Danganronpa: War Guilt, Anti-sociality, Asociality, and the Animator’s Despair

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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To temporarily relegate the Danganronpa franchise’s rather passionate, colorful, and often on-the-nose discourse on hope and despair to the background, here’s a character in the Danganronpa 3 anime who caught my attention. With his status as the “Ultimate” Animator, Ryota Mitorai possessed not only the capacity to make media generally,  anime specifically, that people could enjoy. He also possessed the ability to create propaganda could brainwash the masses. Willingly, in the name of hope, and unwittingly, in the name of despair,  he appropriated his skills and had his skills appropriated to compel people to act.

To qualify, Danganronpa 3 rather oversimplifies the power media has at shaping viewer psychology. Animation is a type of media, and where influencing other people’s behaviors are concerned, the power animation has over our thought processes are limited and conditional. The show automatically assumes that it’s possible that media creators generally, and animators specifically, can brainwash other people at a  smartphone and TV monitor glance if they’re “Ultimate” enough. The brainwashing mechanisms themselves weren’t enough to get me to muse. What did get me to ponder were the references and parallels Danganronpa 3 seemed to be subtly drawing between Ryota and Japanese artists, cartoonists, and yes… animators from that channeled their skills, willingly and unwillingly, wittingly and unwittingly, to create propaganda for their causes.

As I recount Ryota part in the story as  the propagandist for both despair and hope, I’ll make some self-interjections in strategic locations to draw connections between two parallels in animated media to have made their notorious mark in Japanese history: war-time Imperial Japan and guilt, and asociality, anti-sociality and the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: Religion, Tradition, and the New Age

Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall (broken records all around), 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. While this piece will reference other parts of the show, this essay will primarily break down the events of Episode 6 “I’m Troubling Only My Parents” and Episode 7 “I Forgot How to Speak.” I will also mention the related thematic resolution to Episode 9, “It’s Not That I Can’t Do It.”

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On the surface, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is a strange concoction of battle spectacles, religion, and eccentric and risqué behavior brewed out of a Haruhi-inspired cauldron. The premise is a riff off of a Haruhi-inspired archetype, a girl who subconsciously  alters the world using god powers stored within her person. Inspiration is not imitation, however. While I’m not going to deny the influence The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has had on Sasami-san’s narrative, I’m confident in expressing this: Sasami-san’s is more ambitious than Haruhi’s, if not quite as well-written. It’s willing to talk about controversial issues in contemporary Japanese society that the Haruhi series is not really equipped to discussing. The show combines its fight scenes with its universe’s mythos, not unlike Monogatari, to craft a social commentary on Japanese religion and spirituality, as well as culture and lifestyles, in the New Age.

While this piece will reference other parts of the show, I will primarily focus on the events of Episode 6 “I’m Troubling Only My Parents” and Episode 7 “I Forgot How to Speak” and how these events culminate into a physical and ideological clash between Juju and Tama. I will also mention the related thematic resolution to Episode 9, “It’s Not That I Can’t Do It.”

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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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Of Political Dimensions: Maoyuu Maou Yuusha and the Factors of Liberalism

Management: While my overall opinion of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, is fairly positive, this essay is, by no means, meant to be a comprehensive review. It is rather an articulation and analysis of what I feel are its most integral and interesting themes. It touches on the actions and ideas of some key modern and postmodern political revolutionaries, but their beliefs, by no means, are meant to be completely representative of mine.

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Here are several ideas that Maoyuu Maou Yuusha brought up that interested me enough to jot them down in a somewhat organized essay form.

Freedom

“I… as one who has a soul like your own, I have something I must tell you. I was… I was born as a serf. I was the third of seven siblings.”

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha began its airing by utilizing a not too uncommon fantasy trope: a human hero and a demon king facing each other in a pitched battle that would decide the fate of the world. The Human Hero would win, and the Demon King’s forces would crawl back into their hole, disappear into thin air, surrender unconditionally, or all drop dead. The Demon King’s war would be over, peace and prosperity would return, and happily ever after.

Shortly after its introduction, the trope was then subverted though inquires challenging its premise. Why demons weren’t simply evil, why war wouldn’t simply end, and soon enough, the show became an overarching study on the whys of conflict. Truth be told, beneath its fantastical exterior, the show is a narrative chronicle of history. History? Why, the history of revolution. A revolution of liberation from what was effectively feudal, a feudalism of landed noble lords and landless serf peasants, to what’s effectively more egalitarian. More… liberal.

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