For this post, my dear readers, I’ll let you into the workings of my scrupulous mind. You see, for a long time now, I worried whether manga like Akame ga Kiru and Silencer actually carry a benefit to the reader. In general, a fascination with blood and violence for their own sakes obviously manifests a disorder of the soul. At the opposite extreme, squeamishness at the sight of blood and the refusal to countenance the existence of violence must also count as defects. So, do Akame ga Kiru and Silencer fall in the mean between these two extremes? And if they are in the mean, what is their particular virtue?
A couple of quotes I found recently appear to show the value of such works. One derives from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse and the second from one of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. After describing a horrific and monstrous scene from the French Revolution. Kuehnelt-Leddhin writes the following:
It would be wrong to believe, as “sensible” but badly informed people like to do, that the French Revolution (as any other one) represented the “swinging of the pendulum in the other direction” or the “just reaction to earlier abuse.” In American high schools and colleges such interpretations of history are quite popular and are often given with the best intentions: to provide the students with a story that “makes sense” and at the same time suggests that reason and justice, though not always effective, are forces to be reckoned with in the gradual evolution of mankind. The alternative seems merely an endless enumeration of names, places, and dates, all amounting to the inventory of a madhouse or a vale of tears, the Beyond remaining the only consolation. The average teacher is afraid to tell young people who want to “establish” themselves cosily on this globe that Luther was only too right in calling the world des Teufels Wirtshaus, the “Devil’s Inn.” The deeper meaning of history is theological and he who flees theology can only try to solve the riddles of history by offering banalities of a moralizing nature, such as an optimistic Old Liberalism and Marxism (related to each other in certain ways) have tried to provide. This world, however, is a vale of tears and man, from a purely terrestrial viewpoint, a tragic creature. The trouble is that America and Europe, after a long process of de-Christianization, are no longer capable of assimilating a philosophy of the tragic or a theology of the Cross. (93)
The instigators of the French revolution are united to their less sanguinary successors–socialists–by one curious fallacy: the concept that we can create a kingdom of heaven on earth. Human beings can be molded into whatever shape the legislators wish. This transformation results from proper education and government control–à la Psycho-Pass. Religion is unnecessary when the State becomes God.
But this concept of creating a terrestrial paradise relies upon the false premise that people do not need grace. Many atheists claim that religion causes war and cruelty, but what so we see perpetuated in the name of liberté, fraternité, et égalité? By these optimists in the natural powers of man and proponents of the noble savage? To read about the French Revolution is to read about mass slaughters and executions, the violation of women and girls, unspeakable tortures and mutilations, and other horrors which abound when people forget God and try to become the Potter instead of remaining humble clay in the Father’s hands.
The second quote comes from Chesterton’s “The Secret of Flambeau”: “You may think a crime horrible because you could never commit it. I think it horrible because I could commit it. You think of it as something like the eruption of Vesuvius, but that would not really be so terrible as this house catching fire.” The point is that we are all sinners, but held back from the darkest deeds by the never ceasing operations of grace and providence. We should always be grateful to God for those graces we know of and those we don’t perceive: who knows but that a certain set of circumstances can lead us to commit a crime we thought unthinkable? Even those traits deemed virtues might lead to sin in the right circumstances.
Let us take the character of Esdeath for a moment. Her childhood seems remarkable for the virtues of obedience, simplicity, and courage. Even her cruelty toward animals was motivated by obedience to her father! But, that highlights her problem: these virtues serve the Social Darwinist worldview. With the goal of life subverted into mere survival, these virtues help her to become an efficient killer rather than a good soldier. Her sudden desire to fall in love must be seen as grace, but her entire life and education set an obstacle to her finding true love. The only reason which makes me hope for her yet breaking free of her Social Darwinist mindset lies in its incompatibility with love. As of Akame ga Kiru‘s last chapter, the chances of Esdeath turning from the dark side seem slim, but that recalls the points about the necessity of grace and the manifold ways God brings sinners to repentance.
To return back to the topic of violent and bloody tales, they must be considered good for reminding people of the depths human nature can sink to without grace. We ought to return thanks to God for innumerable graces, blessings, and rescues from sin. All of our good deeds begin in God, work through God, and come to completion with God by us being faithful to the grace working within us. The believer in the perfectibility of mankind through merely human actions will eventually start sending his fellow men to the guillotine and, like Robespierre, end by being sent to the guillotine himself!
I watched the anime. I dont know if I’d be giving spoilers if I talked about esdeath lol
Feel free to! I’ve watched the anime and have caught up in the manga. Esdeath is probably the most fascinating character in manga at present.
And, of course, Scripture itself doesn’t shy away from talking about aspects of the human condition that are disturbing or violent. It’s pretty important to grasp how a heroic man like King David could nevertheless wind up committing terrible sins.
That’s very true. The end of the book of Judges sticks out in my mind as having the most violent passages of Scripture. Though, the prophecies of what is going to happen to Jerusalem because they have forsaken God and worshiped false gods isn’t pretty either.
To me, nothing speaks of the depravity of the human soul than Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It likes to remind people about the senselessness of war, and the stupidity of those who order people to their deaths while hiding in the back sprouting patriotism.
There are too many wars like that, and wars allow for some terrible atrocities to be committed. Though, I find myself glad that certain wars were fought in history–probably not the attitude I’d have towards the ones in the LoGH universe though. 🙂
I agree with your premise, but I am going to take you to task about your language: “At the opposite extreme, squeamishness at the sight of blood… must also count as a defect.” I am squeamish. I see violence on screen, or in words, and I cringe. I almost feel the pain myself, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental. I get by with calling it “strong empathy,” but it might as easily be called hypersensitivity. I writhe, I ache. At one point in my life, it hurt so much that I shut down. For about a year, I stopped having emotional responses, good or bad.
Then I was watching a news-story, one that should have sickened me, and I realized that I felt absolutely nothing. And then I felt something. I felt horror that I felt no horror, sympathy, or pain. …that is not the state of a Christian heart. It took another year of hard work to re-discover and revive my emotional spectrum. The price was feeling that deep, horrible pain again, but at least now I know that emotions are worth the cost.
It makes me squeamish. How could it be as strong as it ought to be without doing so? I turn my face away from violence on-screen. I have to. But it does not follow that I am unable to fight against real pain, or that I try to forget that it exists. In a way, it makes me more easily aware of pain and evil, it lays me bare to the reality and, I believe, to a piece of the Heart of God.
I do not think that works of art should avoid showing evil or violence. Quite the opposite. We need reminders. And as humanity runs quite a spectrum, with thick skin as well as thin, there may be a need for far more than someone like me could ever handle. But there should also be works that someone like me can engage with that don’t involve curling up in a ball on the floor and weeping.
My point is that tolerances differ, and that is not necessarily a defect. God may have purposes for the thin-skinned and the thick. I think He probably does.
Also, though I have high empathy, I do find value in, and even like, works that make me cringe. That I have to turn my face away sometimes does not mean that I avoid such things altogether. Though there are some things, like Game of Thrones, or certain bloody horror films, that I choose to avoid.
Thus ends my rant. I’m sorry if it is nitpicky, but there is a lot of truth in this post, and I hate to see that marred by what I feel may be a misconception, or at least a misleading phrase. 😉
I agree with you that tenderness and empathy are good things to have. As you point out, the degree of dispassion a person possesses also relates to their specific role in society. We want empathetic teachers but hard-nosed cops. At present, I’m reading about an executioner from the 16th century named Frantz Schmidt, whom we know of because he kept a diary of his executions in order to record his public service. Curiously, he is much less hard-boiled than we would expect for someone with a record of 394 executions. His compassion is reserved for the victims of crime and repentant crooks, and some crooks he appears happy to dispatch. Despite seeing the absolute worst in human nature and having to do very unpleasant things to people for decades, indifference to the suffering of others never took hold of his soul–which I find rather amazing. I might recommend the book to you, but some of what Schmidt had to deal with makes me ill.
I sometimes wonder about whether it is truly cause for alarm if we do not react to things as we expect that we should. St. Francis de Sales divides the soul into two parts–higher and lower. The will resides in the higher part while the affections and emotions concern the lower. Through the process of education, we try to align the emotions to take pleasure in good and shun evil. At the same time, if we feel nothing about an evil or even feel attracted to it, that does not mean that we will evil. Sometimes, our emotions being out of whack is permitted by God as a trial to purify our faith and eliminate self-satisfaction in our good works. A good will is what is most important, while the emotions attached to the works, especially that affection which accounts for 90% of the pleasure we get from life–as C. S. Lewis says, are less so.
For example, a few days ago, saying the Rosary felt like an unbearable chore. I not only felt indifferent to the practice, but actual aversion to doing so. Thank God that it is for saying the prayers that I will be judged rather than how I felt about saying them!
From a moral standpoint, and from a standpoint of obedience, will is all-important. I agree that one is not good or bad because of what one feels (which cannot be consciously controlled) but by what one does with the feelings. Emotions can even, as Lewis suggests, be trained to some extent. He talks about acting as if one loves God, or one’s Neighbor, and how, in doing this, the emotion of love can begin to form.
But emotions are, I think, of that class of things that are fundamental to creation. They are good, like the hunger that tells us to eat and increases the pleasure of eating, or the pain that warns us to let go of the hot frying pan. They’re almost senses, telling us things about our environment and ourselves. Like senses, they can be mistaken or manipulated. Like over-indulged appetites, they can get out of control. That is where the will and obedience come in to govern them. But the emotions, themselves, are not a defect. Their being allowed to run-rampant is, rather, a sin of the will.
So really, different levels of sensitivity are, I tend to think, legitimate, provided will and determined obedience govern them. I see no reason to extend my will over my empathy in order to watch most instances of violence. There are exceptions, of course, some in literature and film, and some in real life, but for the most part, there is no reason to abuse myself. I am more obedient in avoiding such things, when I can, than otherwise. I do not need the reminder, I live with it, and in order to be able to focus on the tasks laid on me, I need to avoid the sickened depression that creeps over me when I expose myself to too much human darkness. When depressed, I find it far more difficult to be productive.
Interestingly, I find that I handle my own pain fairly well. It’s seeing it that kills me. 😛
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That’s very true. And people should generally read books or watch movies that please them–when reading for fun, anyway. For it is certainly true that we learn more from stories we enjoy than those which pain us. (In this way, books might be said to work in the opposite way from experience. 🙂 ) And also, the primary reason people are interested in stories is because they engage the emotions–often very lofty emotions, as watching movies like Gettysburg prove.
I suppose you can say that I’m of the stoic type who generally sees emotions as interfering with duty and right action. At the same time, the very opposite is true: emotions can bolster the will so that we do things which we could not without their impetus. So, I think that we agree; though, some of the stories which I enjoy, you might not. But, that can be said of everyone.
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[…] Esdeath of Akame ga Kill reminds us that violence in anime (and life) tells us something very important about human nature, and of a need we all have. [Medieval Otaku] […]
Ah, very interesting.
I think there is a limit in the consumption of violent productions, independently of personal levels of tolerance.
This reminds me of the typical liberal complaint, about the tolerance of violent productions but not of sexualized ones.
The point, is that basically, few people would be tempted to violence watching action on the screen or paper, while sexual temptations are way more common. Also, violence is perceived by a lot of people as something negative, while the sexual activities and sins portrayed in screen are seen as mostly acceptable.
Another thing I heard in a sermon, was about if the actors were sinning or not making the scenes. They would sin in making the sexual scenes, while not in most action scenes.
And then, we have the topic of avoiding things by principle/because we should, even if not temptations, and is something I need more theoric back up, definitely, the solver of many media related debates in Catholic contexts.
Definitely true. It reminds me of how St. Ignatius depicts four degrees of assent when it comes to sin. The first is when the idea of sin presents itself to the mind, which can easily be rejected without the tempted person sinning. The second is delighting in the sin, which has various degrees of sinfulness–mostly venial still–though, I think that St. Ignatius imagines that it might be possible for a sin of thought to be mortal on this level–you’ll have to look at his Spiritual Exercises. The two following levels concern degrees of consent–whether one would merely like to do the sin or actually resolve to do it, which may be mortal or venial depending on the usual conditions.
The curious thing with violence is that a person can approach it in two ways: thrilling in a good fight or taking actual delight in the pain inflicted on another person. The first is normal in men–hence all the violent sports which have ever existed. The second is sinful in itself, but not common to all men in the same way as the thrill of a good fight is. Even St. Augustine as a bishop said that it was difficult to take his eyes off of a good cock fight!
There does not seem to be this same distinction in lust. In romantic love, there is, but not in lust, which is so tightly tied into the pleasure one received from the beloved object. So, I’d generally agree with the priest.
I suppose the fact that a lustful act in film easily becomes an actual sin shows the superiority of books and anime? 🙂
Yes, the second one is sinful, but as you said, is not something common.
I think the book operates at another level and something pput in paper would be terrible on screen. Also, not all people would react the same to the written scenes. Still, the writer should be careful with what is writing, to avoid making others sin.
With anime, I think is a similar situation to those of the actors. The animators would be producing these scenes, the writer, the director, they would be cooperating with the sin too. So, it applies the same principles of the writer situation. Avoid making others sin.
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Violence is odd. It facilitates as much nobility as it does nightmarish cruelty, as much the battling of two opposing Hearts as the assembly-line slaughter of countless soldiers’ lives. It is a furnace and a means by which the human heart can be tested, and we so often come up wanting. Worse still, we fail to realize that even those who have good intentions can commit the most horrific acts of evil. In the real world, the “good” revolutionaries are terrorists as well as freedom fighters…and oddly enough, Akame ga Kiru itself points this out.
And I am glad of this, for it perhaps means that we as a species are finally understanding that we’re ALL sinners, tragic and sacred.
It’s certainly true that we’re all sinners. Often, people fall into sins because they think themselves as incapable of that particular sin, as George MacDonald writes.
But, it is very true that war is a test, which some pass brilliantly and others fail abysmally. Joshua L. Chamberlain famously said: “War makes good men great and bad men worse.”
My favorite example of good intentions leading to all sorts of horrors is the French Revolution, which Akame ga Kiru reminds me of so strongly. It reminded the animators of the series strongly of that conflict too–if you remember the fate of the king. How much we all rely on God’s mercy!
Reblogged this on vampirizae and commented:
[…] Esdeath of Akame ga Kill reminds us that violence in anime (and life) tells us something very important about human nature, and of a need we all have. [Medieval Otaku] […]
I been reading the Akame ga kill manga, and I want to ask you as a Christian, how you deal with the reference of rape and pedophilia in the manga, I was horrified on what happened to Bol’s wife and daughter by Wild Hunt and wonder if a depressing and dark dystopian manga like Akame and violent too if i should follow, I’m not accusing anyone or judging you. I asking you as a fellow fan of the series which I love the characters and relationships and I do like the them of getting justice in a unjust world and changing the corrupt government of the world of Akame ga kill. but yeah I been buying the manga and i was shocked and bother by seeing a Danger beast killed a pregnant woman, the horrified expression as the beast about to tore open her belly and then cut to the next scene, atleast unlike berserk, akame dont show in graphic detail on what happened but it still disturb me. I guess Im more used to more light hearted shonen series. well what I want to know how do you approach and be a fan of the series as a believer too.
There are many tough scenes in Akame ga Kiru; but as an amateur historian, I come across scenes of great horror and violence all the time. I mentioned the dark deeds of the French Revolution, and what happens in Akame ga Kiru equals in many cases the violence of those days. (In other cases, the French Revolution contains crimes even that mangaka would shun from depicting.) Though, seeing violent deeds affects one’s sensibilities worse than reading about them.
As a Christian, I think that there are subjective and objective lines concerning violence. Subjective lines pertain to what people can stomach, and that varies. (Some people can watch the movie “The Revenant,” others can’t. I even saw one person walk out of the theater, and it is a difficult movie to sit through, but, a very moral movie all the same.) One should not be causing oneself real pain in what one reads or watches! The objective line is sadism: a Christian should never indulge in media where the author takes a delight in suffering, pain, and bloodshed, examples of this are Berserk and Hellsing. Akame ga Kiru has characters who take delight in causing others to suffer, but the author portrays all these acts as really wrong and depraved, i.e. not as delightful or cool. Though, I will say that modern man’s sensitivity to sadism is less than it was. I read that Patrick McGoohan, the famous star of Secret Agent and a devout Catholic, turned down the role of James Bond, because he saw the movie’s violence as sadistic. When I think about it, I can see that he was right, but we are not accustomed to think of James Bond as a sadistic franchise!
So, there you have my answer. I love Akame ga Kiru for its great characters and exciting fights. The villains do some awful hings, but the author shows them in the right light. Sometimes, I do find myself skipping a page or two ahead when the violence reaches too high a pitch. I think that it is okay to read the manga, but apply those subjective and objective measures in your own case!
thank you for taking the time to respond to my question. I read some spoilers about akame ga kiru that made me look forward to the later chapters. and you right at least they do show the violence and the rape in a negative light and the villains are suppose to be horrible people. I really like Akame and her sister Kurome, I find her cute and likable, and read spoilers on what happened to her and wind that made me feel excited for the progress. plus I heard the series is already on its way to ending and I’m hoping for a payoff in the end. the manga does portrayed Esdeath as a more immoral characters as she delights in torture and finding ways to prologue the suffering of her victims, its hard to see her as a fan favorite by many, mostly anime viewers which the anime tone down her more sadistic hobbies. Akame is so different from a more lighthearted series like Fairy tail or even Naruto which is a nice balance of lighthearted themes and violence and war. I do find myself worrying about certain character in Akame that might not survive to the ending of the series. thank you so much for your insight, i will give a series a chance once more. I do love the artwork too.
You’re welcome! Esdeath has many positive qualities despite being a black-hearted villain. This is sort of like how I can’t help but admire Hitler’s leadership qualities. But, in either case, their evil inclinations make them even worse because of their virtues! Bishop Fulton Sheen once commented that St. Francis of Assisi could have been a Lenin, and Lenin could have been a St. Francis. The difference between them is that St. Francis used his considerable force of will and virtue for good, while Lenin used it for evil.
I actually happen to be one of those Esdeath fans, but I was hoping that she would have a change of heart during the series. Instead, she seems pathetically welded to the dark side, never having had a true moral education or good influences. Still, a very interesting character.
Happy Easter, medievalotaku! I´ve two episodes left of Escaflowne: I´ll comment when it´s over, but in advance, for now I like the ethos of the series, the Mystic Moon, the personalities of Van, Folken, Dilandau, Millerna, Dryden (a lot), Allen, some Spanish imaginery and names, like Asturia, and (weirdly because I despise all form of divination in real life) the Tarot imaginery. I´ve my doubts about Hitomi, we´ll see. Finally, I dislike the Enhanced Luck thing, the cat twins, the Emperor shipping characters via mystical machine, the alteration of probabilities and that “Allen is the right man for Millerna” concept. I like good metafictional elements, but only when wisely dosed.
Your quote by Kuehnelt-Leddhin it´s really interesting. It reminds me of how Cristopher Dawson noted that (secular) historic processes end not in culmination or decadence, but in interruption. History defies the hegelian logic: one day, the Carolingian Empire simply is no more, no matter its achievements, the advanced it was, the good, the bad or whatever, be it with a bang or with a whimper. Every victory of good, however small, is a powerful sign of hope, but also limited both in its effects and in its own perfection: as Leonardo Polo usually said, all declared success is premature. This is true also of the triumph of evil: it reminds us vividly of our state of sin and its dynamic, yet it is never complete and it proves ultimately futile, having the seeds of self-destruction in it. This way, history is both highly significant and wonderfully conjunctural and variable. I have come to appreciate that as a wonder of God´s good world.
I will agree that it would turn the world in a valley of sorrow (and it often does) were we to consider that what happens on Earth is the last word on any matter. But, when the hope of Resurrection is present, we humbly hope that what is good will be preserved, purified and triumphant, however broken and miserable we see it here, and what is evil will be no more, like straw burned by fire or carried by the wind, by an unthinkable wonder which works from the inside, present in us and the stories we have a role in as the smallest of seeds. This does not destroy the sorrow (nihilism and cynism are primarily useful forms of hardening and self-defense against false hopes, after all), but sorrow is transformed, in a way, into something unique, misterious and deep, and the sorrows and the joys of life become somewhat intertwined one with another, and both with all humanity, with the past and the misterious, hopeful future. So there is another sense yet in which the most violent stories may turn up to be hopeful, aside for the cautionary and the epic.
The French Revolution, both World Wars and the Spanish Civil War, among others, certainly provide material for nightmares. As you pointed in your article about sieges in the Reinassance, cruelty has an aggregating effect: it is not primarily a logical reaction for whatever wrongs commited in the past, but a cycle of chaos and madness where all the boundaries are more and more left to primal appetites of domination, rage, revenge, lust and greed. Mutinies, revolutions and conflicts tend to bring this element, often ignored or romanticed in later recounts, when normality is back. This happened in a monstruous way in 1789. But the French Revolution, after all, is also the time when a king forgiven his people from the scaffold, following the model of Christ, the time when the Carmelites offered her lifes for France and the Church and walked to their deaths, peacefully singing the Laudate Domino until the last was silenced. Never was the land of Joan D´Arc more glorious, never shone it in such an unique way. The guillotine, that efficient artifact of humanitarian evil, has become also a relic, a gate to Heaven.
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May you have had a happy Easter also! Escaflowne is a great series, but it does become a little silly with the twin cats and Enhanced Luck. It’s best parts are the mecha, the action, and the worldbuilding.
Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddhin is a very fascinating author to read. He’s an Austrian polyglot and political scientist who got his start teaching Japanese and then worked as a journalist. His personal philosophy is a one of a kind blend of Thomism, monarchism, and classical liberalism, and I can’t recommend his “Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse” enough.
What you write about sorrow, tragedy, and the hope for redemption is all very true. I would shy away from saying the land of Joan of Arc was glorious during the French Revolution–we might as well say that the Roman Empire was glorious as the Romans cheered Christians being thrown to the lions. But, the Church indeed was made more glorious by the blood of the martyrs even as the City of Man grew more squalid and depraved.
Thanks for your commentary!
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Well, I think I see your last point. For me, the difference may lie in the Revolution being against both the political and the spiritual order of the Kingdom of France, and in how the martyrs of the Revolution were also fervent patriots, deeply ingrained in every level of that community as well as in the Church. The authorities of the Roman Empire were instead against Christianity at institutional level (Rome being institutionally governed by a god-Emperor, fauvoring politheism and ruling the world by conquest). In a sense, it was the Kingdom of France (as well as the Church of Christ) who died through its loyals in the scaffold with a sign of forgiveness and love to their misguided or traitorous compatriots. The Church rose, as it cannot be destroyed, the kingdom didn´t, as all kingdom of men must disappear in time. But in doing so, it gave us a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, which I think is the highest mission of the temporal order.