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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AKB0048: Work, Play, and Life Fulfilled

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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Idols doing battle in space. It’s not as though this eccentric premise is especially unheard of in anime history (See: Macross). However, its eccentricity seemed to demand something thorough explication of its setting’s cosmology. I demanded one, anyway. The show’s backdrop is one of conflict between the forces of play and the forces of work. At the vanguard of the forces of play is the idol battle group, AKB0048. The armed guard of the forces of work are the Destroy Entertainment Soldiers, DES.

While the audience during the show was treated to insider information  about the motivations of the idols and the mission of idols’ organization, the DES was treated, more or less, as this large, amorphous, and ambiguous force that sought to destroy singing and dancing and idols and entertainment. Why? Because EVIL? Because the show treated them as clear EVIL,  AKB0048’s mission would be seen all the more as GOOD, because the alternative is EVIL? Is play all good then, and work all bad? Musing on the show more, I would say the answer is neither.

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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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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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Kantai Collection/KanColle: “The Things She Loves”

Management: A musing on a KanColle doujinshi, the KanColle franchise, and the war KanColle takes its material from, this piece is collaboration work between ZeroReq011 of therefore it is and Jaehaerys48 of the Sasami Report, a thematic analysis of あたる  (Ataru’s) “The Things She Saw.” Sentences, images, facts, and reflections were contributed by both of us in the making of this piece. Links leading to KanColle and normal historical facts about the ships/ship girls featured are featured for your reading experience.

You can find the original Japanese and the translated English versions of  “The Things She Saw” here and here, respectively.

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Do mouths gape?

Do eyes tear?

What’s the face of a girl in love look like?

So you’re reading a novel, listening to some lyrics, or watching, I don’t know, KanColle, and you gain an interest in certain things in the setting, the elements of the media you’re consuming. You read on, listen on, watch KanColle on, wanting to learn more about those said elements. Sometimes those elements get elaborated further, and sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day, you’re not satisfied. You want more. You hunger for more. And so you do some research on those KanColle  elements you’re so interested in. You might check Wikipedia. You might search databases for articles. You might borrow some books or a documentary from the library. You might even consult an expert.

You’ve learned something new, related yet independent from whatever drove you to conduct research in the first place.

Tangential learning.

It’s a spontaneous, initiative-based process that can occur with just about any media if its narrative elements are interesting, leading, and ambiguous enough to excite curiosity. An example would be media drawing from history, like with KanColle.

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The Heavens Fall | Aldnoah.Zero, 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. For clarity’s sake, I’ll emphasize this: the review isn’t meant to be so much holistic as it is coverage of what I believe is of core importance to the show.

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“Honorable” is a word in the human vernacular that carry a bit of controversy in its historical and even current usage. It and its variants have often been used as praise for action, person, system, and idea. For instance, that soldier sacrificed his life in order to saved his platoon from a stray enemy grenade… That was an honorable action. He did an honorable action without regard for anyone but the lives of his comrades… He must be an honorable man. The system that produced such an honorable man to commit … It must be an honorable system. That system must have been produced by an idea of some kind… It must be an honorable idea.

Now apply “honorable” to a suicide bomber. Some of you, many of you, or most of you reading this review (I hope) will outright reject or at least question the mere notion of juxtaposing “honorable” and “suicide bomber” together in the same sentence as something that goes beyond an oxymoron, but there are people who believe suicide bombing can be honorable. Even more people believe in “honor killings,” where a person or a group of people murder or massacre another person or group of people, respectively, because they feel he or she or they sullied their social, spiritual, and/or personal standing. The most infamous cases involve “righteous” men killing “deviant” women, though “honor killings” have been used to excuse violence against ethnic, religious, and national groups.

We may condemn it as not being “civilized,” but “civilized” has been used to justify numerous travesties on one group to another because of “civilized” folk believing they’re superior to everyone else which, thus, gives license for them to do and take what they will them. Even “civilized” individuals who honestly believe they are well-meaning, imperialists, missionaries, and Social Darwinists, believe their impositions on others that aren’t them are benefiting mankind. What about “just?” What about “justice?”

“Fiat justitia ruat caelum…”

…or…

“…let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

As to what that means, Aldnoah.Zero attempts to explain.

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Edge of Tomorrow and All You Need Is Kill ~ A Rant About Why Hollywood Sucks

Management: Unlike more formal entries, this post is just me kind of freewheeling some hate I’ve worked up on something or other. I intend they be civil, but they are rants. They are demonstrably more passionately accusatory towards something or someone, but the points I’ll make will at least be coherent. I won’t do these on a regular basis. They’ll just spontaneously spring to life one day in a conversation, and I’d rather at least the reasonableness, if not the rhetoric, of my sentiments aren’t forgotten.

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Initially, my impressions of Edge of Tomorrow after having watched the film were fairly positive. For a plot that revolved around a time loop, it’s always a congratulatory thing for such media to avoid demonstrable tedium, nicely paced and balanced between epic action spectacles and hilariously morbid slapstick.

The two main characters were affable, if a tad simple in archetype, and I felt, while there was chemistry between them, the limited on-screen intimacy (less making out and sexy times and more sharing interests and memories) between them, outside of montages and references to intimate moments that occurred in some other loop we haven’t seen, hurt my ability to identify emotionally with their plight and drive the drama to a higher tier, with the limited amount of run-time allotted to movies, I think this one was a job well done.

Edge of Tomorrow also enjoyed financial and critical success upon general reception. It made me excited, considering the movie was adapted from a light novel, from Japan, of all things. What with (at the time of this post’s) the recent theatrical releases of Pacific Rim and Godzilla and an upcoming Western live-action adaptation of Monster, I was excited. I fervently hoped it opens the door for more mainstream Western acceptance of the medium of anime. Having said that, my feelings towards the film, or rather, the people who produced the film, who I will generally refer to collectively as Hollywood, are now a lot more ambivalent after reading the manga for All You Need Is Kill, which was also adapted from the same light novel.

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