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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Hunter x Hunter: Evolution and Roses

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 comments on the events of Hunter x Hunter’s (2011) Chimera Ant Arc. 

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Meaning in language, connotative meaning especially, is not fixed. Folks possessing historical perspective are probably aware of at least a few words that, at one time, were once universally regarded with positive or neutral connotations and, at another, ended up being seen by many as negative or controversial. “Progress” is one of those words, associated as it was during the periods of Enlightenment and Modernity with those once unequivocally righteous virtues of industry and science. Industry and science have since been problematized by discoveries such as carbon footprints and nuclear energy — the stuff that could end worlds. “Evolution,” a concept related to “progress,” is another.

Hunter x Hunter (2011)’s Chimera Ant Arc  frames the concept of evolution in both its more strictly physiological and more expansively utility-driven understandings. The show then ties evolution to the traditional shounen battler theme of self-improvement. Out of this relational framework, a powerful statement about evolution is made that ends up reflecting the general ambivalence the Japanese psyche has with such a concept, much like its mixed-feelings with the word “progress.” Like the word “progress,” evolution is not a concept that should be understood as an uncritical good. For evolution — like progress, industry, and science — has the power to create and inspire… and destroy and harm.

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John Wants to Be Him | A Collaborative Story Concept

Management: I do other things outside of occasionally watching anime and writing blog posts about them. I also occasionally participate on podcasts. The podcast below is “Words, with Friends,” hosted by RogerMcSexington. During Roger’s podcasts, he and a guest (such as myself) come up with a story concept based off of two random story genre cast from a digital card deck of 9.

So after humbly accepting an invitation to Mr. Roger’s digital neighborhood, we did a podcast… after several attempts. Scheduling conflicts came up, my hardware was being uncooperative (the result of my previously dying and now very dead laptop), and there was a lot of workplace drama. We were finally able to nail a new date, I finally realized that my phone was smart, and I was able to negotiate my way to a better working arrangement. We sat down, we recorded successfully, and the audio was published without serious issue.

“Words, with Friends” is a creative writing podcast, of sorts. Out of a deck comprised of 9 genres of Roger’s construction (yuri included), upon command, a computer program would draw 2 genres at random. From those 2 random genres, we would create an original story concept, complete with plot, characters, setting, theme, and title. After making a mental declaration to myself in the voice of Dan Green, the 2 genres we ended up drawing were “Romance” and “Sci-fi.” They weren’t altogether bad genres to build out from, but I didn’t have any experience beforehand writing science fiction. So after a moment of brainstorming on Roger’s part, he suggested that come up with something inspired from an Overwatch short.

The Overwatch short he had in mind was “Alive Animated.”

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AKB0048: Work, Play, and Life Fulfilled

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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Idols doing battle in space. It’s not as though this eccentric premise is especially unheard of in anime history (See: Macross). However, its eccentricity seemed to demand something thorough explication of its setting’s cosmology. I demanded one, anyway. The show’s backdrop is one of conflict between the forces of play and the forces of work. At the vanguard of the forces of play is the idol battle group, AKB0048. The armed guard of the forces of work are the Destroy Entertainment Soldiers, DES.

While the audience during the show was treated to insider information  about the motivations of the idols and the mission of idols’ organization, the DES was treated, more or less, as this large, amorphous, and ambiguous force that sought to destroy singing and dancing and idols and entertainment. Why? Because EVIL? Because the show treated them as clear EVIL,  AKB0048’s mission would be seen all the more as GOOD, because the alternative is EVIL? Is play all good then, and work all bad? Musing on the show more, I would say the answer is neither.

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Terror in Resonance: Voices Beyond Violence

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 is meant to take the place of a previous review on the show.

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I want to address a rather easy prejudice people end up giving in to: Terror in Resonance is about terrorism. No, Terror in Resonance is about the terrorists. It was about empathizing with the two terrorists of the show. Well, I suppose now it’s a bit reductive to fully separate “terrorism” from “terrorists,” not least because both terms have “terror” in their names. I’ll concede that show is parts “terrorists” and “terrorism.” What I do want to divorce from the conversation is the inordinate attention people pay towards the morality of terrorism. Should terrorists deserve our empathy when, to us, they show none for their victims? Many, if not most, of these victims are “innocent people,” innocent people insofar as they have no direct connection to the causes they are committing terrorism for. Many terrorists know they are targeting “innocent people.”

Well, now we’re talking about the morality of terrorism. Conflating the motivations of one particularly amoral terrorist with the motivations of all terrorists is problematic. It’s just as dehumanizing to the terrorists as to the people they terrorize. And yet, this kind of oversimplified heuristic still operates on a public level. Terrorists are people. The people who are inspired to terrorism are people. The people who are vulnerable to becoming terrorists are people. Most terrorism doesn’t happen spontaneously because most terrorists don’t decide to become terrorists spontaneously. This drive to terrorism comes from somewhere on the lines of freedom and faith, somewhere filled with grievance and resent. It comes from somewhere human.

Nine and Twelve are human.

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Psycho-Pass: The Ceremony of Innocence

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 covers thematic material from Psycho-Pass as a whole and Episode 14 of Psycho-Pass, “Sweet Poison.”

Additionally, I go over content from Haurki Murakami’s Underground, a non-fiction piece that reflects on the testimonies of individuals caught and involved in the March 20, 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks.

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So I was reading Haruki Murakami’s Underground and while I was digesting its content, a point struck me that made me think of Psycho-Pass. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Murakami is a novelist. Post-modernism is a pretty broad and oft ambiguous genre of storytelling, and Murakami in particular is well-known in contemporary literature for his post-modern brand of literary treatment. If there’s one common thread in the post-modern literary genre that could be pinned out, it’s that it often entails a challenge to the status quo, a shakedown of the essentialist assumptions that people take for granted: about themselves, the world, and their place within it.

In one way, Underground is a departure. Murakami’s career up until then was in fiction, not non-fiction. In another way, it’s not. Many of Murakami’s works deal with the recurring thread of the underground, the underworld that, if not quite belies, runs underneath, clandestine, interior to the exterior of the trappings of the external civilities of societies and individuals, specifically those of the culture of Japanese. It’s like the difference between tourism and immigration to Japan. The Japanese take to the former foreigners more warmly over the latter. The title of his book is Underground, the setting is the underground Tokyo subway system, and the theme is the underground of people.

Underground specifically deals with the Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks of March 20, 1995, specifically those of the cult of Aum Shinrikyo. Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Mawaru Penguindrum makes visually explicit allusions to it, and there are obvious thematic parallels that could be made between anime and event. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gen Urobuchi also reflected on what that incident exposed when he wrote Psycho-Pass, and specifically Episode 14 of Psycho-Pass, “Sweet Poison.”

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Death Parade ~ A Rant About Why the Show Isn’t Going to Hell

Management: Unlike more formal entries, this post is just me kind of freewheeling some hate I’ve worked up on something or other. I intend they be civil, but they are rants. They are demonstrably more passionately accusatory towards something or someone, but the points I’ll make will at least be coherent. I won’t do these on a regular basis. They’ll just spontaneously spring to life one day in a conversation, and I’d rather at least the reasonableness, if not the rhetoric, of my sentiments aren’t forgotten.

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Every Death Parade discussion that I’ve skimmed through had people dropping and arguing opinions. Not a whole lot of surprise there. It happens for most, if not all, shows. But there’s something about the type of opinion being expressed and debated in Death Parade that seems to be unique to it, special to it. This “specialness” is where the focal point of these opinions are concentrated: posts and polemics about good and evil and heaven and hell of all variations.

They frustrates me.

My public health professor posed a question about the infamous “Typhoid Mary.” People opined about who was right and wrong, while here I was, the only person in my class who thought this question about Typhoid Mary was dumb.

Here I am now, thinking that these Death Parade discussions about morality were dumb.

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