Buddhist Iconography in Land of the Lustrous

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 Land of the Lustrous anime.

Introduction

Iconography is a powerful tool in storytelling. The power of icons belies and transcends the descriptor of them as being mere assortments of organized lines, shapes, and maybe colors. Even if audiences don’t fully understand their cultural context, icons hold a power over a people who are even just passingly familiar with them. The more ancient and fundamental seeming these icons are in a given culture, the more power they have over shaping the expectations of audiences when consuming a work of fiction utilizing them. Like money, icons are a currency that those in the know conduct exchanges with, with the medium of exchange being knowledge instead of paper or metal. For instance, the knowledge of whether or not your friend likes certain anime without asking him can be ascertained from the Homura figurine he positions on his writing desk or the Rem plushie he keeps at his bedside. The knowledge of your friend’s interest in certain religions can be deduced without direct inquiry based on the crucifix on her wall or the buddha on her nightstand.

Many storytellers set up expectations based on how audiences understand these icons in the real world. Religious iconography, even without much knowledge of doctrine, possesses the cultural currency of something deep and profound. Land of the Lustrous and the Evangelion franchise contain copious amounts of this kind of iconography. While Evangelion doesn’t demonstrate any deep or profound understanding of the Christian symbolism it mucks around in, audiences are nevertheless drawn to it by the iconography’s intangible appeal. Land of the Lustrous goes further with its iconography, exhibiting a more-than-passing understanding of the Buddhist symbolism it sculpts its characters out with. Most people watching Land of the Lustrous will at least recognize that some of its iconography is Buddhist in origin. Those with passing familiarity with Buddhism may find themselves attracted to these icons because of their pop culture associations with deep and profound powers or knowledge. Those with more educated backgrounds in the Buddhist religion may may also expect the themes of the story to unfold in ways that reflect a Buddhist worldview.

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Fate/Zero: Maybe There Is A God in This World

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 Fate/Zero anime.

Another Grail war is set to rage. Contemporary sociopathic killer Ryuunoske Uryuu drew a magic occult circle using the blood of a couple he just killed. Historical sociopathic killer Gilles de Rais comes out of it and shows him a new way to enjoy murder using that family’s son. He and Gilles become fast friends, partners, and mentors. In a cruel twist of fate, two serial killers join the fight for the Grail as legitimate contenders for its prize. Qualified competitors are eligible win a legendary artifact, an artifact of yore rumored to grant a wish for any who wins it in a specially arranged death match: The Holy Grail. All they have to do is kill each other. Given the associations the Holy Grail has with Jesus Christ — the supposed God the Son who preached the qualities of his just and merciful God the Father — the fact that such a relic would allow serial killers to participate in its contest seems to put the grail’s sacral character into doubt. Then there are the other problematic aspects about this war that need accounting, like why the Grail would position itself to grant any wish, or why the Grail would tempt people into killing each other for it.

Now, you might think me somewhat unhinged spending time writing about the perspectives of serial killers, but know this. To me, the dialogue the two have touch on an interesting, if despondently cynical, way to understand the nature and existence of the omnipotent entity known as the Christian God. That depressing cynicism is probably the reason why most people refuse to see His Christian Godliness like these two serial killers. What good can come from comprehending God using the arguments of the sadistically perturbed?  A logical acceptance would likely induce despair or madness. Its logical reasonableness may cause a complete loss of faith. It’s a challenge to those who hold to the belief in a benevolent God in the face of evil’s tenacious persistence. It’s evil’s utter existence. It’s the problem of evil that’s the subject of these serial killers’ conversations.

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Fate/Zero: The Paradox of Unbridled Idealism

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 was made addressing ideas from Episode 11 of Fate/Zero, “The Grail Dialogues.”  This essay is meant to take the place of a previous essay on the show.

Fate Zero 2

A temporary reprieve from this bloody business called battle is held as the three historically sovereign heroic spirits present in this age’s Holy Grail War, Saber, the King of Knights, Rider, the King of Conquerors, and Archer, the King of Heroes, sit down for drink and conversation, the conversation evolving from kingly courtesies to discussions about how each would use the grail to arguments about kingship in general. The centerfold tension of the entire discussion is Rider’s opposition to Saber’s view on proper kingliness. I’m not going to talk about proper kingliness per se.

The following words aren’t meant to answer the question of who is a true king. Saber, Rider, and Archer have different answers based on fundamentally different understandings of the position. They can argue all day without proving the other wrong, because “king” is an artificial, and thus subjective, construct. Rather, from their debate, I’ll talk about what the show thinks constitutes a good political leader.

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The Garden of Sinners: Breaking Stones

Management: Management: While my opinion of the show is quite 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. This essay, in particular, is about Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin, though it does reference other movies in the series, the most notable being Mirai Fukuin: Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2).

Kara no Kyoukai 1

The Kara no Kyoukai, or Garden of Sinners, series has an official epilogue, a conversation between the heads of the two main characters that serve little else save to clarify character identities and relationships, plus the more convoluted plot points of the show. For me, it’s admittedly not the most fulfilling method the show could have used to wrap up the series, which is why, among other points, I was eager to see the curtains redrawn with the following “side story” to Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin, or Future Gospel. It turned out that I preferred it. To me, it was the better, albeit unofficial, epilogue in two respects.

In the first respect, the show revisits the world of Kara no Kyoukai via Mirai Fukuin several years after Kara no Kyoukai: Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2), or Murder Speculation (Part 2). However, as is somewhat characteristic of Kara no Kyoukai’s style of storytelling, the show begins somewhat chronologically misaligned. The “side story” takes place first in the past, some time before the events of Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2) before transitioning to the future. If the past and the future were two different stories taking place in the same setting, that would seem to indicate the former as the “side story” and the latter as the “epilogue.” If they were unconnected.

In the second respect, Mirai Fukuin acts as the thematic capstone, the thematic epilogue, to the overarching themes of the Kara no Kyoukai series, as embodied in Shiki’s constant internal struggle with her actions and Mikiya’s tireless attempts to support her in her internal conflict.

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