1. An announcement

    These last seven months have been a great experience—I’m grateful for the warm welcome I’ve gotten from the ‘sphere, and this blog has been a fun and challenging way to get myself to think more deeply about anime as a whole.

    But I want to work my way deeper into that, and Tumblr’s no longer a convenient way to accomplish that.

    So from here on I’ll be hosted on Wordpress, on the dasaku network, at http://8c.dasaku.net, with all thanks to the eminently sexual Randall Fitzgerald. The MO’s exactly the same, but this way things will ideally be a little more convenient than, a little less buggy than, and exactly as ugly and austere as they were here.

    I’m also streamlining things, and mixing http://erodatabaseanimal.tumblr.com/ in with the new site, under the “smut” category.

    On the site now is a new post, “Mediation of Sentimentality in Aria The Animation”, as well as both Ero Database Animal posts and a handful of old posts from here. To make it look full, you know.

    So, I’ll see you over there.

     
  2. Ookami-san and her enigmatic finale

    Between the amount of plot resolved, the skipped OP and the rearranged ED timing, signs would indicate that 11 was the final continuity-relevant episode of Ookami-san and her Seven Companions, and that 12 is likely an unrelated “bonus” episode. While the ending seems to have disappointed many, I think the episode managed to do quite a lot, and recalled much of what made episode 05 such a dense and important experience. Its sudden conclusion, as well, was as deftly-executed as it was inevitable.

    In short: the driving force behind the denouement of episodes 10 and 11 was not Shirou, but Liszt.

    The most obvious evidence of this is found in Liszt’s brief appearance at the end of Ryoushi and Shirou’s fight. Liszt quietly steps in and brings the entire conflict to a halt; he refers to the fight as having been “sold” to Shirou; he then calls off the entire preceding conflict with a dismissive clap as if wrapping up a rehearsal. Liszt’s demeanor, and Shirou’s quiet acquiescence, only make sense if one assumes that Liszt has some significant degree of power over the situation.

    This is foreshadowed, both subtly and obviously, throughout the developing action. During the sale, when accused of not helping, Liszt opaquely replies “I’ve been doing plenty of work myself”—the obvious implication is simply that his contribution to the effort has been off-screen; however, every other member’s actions are well-accounted-for in the preceding montage. In the rescue operations of episode 11, Majo and Liszt know exactly where to find Otsu and Alice within a very brief time period, despite their locations not being discovered on-screen at any point. Finally, during the assault on the front gates of Onigashima High, the narrator highlights this theory directly: “Those 30%-off loans are certainly coming in handy—I wonder if the president prepared them just for this?” We can infer from this that Liszt knew very well how events would play out, long beforehand.

    The loan discount subplot itself should raise suspicions: much of the chaos and disarray that allowed Shirou’s kidnappings to work at all was generated by the sale, an ostensibly sudden measure on Liszt’s part which still manages to fit perfectly into Shirou’s scheme. Without the sale, characters who were preoccupied or unaccounted for and therefore easy to manipulate would have likely been in better contact, or better-prepared to respond to Shirou’s actions.

    What this would seem to suggest is that the events of episodes 10 and 11 are not simply Otogi Bank’s reaction to a plot by Onigashima, but a facade being acted out unbeknownst to the majority of the players. And, as mentioned above, Liszt and Shirou’s demeanor in the concluding scenes would seem to indicate that between the two Liszt is the more likely mastermind.

    Many scenes and interactions make a great deal more sense in light of this, such as the way Shirou and Ryoushi’s fight plays out: when Ryoushi finally lands a hit on Shirou, he seems ready to escalate the fight, grinning widely and saying “This means you’re prepared for more than that, right?” This could be dismissed as a simple action-scene cliché, but we could again infer from a literal reading that Shirou is for some reason forcing himself back to avoid actually injuring Ryoushi.

    Moreover, Shirou’s various proposed motivations for carrying out this whole plot add up vaguely to a perverse desire for entertainment—”I enjoy watching people in despair”, “to watch your group fall to pieces”, “to see how hard you would fight for Ryouko” and so on. His only motive is the sadistic pleasure he takes in watching the scheme unfold—a complex, tightly-woven scheme whose elegance depends on specific actions taken by both sides.

    The proposal that the driving force behind most of Ookami-san is controlled by outside forces is not new: in episode 05 Liszt explained at length that Onigashima High’s entire purpose as an institution was to cause conflict with Otogi High, and that the town itself was devised for the sake of producing brilliant students at Otogi. The ending animation, as well, is rife with imagery of theater (e.g. the opening and closing curtain)  and facade (e.g. the paper cut-out art style of the characters and environment). Finally, most of the events of the preceding request episodes were planned out in advance by Liszt, often with multiple intended goals outside the actual fulfilment of the request.

    With all of this taken into account, it is not at all strange to propose that nearly every scene in the show deserves reading both as actual narrative events and as facades contrived by its characters.

     
  3. Highschool of the Dead; what I’m doing here

    I’m watching Highschool of the Dead as a fun show. I watch it, primarily, for the action and the sex and the production values. That is what I download it for—the adrenaline.

    But, if its writing weren’t excellent, if its characters weren’t well-developed, if everything but the animation were lazy and shoddily-done, that wouldn’t be a proper defense of any flaws it might have. If something’s worth defending, it’s worth defending right, and defending well. Accusations of plot holes, weak writing, this show deserves better than a dismissive “get over yourself, it’s about zombies and tits”. It deserves a defense as impassioned and straight-faced as does Kon or Scorsese or Nabokov.

    Sure, that’s me taking things too seriously, but I do that. Because I think it matters.

    That’s why I dropped Shukufuku no Campanella but am watching Asobi ni Ikuyo—not every anime has to be The Tatami Galaxy, but if my goal is solely entertainment, there are far cheaper ways to pass the time than anime fandom. I watch anime because time and again it’s shown me that it can be something more, and if I can’t see that something more—if a work appeals to me only on the simplest of levels—then I can’t bring myself to dedicate hours of my life to it. Implied in my choice to watch a given anime is my preparation to defend that anime’s status as a meaningful way to have spent those hours of my life. And in Highschool's case, as in Queen’s Blade's before it, that means dissecting the plot of a show I watch primarily for the sex.

    That’s not everyone—I understand that. I make a special effort not to engage people who aren’t interested in this level of discourse on the subject. It’s not my place to decide how seriously someone else takes something, and I doubt anything but frustration would come from any efforts in that direction. I don’t even mean this dismissively—someone else’s choice not to waste hours of their life studying foreign cartoons or writing longwinded essays about them says nothing to me about that person’s intelligence. It’s not everyone, but it is me.

    I respect anime as a medium. I respect each anime individually. And, to me, the most important element of respecting something is not ignoring or glossing over its flaws. Defending some element of an anime by declaring that it’s “just anime” or “just a fanservice show” may pass for accurate explanation, but I can’t acknowledge it as legitimate excuse. I love Neon Genesis Evangelion not regardless of, but in spite of its shallow symbolism and underdeveloped characters. I don’t “forgive” the show for those things because I prefer to appreciate it as a meta-narrative of Anno’s depression, I consider it a vital part of my love of the show that I know and understand and appreciate those things which it does wrong as much as any of the work’s detractors.

    As ghostlightning put it:

    [Minmay] is grossly imperfect and generally makes a mess of things – and not in a winsome, moe fashion as one may expect from such a statement. She represents my view that I love Macross not because it’s the best anime I’ve ever seen. Rather, I esteem it above all other anime because of my love for it.

    This is the train of thought I apply to every anime I watch. And every book I read, and every song I listen to. If I love or hate something, it matters to me to understand why I feel that way, and what it says about me, as distinct from my own or others’ critical opinion of the work. Writing here, or on Twitter, is my outlet to fulfil an inexorable need to appreciate anime beyond simply enjoying it.

    Details like the distribution of pantsless and pants-wearing characters in Strike Witches or the reasoning behind Highschool's female cast leaving the house in various states of undress arent particularly relevant to my enjoyment of the work. But they’re by no stretch inconsequential to the work’s quality—critics don’t point out inconsistencies because their detract from the work’s greatness quotient in some abstract technical sense, they complain about inconsistencies that are jarring and that can pop the bubble of suspended disbelief for those who don’t actively choose to enforce their bubbles. From the perspective of the viewers, and of the producers, both of the above issues are clearly driven by a desire to parade lightly-dressed females in front of the camera; however, this meta-justification doesn’t excuse either of the above in and of itself.

    The in-world logic used to justify such details is there because without it each show would simply be a series of visually-stimulating images, a great sound and fury. Anime, as any works, are made meaningful by their efforts to incorporate their visceral titillation into a convincing narrative. That narrative isn’t incidental to or distinct from their role as “fun” or “entertainment”; the two are intertwined. Highschool's deeper narrative and thematic content aren't divorced from or “bonus” to the way I enjoy it—rather, they are integral to.

    Alternate title: “Why I Bite My Tongue When You Say You Like It Because It’s ‘Just Good Fun’”.

     
  4. Ookami-san and viewer fantasies

    With five episodes aired, Ookami-san and her Seven Companions has, to many, shown itself to be a slickly-produced but generally vapid bit of entertainment: while its fairy-tale allusions give it a lush and full world in which to play out, little of any real significance has been done with them. However, just below the surface, Ookami-san seems about to bubble over with some truly intriguing ideas. For instance, in episode 05, Liszt’s speech detailing the workings of the Aragami Syndicate has set a perfect stage for a treatise on the conflicts of personal freedom and the importance of societal infrastructures.

    But perhaps most interesting is the show’s protagonist, Ookami - that is, the fact that Ookami is the protagonist. Ookami-san clearly adheres to the moe aesthetic, and shows signs of the ever-more-popular adherence to an Azuma-esque database model of character definition, albeit played with in its grounding every character in an established cultural myth. However, in contrast to most shows in this vein, while the series is clearly marketed toward males the central character is female.

    In nearly all anime of the moe aesthetic, if named male characters occur at all (in contrast to, say, K-ON! or Strike Witches), a male character is almost certainly the protagonist; that is, whether or not they are the most important element of the plot’s progression, the story unfolds from their point of view and is framed around their personal struggle. Zero no Tsukaima is about Saito; Angel Beats! is about Otonashi; even Chu-Bra!! is told largely from the perspective of Komachi seeing Nayu’s world from the outside.

    This is a pattern one can observe in nearly any medium, genre and cutlure - if a work is marketed to a specific gender, its protagonist’s gender will very often reflect that. However, in recent anime marketed at an adult male audience, this has become not just a cultural custom but in many senses a defining part of the genre, largely because of its friendliness to viewer insertion. The ever-growing presence of moe fetishism and escapism in both the creative and marketing aspects of the moe aesthetic hinge upon the ability for the viewer to imagine (primarily) himself in the shoes of the protagonist.

    But Ookami-san quite clearly revolves around Ookami herself, and not Ryoushi, the strongest viewer-insert candidate. The plot reflection moments are in Ookami’s room with Ringo, and narrative elements are arranged such that Ookami fills the classic action protagonist role. For example, in the school-storming scene in episode 05, the show plays the common pattern of whittling the team down to just one character from each side in the final confrontation - here, that character is Ookami-san, and Ryoushi is simply one amongst many heroic sacrifices made to help her reach her goal.

    Moreover, Ryoushi’s defining character attributes are all suggestive of a supporting character: a distinctive accent, a crippling fear played for laughs, and a degree of explicit sincerity which is strikingly rare among male protagonists. He is defined and given concrete personality to a point which makes him, if not useless, then of very narrow use as a viewer-insert. He is a sympathetic character, but in the way that a real character is, rather than a character designed to be the focal point of the audience’s fantasies.

    Ookami-san isn’t a show about an average high school boy trying to win over an outwardly-cold girl, but a show about a girl trying to deal with her growing feelings for a boy who confessed to her. The fantasy is not served to the viewer on a silver platter.

    However, Ookami is still very clearly sexualized, and presented as an object of desire - this is, after all, a show aimed at men. Her fanservice-friendly uniform and the narrator’s regular comments on her bust size clearly mark her as a character who is being objectified for the audience’s titillation, even as she is the locus of the show’s emotional narrative. A clear parallel in this regard from the shoujo market is D.N.Angel, an ongoing manga and 2003 anime: the main character Niwa Daisuke, and his alter-ego Dark, are the point from which the story is told and the character around whom the romance revolves. However, Dark is - as a defining character trait - visually a tall and atractive bishounen of the sort shoujo manga normally use as the subject of fanservice and objectification.

    In not just ignoring but actively subverting the established gender mores of their readership, both Ookami-san and D.N.Angel force the viewer to consider their relationship with the work more closely, without necessarily being aggressive or deconstructive. Rather than attempting to destroy the viewer’s fantasy altogether, they opt to explore and interrogate that fantasy, on the viewer’s own terms.

     
  5. Shukufuku no Campanella: the logical extreme of otaku escapism

    With three episodes aired, Shukufuku no Campanella is a competent show by many standards - it sports an impressive voice cast, decent animation and fun character designs. However, those elements outside of its production values tell a very different story. The setting, plot, characters and dialogue are all extremely simplistic and one-dimensional; but the way they are presented suggests not so much a lack of competence on the creators’ part but rather an active effort to excise all depth and conflict from the setting.

    Escapism plays an important role in all art; fantasy, as a genre, makes particular use of it. But here Shukufuku does not simply weave escapism into its narrative, the escapism is placed at the forefront of its priorities. Shukufuku accomplishes nothing but escapism. The show’s denizens exhibit not the roughness of a writer without the inspiration or talent to write characters of substance, but rather a series of faces which have been perfectly sanded down to an absence of any unique personailties or ideas.

    Leicester, the player-insert in the eroge Shukufuku is based on, is odd among self-inserts in that he is not, as in harems such as Clannad or Love Hina, made up of a bare set of traits and flaws which the average otaku is meant to identify with; rather, he lacks even the definition afforded to those characters, leaving almost no mental impression whatsoever.

    The plot, too, is purified of any meaningful conflict or progression: the action scenes play out in such a way that the show appears to be constantly assuaging the viewer that everything will be all right - that there is not the slightest possibility of anything actually going wrong, and that there neither is nor ever was any real threat present.

    But what makes this different from the swaths of slice-of-life and iyashikei anime on the market? These are shows which in many cases appear similar: little to no conflict, often one- or two-dimensional characters and so on. Still, for the most part, slice-of-life shows centered around real-life settings use that format as an alternative to classical narrative, still in pursuit of making some statement about life but via a new means of communication. Iyashikei franchises such as Aria and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, similarly, use their otherworldly setting and eccentric pacing to communicate ideas about those parts of life not exciting enough to support a classical narrative.

    In short, they still act as art, as attempts to explore and understand the human experience - a goal which Shukufuku sets aside from the start. It acts not as art, designed to provoke thought or entertainment, but rather as a kind of cheap sustenance for the mind. It stimulates the viewer in the way that shaking keys excites a baby - the sights and sounds are tailored not to engage the viewer in their world, but to distract the viewer from the one around them. It is, in a sense, the ultimate manifestation of Azuma’s “cultural database” - a series of images presented solely to sate the otaku’s craving for new tropes and memes to organize.

     
  6. Technology and the western otaku subculture

    A friend on Twitter mentioned the hold Tanabata seems to have on the western otaku. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was Tanabata in particular or if there was some relevance to Japanese festivals in general. Particularly in America, our landscape of cultural celebrations and holidays is negotiated in significantly different terms: of our cultural celebrations which permeate most of the culture, a large part are either pagan-via-Christianity feast days (Christmas, Easter) or primarily-capitalistic celebrations invented/popularized by corporations (Valentine’s day, Mother’s day). Few of the distinctly-American federal holidays (Veteran’s day, Memorial day) have any sort of consistently-implied means of recognition associated with them. As new a country as America is, and as much as its culture leverages the “melting pot” metaphor, there simply has not been time for anything as detailed or pervasive as Tanabata to have developed.

    But this speaks to a larger trend in why anime might be the most appropriate medium to the sort of people who make up much of the modern otaku subculture. For clarity, I refer here mostly to the “deep” otaku subculture, such as those found in the aniblogsphere and who keep up with current news and broadcasts, and not as much to those whose fandom is mostly mediated through licensed DVDs. This clarification is important because I want to look through the lens of how large a role the internet plays - that is, you can only have an otaku subculture like the sort developed in the aniblogsphere and on Twitter in areas with reasonable access to internet - by implication, either first-world or inordinately rich, which implies certain things about the culture’s advancement of infrastructure and the users’ technical literacy.

    So you have a non-Japanese otaku subculture made up of people who are tech-savvy, live primarily in developed or developing countries, and, most likely, spend a lot of time in front of computer screens. The appeal of the culture depicted in anime becomes clearer here - not just festivals like Tanabata or natsumatsuris, but even the cultural depiction of technology becomes relevant. Computers are enough of a rarity in anime that anime like Hidamari Sketch can center gags around it, and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu can make a plot point out of attempting to find a computer in a publically-funded school. These shows’ settings are modern, and take place in extremely-developed cultures, but the presence of computers is far less ubiquitous than its viewers are likely accustomed to.

    It plays, more subtly and perhaps unintentionally, to the same kind of ideas that Avatar exploited intentionally - the allure of digging deeper into your established technological infrastructure until you’re so deep in that you come out the other side - negotiating the desire for a simpler, perhaps more “right with nature” culture with the convenience of the technology-infused culture we take part in. Otaku are seeking emotional and cultural solace in bits of data fired into their brains from thousands of miles away.

     
  7. Arakawa Under The Bridge and hiding from the “real world”

    Akiyuki Shinbou’s latest project, Arakawa Under The Bridge, has nearly drawn to a close, with its thirteenth and final episode airing next week. The show has so far, in true Shinbou style, played its thematic ideas close to the chest, slowly building up characters and grand ideas via his trademark comedic pacing and eccentric visual delivery. In episode 12, we see the most explicit development and acknowledgement of these themes since the revelation of Hoshi’s past in episode 09 - there we got a brief glance at the reasoning of those who came to the bridge entirely willingly; here we see what keeps the Ichinomiyas away from it.

    The immediate conclusions people I’ve heard from generally draw from any of the bridge’s inhabitants are, first, that they are in some way mentally damaged or inhibited, and second, that their choice to live under the bridge is motivated by an unwillingness to grow up and participate in the common understanding of the “real world”. The chief abjectly refuses to acknowledge that his kappa appearance is a costume; Tooru gave up a successful office career to walk a line-painter around under a bridge. These are, at first glance, people who failed to live up to the stresses of the modern world and therefore relegated themselves to being the dregs of society.

    Ichinomiya Kou, on the other hand, exemplifies a wide range of accepted societal markers of success - a self-made, wildly successful businessman, classically handsome and fully versed in the motions of polite society, a model capitalist. The Ichinomiya family motto, and particularly its execution, could have been taken straight from the pages of Rand. But, as Arakawa has regularly hinted and as it said outright in episode 12, all of these traits obfuscate a wide range of his own insecurities and psychological inhibitions.

    In the first scene of episode 12, Nino comes to Kou’s aid, saying “It’s fine, everyone is afraid of ghosts, bugs, bell peppers and their fathers”. Hoshi, and likely a good part of the audience, responds with a disbelieving “how young do you have to be to be scared of those things?”. Kou being rushed by his father into an adulthood in which emotion and compassion are weaknesses and any human interaction deeper than simple exchange of goods is unforgiveably wasteful left him with a full 22 years for those simple, childish-to-most fears to become deeply ingrained in his psychology. Kou’s childlike preferences at that level seem as strange to the rest of the bridge’s denizens as someone wearing a star mask or claiming to have come from Venus.

    And his father Seki’s humanizing monologue near the end of the episode, where he implies that his own embracing of the Ichinomiya motto is as a result of his inability to cope emotionally with his own experiences with love. Kou, much earlier on, displayed many of these same insecurities - his inability to accept any measure of altruistic kindness from Nino, and later his need to rationalize her favors to him as simply a less obvious kind of capitalistic exchange. Both Seki and Kou hide from the possibility of emotional interaction by single-mindedly pursuing profit.

    In his time under the bridge these insecurities have been worn down a great deal; Seki’s meeting with Nino, which so closely parallels Kou’s own first arrival at the bridge, gives us a point of reference to just how much Kou has changed in the past twelve episodes. Kou’s own story of maturing and overcoming his past insecurities is embodied in his attempt to altruistically put his own set of acquired skills to work in protecting the community he’s become a part of, just as Nino, Hoshi, P-Ko and the others have.

    What Arakawa asks here is this: is it really a mental or psychological failing to reject a set of accepted social ideals relevant to pure accumulation of capital profit, and instead strive for a set of accepted social ideals relevant to building a community? The structures occurring in the community under the bridge are very in line with those at work in any small communal living scenario - how much is the choice between these ways of thinking a dichotomy, and to what extent are they mutually exclusive or zero-sum - which is the “real world”? With Seki on one end and the bridge denizens on the other end of a loosely capitalist-communist dichotomy, Kou’s struggle is to find an ideal point between the two.

     
  8. Tatami Galaxy’s haunting ending theme

    Mr. Avisch at The Fool wrote a great article on Tatami Galaxy a couple weeks back, ending with a note about the ending theme, calling it “haunting” and “morose” and noting how its mood seems to conflict with the tone of the series itself. That had me thinking a bit more about the song than I usually think about ending themes when I noticed that the strange, conflicting sound of the ED really does make perfect sense.

    The visuals of the animation itself play an important role: the video consists of various rectangles with door markings, as with a house floor plan. This motif is used to generate a variety of interesting images - a purple and yellow floor-plan expanding and multiplying through a canvas of red-and-grey pairs, a Fibonacci square of rooms, a yojouhan (the titular four-and-a-half-tatami square room) flitting around, to name a few. The mood is chaotic and unpredictable, with the rooms shifting in size, orientation and place unpredictably.

    Perhaps the most fascinating, and the one which tipped me off to the intended symbolism, is the very last: an imposing mass of solid-grey rooms slowly converge on one pale green yojouhan. The music builds to a climax, the camera shakes uncontrollably, and finally the mass closes upon the small room. This nervousness, this “haunting” tone, is Watashi’s internal struggle.

    Tatami Galaxy is a show about choices - the interplay of the characters’ decisions with their fates, through however many incarnations, and what those choices can and can’t affect - and about the connections formed between people based on or in spite of those choices. The rooms of the ending, in their tentative exploration and in their frantic attempts to move faster, paint a visual of these connections.

    When the rooms move fluidly and cleanly out of each other, they depict tentative, paced explorations, such as Watashi’s choice of club. As they begin to simply appear, one in front of another, as the mass desperately attempts to keep up with the speed of the camera, they depict unforeseen snap judgments - Watashi’s struggle between the three girls in episodes 06 through 08, for example. At a few points in the animation, separate masses reach out and connect to each other via long hallways, marking decisions that connect one person-mass to another.

    And that final shot, with a homogenous mass of decision-rooms closing in on a lone yojouhan, mirrors perfectly our protagonist’s apprehension and futile attempts to avoid making commitments or following through with his own decisions.

     
  9. B Gata H Kei and the appeal of incompetence

    Episode 10 of B Gata H Kei was uncharacteristically fast-paced, given the tone the last few episodes have set. It hearkened back to the frantic pacing of the first episode, in more ways than one.

    In particular, the final scene of the episode brought with it the culmination of a subtle secondary idea the show has been building up to in Kanejou. From her first appearance at the school festival, and more formally on her introduction as a main character, Kanejou has unmistakably branded as the closest the show is likely to come to a villain. At every turn she is conniving, hoping to control the school for no reason but the fun of it, and making herself the biggest inconvenience to Yamada in particular possible - fitting for a self-centered sex comedy rival. And an incestuous crush, to boot.

    But most of those things describe Yamada - her ostensible goal of sex with 100 men is nothing if not a (misguided) quest for social stature; she is manipulative and coarse in pursuit of her goals; and she hates and inconveniences Kanejou at least as much as vice versa. So why is one such a likable protagonist, and the other such a loathsome rival?

    Perspective - Yamada is a narrated character. Her “erogami” follows along with the audience, noting all of her mistakes and insecurities - things which make her human and relatable. Kosuda, as well, grew a dimension and became a tangible character with actual depth around when his own erogami was introduced. B Gata reveals its characters’ humanity in spite of the front they present to the world through these little-explained, semi-diegetic fourth-wall-sitters. And in episode 10, both Kanejou and Miyano’s erogami are introduced.

    Miyano’s erogami appears during an emotionally-tense dialogue with Kosuda in which she’s barely able to contain herself while advising the boy she loves about his love of another girl. It provides some light comedic relief as a transition into the following scene, but also serves to signal to the viewer that she is a real character - her emotions here are as real as any in the show, and she is not simply a clumsy set piece in Yamada and Kosuda’s romance.

    Kanejou’s erogami is more devious in its appearance - after Kanejou “kidnaps” Kosuda and begins her efforts to seduce him, she finds herself at a loss for what to do. Her erogami appears, and she instantly becomes a nervous wreck reminiscent of the Yamada of the first few episodes - not thinking straight, she begins stripping in front of Kosuda, at the same time exhibiting more of a will to attack than to seduce in her body language. For a moment she is the spitting image of Yamada, shoving Kosuda in a storage closet and pulling her shirt open defiantly.

    Suddenly our awareness of her unsavory sexual motives take an immediate backseat to her mental breakdown, and her despicable antics give way to a light, comedic tone. Most important, within the span of a few seconds, she becomes human. When we see behind the veneer of her outer persona - in a more honest sense than our discovery of her brother complex - she is irrevocably humanized. She is, at worst, only as bad as the girl we have been rooting for since the very first episode.

     
  10. The enigmatic intentions of Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

    Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou was, I think, this season’s biggest long shot - though it teased viewers from the beginning with the groundwork of a brilliant dramatic premise, the first handful of episodes seemed to ground it firmly as a harem anime, while the ED did its best convincing us that that was the intent. Despite this, between episodes 05 and 10 the show has certainly cemented its strength as an engaging action series with a relevant social message.

    Daimaou has shaped that original premise - that our friendly protagonist was destined to become an evil demon lord who would terrorize mankind - into a powerful commentary on the symbiosis of religion and hierarchical power structures. The clearest turning point was the beginning of episode 09, with a young Akuto standing up to a priest who told him to thank God for the priest’s donation, telling the priest that ”God is nothing more than a system created by humans”. This hearkens back to the earlier parts of the series, in which Akuto admits that he has no strong personal investment in the church but simply sees its power and social sway as the most efficient means to accomplishing as much good as he can.

    We see others in positions of power alluding to this more and more throughout episodes 09 and 10 - that the importance of the religion and of stopping Akuto stem not from the will of any actual gods but from their need to preserve the system which supports them. It’s reminiscent of the final conflict between structure and morality of Gurren Lagann, but is so far more nuanced and taken more seriously.

    For example, even in the midst of the leaders’ mobilization of a front against Akuto, many of the players are still most interested in vying for power - as with Teruya Eiko murdering to take control of her clan’s army, then exploiting the Hattori family’s dedication to honor and tradition and their god to send Junko and Yuuko on a suicide mission.

    So the show loosely outlines a 2x2 division of thought with regards to religion - those who believe in religion, or at least in their religious traditions, versus those who don’t, and those who exploit others’ belief in religion to their own ends versus those who don’t. The 1A and 2A groups, those who exploit others’ beliefs and may or may not themselves believe, are not very clearly defined, but one can certainly place the cunning Eiko and so far our primary villain Yamato Bouichiro. The former is currently exploiting others for the short-term goal of becoming dominant in the Teruya clan; the latter, if the principal is to be believed, has been fabricating and engineering conflict grounded in religion to perpetuate a hierarchical government for over 100 years.

    The 1B group, believers who do not exploit others, is probably comprised of the majority of the world’s citizens and is best detailed in Junko. Her dedication to either her family’s religion or traditions, which the show has been indicating to be a less and less important clarification, is leading her along with the rest of her clan to their death at the hands of a *A. 

    Finally, our 2B group, those who neither personally subscribe to a religion or exploit others in the name of that religion, is comprised most clearly of two characters - our protagonist Akuto and the school’s principal. For a pair of atheists in a world where the supernatural is canon and a genre and medium with deep socially-conservative roots, these two characters are depicted in a remarkably positive light - the former already established as putting little or no stock in the systems of religion, and the latter having lost his faith when he realized that the “will of the gods” he had been following was engineered for a political purpose.

    Hiroshi, and his Brave persona, illustrate the internal conflict of these ideas - his dedication as a superhero to the preservation of the status quo and systems already in place clashes with his respect for and trust of Akuto’s motives. As of episode 10 he’s placed his allegiance with those in power and the destiny laid before him, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see his change of heart marking the climax of the series.

    Daimaou has two more episodes yet, so I’m uncomfortable proposing any concrete thesis for its intended final treatment of these themes - for one, given the conservatism present in anime and the dedication to tradition throughout Japanese works, I doubt the ending will be an unqualified endorsement of the importance of personal freedom over religion and respect of power. But the pieces are all in play, and the show has proven that it’s prepared to do something with them.