Danganronpa: Guilt, Propaganda, Asociality, and Despair in Anime

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains spoilers for Danganronpa. This essay is a re-write of an earlier article on the same subject.

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In Danganronpa, there is Despair and her Remnants. In addition to the Ultimate Despair Junko Enoshima of Dangaronpa 1, there are also the Remnants of Despair of Danganronpa 2. In the Danganronpa universe, the Remnants of Despair are  Junko’s agents: sewing chaos, mayhem… mass Despair, generally. According to the Danganronpa lore, most killed themselves after learning Junko was defeated. Several managed on to justify living on, causing trouble for our heroes. Some of these Remnants genuinely believe in despair and worship Junko. Others were brainwashed or manipulated into becoming Remnants. The  Ultimate Lucky Student and Hope Fetishist Nagito Komaeda was persuaded by Junko to become a Remnant. Junko convinced that if Hope prevails at humanity’s darkest hour, he’ll experience his best… release yet. All he has to pursue his agenda of hope is… help make things super dark for humanity. Nagito’s weird.

In the Danganronpa 3 anime, Former Hope’s Peak Academy Headmaster Kazuo Tengan masquerades as a Remnant, in hopes of winning an ultimate victory for… well, Hope. He organizes a terrible new killing game, hoping it will make things so bad that it will convince the Ultimate Animator to unleash his talents on the world. You might ask what’s so terrifying about an animator, and the answer to that would be because it’s Danganronpa, at least in part. Ultimate Animator Ryota has not only the capacity to make engaging and compelling anime. His animator skills also give him the ability to outright brainwash and mind control people. In his quest to craft the ultimate anime capable of moving everyone who watches it, Ryota’s talents were manipulated  by Junko to cause the apocalypse through mass hypnosis mind control. Kazuo is now trying to utilize his talents to reverse it… by also using mass hypnosis mind control.

As an arguable, albeit unwilling, Remnant of Despair himself, his skills have the power to change people for the kinder and for the terrible. To be clear, while effective propaganda can influence how people behave in certain situations, Danganronpa 3 is not an accurate example of how propaganda actually works. It oversimplifies the power media consumption have at shaping viewer psychology. Animation is a type of media, and where influencing media consumers are concerned, the power animation has over how people think is conditional. The show unrealistically imagines that it is possible that media creators in its universe, the Ultimate Animator specifically, can brainwash other people through a glass reflection’s glance if they’re “Ultimate” enough. Despite what’s possible in Danganronpa and what’s actually possible in real life, the anime nonetheless got me thinking about real-life parallels. For me, Danganronpa 3 seemed to be subtly drawing a connection between its Ultimate Ryota and Japanese creators such as cartoonists and animators. Willingly and unwillingly, wittingly and unwittingly, these artists channeled their skills into creating propaganda for certain causes, like World War II-era Imperial Japan and the cult of Aum Shinrikyo.

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Violet Evergarden: The Beautiful Fighting Girl and the Romanticization of War

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 Violet Evergarden anime.

So there’s this one movie quote from this one movie critic about how there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie.

However critical a war film’s themes happen to be about conflict of war, if the anti-war movie in question features some violent spectacle, the anti-war messaging is undermined out-of-hand. If only for those moments of cinematic violence, there will those audience members that will instinctually enjoy them because the violence itself is enthralling to watch. The anti-war film that includes warfare becomes a thematic paradox at best and cinema-narrative dissonance at worst. I would like to believe that I’m self-aware enough to appreciate the messages in an anti-war media while taking in exciting moments of warfare. However, I also think it’s a legitimate complaint to accuse certain shows that highlight the tragedy of war that they are betraying their own themes of how awful war is by including scenes that celebrate fighting of any kind and for any side. In Code Geass, for example, massacring unarmed civilians is bad, and yet fighting in giant robots is awesome. In Hellsing: Ultimate, on the other hand, the show makes no bones about its characters loving war holistically, characters basking in both the spectacle of civilians dying in droves and their own men being torn to shreds.

While there are few, if any, anti-war media that would get around the near-impossible encirclement set by this quote, Violet Evergarden is a decent attempt at breaking out.  The show mainly focuses on the lives of characters affected by the war, after the war. The few times that the show illustrates past war moments are mostly spent on soldiers being contemplative, frightened, or desperate… hardly empowering stuff. The notable and understandable exception to this trend of omitting violent spectacle is Violet herself, the blood-streaked, barely-teen soldier maiden of the battlefield. Similarly,  while Violet Evergarden doesn’t fully overcome the well-worn and somewhat exploitative anime trope of the beautiful fighting girl, the Kyoto Animation adaptation does make a decision in regards to its female heroine that admirably tries to circumvent the worst of that stereotype. In their original conceptions, the beautiful fighting girls (also known as the bishoujo fighting girls) were those female characters who were both badasses in combat and unambiguously feminine. Violet, our female character here, is depicted during her tour of “duty” less as a cutesy warrior and as more a feral animal.

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Samurai Flamenco: Cynicism, Society, and Stolen Umbrellas

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 Samurai Flamenco Episode 2: “My Umbrella Is Missing.”

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One of the moments I found most memorable in Samurai Flamenco didn’t involve any of the steadily spectacle-creep superhero battles. My evaluations of these battles ranged from tediously cliche (The Flamengers versus From Beyond) to absolutely ridiculous (Samurai Flamenco versus The Prime Minister). I would suspect a lot of people who watched the show from start to finish had similar reactions. But from moment-to-moment, the parts of the story I found the most emotionally resonant was the parts that were relatively mundane. They were slow moments, characters talking with each other, arguing with each other, sharing their ambitions and motivations, dreams and goals.

Getting back to the point, a moment that struck me was one about umbrellas. Hazama Masayoshi and Goto Hidenori are in a restaurant, eating, drinking, and talking about Hazama’s latest antics as Samurai Flamenco. That discussion leads back into a discussion of Hazama’s motivations for being a hero. Up to that point, Samurai Flamenco’s illustrious career thus far consisted of scolding people for not following the small laws: salarymen smoking in non-smoking zones, housewives putting out their trash too early, kids littering and staying out past curfew, and people swiping each other’s umbrellas from the public stands. These violations are misdemeanors at worst, and nuisances at best.

Most of the people who will read this post will be Westerners, and I’m an American. I can’t really argue with certainty how much of an issue government overreach happens to be outside of the US, but inside the US, there’s a deep distrust by many Americans of anything associated with the “nanny-state.”  I can’t help but be skeptical of it myself. They’re little, albeit formal, violations that the system lets slip under the cracks, because they’re not worth enforcing compared to other priorities. And indeed, the inevitability of them happening, the frequency by which they occur, and costs  of enforcement are deemed by policeman Goto as not worth the trouble for him to actively seek out. Hero Hazama disagrees. He disagrees, and he explains why by discussing the meaning behind his small-time crime fighting. Far from trying to invade people’s privacy and controlling their lives, what he wants to fight is cynicism.

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Shigofumi and Death Parade: Empathy for the Living

Management: The issue and act of the episodes of these two shows, Shigofumi’s Episode 3: “Friends”, and Death Parade’s Episode 11 “Memento Mori” and Episode 12 “Suicide Tour,” is, of course, a rather controversial point of discussion in popular and private discourse, and so my intention, with this essay, is to posit Shigofumi’s and Death Parade’s musings on the subject in a thought-provoking way. Additionally, while I may hold a positive opinion overall of this show, 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.

This piece also references a previous post of Shigofumi I wrote, which can be found here.

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I published a little thematic piece on Shigofumi when I started out blogging. The piece is somewhat of a reflection of how far my blogging voice has come since. My writing then was less lengthy than it is now, by a considerable degree. It was more structurally rigid and emotionally reserved. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m more confident saying a whole variety of different things. The Shigofumi piece ended up drawing some debate, and that debate pertained both to how I interpreted the show’s targeted message as well as the acceptability of the targeted message itself. I made no secret that I was supportive of that message.

That message was anti-suicide.

While it tells its a separate story, Death Parade makes the same message. It is critical of the reasoning that has driven many people to kill themselves. I understand that suicide is a sensitive topic for a lot of people, and what I will say will sound like suicide victim blaming. Consequently, I will make pains to clarify what kind of suicide these shows and I are calling out on. However, if the creators behind Shigofumi and Death Parade are willing to make these points unreservedly, then it would behoove me to not hold back.

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