Tag Archives: politics

This Ain’t the Left Hand of Darkness

You know, I like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It’s about a bunch of amnesiac Japanese youths dropped into a fantasy world and forced to kill monsters to survive. Yeah, it’s like the hundredth variation on the “trapped in an RPG world” subgenre, except this one isn’t a power fantasy about the uber-l33t players replacing their pathetic offline lives with an awesome new virtual existence. No, this one actually examines what it would be like to have to kill another living being for the first time or lose a close companion or any one of a number of video game experiences that would be traumatic in real life. In other words, it treats the RPG world experience like a war movie.

I like the show, but it ain’t perfect. I’d say the worst thing about this anime is that every week I forget Ranta is an awful human being and every week he reminds me of that very fact. I’ve never liked fanservice – if I want porn I can get porn, anime studios – but I’d take a gratuitous shot of Yume’s naked asscrack every week (and holy shit was that ever gratuitous) over yet another tired line about how Ranta’s female teammates only have worth if he finds them sexually attractive. He could at least vary up his misogyny and insult women for having a different waist to hip ratio than men or having slightly higher pain thresholds or whatever. You know, really open up new horizons of animated sexism.

This is probably the thousandth time I’ve heard the joke that goes “you have small breasts, therefore you are worthless” on various anime series. Even if I thought that joke was funny, I certainly wouldn’t think so after hearing it repeated in one form or another since the 90’s – which is probably the last time someone laughed at that joke, by the way. You know, because it was already old and the person hearing it couldn’t believe someone was still using that joke.

I complain because I actually do like Grimgar. This Ranta thing is like a mouse turd in a bag of chocolate chips. I realize that the light novel author has mental health issues and might not be aware how jokes work (for instance, that they should be funny), but that doesn’t make this part of the show suck less.

Future Imperfect

I love point-and-click adventure games. I love walking around their worlds and clicking “look” on each piece of background scenery, I love talking to every character I come across, and I even love obtuse inventory puzzles that leave me wondering how the hell a rubber ducky is supposed to help me get on a subway train. This is not a rational love but one born from the nostalgia of a person who played a lot of Sierra adventure games as a kid.

But art does not exist in a vacuum. Audiences always bring their prior experiences with them when encountering a text. Keeping in mind my partiality toward its genre, I must say this: I like Technobabylon.

Said the cyborg bouncer with the mohawk:

Part police procedural, part conspiracy thriller, and wholly a sci-fi cyberpunk journey through a decadent city of sorrow and sin, Technobabylon is a pleasant return to the old adventure and puzzle gaming formula. You play as three main characters: a curmudgeonly police detective hostile to the newfangled AI that governs his city (like a white Bill Cosby, minus the rape), his younger and more enthusiastic post-op (actually post-genetic-engineering) female-to-male partner who’s down with the hacking and the tweeting and the bipping and the bopping, and an unemployed shut-in on welfare addicted to the Internet who subsists on protein sludge extruded from her shitty apartment’s food machine. Also there’s a murderous plot which could lead all the way to the top. Continue reading Future Imperfect

The terror of fantasy

Witch Craft Works kind of has an image problem. Nothing in all the marketing I’ve seen for this anime indicated it was anything besides a typical high school comedy-romance with a twist – he fights ghosts, she’s a superhero, it’s a school for magic, whatever. In this specific anime the twist is that the male protagonist is the damsel in distress. “Don’t worry your pretty little head over it” is basically the central message repeated over and over to our hero. Otherwise the show’s early episodes have the sort of things you’d expect from a high school anime – a student council with ridiculous amounts of administrative authority, a beloved school idol, teenagers running wild, and so on. All of that was to be expected in this setting. What I didn’t expect was to discover that this anime was also about the War on Terror.

The rising sun peeks out behind wrecked skyscrapers
Not a picture of Ground Zero.

Continue reading The terror of fantasy

On violence, on anime, and on violent anime

Most giant robot anime, and most anime in general, seem to be anti-war or anti-violence (barring the relentlessly capitalist shows like Mazinger-Z and Voltron which say nothing beyond “explosions are cool” and “buy our toys”). The shows that luxuriate in violence, like Black Lagoon, make clear that the characters are psychologically damaged in some way. The shounen fight series are either about making friends (like One Piece), are comedic (like Ranma 1/2), or have a stick up their ass and continually remind the viewer that the hero is only fighting reluctantly (like Bleach). I suppose the atomic bombings and the enforced postwar pacifism are ever present in the Japanese consciousness.

Though two series that glory in war and violence are the right wing wankathons Total Eclipse and High School of the Dead. One of the characters from the latter show even remarks, as he’s using a baseball bat to bust open a cash register, “You know, this is pretty awesome”. And he’s right, it would be goddamn sweet to be running wild in a zombie apocalypse with a Humvee full of guns and big-tittied girls in high school uniforms. Or being encased in a mechanical womb and using swords, cannons, and other phallic objects to unleash death and figurative semen on hordes of invading aliens.

Of course, there’s no such thing as zombies or alien invaders, which is to say that there are no faceless Others one can morally slaughter; thus, in anime, the depiction of violence simultaneously demands an apology for its use. But it seems that it takes a right-wing dickwad to not give a shit about such distinctions.

World without end

Cover to Volume 3 of Eden: It's an Endless World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eden: It’s an Endless World is one of the standout manga in my many years of experience with the medium. I’ve wanted to write about this series for years. It’s just taken me this long to digest its ideas, as you can see from the meandering summary I wrote a while back. The story is so big and its scope so grand that I’m daunted at the idea of ever reading the series again, but it’s also so compelling that I know I will revisit this manga someday.

Eden is a science fiction story about a world where the apocalypse didn’t happen, which is to say that it’s a science fiction story about our world.

In this cyberpunk future the Closure virus has ravaged humanity, killing two percent of the global population (which, let us be reminded, means the death of millions). The old order is dead, and the new order – the New World Order of the conspiracy theorists – has descended upon humanity in the form of the leviathan named Propater. Opposing Propater are an eclectic mix of drug lords, terrorists, and gangsters.  Mostly they fight not out of ideological zeal but because they also want their cut.

The near-apocalypse of the setting invites millenarianism in its fictional universe, which the story covers extensively. In fact, the series draws heavily on Gnosticism, though not gratuitously and not gratingly. It’s possible to enjoy the manga without having any idea of the theological significance of aions, for instance.

The creator, Hiroki Endo, is an unrepentant leftist, and his politics suffuses every page. This is the only manga I know of which invites readers to check out Noam Chomsky in the appendix. The story is better for being overtly political. Otherwise it would be the type of reactionary fantasy that makes vague calls to fight for great justice while being so naive and so divorced from the everyday that it invites the opposite action. It’s heavily cyberpunk in that it’s a science fiction story distrustful of the establishment, but it also avoids the provincialism of much of cyberpunk. Be it New York, Los Angeles, or Neo-Tokyo, the classic cyberpunk stories are rooted in particular and specific urban geographies.

By contrast, this manga spans the globe, from brothels in Peru to private schools in Australia, with the story being the most compelling when it deals with the dispossessed. The manga even touches upon what the Zapatistas call the Fourth World, or the indigenous peoples so far out of the orbit of the powerful that they don’t fit into the totalizing categories of First and Third World.

As well, Endo is fascinated by the interface between humanity and its technology, personified in the form of the cyborg. He’s fond of images like the one above, where the hard and mechanical is revealed underneath the feminine and organic.

As you may guess, the subject matter guarantees that this manga is full of violence, but of the more grounded type. This is an example of the seinen genre, which is targeted at men. I guess it might be characterized as a thriller in the vein of a more leftist Spartan or Ronin.

This is not a story for everyone, but at times it felt like it was made for me. Perhaps I misspoke when I said that I’ve taken years to digest the ideas in this story, for I’m still grappling with them. Too many action stories and too many manga retreat into fantasies of empowerment and away from actual political engagement. It’s refreshing to read one that faces the political head on.