Pruning the Watch List

You know, my dear readers, the past two seasons, precisely because they have contained a surfeit of good shows, have convinced me that I’m not the sort of person who can benefit by watching ten or more currently airing shows at once.  I’m no Angry Jellyfish.  My inspiration for writing about anime peters out as it becomes divided over so many shows.  Not only that, by my other interests seem to suffer.  (Admittedly, it’s likely not anime’s fault, but it can be the scapegoat here.)  And so, I have found myself tempted again and again to quit blogging for a while or to abandon watching current series.  Of course, if I quit watching currently airing seasons entirely, then who would read my articles?  Moreover, how could I properly enjoy other blogs?

Don't worry Tokyo ESP.  When the season's done, I'll come right back to you!

Don’t worry Tokyo ESP. When the season’s done, I’ll come right back to you!

The solution lies in cutting back on the number of currently airing shows I’m watching.  And so, I have decided to stall all of them save for the following four–four seemed a good number:

  1. Akame ga Kiru
  2. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
  3. Rail Wars!
  4. Sabagebu!
Aldnoah Zero, another show I'm dropping so that I can properly savor it.

Aldnoah Zero, another show I’m saving for when I can properly savor it.

That the last three do not contain serious subject matter at all (unless you include Sabagebu’s hunting and airsoft regulations, anyway) works to their benefit.  More serious shows often have more complex plotlines, hence they deserve more focus than viewing them on a weekly basis can provide.  This might be less of an issue if I kept an anime commonplace book, where I included quotes, episode commentaries, and glosses.  My current method is to wait for inspiration to hit while watching the show and then to write enough drafts until I am satisfied with the final product.  But, an anime commonplace book does sound like a good idea, doesn’t it?  Does anyone else have such a book or take notes after watching episodes?

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Hanayamata: proof that even I can be snared into a show featuring cute girls doing cute things.

Akame ga Kiru still remains on the list for a different reason.  Having read fifty-two chapters of the manga, latent topics for articles have been rolling around in my head.  (Here’s my favorite one of the articles I’ve written concerning that show.)  Also, I would not exactly call Akame ga Kiru a show brimming with complexity; though, various circumstances cast doubt on the efficacy or righteousness of Night Raid’s actions, and Esdese herself is one of the most complex and interesting characters I’ve seen in a long time.  (On the other hand, some people consider her stupid and uninteresting, but I want nothing to do with those Philistines.)  As a matter of fact, I have an article brewing on the past episode’s fights, which annoyed me greatly.

ARGEVOLLEN's not as bad as people say it is...and I'll prove it later, I swear!

ARGEVOLLEN’s not as bad as people say it is…and I’ll prove it later, I swear!

Of course, this shall not prevent me from reading articles on other shows, even if they contain spoilers.  Shocking twists and turns are not where my interest lies in a story.  I’m happy to go along with the story’s steady revelation, to enjoy the hero’s journey, and to wait for interesting themes to drop from the author’s genius.  The nice thing about this attitude is that stories can hold an almost endless interest for one as the reader constantly uncovers new themes.  I apply this even to anime, but perhaps I hold the medium in too high of an esteem?

Zankyou no Terror is perhaps the only show which risks being stalled permanently.

Zankyou no Terror is perhaps the only show which risks being stalled permanently.

An Apology for Savagery: Explaining the Crime-Ridden yet Pure Soul of Esdese

I’ve been pondering the character Esdese from Akame ga Kiru for a while now, because her character eludes explanation.  It seems impossible that such a bad character can appear so innocent when the manga takes us away from her job.  Her terrible crimes seem to call for judgment, and yet one almost wishes her to get off scot-free.  I described her worldview as Nietzschean in my prior article, but the more I read the more apparent it becomes that she does not base her worldview in a philosophy.  Rather, her understanding of right and wrong derives from her coming from a savage society, and having these ideals rather confirmed by living in a “civilized” society which has been reduced to a state of nature.  I would recommend reading Adam Ferguson’s An Essay on the History of Society if any of my dear readers find the points I am about to make interesting.

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When we are first introduced to Esdese, we hardly come off with a good opinion of her: she subjugates some rebels with fierce reprisals, forces a certain rebel to lick her boots, and later she gives pointers to some torturers on how to increase human suffering.  Shortly after the last scene, she greets the king and prime minister in the throne room.  Upon being asked whether she has any new goals, she declares–in complete incongruity with her prior actions–that she wishes to fall in love and produces a ridiculous list of  desired traits for her lover.

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Seryuu actually disturbs me quite a bit more than Esdese.

I must confess, I did not much care for Esdese until she produced that list.  At the same time, I did not know what to make of it.  Love should be the last thing a person of this sort wants.  None of the other hardcore villains desires love!  And yet, outside of the scenes where she inflicts pain on others, she can be heartwarming and cute.  Which brings me to the point I made earlier: how can cruelty and kindness exist in the same character and appear authentic?

Pardonnez la fanservice.

Pardonnez la fanservice.

The solution to the enigma of Esdese lies in her being a savage.  (Kudos to the mangaka for making an blond haired, blue eyed savage!) She dresses like a Nazi, which perhaps first led me to compare her ideas to Nietzsche, but perhaps a deerskin shirt and breeches would suit her character better.  She hales from the frigid north of the Empire and was raised to believe that it was natural for the strong to do whatever they liked to the weak.  Her father tells her not to feel sad that her mother was killed–’tis natural–nor to feel pity for the live animal they harvest some organs from–’tis natural.  (I’m sure she first develops a taste for torture here.)  Lastly, he even tells her not to grieve for his own death as he lays dying with their tribe annihilated!  That’s quite natural too!

Esdese young

In the movie Ulzana’s Raid, Burt Lancaster’s character claims that hating an Apache because he is cruel is like hating the desert because it has no water.  Similarly, Esdese was brought up in a state of nature and displays its values: “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” as Thomas Hobbes says.  In the above named essay, Adam Ferguson writes that Native Americans tortured those of their enemies they found brave.  It was actually an insult to be killed quickly!  In certain cases, they would even remember fondly the guts a certain warrior displayed under torture!  (Couldn’t resist the pun.)  One wonders whether Esdese believes that she is showing regard for her defeated foes’ bravery when she shows them the same treatment.

Here's a scene from when she picked up her special weapon.  She overcame these temptations without losing her mind.

Here’s a scene from when she picked up her special weapon. She overcame these temptations without losing her mind.

Her person reminds one of the part in the Gospels where Christ says that someone who ignorantly does something worthy of a severe beating will be beaten lightly (Luke 12:48).  Esdese’s simplicity (she was an incredibly docile child) and ignorance of civilized morals–which are even more obscured due to the present state of affairs–make one think of her as a lion: beautiful, strong, graceful and yet would think nothing of mangling any animal smaller than it.  We don’t blame lions for ferocity.  Nor can we blame Esdese that much even though she does things truly horrible.  Instead, we wish for this savage to become civilized–or at least to metamorphose into a knight.  Tatsumi concludes that there is no saving her, but plenty of other violent races have become gentle through religion or philosophy: Christianity made the Vikings and Native Americans gentle and Buddha’s teachings changed Tibetans for the better.  So, one hopes that Esdese can realize that there is a better way to live than in the state of nature.  At any rate, I find it impossible to hate this cruel, charming, bloodthirsty, cute savage.

Akame ga Kiru

Akana ga Kiru: Love Makes the World Go Round

Well, my dear readers, Akane ga Kiru happens to be the latest manga to capture my imagination.  However, the villains are downright fiends.  Some of the atrocities they commit make it easier to think of them as demons or monsters than human beings.  The violence often reaches the level of Hellsing (and the artwork of Akame ga Kiru is incredibly reminiscent of that work) and occasionally the level of the Berserk manga (don’t read that for Pete’s sake!); so, I only recommend it to the thickest skinned of my readers.  I find myself skipping pages and examining each page for foreshadowing of the gruesome so that I can avoid scenes reminiscent of the worst passages of Terry Goodkind’s novels.

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Then, why read Akame ga Kiru?  Any lover of dark stories will tell you that one reads dark stories for the light contained therein.  The surrounding darkness makes the light seem that much more precious and lovable.  If dark stories contain no light, they fall to the level of trash or poison—the product of a diabolical or melancholy imagination.

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

The point of light which seems most precious because it shines most precariously is romantic love in Esdese, our heroes’ greatest opponent.  Objectively speaking, she’s a vile sadist, but I cannot help but be fascinated by her–nay, she’s actually my favorite character right now.  Her desire to fall in love separates her from the majority of the villains.  And who else should she fall for but the hero?  During a tournament instigated by her to find the sixth member of her Jaeger team, Tatsumi steals her heart, and she drags him from the field in a manner reminiscent of a caveman claiming a bride.  They pass the night debating philosophy–Aristotle vs. Nietzsche, you might say.  Like Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic, she claims that Tatsumi’s notion of justice derives from weak people: the strong only need to act to their own advantage.  All the while, Tatsumi tries to convince her to defect from the Empire and join the Rebel side without admitting that he has already joined the Empire’s most infamous enemy: Night Raid.

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Esdese seems pretty cute until you get to know her.

During a hunting exercise, he escapes her grasp.  She tells the Jaegers that they do not need to offer Tatsumi mercy should they meet him in combat; yet, she still pines for him.  She even refuses the evil Prime Minister’s offer to find a similar man for her.

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Why should this be significant?  Even bad people love others.  That’s natural, isn’t it?  But, love is intimately bound with happiness, the chief end of human beings.  If love were not so bound with happiness, the family would not be the chief unit of society.  The most effective governments try to foster the health of the family through fostering peace and justice.  Essentially, Esdese, by desiring love, also wishes for the flourishing of peace and justice unless she wants a sham love–the mere indulgence of her feelings.  If she opts for true love, she must become the enemy of her current employers.  (Oh, what a beautiful moment that would be!)  The rampant cruelty and injustice infecting the country hardly fosters the creation of happy households.

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But, many things war against her defection: her vicious character first and foremost.  Her subordinates are incredibly loyal to her because she shows them affection; however, her show of affection is motivated by the desire to make them good subordinates, i. e. tools.  Aristotle claimed that the wicked can only have friendships of utility, and all of Esdese’s relationships belong to that category.  Her relationship with Tatsumi stands as the sole exception, but if she begins to view her relationship with Tatsumi according to usefulness or pleasure, that will shatter her ability to find real love, where the beloved is loved for his own sake.  Then again, the heroines have taken a shine to Tatsumi, and he could easily break Esdese’s heart by choosing one of them over her.  At which point, Esdese might forsake love altogether.  Thirdly, the Japanese concept of karma would certainly deny Esdese the right to real happiness.  The manga takes a grimly realistic view of humanity.  I’d have to say that Dostoyevsky’s underground man had a greater chance at salvation than Esdese.

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In the meantime, I shall follow with rapt attention Esdese’s standing on the fence.  Shall she fall on the side she naturally leans towards and snuff out the little bit of light in her soul?  Or shall amor, with all its demands, sacrifices, and true joys, truly omnia vincit?