The Virtue of Bloody and Violent Tales

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?

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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:

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“Kikuchiyo of Samurai 7 Level Epic”: How the Last Episode of Akame ga Kiru Met My Expectations

I do not often write a post immediately following an episode, but it’s not every day that one of my wishes for a currently airing series comes true.  And, I have already given myself a week off.  Time to start blogging again!  Major spoilers for both Samurai 7 and episode 23 of Akame ga Kiru to follow.

Akame's Warning

For the most part, this week’s episode of Akame ga Kiru provoked much laughter as every cliche from shonen anime featured in one of its scenes–from Tatsumi gaining strength through the memory of his friends to the emperor having a nervous break down in his mech.

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Anyone else reminded of Escaflowne's Dilandau?

Anyone else reminded of Escaflowne’s Dilandau?

Ran appears to have transformed into a facsimile of Suzaku Kururugi–though several times more palatable–with his claim to have wanted to reform the empire from the inside.  And I expected Leone’s fight with him to be her last.

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It never works, man.  Neither in Code Geass nor in Akame ga Kiru.

It never works, man. Neither in Code Geass nor in Akame ga Kiru.

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However, this episode happily surprised me in two ways: 1) Leone did not kick the bucket (Yay!); and 2) Tatsumi did indeed reach Kikuchiyo’s death level epicness.  Let’s compare the two of them:

How do you stop a giant air battleship?

How do you stop a giant air battleship?

With a giant katana of course!

With a giant katana of course!

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Kikuchiyo explodes from overheating, but not before sapping the giant airship of the momentum it needed to destroy the village.

 

And down it plunges.

And down it plunges into a canyon.

All that's left of Kikuchiyo

All that’s left of Kikuchiyo

I had the same reaction.  The saddest death in the anime!

I had the same reaction. The saddest death in the anime!

Kikuchiyo’s death still tops Tatsumi’s; but, Tatsumi still managed to pull off one of the greatest deaths of any anime character.  No mean feat!

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Requiescas in pace, Tatsumi!

Requiescas in pace, Tatsumi!

Now, the last episode will feature a duel between Esdeath and Akame–perhaps the two most popular characters in the anime.  The first half of the show was remarkable for its poor swordplay .  The second half has shown a marked improvement, but will they be able to create a final duel worthy of the two expert swordswomen?  I’m rooting for the triumph of Esdeath, but I won’t hold my breath: as soon as Esdeath gets nicked she dies.  At least, I can hope her death won’t play out thus: Esdeath thinks that she has Akame beaten, but it turns out that Akame landed the slightest of cuts and Esdeath falls dead!

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At any rate, may they exceed my expectations once again!

A Character as Loco as Esdeath: A Theory on the Inspiration behind Akame ga Kiru’s Most Beloved Character

As my dear readers know, drawing connections between anime and other works–whether it be Arpeggio of Blue Steel and the Bible or Beowulf and Grendel with Shiki–stands as one of my favorite hobbies.  But, anime more often references itself, and part of the joy of watching anime is discerning various allusions and appropriations within the medium, e.g. Kill la Kill and Blazing Transfer Student.  Rather than destroying creativity, such borrowing can add to the intellectual pleasure one gleans from a story by creating another perspective.  Classical authors, for example, did this all the time–even in fashions which would be thought of as plagiarism nowadays–and were admired for it.  No one is going to toss aside a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, complaining that Virgil borrows too much from Homer!  What is considered most original is often just a refreshing combination of old ideas.

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This understanding of creativity applies very well to the character Esdeath, who combines various traits which may be seen as contradictory.  While musing about Esdeath’s character, I pondered whether she had any equivalents in anime.  I found various similarities in other characters: Erza Scarlet (overwhelming power), Shishio (Social Darwinism), and Maestro Delphine (contempt for the weak and poor).  However, these all have one or two similarities to Esdeath rather than approximate personalities.  Esdeath may still be considered sui generis.

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However, I have hit upon a character who shares many similarities to Esdeath.  She has so many parallels to her that the direct contrasts in their characters just further highlight their connection.  I’ve kept my dear readers in suspense long enough!  This character is Koko Hekmatyar of Jormungand.

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Of course, the first thing one notes is the similarity of their features: pale complexion, blue eyes, and frost-colored hair.  (A quick google search shows that I’m not the first to notice this, but I don’t think anyone’s written a proper article on the two yet.)  Koko hails from Sweden, and Esdeath was born in the northern climes of the empire.  Both lead a squad of highly trained soldiers and become very attached to males younger than they are–though, it must be confessed that Koko’s passion for a child soldier is more creepy.  They are also highly attached to their subordinates–even when they discover that their subordinates have failed or betrayed them.

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With those similarities out of the way, the real fun begins.  Koko, a merchant of death, sells weapons for the sake of world peace.  Esdeath, a suppressor of rebellion, uses her office to incite the whole empire to war.  Both have no qualms about using insane methods to achieve their goals, as the lives of unknown human beings mean nothing to them.  This disregard for the value of human life drives both Tatsumi and Jonah away from their love interests–and it remains a question whether the former shall escape his love interest’s madness.

Jonah

Into their respective plans, however, a wrench named Cupid is thrown.  Love threatens to undermine both their schemes and worldviews, and the conflict revolves around whether they shall suppress love for the sake of their misguided goals or shall amor omnia vincit?  Both seem unbending, yet Koko bent to the desire of her beloved.  Will Esdeath do the same or is her heart too hard?

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Well, you need to read the manga in order to find out!  At any rate, do you think that I make a good case for Esdeath being based on Koko?

My Experience with the Anime of Summer 2014

As you know, I wrote that I would try to marathon the anime which I stalled this season.  Having watched straight through episodes 8 – 12 of Aldnoah.Zero, I’ll be able to add my assessment of it to this post–making for a total of five anime.  Expect the reviews of the others to be published singly or in pairs.  Let me start with the two anime which I’m unable to rate due to their series not being finished.

One of the most beautiful images of the season of one of its most charming ladies.

One of the most beautiful images of the season with one of its most charming ladies.

1) Aldnoah.Zero – no rating

Quel finale!  If they had not promised to return for the winter season of 2015, I would have rated it 3 1/2 stars just for crushing the audience’s souls at the end!  (And before the last few minutes and finding out that it would get a second half, I thought about giving it 4 1/2 stars!)  The action sequences were truly awesome, the animation beautiful, and the plot compelling.  The characters were nothing to write home about, but Slaine and Inaho made for great protagonists and even the princess started to grow on me.

I cannot but confess that I found this takedown very cool.

I cannot but confess that I found this takedown very cool.

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As others have noted, certain parts of the anime evinced bad writing.  A few of the characters’ decisions made little sense, especially *MAJOR SPOILER* Rayet killing the princess.  But, that might play into the theme of envy and hatred being motivators for war.  I know Inaho disagreed, saying that there were always other main causes for war.  But, anger and hatred make war especially bitter and often increase the destruction of war and the willingness of nations to begin them.  Just think of Great Britain and France.

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FUTURE POST ALERT: How envy influences Martian politics lines up nicely with a book I’m reading titled Leftism by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.  So, the role of envy in modern politics and how envy squelches liberty and diversity will certainly feature as a post in the future.

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2) Akame ga Kiru – no rating

Akame ga Kiru got off to a slow start, but I feel that the second half of this season was much more exciting than the first–just as the case was in the manga.  I must confess that the manga does several things better; but, the way that the show handled the presentation of Esdeath’s character was rather adroit.  (I still prefer the fan translation name, Esdese.  That seems more like a girl’s name than that of an allegorical character, doesn’t it?)  Some of the fights could have been better, but episodes 6 and 11 more than made up for them.  You also need to love Akame ga Kiru‘s style.  It exudes a Renaissance setting, but a million anachronisms fill its scenes–especially the modern style of the clothing and the presence of modern firearms.

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Despite certain flaws in presentation, the adaptation made the pages of the manga come alive.  The voice actors in particular were very well chosen.  I look forward to the second season!

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FUTURE POST ALERT: Also, despite Esdeath being a unique character, I believe that I have discovered the base for her character.  Be sure to look out for my post on which character appears to have been the inspiration for Esdeath!

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3) Rail Wars! – ★★★

The likability of the characters save this show from being rated 2 1/2 stars.  In some respects, especially the tsundere, Aoi Sakurai, many of the characters fall into tried and true character types.  Yet, each character feels unique, e.g. the hoplophile ways of Aoi or Naoto’s obsession with trains.  As a matter of fact, even though Naoto feels like a the weak willed protagonist of a harem anime, he shows guts when the occasion demands them of him, which was another good point to this show.  The character relationships were also done quite well, even if those episodes which focused on this facet of the show tended to be rather fanservicey.

Rail Wars

Though the series can’t be called action-packed, episodes 10 and 11 stand out for the excellence of the fights, and who can forget the train ride from hell in the seventh and eighth episodes?  On the other hand, the final episode annoyed me quite a bit: in a 12 episode series, who needs an episode dedicated to saying good-bye to the characters?  At least, it had more to do with trains than many of the prior episodes.

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In case you were wondering, yes, I would certainly watch this again!

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4) Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – ★★★★

A well-deserved four stars for this comedy!  I loved how closely the manga covered the process and struggles of writing good manga.  Like Rail Wars!, it boasts a great host of characters who are oddballs in one fashion or another.  As iblessall writes, this show’s ability to tag different people as tsukomi each episode stands as one of its salient features: each person has a turn at playing the straight man as others act ridiculous around them.  Though, Sakura seems to hold this position more than most of the other characters.  A truly great comedy!

Seo

I’ll also admit that I fell for Seo.  Watching her blunt honesty and inability to adjust to the feelings of others was a trip!

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5) Sabagebu! – ★★★★★

I bet you were not expecting me to grant Sabagebu! five stars and a place on my top fifty list!  Yet, it does so many things to make it the most brilliant comedy this year.  Unlike Nozaki-kun, this is a black comedy; so, I can’t recommend it to people who want nothing atrocious to happen to characters.  One needs to be able to laugh at characters who suffer everything from other characters shamelessly using them to shooting them dead in amusing ways.  (Fans of Looney Tunes are sure to love this kind of comedy.)  Our lead character, Sonokawa, in particular has no qualms about using others as stepping stones on her road to victory.  Fortunately, the violence and death only occurs in the characters’ imaginations–most of it anyway.

Sabagebu Sonokawa

But, this show could not have reached five stars had it not been for the excellence of the gun fights and its ability to parody 80’s action movies.  (The parodies of Predator and Mad Max made for some of my favorite scenarios.)  Episode twelve presents a mind-blowing finale to the show.  I must add that Miou was my favorite character; though, Sonokawa’s vengeful deeds are very fun to watch!

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Those are my thoughts for these five shows!  Stay tuned for more!  What was your favorite show this season?

“It’s Time to Enjoy Yourselves”: Taking a City by Assault Before Modern Times

The flashback to Najenda and Esdeath’s past in episode nine of Akame ga Kiru reminded me of a book I read recently titled Furies: War in Europe 1450 – 1700 by Lauro Martines.  The sack of the rebel town juxtaposed the two in my mind.  In sinister fashion, Esdeath orders the soldiers to do whatever they like to the rebel civilians.  Najenda is so horrified by the brutality of the rape, murder, and pillage that she quits the Imperial Army.  (Though, as an officer and a general, she should certainly have had some ability to mitigate the crimes suffered by the rebel civilians, which is the weakest part of the flashback.)  Esdeath has no pity for the weak and believes that the soldiers have a right to do as they please with the inhabitants.

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Curiously, by historical standards, Najenda has the most unusual reaction to the sack.  The standard features of a sack consist in rape, murder, pillage, arson, torture, and other vile crimes.  (Bernard Cornwell writes a great description of a sack in the beginning of his novel 1356, but I confess to being put off by the violence.)  Many people paint the Crusaders in dark colors because of the Sack of Jerusalem, which led to a massacre of the defenders and civilians.  But, that’s what happens when a city is taken by assault.  Muslims did exactly the same thing in the Sack of Constantinople in 1453, yet no one declaims against the villainy of the Turks.  And Renaissance soldiers committed very violent sacks also.  Sacking a city invites the worse parts of human nature run rampant.  The only bloodless sack I can think of is the Vandals’ Sack of Rome in 455.  However, in this case, an agreement had been drawn up between Genseric and St. Leo the Great (my confirmation patron saint) to spare the lives of the inhabitants.  Though, if an enemy army bursts into a city by force, anything goes.

Assaulting a Town

Generals and the officers of the Renaissance, the era to which the world of Akame ga Kiru most closely corresponds, were certainly complicit in giving their men permission to sack a city.  Sometimes sacks would last as long as two to four days before the officers would reign in their men.  During that time, thousands of civilians would be murdered.  The officers would restrain their men from the most violent crimes if they were present, but they themselves pillaged and took nobles as hostages to be ransomed later at high cost.  Many officers recorded in their diaries and memoirs that they were shocked by the brutality committed against poor civilians, but, unlike Najenda, they never thought of quitting the army just because of that.

Disillusionment

Why were the rank and file so brutal?  In Renaissance armies, condemned men often had their sentences commuted to military service in a time of war, and these were no doubt the worst perpetrators.  However, the violence was general enough that one cannot only blame convicted criminals.  For a moment, imagine being a soldier in a besieging army.  For weeks or months, those infernal defenders had been shooting arrows or lead into one’s friends, pouring boiling oil over one’s head, slinging insults from the walls, and doing whatever else they could to make life unpleasant.  Prior to a successful assault, many messages calling for the city to surrender would have been refused.  During a siege, a soldier’s life was filled with squalor, disease, and other privations–including a maddening feeling of hunger every day.

Fallen in Battle

At last, the day comes when one breaks into the city!  Now, defenders throw themselves at one’s mercy!  Is a soldier going to be inclined to offer them quarter?  Balderdash!  They had perhaps three months to surrender peacefully if they had wished!  Revenge is the order of the day.  One kills until one can lift the sword no more, finds some plunder to sift through, or a good meal to consume.  That’s an awful reality, but reality all the same.

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Still, Esdeath takes things too far when she delights in the cruelty of the sack.  And without a long siege, I doubt that her soldiers could have been whipped up into the same frenzy I described above unless part of her men numbered among the Imperial Army that had been defeated in the prior expedition.  Those might indeed have been feeling murderous towards the inhabitants!  Yet, it is an officer’s duty to try to alleviate the misery suffered by the civilians, but Esdeath thinks that the strong have the right to do as they please to the weak.  Historical sacks show that many of the common soldiers possessed the same attitude, though officers would not give their men rights beyond the right of taking booty.  At the same time, the officers accepted that they could not prevent their men from committing grave offenses against the populace while they were not present.  No one would have thought of it as a good reason to resign from the service like Najenda, but I suspect that she was more disgusted with Esdeath than anything else.

The manga, as usual, conveys the moods and characters much better.

The manga, as usual, conveys the moods and characters much better.