strut around like the world and its people should slit their stomachs to purify the ground they stand on. He does it through the context of one of Japan’s flashiest cultural artifacts: swordsmanship. He mocks it. He basically mocks the idea of people placing so much of their substance, so much of their self-worth in achieving it and maintaining it, and he imparts this mockery to audiences through a show so visually and audibly campy that it can be easy to miss: Thunderbolt Fantasy.

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Noragami: A Prayer for Forgotten Gods

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.

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The intimacy present through farming professions and small communities, the close proximity of it all, characterized many a Japanese village. At the geographical heart of these villages lay the shrine. Manned by a regionally itinerant or locally designated cleric, these sacred spaces lay at the communal, spiritual, and cultural heart of village life. Priests were more directly accessible to the locals for consultation and guidance. Festivals of catharsis, reflection, jubilation, and gratitude were practiced on religious grounds. As people had ample and easy opportunities to engage regularly with their faith on a variety of facets and devotions.

Devotion to Shinto since then, and even general interest, has seen better days. Many Japanese drained from the countryside and flooded into the cities. Having lived all their lives within concrete jungles, generations became removed from the pastured plains their ancestors once tended and tilled. Unsurprisingly, men and women within these more recent generations have become more distant from the religious  traditions their ancestors fervently practiced.

Because of its distinctly Japanese origin and focus, inextricably tied to Shinto is the accumulated knowledge, or culture, of Japan of centuries-to-millennia past. The majority of Japanese now live busy lives in crowded metropolises, with less time, less space, and less priority to approach the priests or celebrate the festivals. When the shrines are occasionally visited (on holidays, exam days, and extraordinary circumstances) the rituals performed are far from demanding. A coin is thrown, a charm is purchased, and a short prayer is muttered in the hope that requests will be somehow fulfilled, as though wishes are like cheap transactions at a convenience store. Many Japanese today partake in Shinto activity with only the vaguest notions of this religious tradition’s richness. When the older generations of the countryside step aside and the newer ones of the cities take the reins, Shinto will seem vaguer still.

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And so, invoking the sort of forces I covered in this post that turned KanColle fans into history buffs, the setting and characters of Noragami are rich in the stuff of tangential learning. In its own way, the show is an updated, contemporary, “hipper” anime attempt for the youth that will inherit the country to preserve their cultural heritage. Continue reading

Sunday Without God: Empathy for the Undead

Management: While my opinion of the show is 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. While this piece will reference other parts of the show, this essay will primarily break down the events of Episodes 1-3, which cover the Valley of Death Arc, Episode 3-6, which cover the Ortus Arc, and Episode 9, “Where Gravekeepers Are Born.”

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I wrote a piece some time ago about Kino’s Journey and the importance of approaching the different countries in the show visited by Kino and, by proxy, the audience through the anthropological lens of cultural relativism. What may be seen within a culture, different from our own, as an illogical lifestyle and a barbaric morality to the foreign observer looking from without may be a completely reasonable lifestyle and acceptable morality to the native participant engaging from within. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t ultimately disagree and reject lifestyles and moralities different from our own. However, trying to make sense of a culture or a person without temporarily suspending our own ethnocentric impulses and prejudices kills attempts at creating empathy and shuts down productive discussion. You’re not going to understand the worldview of someone if the only conversation you can have with that someone is “Whose worldview is better than the other’s?”

In the spirit of cultural relativism, Sunday Without God presents two remarkable back-to-back arcs that approach the universe’s cultural understanding of death and the undead in opposite ways. The latter arc is a thematic reaction to the first arc. Encompassing Episodes 1-3 is the first arc of the show, Valley of Death. Encompassing Episodes 4-6 is the second arc, Ortus. Within these arcs is the main character and observer constant, Ai Astin, whose views about death and the undead evolve over the course of the places she visits and the people she meets.

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Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: Religion, Tradition, and the New Age

Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall (broken records all around), 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. While this piece will reference other parts of the show, this essay will primarily break down the events of Episode 6 “I’m Troubling Only My Parents” and Episode 7 “I Forgot How to Speak.” I will also mention the related thematic resolution to Episode 9, “It’s Not That I Can’t Do It.”

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On the surface, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is a strange concoction of battle spectacles, religion, and eccentric and risqué behavior brewed out of a Haruhi-inspired cauldron. The premise is a riff off of a Haruhi-inspired archetype, a girl who subconsciously  alters the world using god powers stored within her person. Inspiration is not imitation, however. While I’m not going to deny the influence The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has had on Sasami-san’s narrative, I’m confident in expressing this: Sasami-san’s is more ambitious than Haruhi’s, if not quite as well-written. It’s willing to talk about controversial issues in contemporary Japanese society that the Haruhi series is not really equipped to discussing. The show combines its fight scenes with its universe’s mythos, not unlike Monogatari, to craft a social commentary on Japanese religion and spirituality, as well as culture and lifestyles, in the New Age.

While this piece will reference other parts of the show, I will primarily focus on the events of Episode 6 “I’m Troubling Only My Parents” and Episode 7 “I Forgot How to Speak” and how these events culminate into a physical and ideological clash between Juju and Tama. I will also mention the related thematic resolution to Episode 9, “It’s Not That I Can’t Do It.”

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[Award] Liebster Award Questionaire, or A Great Excuse to Tease Matcha

Management: Apparently I’m popular enough that anibloggers are consigning me to more blog work. Anyway, if you’ve either yet to read or entirely forgot the opening lines of my last self-reflection questionnaire post, I’ve set myself up to do these kinds of super editorializing posts in a super editorializing manner. These kinds of posts are a lot less formal, polite, and reserved than my usual Management content. I’ve subsequently labeled their style and persona as Non-Management.

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