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.

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Cults and Anime Post-Aum

Management: Some of the early fruits (part of an annotated bibliography) 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. I’ve honestly been busy to the point that I’ve only managed to come up with one of my more usual complete and lengthy pieces for next week, and I feel bad for not updated the blog for so long. Hopefully this slapdash analysis will soothe those disgruntled until then.

The full essay is here. Check it out.

What may be regarded by society as religious “cults” have permeated history from ancient and modern times, with their latest widely accepted mass incarnation in modern times emerging in its latest wave in the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of globalization and Western values of individualism, materialism, and secularism. In response to a world increasingly tied together through markets of economics and ideas, culturally closed and colonially bitten portions of society, rather than accommodating and resigning themselves to what they see as the imposition of moral and spiritual depravity, have produced new age religious movements attempting to cater to the socially disaffected. Born out of a highly materialistic, highly competitive, and highly oppressive (so they say) Japanese culture within the context of other existing and soon-to-exist new religions throughout the world was Aum Shinrikyo.

With the 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas Attacks and other acts of violence and deviancy, Aum Shinrikyo would leave an indelible scar in the Japanese psyche that, to this day, permeates in popular Japanese culture and even anime subculture as negatively connotative “evil cult” tropes. Some anime embrace them, others make light of them, others still challenge them, and others utilize them in all three ways. Some recurring themes to keep in mind as you scan down the following seven, alphabetically ordered shows that feature some use of this trope:

a charismatic, eccentric, ominous, and/or megalomaniac leader;

world-rejecting and anti-social behavior;

eschatological, millenarian, and apocalyptic worldviews;

claims to supernatural powers;

eccentric, nonsensical, and/or suspicious deviancy;

financial exploitation;

sexual exploitation;

conspiratorial thinking;

brainwashing;

fanaticism;

violence;

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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.

Psycho-Pass 9

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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[Award] Inspector of Some Other Color, or Eight Arbitrarily Chosen Questions I Decided to Ask Anime Fans to Make Them Think and/or Suffer

Management: Management here. You may be wondering what the difference is between the Management me and the non-Management me. I don’t strive to be extremely formal when it comes to blog posts, but the Management me does try to write most of them with a certain level of polite sophistication so I can be all authoritative and whatnot. The non-Management me, the one you’ll see much more often goofing off on Anitwitter, could care a lot less. I feel like the nature of this post demands the non-Management me’s eccentricities more than the Management me’s niceties, so I’m just going to be a sadist. I’ll try to be interesting with this post, as always, but I’m going to have fun with it too.

I’ll be disappointed if you back out later.

I hope you know what you’re getting into.

So without further ado.

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Psycho-Pass: A Cyborg’s Manifestation as Human

Management: 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. This essay, in particular, is a breakdown of Episode 9 of Psycho-Pass, “Fruit of Paradise.”

This essay also takes ideas from Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Her beliefs, however, are not meant to be completely representative of mine.

Psycho-Pass 5

A Cyborg’s Manifestation

The realm of fiction has explored many a possibility of civilization’s and humanity’s potential via the presentation of an alternate present or a near-to-far future. One of these possibilities is the existence of cyborgs, beings part-human, part-machine. Science fiction tales have debated, in a way, to the extent their settings allow whether cyborgs are classified by some current physical ratio of organic to inorganic, or the presence of mental consciousnesses in light of completely or almost completely mechanical and electronic bodies.

Writers have used cyborgs, like other science fiction elements, as an extension of physical human progress and evolution — heightened physical strength and reflexes to life longevity. At the same time, the concept has also been used to define or grapple with human limits. The most visible features of the Gunslinger Girl cast in this low-to-high key push-and-pull dynamic of conditioned cyborg assassins and adolescent little girls. The crime procedurals in Ghost in the Shell: SAC every-now-and-then have its characters musing over if and how much humanity they have lost to attain prosthetic and cyberized bodies needed to work their jobs or even function.

And then we have Psycho-Pass, where in the context of a news interview in Episode 9, “Fruit of Paradise,”the traditional conceptualization of a cyborg claims that flesh-and-blood interviewer, her flesh-and-blood audience, and even I, typing this piece, and you, reading it, are cyborgs.

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