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

Of Epistemological Positions: Monogatari and the Death of Gods

Management: While my overall opinion of the Monogatari Series, is quite positive, this essay is, by no means, meant to be a comprehensive review. It is rather an articulation and analysis of what I feel are its most integral and interesting themes. Much of this essay draws from elements of Sigmund Freud’s and especially Friedrich Nietzche’s thoughts. That being said, the inclusion of those elements are not meant to be a total affirmation of everything they believe.

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The Truth That Matters

When it comes to epistemology, broken down to its etymological roots as the study of knowledge, we ultimately end up having to ask or being asked some derivative of the question… What is truth?

What is it? It may be useful to inquire first truth’s opposite, namely, falsehood. Falsehood, in layman’s terms, are lies, and lies can be characterized as deceit, deception, and delusion. I’m asked why the sky is blue, and rather than answer “because it’s the oxygen in the atmosphere,” I reply “because it’s an ocean propped up by an invisible dome erected long ago.” That doesn’t work like that, or that never happened, or that is not. It isn’t real. So what does that mean for truth, and how is that meaning relevant to us, no less to a show like Monogatari?

Because what matters to us, boiled down, what we tend to say, what we tend to do, how we tend to lead our lives, is what’s real. It’s what’s is. Whether we are conscious of it or not, people orient themselves to the fulfillment of some meaning or purpose, of how we ought to live our lives. It’s the objective way of living. It’s what we feel will make us happy. It’s what’s natural. It’s what’s proper. It’s what makes us feel whole. In many organized religions, that means obedience and/or communion with some sort of deity or deities, constituting in sum things such as omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience… the highest rungs of what can be considered fulfillment or wholeness. It is the absolute, ultimate truth, and being part of that truth, theoretically, is supposed to make us happy. Philosophy trims the divine aspects of theology, but nevertheless leaves the theological concept, in function and even name, intact. Our absolute, ultimate truth is our god, and there is no god but ours. Truth’s naturally exclusive that way.

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Higurashi: Between Worlds Perfect and Not

Management: This essay is an analysis of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei (the last, serious installment) of the (original) animated Hirgurashi franchise, specifically Saikoroshi, or the Dice Killing Chapter, which comprises Episode 2 to Episode 4. 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.

 An Offer Too Good To Resist?

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It’s a bit maddening that people either dismiss or adore Higurashi for of its supposed under-aged bloody psycho girl spectacles. That isn’t to say that label isn’t applicable to some degree, but it’s rather reductive about a series that’s, foremost, one grand narrative about friendship. Friendship, of all things. And while I suppose dismissing Rei, the last serious sequel to the TV series, as third-string material for its Episode 1 and 5 silliness and lack of gore is understandable, it’s nevertheless saddening when it’s the series, specifically Saikoroshi-hen, or the Dice Killing Chapter, at its most philosophically dense.

While I wouldn’t be one to discourage more shows approaching  friendship as something integral to their thematic base, friendship’s still a rather common theme, and one that, in a sea of shows inundated by this subject, it takes a lot to separate it as something special from the fold. While Higurashi seeks to do just that for its first two animated installments, Rei addresses another theme that, in my opinion, is rather ambitious to present in any way to audiences in general ever. The Dice Killing Chapter asks Rika Furude and its audience an existential question. Between worlds perfect and not, which one is preferable?

The answer seems self-explanatory. It’s got to be the former. It’s got to be perfection. After all, if perfection is something that is possible to achieve… No no no, let me rephrase. If perfection is merely something that can be chosen and adopted, then this shouldn’t even be a matter of debate. Of course, unless there’s a catch.

What’s constitutes perfection, according to Higurashi? What constitutes imperfection? We want to make sure we don’t make any Faustian bargains.

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