Goblin Slayer and the Root of Horror

The Halloween season has given me some impetus to think about the horror genre.  A while back, an academic named E. Michael Jones was on the Patrick Coffin show explaining how he thought about the horror genre.  He has written at least two works on this subject: Monsters from the Id: The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film and Sex with Monsters.  Jones believes that the modern horror genre arose as a reaction to the free love movements of the 19th century and reached its full flowering following the Sexual Revolution.  Many persons were hurt by the myriad problems which inevitably arise from sexual licentiousness and enjoyed a cathartic reaction from a central message of many horror stories: sex can kill you.

School Days

You all know how this story ends.  Or, if you don’t, School Days should be on your list.

School Days might be the anime locus classicus for such a theme, but my dear readers know–know even a priori–that playing Don Juan for a length of time is going to lead one to embarrassing, painful, and even dangerous situations.  People don’t like being used as playthings, and the relatives of the playthings take an even dimmer view of such conduct.  The fact that one’s partner consents to the relationship does not take away from the feeling of being used.  The Sexual Revolution tried to paint promiscuity as a desirable thing, even promoting contraceptives and abortion so that women could participate in “consequence- free” sex.

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Shiki: The Beowulf Connection

I intend this to be the first of three articles on Shiki, a profoundly interesting vampire anime released in 2010.  In this article, I’m going to argue that its author retold the medieval epic Beowulf, or at least, that it derives much of its subject matter from this epic.  Before some of you decide this idea to be unlikely, don’t forget than the Japanese love drawing from Norse mythology and sagas.  Why not also peruse the contemporaneous literature of medieval England?  Of perhaps they can arrive at the epic through knowledge of another famous post-modern treatment, John Gardner’s Grendel.  But one feature of Shiki makes me feel like they must have read the epic of the middle ages: the prevalence of the most shocking crime to medieval ears–kinslaughter.

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The esteemed Professor Justin A. Jackson of Hillsdale college, an avid student of medieval English literature, once lamented that people read Beowulf for the beginning and the end–the slaying of Grendel and the slaying of the dragon.  People think of this as a monster slaying story, but this understanding does not go far enough.  The prodigious fiends of the beginning and end point to the monsters in human form of the middle: kinslayers.  Grendel’s line itself is shown to be descended from the first kinslayer, Cain.  Also, Beowulf declaims this baleful rebuke–or rather, smack down–of the quibbling Ulferth:

…I have never heard

such struggle, sword terror, told about you.

Never in the din and play of battle

did Breca or you show such courage

with shining blades–not to boast about it–

though you were a manslayer, killed your brothers,

closest kinsmen, for which you will suffer

damnation in hell, clever though you are. (581-589)

The vampires in Shiki actually go after their closest family members as their first targets.  One person even sucks dry her entire family, though none of them rise up.

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Another link to Beowulf is the curious mixture of paganism and Christianity.  In Beowulf, we are led to initially believe the characters are pagan; yet, once Beowulf arrives, they speak like Christians and care not a wit for pagan gods.  Examine the Church in Shiki.  We know that it cannot be Christian.  There are neither masses nor services, neither Catholic priests nor Protestant ministers.  And yet, one window a depicts the martyrdom of a Japanese saint!  But a post-modern twist comes in the form of people blaming God for the trouble which comes to their village rather than praising God for freeing them from evil.  Indeed, the characters only speak about God–even if Shinto and Buddhist artifacts can ward off vampires.

Sunako and Seishun

“Alright then,” you say.  “Who is Hrothgar, Beowulf, Ulferth, the scop, Grendel, and Grendel’s mother?  There must be some connection to the characters if this is indeed a retelling.”

Ookawa

Beowulf = Tomio Ookawa

At first, I thought that there was no Beowulf.  This would go along with the theme of divine abandonment in the show.  After all, Beowulf’s entrance into Denmark is shown as coming about through divine providence.  But, here is an example of them borrowing from Gardner’s Grendel.  Mr. Ookawa fits the idea of Gardner’s Beowulf through his inexorable sense of justice, crazed single-mindedness, and strength.  He is certainly of heroic stature!

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Hrothgar = Dr. Ozaki

One of the neatest twists in the story is Dr. Ozaki.  We originally think him to be a kind of Van Helsing, á la Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  But, events make it clear that Dr. Ozaki is not a courageous vigilante against the vampires, but more of a leader.  He is helpless at stopping the vampire outbreak, but he can lead others to successfully squash it–the good old Jason-esque  hero.  As the chief man in the village, he fits the bill for Hrothgar.

Ulferth = Masao Murasako

Ulferth is a blabbering loudmouth just like Masao.  Helpless to do anything but complain.  No picture for him!

Seishin's the one on the left.  Behind him is the stain glass window with the martyrdom.

Seishin’s the one on the left. Behind him is the stain glass window with the martyrdom.

the Scop = Seishin

As a novelist, Seishin approximates a scop, but instead of reciting songs of glory and valor, he writes stories of misery.  This fits the post-modern twist I mentioned.

Mrs. Kirishiki

Grendel’s mother = Mrs. Kirishiki

Like the hag of Beowulf, she’s a very powerful vampire.  I know Grendel’s mother is pictured as ugly, but witches in continental Europe were also imagined to be beautiful blond women like Mrs. Kirishiki.  And this is not the first time Grendel’s mother has been portrayed as a seductress.  It was also done in the 2007 Beowulf movie with Angelina Jolie playing this role.

Megumi on right.  I felt very sorry for this character.

Megumi on right. I felt very sorry for this character.

Grendel = Megumi

Surprised?  The Sunako Kirishiki would be the obvious choice for Grendel, especially with her attachment to Mrs. Kirishiki.  But, I believe that Megumi fits the bill more perfectly.  She feels completely ostracized by the village because they mock her predilection for fancy clothing, and she thinks little of Kaori’s attempts to befriend her.  Hence she, like Grendel, is already an outsider when the story begins.  She dreams of one day leaving for the big city because she hates everyone in the village and everything about that place.  Grendel means evil in Old English.  The essence of evil is envy or ill-will.  What could be more invidious than her cheer, uttered while turning pirouettes: “I love making people I hate suffer!”  Amusingly, she does not engage in kinslaughter, but she had already killed the relationship between her and her parents through envy.

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But, she also has connections to Gardner’s Grendel in that both the anime and this work attempt to make Grendel a sympathetic character.  (At least, I think the former did.  The story is told from Grendel’s point of view.  But I wanted Grendel to die from page one.)  The anime succeeded much better than Grendel in creating a sympathetic monster, and we wish to see Megumi escape at the end–quite unjustly of us, I should think!  *BIG BIG BIG Spoiler Alert!*  The manner in which Megumi dies, with her first losing her left arm and then being finished off while helpless is reminiscent of Grendel’s demise in the epic poem.

Tatsumi and Natsuno

Actually, the story even has a Wiglaf and a dragon in the persons of Natsuno and Tatsumi respectively.  Just like Beowulf telling his thanes and Wiglaf that their help is not needed to defeat the dragon, the Dr. Ozaki does not enlist Natsuno’s aid until the end of the story.  Yet, he defeats the strongest of the vampires, Tatsumi, who–for his ability to walk under the sun–is considered more than a regular vampire.  Natsuno slays Tatsumi when no one had expected it of him.

There you have it!  My case for Shiki being a post-modern retelling of Beowulf!  What do you think?  Has anyone else perceived the connections between ShikiBeowulf, and Grendel?  And be sure to watch the video of the opening lines of Beowulf recited in Old English.  It’s pure awesomeness!

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: A Spy Anime?

If you have not watched Arpeggio of Blue Steel, I might advise you not to read any further.  Not only because this article is chock full of spoilers, but because I think that such shows are best enjoyed without one perceiving their purpose until the end or even upon another viewing.  But, if you have my own nonchalant attitude toward knowing all about a story before watching or reading it (in my case, an attitude fostered by the study of the Classics), read on by all means.

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Anyway, Arpeggio of Blue Steel stands as the latest “spy anime” if you will.  This has nothing to do with espionage of the Cold War sort.  Thompdjames, a close friend of mine and blogger of Dusty Thanes, once told me about term “spy novels,” which he defined as novels which were clandestinely Christian in order to be read by the general public.  Selling around 150 million copies, The Lord of the Rings stands as the most successful novel of this type.  Few on the first reading would realize that it is a Christian fairy tale.  I wish to argue that Arpeggio of Blue Steel is of the same class.

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Now, not everything in this series is explicable through the lens of the Bible.  In particular, I have no idea how to explain the initial scenario of intelligent robots coming down to earth and taking over the seas.  This scenario merely offers a field for Christian ideas to play out.  If anyone thinks the coming of the Fog refers to the fall of the angels, I wish instead to argue that the Fog represent the Jews.  This claim has neither to do with the origins of the Fog nor their being ships.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

So, how do the Fog represent the Jews?  They run their careers according to a series of orders, which stopped coming at one point.  This is similar to how the Jews have 613 Mizvot, to which they have neither added or subtracted since the times of Moses if they are Orthodox.  And so, the Fog symbolizes humanity under the Old Covenant.

This is not a bad place to be; however, it cannot compare to the Law of Love found in the New Covenant: “This is my command: love each other” (John 15:17).  The New Testament requires love as the basis of our relationship toward God rather than strict justice, though love is both just and yet goes beyond justice so that our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20).  This is because under the Old Covenant people were slaves of God, but the New Covenant makes people friends of God: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). 

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Gunzou, the Christ figure of this anime, illustrates this concept that Christians are joined in friendship with their Lord.  Gunzou assembles a very diverse group of friends who are all one in his group: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Whether playing at the beach or fighting against the Fog, one sees that friendship binds them together.  Also like Christ, Gunzou brings division: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).  But, is it Christ’s fault that He brings division?  That most amiable and lovable of persons who strove to reconcile all human beings with God?  Of course not!  One who seeks to reconcile people cannot be the cause of discord.  The enemies of Christ rage against the Cornerstone and are crushed (Luke 20:18).  In the same way, U-400 and U-402 strive to sink Gunzou’s ship and are lost themselves.  Gunzou’s near sacrifice of himself for Iona is reminiscent of Christ’s death on the Cross.  Lastly, the fact that Gunzou is the Captain of the U-401 mirrors the relationship of Christ to the Church, as Christ is the Head of the Church.

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Indeed, the amount of resistance among the Fog to Gunzou’s desire to reconcile them to humanity resembles the resistance of the Jews to the message of Christ.  In particular, Kongou’s resistance to Gunzou’s offer of friendship reminds one of the Pharisees’ refusal to accept Christ due to their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5)–if we take the mental model’s cores to symbolize their hearts, what else is Kongou’s leaving her core aboard ship but the refusal to give Gunzou her heart?  One almost imagines Kongou, after seeing how much Gunzou’s crew is enjoying themselves, asking: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” (Matthew 9:14)  Like the Pharisees toward Jesus, Kongou finds herself attracted to Gunzou, but prefers the old wine of the law to the new wine of friendship (Luke 5:39).

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Shortly thereafter, we see the collusion of the Fog to kill Gunzou, which reminds one of the Sanhedrin’s plan to assassinate Jesus Christ.  Interestingly, Kongou ends up chained for her zeal in desiring U-401’s demise.  Who else is Kongou like except St. Paul, whose zeal for the traditions of his fathers and led him to “[breath] out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1).  The genius of having such a Pauline character makes the series.

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Unlike St. Paul though, Kongou breaks of the chains of the Fog’s directives but without accepting the friendship of Gunzou.  What has she done?  With neither the Law nor Love to steer her course, her own envy drives her quest to destroy U-401.  She even goes so far as to destroy her allies ships so that she can gain all the glory of destroying the U-401.  This reminds me of how the enemies of the Church are attracted to what the Church has and yet wish to destroy it at the same time.  As George MacDonald wrote in his Weighted and Wanting: “The world had given her the appearance of much of which Christ gives the reality.  For the world very oddly prizes the form whose informing reality it despises.”  Those outside the Church have no idea how happy the treasures of faith would make them.

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This event leads to the final confrontation between Kongou and Iona.  Iona gives her all to save Kongou from her envy.  The vast battery of firepower unleashed on Iona to prevent her approach imitates the way worldly people attempt to drive Christ away from them.  The frosty blades with which Kongou attempts to cut down Iona and the force field placed around the Fog’s place of meeting all show the hardness and coldness Christ is shown by the same people.  Yet, it is not Gunzou, whom I referred to as this series Christ figure, who approaches Kongou on this occasion, but Iona.  This refers to the fact that Christ acts through his members to bring people to salvation.  I am not sure whether it might be more appropriate to say that Iona is a Marian or apostolic figure.  She is certainly Gunzou’s most perfect follower.  Yet, we view St. Mary as being a more quiet and contemplative figure; yet, in the orthodox and medieval tradition of the Church contemplation and prayer considered far more active in bringing people to Christ than missionary work–though, we obviously need missionaries.  Why?  Because contemplatives have chosen the better part with another St. Mary (Luke 10:42): love purely focused on Christ.

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Be that as it may, Iona is sent as a lamb to a wolf (Matt. 10:16).  Kongou has become truly warped by her hatred of Gunzou, which leads to such hatred of herself that she warps the form of her ship and even wishes to destroy herself along with Iona.  Her envy is such that she cannot bear to see another person happy, since she believes that happiness does not lie in store for her.  But, Iona manages to touch Kongou’s heart, and thus they are saved, which reminds us of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s assertion that no one is saved alone.  The salvation of one always means the salvation of others.  To further the Pauline theme in the case of Kongou, recall Timothy 1:15-16: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.  But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”  And so, Kongou’s darkness dissipates, her animosity toward Gunzou and his crew vanishes, and her Death Star-like airship returns to her true battleship form, events which show that she loves others now and loves herself truly.

Remember!  One can't properly love others unless one loves oneself.

Remember! One can’t properly love others unless one loves oneself.

So, what do you think of my evidence for Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a “spy anime”?  Am I correct or did I read too much into the show?  I think this might be the longest article I’ve ever written outside of the papers for school I have posted here!  I hope that everyone got to the end!