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 s 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?

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A Reflection on Weird Things Eaten in Golden Kamuy and Real Life

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 Golden Kamuy anime.

My undisputed favorite comfort meal to eat is Dinuguan. I remember falling in love with it back when I was little. It’s a Filipino delicacy, a savory stew made of garlic, vinegar, peppers, spices, pork bits, and… pig’s blood. I wasn’t aware that it was made with pig’s blood until my parents told me when I was much older. My reaction?  The news of it unfazed me. All that mattered was that it tasted good. I realize that that kind of reaction isn’t the norm for my friends and acquaintances. Many of them aren’t Asian or or particularly adventurous with what they eat. I’ve seen several of them balk at me while while I’m selling Dinuguan to them. Pig’s blood isn’t something that’s normally stocked in Western retail markets. It’s more commonly encountered in Asian grocery stores. Pig’s blood turns black when you cook it, and it coagulates into jelly when you leave it be. You typically find the stuff sold in portioned up cubes, in plastic tubs or shrink-wrapped packs . It’s kind of an inside joke among Filipinos to tease and trick the beknownst into trying it by calling it “chocolate soup.” Filipinos do have a recipe for something soupy with chocolate, but Dinuguan is most assuredly not soup with chocolate. It’s, again, pork stew made with pig’s blood.

Why does Filipino cooking incorporate pig’s blood in the first place? I don’t think that I’m knowledgeable enough to answer this question for certain, so a better follow-up inquiry might be: What makes the cuisines of some cultures more likely to use more parts of the pig than other cultures? My impression of American cooking is that it tends to dismiss pig’s blood as waste to be discarded. In contrast, my impression of Filipino cooking is that pig’s blood is valuable enough to be turned into a meal. That goes for the other peripheral parts of the pig like the ears, the neckbone, and the head. Filipinos subscribe “nose to tail” philosophy when it comes to turning livestock into a meal, and it seems like the Ainu have a similar “all parts of the animal” mindset when turning their game into something edible. To me, the reason for these similarities in cooking philosophy is connected to shared experiences of food scarcity.

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Devilman: Adaptations Now, Then, and When

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. As a disclaimer, the article also contains some graphic nudity.

Introduction

So there’s these curious differences between multiple versions of a story that can tell you a few things about the era about when they were first told. These differences can manifest in even the most throw-away of details. As a related example,  A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun are not only shows that share the same fictional universe. The events that take place in these shows also run concurrently with each other timeline-wise. The perspectives of their respective protagonists, Touma Kamijo and Mikoto Misaka, converge together toward the same events before diverging to cover different ones. Between these two shows though, there’s a continuity error. It’s an little error that doesn’t meaningfully alter their narrative contents in any drastic way, plot-wise.

In the second season of A Certain Magical Index, Touma uses a flip phone, depicted in the image above. He uses a smartphone after the events of the image below (aka after the SisterS arc). In the second season A Certain Scientific Railgun, he uses a smart phone (aka during the SisterS arc).

Using some logical deduction and quick historical digging, this little detail of different phones can reveal to knowledgable and attentive audiences a rough date of when these shows first aired.  Flip phones were developed before smart phones. They were popular where I lived before smart phones overtook them in sales and ownership numbers. I also used to have a flip phone before I switched to using a smart phone. The second season of Index (2010-2011) is older than the second season of Railgun (2013). Railgun likely featured Touma using a smart phone over a flip phone because smart phones were more commonly used in Japan by that point. Flip phones were still widely used in Japan over the smart phone when Index first illustrated Touma using a flip phone.

If these anime adaptations of Index and Railgun could communicate that much information about when they were animated based on that little error, what could the less throw-away aspects of different story adaptations of an iconic Devilman scene and set of characters tell us about different moments in time?

I’ll be discussing the original Devilman (1972-1973) manga , the Devilman G (2012-2014) manga, and the Devilman Crybaby (2018) anime.

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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.

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