While watching Black Bullet last night, the hackneyed quality of some of the lines in episodes three and four struck me. Don’t get me wrong: I find the show very enjoyable. It boasts likable characters and some brilliant animation, especially in the way they draw the characters’ eyes. Seitenshi has some of the most brilliant blues I’ve seen anywhere in anime. (Yes, I’ve fallen in love.) Still, the hackneyed quality of some of the lines and impossibility of surviving certain wounds bother me: having both kidneys pierced and a hole as wide as the Grand Canyon made in one’s abdomen are lethal even in most other shonen anime.
Which brings us to the question of the difficulty of showing noble deeds and sentiments in a way which does not strike the audience as corny. The difficulty is actually quite extreme: authors must be as noble as the ideas they wish to express. Otherwise, these ideas come across as trite–rather than the writer being an authority on nobility, he thieves from the annals of heroes. For example, those lines and scenes concerning the ostracism suffered by Enju, Rentaro’s insistence on her value and the value of other cursed children, and the gratitude for Rentaro’s acceptance shown by Kayo struck a chord with me. Those times where Rentaro exclaims his zeal for saving the world, his condemnation of Kagetane’s actions, his perseverance in suffering through essentially mortal wounds, and risking transforming into a giant monster did not.
Everyone would like to write an epic; but those who have not suffered agony, strove nobly, or found their hearts aflame with great ideals cannot be expected to produce epics. Emperor Augustus asked many poets to write an epic for the glory of Rome, but most excused themselves. This developed into a tradition where Roman writers would publish their first work of poetry with an apology for not writing epic. Only Virgil undertook the task, painstakingly composing an average of two lines per day. And then, as Virgil lay dying, he begged his friends to burn the manuscript, because he thought that the manuscript lacked polish and stood as an inferior work–Virgil’s magnum opus, the Aeneid!
Virgil’s self-doubt points to the second thing necessary to generate sublime thoughts: humility. As we see Rentaro shrugging off mortal wounds or ripping off an artificial arm bound to his nervous system without hesitation, we become vexed at seeing the unreality of these actions. These heroic acts lacked the aura of heroism because Rentaro does not display human weakness. A good shonen anime does show that its characters struggle to overcome human weakness whether it be Kenshin’s temptation to give up living toward the end of his duel with Shishio, the doubts constantly assailing Kiba’s mind, or Inuyasha’s self-hatred and thirst for power. And we cannot forget the hero of the greatest modern epic, Frodo Baggins, whose determination would have been vain had he not been supported by so many and Providence saved him from his own folly at the critical moment.
One has difficulty identifying with Rentaro as a warrior. He’s at his best while he supports Enju; but, in combat situations where he should have to struggle with human weakness, he proves to be an Übermensch having no weaknesses to overcome! Would that the authors have added their own experience of physical suffering into Rentaro’s battles! They would have been far more moving!