Angels of Death: The Clunky Existentialism of a Serial Killer

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 Angels of Death anime.

There’s a number of provocative tropes attached to late-night and OVA-release anime. They’re over-generalizations, to be sure, but enough instances of these tropes were enough to leave impressions,  however unfair. To cite one example, back in the day, late-night and OVA-release anime had a gratuitous reputation for sexuality and violence. Some producers were willing to give creators chances on edgier ideas, and some creators obliged their edgier indulgences with fewer censorship fears. Even as graphic displays of milky and crimson fluids lack its former cultural weight because of newer genre and aesthetic trends, the older patterns still attract popular followings. Whether because spectacle remains exciting or nostalgia runs strong, contemporary anime still exploit the legacies left behind by these older tropes. To argue one example, the more recent Goblin Slayer is a fantasy-isekai anime that employs the spectacles and threats of yesteryear’s physical and sexual violence. Some newer anime, however, utilize these older tropes as springboards for different kinds of stories. For Angels of Death, it’s a horror setting that’s less about slasher scares and more about why life is unfair.

Mind you, life is probably unfair for many if not most conventional horror story protagonists, but the question of unfairness being posed Angels of Death is meant to be more existentialist than immediate. Angels of Death begins somewhat conventionally: a damsel named Rachel Gardner finds herself trapped in a labyrinthine enclosure, becomes frightened and distressed by her surroundings in a predictable fashion, and is later chased down by a murderer named Issac Foster. And then there’s an early twist. Our damsel regains her memories and rather abruptly pleads to her assailant to kill her, to kill her now (or at least soon), and in monotone, no less. We get to know the both of them, Rachel and Issac, and we come to see they have some tragic things in common. Being born in broken families, being raised in shitty conditions, these tragic circumstances produce a search in a reawakened Rachel for whom these descriptions of “broke” and “shit” describe to a tee: Why is my life shitty? Why does the world suck? Is there something behind my suffering? Does the fault originate from me, or is is there really no one else to blame? How do we live with ourselves? How can we? In its own clunky way, Angels of Death interrogates people’s desperation for a reason to the suffering and a escape from it. In Rachel and others, it interrogates their desire for a God.

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Land of the Lustrous: Gods, Parents, Saints, and Growing Up

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.

At the intersection of philosophy and theology is a word that both these disciplines have used to describe ultimate truth: God. God, in both senses of the word, is a concept that’s too abstract for newborn babes to fully appreciate as they mewl from their mothers’ wombs into a cold world. We open our eyes, our vision yet fully formed, and the very first beings to actively engage our sight (and the rest of our senses) are our parents. They take us into their care and teach us things: practical things, like how to walk, and ideological things, like how to see the world. We are taught by, ask, observe, and learn from our parents. We are made in their image and likeness, our first and most intimate mentors. For us humans learning how to be, the closest and most tangible thing to a God that we can appreciate in our early years are our parents. As we grow older and learn to respect other authorities, to realize that our parents are not always infallible and omniscient, but sometimes wrong in their judgments and even debase in their worldviews is tantamount to some betrayal. My mother and father were my Gods, my go-to sources for knowledge and wisdom. Now they are not, and I’ve had to struggle with the fallout of our strident disagreements.

In Land of the Lustrous, the effective parent of Phosphophyllite, Cinnabar, and all Lustrous beings was Kongo-sensei. He carved them from his hands, gave them names to identify with and cherish, taught them of the world, and gave them purpose through specific roles in their society.

In turn, all the Lustrous, and Phos initially, looked to Kongo for affection and guidance as their effective parent. As his effectively beloved children, they placed their complete faith in him and trusted him unconditionally. But eventually, Phos began to feel their relationship with him needed a more critical evaluation. They discover Kongo concealing something important from the rest of the Lustrous, something related to the Lunarians. The rest of the Lustrous confirm to Phos that they suspected Kongo was hiding things from them all along. They were content to leave it be. Phos wanted to prod at it further. Slowly, gradually, Phos sought answers to inquiries about the Lunarians that Kongo wouldn’t answer but Phos believed he knew the answers to. Kongo appeared to be letting the Lustrous suffer by withholding important information about the Lunarians. However Phos, in the end, couldn’t bring themselves to hate the parent who raised and nurtured them. Phos began rebelling against Kongo, though Phos’ feelings toward him remained conflicted. In being recast from the God-parent role he was always seen as by his charges into a flawed parent that he always was, Kongo is revealed to share more qualities with Christian saints than with of Buddhist boddhisattva. This Christian-informed observation is little odd, considering the show’s heavily Buddhist presentation.

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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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Nisioisin, Nietzsche, and the Tyranny of Morality

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 discusses Zaregoto, Medaka Box, Katanagatari, and The Monogatari Series. Several points on The Monogatari Series were borrowed from previous posts on the show here, here, and here.

Monogatar Series 22

The first Nisio Isin/Nisioisn work I encountered was The Monogatari Series, specifically Bakemonogtari. Nisemonogatari followed shortly after that.

I admired how closely the narrative formula of Bakemonogatari’s supernatural apparitions and normal school girls paralleled Sigmund Freud’s concepts of neuroses. Ambivalent feelings and beliefs become so sharply contested between the other for dominance that a cognitive dissonance, an unbelievable amount of mental and emotional stress, is almost bound to plague the person afflicted. Take, for instance, Hitagi Senjougahara’s conflicting feelings of affection toward the mother that raised her and rejection toward the mother that let her almost get raped. To avoid this debilitating stress, a person may develop a neurosis. A neurotic dissociates himself/herself from the current reality that is painful and a creates a new reality that isn’t. In the Monogatari verse, neuroses manifest as the oddities of the series. For Hitagi, that oddity was a weight crab deity that unburdened her of both the physical weight of her flesh and the emotional weight of her feelings toward her mother, feelings pleasant and painful.

And then I watched Nisemonogatari, an addition to the Monogatari franchise, I’m told, wasn’t originally supposed to be published and, given this fact, should be seen as more frivolous than fascinating. Fascinated I was though by what I saw despite its fan service, especially with anything involving Kaiki Deishu, but for reasons I wasn’t initially entirely sure of. I felt there was some profound message that Nisemonogatari was trying to communicate that wasn’t entirely pretentious. I also felt there was more thematic fruit to Bakemonogatari than I originally took for digestion.

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