Current college student, amateur dabbling musician, proud history buff, future political scientist, struggling novice writer, and anime critic.
Junior Contributor I
Sasami-san@Ganbaranai: Religion, Tradition, and the New Age
There’s this stereotype commonly associated with the teenager. They’re at this age where they become rambunctious and rebellious, and it becomes this struggle between parent and progeny characterized by whether or not the latter will be properly disciplined by the former before it’s too late for them to integrate in and contribute to society. Underlying the assumptions behind this stereotype is that the teenager is completely in the wrong. In response to this stereotype is another stereotypical conflict of the underdog teenager being oppressed by the authoritarian parent.
Sasami Tsukuyomi is in her teenage rebellious streak as well, having rejected her mother’s expectations, run away from home, and becoming and becoming an otaku. Like perhaps many teenagers in the real world, Sasami is at the crossroads of adolescence, suspended between the world of past (embodied in Sasami’s mother) and present (lived through Sasami herself), trying to find a lifestyle that suits her temperament as a girl from a traditional family who has grown up in more liberating new age. Opposite of a functionalist scenario of the mother successfully reeling in the daughter, or the conflict scene of a daughter successfully rejecting the mother, is a negotiation between social obligation and individual freedom.
Through its negotiation between the expectations of Sasami’s mother Sasami’s own experiences for a lifestyle, a set of values, and a (nevertheless Shinto influenced) spirituality that works for Sasami, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is a show made for the traditionally raised Japanese youth of the new age.
One Punch Man and Paranoia Agent: Between Histrionics and Heroics
There is the strength that S-Class Hero Genos yearns for, the strength of ultimate physical destruction. C-Class Hero Mumen Rider possesses none of this type of strength. Riding into a fight with a monster he realizes he has no chance alone surviving from, let alone prevailing in, he charges. He charges, and charges, and charges.
This One Punch Man character’s struggles is not unlike Paranoia Agent character Misae Ikari. She faces down her own demented foe, one she can’t physically run away from even if she wanted to.
Heroes require strength. But do they necessarily require the physical kind? Perhaps superheroes do, but people like Mumen Rider has only the strength and utility of an average individual with a foot-powered bike. If he saves someone while losing his life in the process, or sacrifices himself in the attempt to, does that make him, or anyone like him, ineligible to being called a hero? Because he didn’t have the physical strength to manage it all? Is this something that something our consciences can stomach? Perhaps the strength we roundly require of our heroes isn’t the physical kind exactly, though it might be convenient if our heroes were physically tough. Perhaps its fortitude then?
A Certain Scientific Railgun: A Tale of Which True City
The denizens of Academy City are espers, people capable of manifesting psychic abilities. These abilities range from heat to spacial to electron manipulation. Society in this city is organized through so-called "Levels." From 1 to 5, and kind of like grades, these "Level" designations are awarded to espers by officials based on how proficient they are in manifesting their abilities. According to the official line, 1 represents the most basic proficiency, and 5 represents the most advanced. People are accorded higher stipends and privileges based on how highly they are graded on this "Level" system. As is constantly and proudly touted by the system’s administrators, "Level" mobility can be achieved if people invest enough effort.
Mikoto "Railgun" Misaka has managed to ascend to Level 5 through what she believes was her own determination. Ruiko Saten, on the other hand, has remained stuck at Level 0, no matter how hard she’s believed she’s tried.
Outside the system, however, are those "Level 0" anomalies who are technically able, but effectivly unable to manifest their powers. From this, A Certain Magical Railgun explores the ego-bruising effects of socioeconomic inequality and stratification (disguised and, as such, justified as meritocracy) through the phenomenon of what I call "Class ‘Level’ Conflict."
School-Live!: A Tale of Living Off of Moe Slice of Life
Imagine a Japanese man turning the key to his apartment door. It’s the end of a work day. It’s late. He’s tired. If he was a salaryman, the stress of his dawn to dusk position could be getting to him. If he was a part-timer or contract worker, the numerous jobs, irregular shifts, and insecure pay is its own stressful beast. As he enters through his door and walks to his kitchen looking for something to stuff his mouth with, he stares in the direction of his bed. He’s tempted to turn in before he collapses from exhaustion immediately after. An exhausting thought creeps into his mind. How long will he suffer this routine, this exhausting monotony of exhausting labor, exhausting day exhausting out exhausting exhausting exhausting…
…and then he realizes his show is on. With whatever food is still hanging from his lips, he flips the channel on his TV to a late-night anime program, full of slice of life, full of moe. Exhaust emptying from his mind, he thinks of cute girls instead of crushing obligations.
While it would be of an overgeneralization to claim that all otaku watch moe slice of life for the above purpose, these shows are undeniably relaxing for many otaku to watch. In a society where otaku resent the notion of living to work, School-Live!, or Gakkou Gurashi!, explores, through the epic metaphor of a zombie apocalypse, who the escapism of moe slice of life speaks to: those who simply want to live.
Nisioisin, Nietzsche, and the Tyranny of Morality
Nisioisin, the creator of such anime, manga, and light novel works as Zaregoto, Medaka Box, Katanagatari, and The Monogatari Series, writes in such long, descriptive, and tangential strokes that it wouldn’t be unfair to say he likes hearing himself talk. Amidst his stylistic tendencies tough, a core theme recurs throughout all of his stories. It is one that he is sympathetic to, one that may be described as “Nietzschean.” Without knowing better, many people believe there is an absolute, irreplaceable, inviolable, and ultimate truth.
That truth, to these people, demands them, without objection, to conform their behavior and beliefs to truth. In both their respective works, Nietzsche and Nisioisin express and illustrate what they believe is the actual reality: That those demands are all just self-delusions. Like an abyss full of nothing, nothing in life has meaning. Morality doesn’t exist in nature. There is no such thing as objective good or right, objective wrong or evil. Morality is all arbitrariness in self-denial. It is all stuff that people made up.
Yet as Nisioisin characters like, but not exclusive to, The Monogatari Series’ Kaiki Deishu and others point out in one way or another. Life having no inherent meaning doesn’t make it completely pointless. Quite the contrary, it means that life is full of endless possibilities. All people need to do is acknowledge and embrace the arbitrary. They should believe, behave, and act on what they feel.
I think the most extraordinary thing about manga is just the variety of subjects and genres sub-medium covers, as opposed to traditional American comics. Internet comics are a growing exception, but that traditional American comics are typically of a superhero bent targeted toward male audiences with masculine empowerment in mind limits its potential to engage more people.
Ishvala is obviously an analogue in the series for the Abrahamic God, but I’m curious about whether or not you’ve considered the specific religion “The Truth” in FMA seems to derive itself from: namely Buddhism.
I’d first like to congratulated for the excellently articulated article. The part about the role of inspectors potentially serving as candidates for becoming enforcers is an excellent one. It certainly explains, in part, why the MWPSB searches out the brightest in society. In a way, in reminds me of Brave New World, a book I’m sure Urobutchi is familiar of, where generally, alphas are assigned the most intellectually challenging jobs, and specifically, the deviant alpha, Mustafa Mond, is employed as a world controller dedicated to sustaining the system.
If I can critique anything though, I’d critique your point on Kogami and Hammurabi’s Code. Kogami is frustrated by how the Sybil System operates, I’m sure, but I don’t think that Kogami would necessarily advocate for society to return to a system based on “eye for an eye” rules. He sympathizes with Akane’s stance of what justice ought to be, but his quest for Makishimi’s destruction seems to be born more out of personal selfishness than anything else.