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.

danganronpa-7

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.

Continue reading

An Open Taisho Secret: Demon Slayer and Fashion History in Taisho Era Japan

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 Demon Slayer anime.

What’s the first image that pops into your mind about Japan? When people bring up their ideas of Japanese aesthetic, their minds probably gravitate to two images. For Japanophiles and history buffs, they might think something “traditional:” homes of cedar or clay-tile roofing, opaque paper sliding doors, eave-sheltered porches of wood surrounded by serene, immaculate, miniature displays of nature. For futurist aficionados and cyberpunk doomsayers, they might think something Ghost-in-the-Shell: vistas of tall glass and steel, towers into the nighttime skyline, darkness displaced vaguely by multi-colored hues of strobe and neon. The first image hearkens to a period in Japan “untouched” by the influences of the outside world. The second image conjures a picture of Japan “consumed” by it. Regardless of how totally accurate these images are, they’re probably the two most people gravitate to when thinking about Japan…

…except there’s a third image that’s also memorable to many Japanese. It’s a moment of transition in Japanese history, the traditional aesthetic of Edo Japan intersecting with the imported aesthetic of the West unleashed during Meiji. Kimono and business suits, obi wraps and hats, men and boys, women and girls amble the sumptuous Western-inspired streets of day-lit Ginza or the sultry electric-lit thoroughfares of nightlife Asakusa in traditional, Western, and syncretic (traditional-and-Western mixed) fashion. It’s this fashionable third of transitory excitement that Demon Slayer manages to capture pretty well. Let’s explore some of that mixed fashion and discuss how urbanites in Japan fell in love with it, historically.

Continue reading

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.

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 this 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?

Continue reading

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.

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.

Continue reading

Kantai Collection/KanColle: “The Things She Loves”

Management: A musing on a KanColle doujinshi, the KanColle franchise, and the war KanColle takes its material from, this piece is collaboration work between ZeroReq011 of therefore it is and Jaehaerys48 of the Sasami Report, a thematic analysis of あたる  (Ataru’s) “The Things She Saw.” Sentences, images, facts, and reflections were contributed by both of us in the making of this piece. Links leading to KanColle and normal historical facts about the ships/ship girls featured are featured for your reading experience.

You can find the original Japanese and the translated English versions of  “The Things She Saw” here and here, respectively.

Kancolle 2

Do mouths gape?

Do eyes tear?

What’s the face of a girl in love look like?

So you’re reading a novel, listening to some lyrics, or watching, I don’t know, KanColle, and you gain an interest in certain things in the setting, the elements of the media you’re consuming. You read on, listen on, watch KanColle on, wanting to learn more about those said elements. Sometimes those elements get elaborated further, and sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day, you’re not satisfied. You want more. You hunger for more. And so you do some research on those KanColle  elements you’re so interested in. You might check Wikipedia. You might search databases for articles. You might borrow some books or a documentary from the library. You might even consult an expert.

You’ve learned something new, related yet independent from whatever drove you to conduct research in the first place.

Tangential learning.

It’s a spontaneous, initiative-based process that can occur with just about any media if its narrative elements are interesting, leading, and ambiguous enough to excite curiosity. An example would be media drawing from history, like with KanColle.

Continue reading