Dororo: Buddhism and a Spider Girl’s Thread

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 Dororo anime, specifically Episode 7’s “The Story of the Jorogumo Silk Spider.”

If I’m not already on the public record for this, I guess I’ll make it here: I like Spider Girls. I like Spider Girls a lot, and I don’t mean the Marvel variety. I mean the monster-kind: half-carapace and arachnid appendages, top hair and human flesh. Hell, I wrote a fan fic about Spider Girls and Dark Souls once, but never mind that. I like Spider Girls for reasons other than the suggestive ones you’d might suspect. I like them for ways that set them apart from the other popular monster girls.

I like Spider Girls for their baggage. People fear spiders, after all. People loathe them. They see the multiple eyes, multitude legs, mandibles, cuticles. They see spiders and other features related to them, and their foremost instincts to them, their gut reactions to the critters, are to jerk away immediately or smash them into paste. People will recoil or lash out at spiders, their fight-and-flight mechanisms on the fritz, even if they’re non-venomous or really quite harmless. I don’t necessarily blame folks for doing that. It’d be hypocritical if I did. I’m guilty of one and the other, many times over, paths less frequently tread, blood on my shoes’ soles.

That terror and fury isn’t an unusual condition of the mind, because your brain rationalizes it as being better safe than sorry. People aren’t born with discriminating eyes, after all. They need to be trained on the details. They need to be taught what means danger. In the light of this perspective, phobias are shortcuts — they have their uses. Yet even then, it’s not as though the more dangerous spiders mean anything spiteful or cruel when they bite you or brush up against you or find themselves in their way. Everyone finds themselves in the wrong place and time. No one really knows any better when first contact is made.

Buddhism builds on this empathetic logic to approaching life. From the strongest human to the smallest spider, every life is subject to the cycle of samsara, or reincarnation. Every entity is subject to the pain of existence. Every life is a precious thing. Life reincarnates into higher or lower forms of existence when they die. A spider may have once been human, and a human may yet arise from a spider. In the light of this perspective, Buddhism asks us to have pity and compassion for living things, regardless of their past misdeeds or current station. Buddhism is a deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and spider encounters are a common Japanese experience. It’s no surprise then the country is home to all kinds of tales combining spiders with Buddhism, from a Ryunosuke Akutagawa short story to a Spider Girl in Dororo.

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Panties and Cults Are the Punch Line

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 Punch Line anime.

You think that a show that front loads the first-time viewer with shots upon shots girls flipping up their skirts wouldn’t have anything sophisticated to say. You would be mistaken though, because it’s Kodaka Uchikoshi of the Zero Escape game series that’s behind the show’s writing. You’d also be off, in my opinion, assuming that Punch Line’s narrative strength ends at being a compelling mystery. The popular mystery game writer has inserted strong sleuthing elements to the show, to be sure, but the show’s ultimate puzzle pales in complexity to the games of his that I’ve played before. More than its mystery and certainly more than its panties, the depth of Punch Line lies in how well it sets up its commentary on how people are attracted to and fall into cults.

Portrayals of manipulative and millenarian religious cults have featured fairly frequently in anime ever since the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks on the Tokyo Subway line by the notorious Aum Shinrikyo. In the aftermath of those attacks, novelist Haruki Murakami put together a book containing an essay on his musings about the event and interviews he conducted with those involved in some capacity with Aum Shinrikyo: Underground. It’s the same book that I referenced a while back in a write-up on Psycho-Pass and the muted Japanese reaction to developing disaster. Compared to Psycho-Pass ‘ treatment of the average citizen, I’m more interested in the embattled cultists of Punchline, and most specifically Guriko. How is it that of the experimental orphans three, Pine, Chiyoko, and Guriko, Guriko became the antagonistic cult leader? In contrast, Chiyoko and Pine became heroes and protagonists. Didn’t they grow up together? Weren’t they once all good friends? How did they become so different?

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Violet Evergarden: The Beautiful Fighting Girl and the Romanticization of War

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 Violet Evergarden anime.

So there’s this one movie quote from this one movie critic about how there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie.

However critical a war film’s themes happen to be about conflict of war, if the anti-war movie in question features some violent spectacle, the anti-war messaging is undermined out-of-hand. If only for those moments of cinematic violence, there will those audience members that will instinctually enjoy them because the violence itself is enthralling to watch. The anti-war film that includes warfare becomes a thematic paradox at best and cinema-narrative dissonance at worst. I would like to believe that I’m self-aware enough to appreciate the messages in an anti-war media while taking in exciting moments of warfare. However, I also think it’s a legitimate complaint to accuse certain shows that highlight the tragedy of war that they are betraying their own themes of how awful war is by including scenes that celebrate fighting of any kind and for any side. In Code Geass, for example, massacring unarmed civilians is bad, and yet fighting in giant robots is awesome. In Hellsing: Ultimate, on the other hand, the show makes no bones about its characters loving war holistically, characters basking in both the spectacle of civilians dying in droves and their own men being torn to shreds.

While there are few, if any, anti-war media that would get around the near-impossible encirclement set by this quote, Violet Evergarden is a decent attempt at breaking out.  The show mainly focuses on the lives of characters affected by the war, after the war. The few times that the show illustrates past war moments are mostly spent on soldiers being contemplative, frightened, or desperate… hardly empowering stuff. The notable and understandable exception to this trend of omitting violent spectacle is Violet herself, the blood-streaked, barely-teen soldier maiden of the battlefield. Similarly,  while Violet Evergarden doesn’t fully overcome the well-worn and somewhat exploitative anime trope of the beautiful fighting girl, the Kyoto Animation adaptation does make a decision in regards to its female heroine that admirably tries to circumvent the worst of that stereotype. In their original conceptions, the beautiful fighting girls (also known as the bishoujo fighting girls) were those female characters who were both badasses in combat and unambiguously feminine. Violet, our female character here, is depicted during her tour of “duty” less as a cutesy warrior and as more a feral animal.

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A Cyborg, an Assassin, and a… | Gunslinger Girl, 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.

I strongly recommend clicking the link a little further below. Just click it. Please.

Girls with guns. Girls on guns. Plying with them. Playing with them. Toying with them. Touching them. Kicking ass. Showing some as well. Skirts so short flipped up from the gusts of grenades. Breasts scantily clad baring through the air as the rest of their curvaceous figures hit the floor. Bodies, barrels, bullets highlighted to the finest set of orgasmic ecstasy.

Was that your first impression? If it was, it’s a bit far from target.

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