Identity Genderless and Buddhist Transcendence 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.

You could say that the boddhisattva of compassion underwent a makeover of sorts as Buddhist missionaries spread their faith northward and eastward. They journeyed from India, establishing Buddhist followings in Central Asia, China, Korea, and eventually Japan.  Avalokiteśvara, as this boddhisattva was known as in India, is depicted in iconography as lightly clad. Kannon, as the boddhisattva came to be called in Japan, is depicted far more modestly. The boddhisattva in India is also depicted as a man. In contrast, the boddhisattva in Japan is depicted as a woman. This incongruity in the gender of this singular boddhisattva naturally arouses a couple of questions concerning (1) why the boddhisattva experienced a gender transition and (2) what the boddisattva’s gender is even. The answer to the second question is that the boddhisattva doesn’t have a gender. In the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, buddhas and boddhisattva have transcended it.

Given the sexless nature of the Lustrous and the Lunarians, I can’t help but wonder if the creator of Land of the Lustrous devised her characters with the Mahayana Buddhist conception of boddhisattva and buddhas  in mind. If she did, then that’s great. If she didn’t, then it at least gives me an excuse to talk about the show more, specifically in how genderless identity can be interpreted as being connected to Buddhist transcendence.

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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.

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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[Podcast] 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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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.

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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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On The Move | Knights of Sidonia, A Review

Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching.

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Curiously enough, the show takes a relatively short, but also relatively sizable amount of time chronicling the back story of Cadet Eiko Yamano leading up to her last mission, the sort of equivalent to one’s life flashing before one’s eyes.

When it comes to work, she’s an incredibly self-serious individual. She graduated to cadet school a midst the cheers of family and friends in the small neighborhood she grew up in. It’s from those expectations, in part, that’s made her to become as self-serious as she is, dismissive of everything and everyone except in cases related to defeating Gauna and defending Sidonia. She would not have anyone holding her back, and certainly no upstarts making a mockery of her hard work.

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And despite her attitude, her convictions, and her history, she gets killed, eaten by the Gauna she’s vowed to kill several times over, in a rather sudden and unceremonious way. Granted, her portrait does get her day on the sterile-looking, minimalistic enclosure that is the war memorial, but only for a day. Her portrait needs to make room for the countless others that’ll follow hers. She’s forgotten afterwards.

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This puzzled me at first as to why the show felt it should offer so much of this character other than a mere name and face, which is already pretty generous, if she was slated to die so soon in the series. I was about to chalk it up to emotional manipulation when I realized. How much of this kind of back story could be applied to the named and nameless, face and faceless others in the show that would fall in the line of duty. Others supposedly with dreams they would be sacrificing, and loved ones they would be leaving behind.

And yet nothing more for them is afforded than a day on the wall and a mention grave stones that they existed, in grave plots that don’t even house their bodies. It’s more convenient to offer them to the organic reactor converters instead, if their corpses aren’t already lost to combat or space.

Sidonia moves on because she has to. Sidonia moves on because it’s war.

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