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

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: The Hidden Reason Behind Sports Day

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 Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid anime, especially Episode 9.

For a mightily questionable premise of “the adventures of a bespectacled Victorian maid-obsessed salarywoman and the busty live-in dragonoid maid that wants to lovey-dovey to quite-erotic things with her”, Kyoto Animation’s anime adaptation of the manga series is surprisingly thoughtful. Now… I wouldn’t call it entirely wholesome.  The adaptation doesn’t completely excise all its questionably horny gags: a dragon woman’s lack of boundary respect for a middle school boy, a middle school girl’s less-than-prurient feelings for dragon girl classmate. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (henceforth just Dragon Maid) is nevertheless thoughtful where it talks about family and community. Rather than their dynamic being solely defined by comedy that exploits their bizarre situation, Kobayashi and Tohru’s queer relationship is nurtured numerous moments of appreciation and intimacy. By the end of the first season, a Kobayashi that invited Tohru in during a drunken stupor has become a Kobayashi that she misses her dearly while fully sober: not just because Tohru’s the maid she’s always wanted (she’s not Victorian), but because she feels rent without Tohru in her life.

Much like how Kobayashi, Tohru, and later Kanna eventually live together under the same roof as strangers-turned-family, Japanese society reproduces and reinforces familial and communal values in the people that comprise it. Kobayashi begins the show as nerdy workaholic loner, not necessarily opposed to socializing, but mainly focused on personal interests: day job and maid hobbies (the real Victorian shit). By the end of the show, Kobayashi lives in a family sized apartment with Tohru, spending money and making time for Kanna’s school supplies and functions.

From the family side of things, her atypical depiction in anime and Japanese media in general as a rather unfeminine looking-computer programming-salaryperson slaving-maid otaku raving-ultimately queer woman doesn’t prevent her from forming a happy family complete with a child. Japanese society promotes making families for the sake of raising children for Japan’s future. Dragon Maid deviates but doesn’t fully depart from that goal. If you can be open-minded about her lesbian relationship with a rather motherly Tohru and the non-blooded connection to her still effective daughter Kanna, Kobayashi’s character slots rather snugly in that customary role of father. Kobayashi is the stoic tie-and-slacks breadwinner.

From the community side of things, Kobayashi’s desire to provide for Tohru and Kanna, make them happy, and keep her world welcoming to them puts her into situations that require her to engage with society more broadly than she previously had. Nothing better illustrates this change in Kobayashi more than Sports Day. But… what is Sports Day exactly? What’s so special about it? As a person currently in Japan teaching kids there for a living, I’ve had the opportunity to spectate and even participate in Sports Days. I studied the games and activities whilst cheering for my students. Somewhere, I realized a educative purpose to it all that doesn’t have to do with athletic fitness.

Continue reading

Your Name: Disastrous Places and Liminal Spaces

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 Your Name anime.

We’re acquainted with these tales of from folklore and myth, the premises of horror stories, those testimonials people caught on special TV channels: a place of some awful significance is haunted by undead spirits. Moldering graveyards, abandoned asylums, scarred battlefields, places of disaster… In the fields of Gettysburg, for example, some locals claim that they can hear the dead, soldiers from long ago who haunt the former battlefield. Gettysburg was the location of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle, and its legacy as the site of mass slaughter has made the more superstitious perceive it as a site of restless energy. In the popular imagination, these places serve as liminal spaces, locations and sites where all-too-natural dichotomies are not normally observed: death intermingling with life, life intermingling with death. The dead have not passed into the afterlife, the ether, or permanent rest as they ought to have. Instead, their undead spirits wander the grounds, bound to some place of awful significance.

While Your Name is not a horror film in the way the genre is conventionally understood, the narrative of Your Name plays an awful lot with liminal spaces. The concept of liminality in religious and anthropological studies has a definition that’s a little broader than just the spaces the mortal and the infinite occupy. Liminality is the concept referring to transformation and intersection, where clearly delineated dichotomies of “one” blur and bleed into the “other,” branching into or becoming new and distinct entities. Life and death is the domain of liminality, but so is the profane and the sacred; the child and the adult, the individual and the communal, this direction and that, this person and that, and even time and space itself. Directed by Makoto Shinkai, Your Name is a story layered with examples of its characters passing through various thresholds, states, and spaces of liminality to resolve a conflict. The film starts with the blurring of one traditional dichotomy: the inexplicable bleeding of its two protagonists into each others’ lives, a body-swap. Midway, the film grounds its supernatural gimmick with its extant reason: a place of disaster.

Continue reading

Girls’ Last Tour: Dancing Decadently in the Moonlight

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 Girls’ Last Tour anime.

The world has ended. Earth hasn’t yet been annihilated out of existence. Human society though, the world of our anthro-centric leanings, has passed its twilight into the dark. The cities are gutted wrecks of their former heights, their exposed chests jagged ribs of industrial dilapidation and war carnage. The remnants of decaying civilization echoes the biblical hubris of Babel, a tower built tall to touch God’s fingertips, to be abandoned before it could be completed, its builders dispersed to the four corners. This time though, the builders have been reduced to near nothingness. Humanity is on verge of extinction, and its wreckage, instead of worrying…

…the girls of Girls’ Last Tour get wasted on moonshine and start doing an intoxicated jig.

I swear to drunk moe blobs that I’m going somewhere serious with this. But first, some tunes:

And now a history lesson.

Continue reading

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. 

hunter-x-hunter-25

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.

Continue reading

Thunderbolt Fantasy: A Mockery of Mastery

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.

thunderbolt-fantasy-4

There are tales in every culture where strive to cultivate an art or trade to the point of perfection. While it might simply be due  to a personal lack of worldliness, I feel like that the Japanese have a particular fixation for crafting inspirational narratives around self-serious journeys to artistic and trade-based mastery. The  lines between profession and purpose in these stories blur in many cases, and become indistinguishable in others. Jirou Dreams of Sushi is a documentary of a master sushi chef’s work ethic. Various sports stories in anime and manga, whether they be about baseball or cooking, star their main protagonists honing their craft to performative excellence, if not total perfection. The Japanese government literally designates the masters of certain culturally significant vocations as “Living National Treasures.”

Gen Urobuchi has a few things he says about this obsession over mastery, several words to those self-serious egotists who strut around like the world and its people should slit their stomachs to purify the ground they stand on. He does it through the context of one of Japan’s flashiest cultural artifacts: swordsmanship. He mocks it. He basically mocks the idea of people placing so much of their substance, so much of their self-worth in achieving it and maintaining it, and he imparts this mockery to audiences through a show so visually and audibly campy that it can be easy to miss: Thunderbolt Fantasy.

Continue reading

ReLIFE: Graduation and its Adult Distinctions

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 ReLIFE Episode 11: “A Trip to the Past.”

relife-10

Anime is already inundated by show after show of high school settings. It can get tiring after a while. I, therefore, couldn’t help but be intrigued by a 27 year old male protagonist looking for full-time work.  Expectations were betrayed somewhat when, one contract and one pill later, he got enrolled for high school looking ten years younger. I enjoyed it though. The show has its combination of high school shenanigans and old man jokes. I graduated from university recently and my back sometimes hurts.

As a fellow recent graduate, I found the male protagonist’s career troubles in ReLIFE relatable. I’ve felt the pressure of finding and working a job that’s financially sustainable and spiritually rewarding. The job I had until recently satisfied neither of those qualities. It was long hours of grunt labor from a demanding boss for menial pay and the expectation that I’ll eventually work my way up. And in the brief time that I’ve been employed in this line of work, politics specifically, there’s no shortage of people from the other factional camps undermining each other, suspecting each other, gossiping about each other, saying mean things towards each other.

It’s the kind of pettiness and nastiness that you expect that people, having graduated from school and/or aged enough, would have grown up and out from. Depressingly, exhaustingly, and perhaps even maddeningly, that’s not necessarily the case in either political America and corporate Japan. Kaizaki learns that lesson very harshly. To shake him out of his funk and find steady employment, he re-lives his high school life one more time for some healing… except that, as it turns out, high school life can also get pretty petty and nasty. And so, from a less than original premise, we get a somewhat novel perspective: high school life from a struggling salaryman.

Continue reading

School-Live!: A Tale of Living Off of Moe Slice of Life

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.

School-Live! 5

One of the things I admire about anime narratives are their potential for creativity. Now, some people might accuse the medium nowadays of being inundated with show upon show centered around moe, peddling moe in the sense people generally seem to associate that feeling with: “cute girls.” Doubly so if the moe happens to be situated within the slice of life genre: “doing cute things.” While experiencing moe or declaring something to be moe isn’t limited to moe slice of life, or “cute girls doing cute things,” there certainly seems to be a consensus among anime otaku that “cute girls doing cute things” is one of those things that are typically designed to embody or arouse moe. There also seems to be a consensus that there’s an awful lot of anime featuring “cute girls doing cute things” nowadays.

In the midst of so many shows featuring this trope, you might ask what’s so creative about a show as seemingly redundant as School-Live! Moe slice of life can be considered a tested and tired thing. Simply put, this show uses the language of moe, the language of slice of life to re-frame how we experience familiar scenarios and inspire reflection on larger themes. The scenario is psychological survival in a zombie setting. The theme is living in spite of that. That theme extends both literally to the characters of the show and figuratively to the characters in the audience watching the show.

Continue reading

Hyouka: A Dying Land

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. The piece takes primary reference from Episode 22, “The Doll that Took a Detour.”

Hyouka 7

It is the ending of an episode that ends this Japanese Hyouka season, “The Doll that Took a Detour.” It is the Hina Doll Festival’s end.

The many men responsible for the celebration, having proceeding from one village to the next by procession, allowed themselves feast and merriment for the duration. The women, formerly in ceremonial wear, have likely dressed themselves more casually for the after affair, dusting off the cherry blossoms that caught on them from the air, having put away the clothes and props they need for next year’s fare.

These people are old. The festival is old. The dispute that brought about the tradition of the festival is old. The momentary dilemma between the two villages that nearly disrupts the procession’s route… it hearkens from old.  As Houtarou Oreki and Eru Chitanda walk from the festivities back to their respective homes, the latter turns to the former within the vicinity of the cherry tree, blossoming out of season, to say something. She says something like this to him.

This land is dying.

Continue reading

Cults in Anime Post-Aum: Post-Aum Anime TV Series as Reflective Screens into the Japanese Psyche

Management: The final version of an anthropological research paper I’m working on connecting Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese psyche, the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks, and cult tropes in anime post-Aum. For anyone who cares to be patronized, thank you for patient with me when my blogging activity became slow to writing this damn thing. I managed a pretty decent grade on this paper, but my anthropology professor is ultimately just one (albeit highly knowledgeable) person who’s critiqued my work. I’d welcome more if you guys are willing to provide feedback.

With the emergence of Aum and its heinous crimes, a great many Japanese were shocked, lost their sense of logic, and screamed out hysterically in condemnation of it. But the “darkness” of Aum is connected with the “darkness” concealed in the subconscious of us all. We Japanese abhor confronting “darkness” and taking the media uproar as a form of catharsis, have refused to gaze at this “darkness.”

– Mori Tatsuya (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 148)

Now of course a mirror image is always darker and distorted. Convex and concave swap places, falsehood wins out over reality, light and shadow play tricks. But take away these dark flaws and the images are uncannily similar; some details seem to conspire together. Which is why we avoid looking at the image, why, consciously or not, we keep eliminating these dark elements from the face we want to see.

– Haruki Murakami (Murakami 2000, p. 229)

Introduction

The mainstream Japanese reaction to the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks is the capstone to what Sakai Shinji, a writer for the Katorikku Shinbun’s opinion column, has called “the end-of-the-century unease (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 122).” The Japanese bubble economy had burst in the early 1990s. The Japanese Great Hanshin Earthquake had taken its toll in 1995. Popular political distrust and turbulence gripped the public due to the Japanese government’s widely perceived incompetence in handling these two crises. Just a few months after this natural disaster, an artificial one in the form of a religiously-motivated terrorist attack by Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) struck the Tokyo underground subway lines, killing twelve and injuring over a thousand (p. 123). Further revelations of heinous crimes and inflated coverage from the so-called Aum Affair in the ensuing weeks and months would further stoke the hostility and fear of mainstream Japanese toward Aum and whatever was widely perceived to be a cult like Aum. While the Aum Affair certainly terrified mainstream Japanese, the combined economic, environmental, and political trauma of the era were also responsible for the shaking the ease, security, and certainty they found in what Yukio describes as their modern myths:

…the myths of economic development and permanent employment based on a work ethic of loyalty toward one’s company, the myth of a secure environment guaranteed by modern technology and government administration, and the myth of a harmonious society based on national ethnic homogeneity (Kisala and Mullins 2001, p. 163).

The pressure that these repeated traumas inflicted on Japanese and the extent to which the Japanese obsessed over these myths played a part in contributing to the severity of mainstream Japanese reaction to Aum and cults.

Even decades later, the trauma still lingers in the Japanese psyche. This trauma reverberates throughout Japanese popular culture in the form of subject and trope matter about cults. The Japanese subculture of manga and anime are no exception. The narratives of many manga and anime feature humor, references, and commentary about cults and cultist behavior. Scholarly works such as Jolyon Baraka Thomas’ article, “Horrific ‘Cults’ and Comic Religion (2014)” and his book, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan (2014), have led the academic charge in drawing connections between popular manga and anime films and the Japanese pre-Aum and post-Aum zeitgeist. In particular, Thomas’s book demonstrates, through his manga analysis of 20th Century Boys, that mainstream Japanese are “attracted to stories that present superhuman, righteous individuals and their unwavering efforts to save the world” despite “how much [they] may criticize specific religious groups” like Aum “for their deception, their fraud, or their violence (p. 152).” However, his analyses have tended to avoid manga and anime film examples that are not narratively tailored to what he defines, according to his book, as epics (p. 129). Furthermore, Thomas has also confined his analyses to popular anime films, neglecting the plethora of anime TV series that contain subject and trope matter about cults and cultish behavior in their narratives. Accordingly, this paper will analyze how post-Aum anime TV series are reflective screens into the Japanese psyche.

Continue reading