How Tokyo ESP Reminds me of Chivalric Literature

A while back, I finished watching Tokyo ESP.  That the author of the manga is responsible for Ga-Rei Zero–an indisputable masterpiece–greatly excited me.  However, the very first episode planted the seeds of doubt in me that such genius would not strike twice.  While a fun show with an amusing X-men vibe, the subsequent episodes proved my doubts correct.  Though the characters are inherently likable, parts of the plot and writing could have been better.  I must also mention that the final fight between Minami and Rinka almost bored me.  Minami’s poor technique made it seem like she never wished to kill Rinka!  For example, the fight should have ended right here:

Certain Death for RinkaFew anime character know how to exploit having a sword in each hand.  By pulling back with a draw cut at Rinka’s neck with her right and aiming a cut to the legs with her left, Minami could have placed Rinka in an difficult position.  Parrying the cut to her neck, Rinka might obscure her vision of the low cut.  With her arms crossed like that (that’s an ugly parry, isn’t it?), she cannot parry a low cut, which means that she would need to retreat backwards in order to evade and then would no doubt need to immediately deal with a thrust.  But, Minami does not see this simple combination:

Minami temporarily forgets the sword in her left hand, I guess?

Minami temporarily forgets the sword in her left hand, I guess?

Isn't that position just begging for Minami to aim a strike to Rinka's legs?

Isn’t that position just begging for Minami to aim a strike to Rinka’s legs?

My dear readers might be asking at this point: “Is poor swordsmanship the link to chivalric literature?”  No, chivalric literature never really describes techniques.  The knights double or redouble their strokes and hack through certain points of the body; but no author ever describes their technique–or at least, there are so few examples that none comes to mind.  The connection which I was thinking of revolves around how the protagonist goes from this:

Rinka badly beatenTo this:

 

And yes, I find Rinka a puella forma pulcherimma!

Puella forma pulcherimma!

Such happy restorations of one’s good looks after the beatings Rinka took are not possible!  Have you ever seen a pugilist’s face?  They usually show signs of the beatings they take.  As pure and beautiful as Rinka’s heart is, her visage should not match.  I cringed every time Rinka was beat down.  And, I just want to point out something curious about that last picture: See the cuts on Rinka’s elbow?  This is almost the animator’s nod to the fact that Rinka’s body would not escape unscarred from her experiences.

I love the shirt. :)

I love the shirt. 🙂

My favorite character in the show.

My favorite character in the show.

The same phenomenon occurs in chivalric literature: a knight goes through dozens of battles, which involve several severe blows to the helm and body, causing blood and chain mail to fly off him.  Yet, ladies always find these knights very handsome and fawn over them each feast, exclaiming how handsome they are!

Kobushi Kuroi was perhaps my favorite character in the anime.

Wait, we have that here, too!

In real life, warriors are often not so handsome if they served through many campaigns.  The author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, states in writing his masterpiece: “…my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground.”  One of the ways in which he shows chivalric literature’s lack of reality is by detailing Don Quixote’s wounds.  Those of you who’ve read the book know that Don Quixote undergoes several beating which mar his frame.  Most famously, a Basque squire chops off half of his left ear!  Needless to say, Don Quixote does not present a pretty picture to behold!

Nunchaku girl is too awesome for me not to show a couple of pictures of her.

Nunchaku girl is too awesome for me not to show a couple of pictures of her.

Two Down

Of course, I am happy that Rinka’s countenance does not feature a permanently swollen lip, cauliflower ears, one eye slit smaller than the other, and a crooked nose after all those beatings.  But, that’s how she’d really look!  That she still retains her beauty reveals that the impulse in chivalric literature of having heroes go through ridiculously terrific beatings without a permanently marred countenance still exists.  Though, I must note here that the same rule does not apply to middle aged men: all of the fathers in this anime have scars.  Just another interesting thing to note!

Dad with SwordsIn any event, I generously give Tokyo ESP three and a half stars for the pure, visceral pleasure it provided in the viewing.  I’m looking forward to Hajime Segawa’s next work!

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18 comments on “How Tokyo ESP Reminds me of Chivalric Literature

  1. jubilare says:

    I would say, though, that chivalric literature, and a lot of anime, don’t strive for realism. Whether they are symbolic or escapist, though depends on one’s perspective, I guess.

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    • That’s true. I suppose you might say that the beatings themselves bothered me more than the resilience of Rinka’s good looks. I don’t even think Black Lagoon’s Revy and Terminator Maid looked so bad after their fist fight! Also, the fact that the mature men in this series retained the scars of their past battles made Rinka’s healing abilities stand out.

      Some of my favorite stories are escapist; though, even escapist literature must employ a certain degree of realism. Often when a show is set in the modern world, I find myself more critical of its flights of fancy than a story set in the past or a fantasy world.

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      • jubilare says:

        Aye, the inconsistency can be a problem for me, too.

        I find it interesting to consider that the lines between fantasy and reality, and perhaps the whole idea of genre, are fairly modern. We seem to need to draw lines between fiction and reality that our ancestors wouldn’t understand, or consider necessary. 🙂

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      • I had never thought of it like that. But yes, the medieval writers would have thought nothing of adding fantastic creatures and occurrences to what they would have considered modern times. Also, they considered miracles and other encounters with the spiritual world as part of reality. What would cause a writer to have his work labelled religious fiction or fantasy nowadays would back then have been considered mainstream.

        Yet, I do think that our medieval ancestors thought of certain genres existing. After all, the Classical period recognized certain genres of poetry and drama with expected tropes belonging to them. This would not have been lost to educated medievals. And, we can discern certain genres in medieval literature: chivalric, family sagas, travelogues, hagiography, epic, legendary sagas, biography, love poetry, religious poetry, etc. These writers probably recognized other works as having similarities to theirs, which they played off of. Though, I must confess to knowing much more about how Classical authors worked within their genres than Medieval authors.

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      • jubilare says:

        You may be right, though we must take care not to confuse genre with form. I guess even that is an anachronism, though, because we use the word “genre” in a different way, now.

        “Genre” used to mean “form” as well as content, but as our concepts have changed, so the use of the word is changing to cover the idea of the elements in a work tying it to other works across the boundaries of form. For instance, a Fantasy poem and a Fantasy novel are, broadly, the same genre in a way that a Fantasy poem and a Biography are not.

        That is what I am talking about, I suppose. The idea of literary forms goes all the way back to the earliest literature we have, so it is obvious that our ancestors grouped their writing into categories with common elements.

        What has changed, or what seems to be changing, at least in Western media, is the emphasis on content over form.

        I am not an expert on this field at all. I’m just a librarian and someone who enjoys history and literature. So this is pretty much speculation, but it’s interesting, and I would like to know what experts would think of it.

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      • I’d also love to hear what the experts think about this topic. I am pretty sure that several genres existed in the Classical age. Especially in poetry, several forms were used in the same genre, which might be attack poetry or love poetry for example. And these writers generally saw certain rules to follow and recognized other experts whom they imitated or alluded to.

        Yet, writers of chivalric fiction do not seem to recognize other authors working in the same genre as much. Thomas Mallory is the only exception to that rule whom I can think of; but he compiled Le Morte D’Arthur in the 15th century, when a sizable body of the literature would have existed. On the other hand, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Chretien de Troyes might have known that they were both working on Arthurian legends around the same time, but I don’t think that they follow the same rules or acknowledged each other.

        I’m very much speculating as well, which is a good thing to do. I can see what you mean by the old emphasis on form over content in classifying literature. I suspect that genre is probably the result of literacy becoming more widespread and more people trying to write for a larger audience, which makes writers create in less isolation and more willing to borrow from successful authors.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. David A says:

    Don Quixote is one of my favorite stories I’ve been reading.

    I think that they refrain from showing more lasting consequences for the battles these girls engage in, to preserve their appareance.

    How is that series? I only watched some parts of the first ep, but I didn’t found it that interesting.

    I hope it doesn’t has a yuri pocky scene like Ga-Rei Zero.

    Like

    • I think of Don Quixote as my favorite novel. I’ve also read some of Cervantes’ exemplary tales, which are excellent. I’ve always deemed it unfortunate that I can find none of his plays in English.

      The first episode would not have grabbed me either if not for the appearance of Kagura and Yomi. But, the series was a great deal of fun, and it kind of felt like watching a Japanese version of the X-men. Basically, if you like fun action stories, you’ll like Tokyo ESP; though, I do confess that there’s some bad writing and bad swordplay. 🙂

      There is some fanservice in Tokyo ESP (at least one of the above images shows that), but no yuri. I would not say that the pocky scene in Ga-Rei Zero was yuri either–just Yomi being Yomi. Some people are weird like that. xD I tell you, you’re letting 15 seconds of horseplay deter you from watching a great show!

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      • David A says:

        I have the second part of Don Quixote on hold. One of these days, Deo Volente, I’m going t finish it.

        I’m not convinced that two sisters would kiss as a form of horseplay. I’ve been reading for weeks about the application of principles about depicting sin in productions, but it seems that some people evade the topic, and I’m not sure where to look for information.

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      • Yomi, the one who initiated the kiss, is interested in men and has a fiance. So, I think that it must be horseplay. She does not constantly seek Kagura’s lips after all!

        Concerning depicting sin in productions, remember that an author has the duty to tell the truth as he sees it. Man still suffers the effects of original sin! If you remember Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan and his friends were hardly paragons of virtue. Even Athos–perhaps the most moral of them–has no qualms about beating his servant, was a thorough mysogynist, drank to drunkeness on occasion, and had the tendency toward black melancholy. The rest all have lovers–married women at that! But, Dumas constantly refers his readers to “the easy morality of the period.” Perhaps, the author needs to remind his readers what is right, while showing what people actually do. I give the example of Alexandre Dumas because I think that he captures reality better than any other writer.

        Yet, I do wish that I could point to an authority on the subject.

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  3. Another excellent comparison – I’m much more familiar with medieval literature than I am anime, and you make me want to rectify that!

    Like

    • I’m glad to hear it! And if you want to watch a rather medieval anime to start, I’ll recommend Escaflowne, which I’m using for my background. Though, I will confess that the most medieval thing about it is the swordplay. But, it’s an excellent fantasy story, and where else will one see a mech take the posta de falcone or the posta de donna as you see on the left and right parts of the background respectively?

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  4. David A says:

    I’m replying here, because there wasn’t a reply button in your comment.

    Or was added for fanservice, if Yomi doesn’t actually desires her sister.

    Thanks.

    I know about that, obviously, adding the depiction of these as something bad or undesirable (as you said “the author needs to remind his readers what is right”) but now contemporary productions instead show certain sins as nothing grave, or as actually desirable things. On that topic… where is the limit of what we can show (author), or what we can watch (viewer, reader, etc)?

    Like

    • Just watch the show and decide for yourself! Most of the 15 second scene (or was it even shorter?) is hidden from the viewers, which is another argument in it not being fanservicey. Other than the usual short skirts, Ga-Rei Zero is one of the least fanservicey anime I know. (A remark which does not apply to the Ga-Rei manga, it must be noted.) As I said, it’s a masterpiece–very worthy of being watched.

      In terms of what degree of sex and violence is inappropriate, I usually decide on a case by case basis. I think that I’ve written one two occasions of being turned off by violence or sex: https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/sometimes-the-first-episode-is-enough/ and https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/my-last-foray-into-hellsing/. Then again, I loved Mardock Scramble, which is about as graphic as they come. But, I felt that there was a good purpose to showing the violence and sex there, which felt absent in the other two. Basically, Mardock Scramble’s violence and sex do not feel gratuitous.

      So, I might not be the best person to ask, but I hope that this helps!

      Like

      • David A says:

        Hmmm, the subjective part. But that doesn’t says too much about a clear cut standard for considering reviews or work as an author.

        What is the limit, even considering personal dispositions?

        Like

  5. Luminas says:

    “I know about that, obviously, adding the depiction of these as something bad or undesirable (as you said “the author needs to remind his readers what is right”) but now contemporary productions instead show certain sins as nothing grave, or as actually desirable things.”

    I think people tend to assume this without it being true. The only things that seemed to have happened are: (1). Productions have become more comfortable with showing high amounts of sex and violence visually, whereas before many of these things were only implied. (2). Outright pornographic material (Or at least ecchi) has become more prolific. (3). Having sex before marriage is generally seen as permissible, whereas before it was actually so morally not okay (Despite the fact that everyone did it! XD) that the damn villains were strangely insistent on marrying their victims. This peculiarity still happens in anything set in a very Christian society, or anything written for kids.

    But generally speaking…Adultery, murder, rape, abuse, public drunkenness, and such are still seen as very grave, nasty things to do. 😛

    Like

    • David A says:

      The ones you mention at the last part, are not “popular”.

      Today, people tend to be more accepting of sins that involve:

      Consent, and certain level of exclusivity.

      Because of that, homosexual acts are more accepted, while poligamy isn’t.

      Isn’t what you mention in the second paragraph the same as portraying these as something not grave or actually positive?

      Like

    • I was thinking of the example of The Three Musketeers in particular, where Dumas goes out of his way to remind people of “the loose morals of the period” and showing the pain caused by vice. The whole struggle does get compared to a cosmic struggle between heaven and hell at points–especially by Athos. So, I think that novelists in more Christian times were concerned in reminding people of the danger of vice and the greatness of virtue.

      But, you are very right to point out that the general culture itself has changed. What used to be seen as wrong is now seen as fine, and people in the TV and movie industry are not afraid to show it.

      Like

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