Archive for April 15th, 2008

A Librarian’s Lament: Watching Anime, Thinking Critically

I can’t remember if I’ve used this image before or not, so if I have, here it is again!

Partially inspired by the discussion on this post and partially inspired by being really bored at work and thinking back to a conversation with a coworker whom I explained the literary/artistic value of comics in general and manga/anime in specific, I’ve determined that the problem with the world isn’t, as is traditionally assumed by members of the older generation, that kids aren’t reading as much, so much as kids aren’t being educated in the art of thinking critically of works of literary/artistic merit they take in. Of any form, be it live-action film, a novel, a picture book, animation, or what have you. This, of course, leads to a group of people who simply consume anime (or other things, but this is an anime blog) simply because they have nothing better to do with their time. It’s faintly disturbing.

I think the root of the problem is the education system, which presents students with books to read for class and then mandatory outside reading, which is universally loathed by all students. There’s a clear distinction between books for class (which are used to teach analytical principles, presumably) and books for pleasure reading (which are usually selected, at least in my hometown, from a list provided by Scholastic’s Accelerated Reader program, which reduces the literary merit of a book to a single abstract point value). The distinction between the two is clear–students are tested on how well the analyse the former, whereas the latter they’re frequently tested on whether or not they actually paid attention while reading the book. This is especially the case for the aforementioned Accelerated Reader program, which include only plot-related questions on their tests, and no analytical.

“So,” you find yourself asking, “what does this have to do with anime?” Lots! If students are brought up in an environment that encourages outside reading, yet only tests the student’s comprehension of plot details, this leads to them viewing all outside entertainment as simply vehicles for casual entertainment or, worse if you happen to be the reading sort, a utter loathing of the very act of reading. If a student views outside of class reading only on the superficial level so they can pass the test, wouldn’t this extend to all of their outside entertainment? The teachers may be teaching the students how to analyze a book, but they aren’t teaching them to do this on their own. And, therefore, when our hypothetical student encounters anime in the outside world, s/he views it not as a potential object of study, but rather as a cheap way to get some entertainment.

If anime merely means cheap entertainment to someone, then, of course, fansubs are the cheapest way to get anime, but I’m not setting foot into the dangerous waters of fansub legaity issues (my stance is “watch fansubs, buy DVDs”, for those interested, and in all honesty TRSI probably has a small shrine dedicated to me and my loyal DVD buying habits, because I have the nasty feeling that if I stopped buying anime DVDs the industry would collapse in short order. Unless it’s not as bad as Daryl Surat makes it sound like it is). The natural logic stemming from this is that anime is “just TV” and isn’t meant to be something to take seriously. The fact of the matter is, though, that anything can be taken seriously. I’m a firm believer in the fact that even the most banal and generic book, TV show, movie, whatever, can be critically thought about in some way. Granted, there probably aren’t a lot of blogs devoted to literary criticism of Law & Order episodes, but that’s not the point. The point is, anything, in any medium, that tells a story can serve as the inspiration for further thought on the issues it raises. You can be spurred to profound thought from a children’s picture book (Dr. Seuss is infamous for this) or through Russian literature or through a work of genre fiction. And drawing inspiration from a work counts as well; I know I’ve drawn inspiration from strange places before, and it gets you thinking, which is good no matter where it comes from.

It doesn’t matter what you enjoy, as long as you at least spend some time thinking about it. You certainly don’t have to be the next Harold Bloom (but you wouldn’t want to be Harold Bloom as that implies that you have some sort of bizarre sexual preoccupation with the Bard), or even have something particuarly profound to say, or a life-changing revelation. And, yes, I know not everyone is trained in the fine art of literary analysis; I know I certainly haven’t been, or at least, haven’t been extensively trained in this art, a fact probably reflected in my usual posting fare. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you think, how you think it, or even if you’re having an original thought. You’re thinking about things, and putting the work into the greater context of what it means to be human, whether it be being inspired by an anime character to improve or better your life, or complex doctoral thesis statements on Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. And actively watching is always good, and even if you don’t actively watch every series you watch (it would be somewhat hard to actively watch, say, Rosario + Vampire, I admit), there’s always that one work out there that seems to speak directly to you and only you. So give it a shot. It’s fun, maybe, I promise!

Code Geass R2: Geass: The New Terrorist Recruiting Tool?

Hello, Anya. Are you a bad enough girl to top the mighty power of Shirley? Only time will tell…

Code Geass R2 continues its parallel plotlines with the same episodes of season 1, which is most likely deliberate and not unintentional. Essentially, they’re starting the story over again, only everything’s changed. The story parallels (episode 1 being Lelouch gaining/regaining the power of Geass, episode 2 being Lelouch assuming the guise of Zero and commanding the terrorist cell to victory) are most likely done to give a sense of familiarity, since it’s been a year and a half since we last saw our good buddy Lelouch. It’s a statement direct from Taniguchi Goro that, yes, this is Code Geass, and we are Back In Action.

It occurs to me that perhaps Suzaku’s sudden change of personality might be partly due to the death of Euphie, but also partly due to Lelouch’s old command to him to “Live!” way back on the island episode (which was the best episode ever, by the way: any episode with a lot of serious plot content where any female characters present are without clothing for most of the episode can”t possibly be a bad episode). It could be that that Geass from a year ago is sticking with Suzaku, enough to make him turn against his best friend and turn him in for the reward of being with the Knights of Rounds.

We’re only seeing setup here still, so the plot isn’t kicking into full-gear yet, but I can tell that I’m in for another 25 episodes worth of terrorist essays and complicated analyses, which I’m entirely certain is not what Goro is intending with Code Geass but I’m going to do them nevertheless because I can. Zero’s little declaration of war and peace make me wonder just how much of the PR schtick that actual terrorsits buy. We all know that Lelouch’s true objective isn’t the recovery of Japan as a nation, but instead the defeat of his father, Charles di Brittania (I’m assuming here that he’s supposed to be Charles I, and anyone who knows English history will see why), for very personal reasons. That means we can infer that his entire speech wasn’t his true beliefs (although he may certainly believe it) but rather just him showing off as much as he can to win as much support as possible for his entirely selfish cause.

This raises the question of just how much terrorist masterminds believe in the causes they claim to be. It’s probably something we can only explore in fiction, as I doubt many people are close friends with Osama bin Laden (are you catching the possibly uintended parallel between this name and Lelouch vi Britannia? I certainly just did)  or whoever the hot new evil terrorist is nowadays, and it’s extremely unlikely that those who are that close to him would ever betray him. But Zero, and Lelouch with him, do make me consider this question. If the terrorist mastermind all the terroristlings follow doesn’t really believe in the cause that they do, how would they react? Terrorists that are part of a major cell are usually indoctrinated at a young age off the poverty-stricken streets of whereever the cell happens to be operating, and they (assumedly) blindly believe whatever they’re told, because if you’re hit over the head with a doctrine, you tend to eventually come to believe it

And what of Geass? Lelouch has the power to instantly and irreversably indoctinate someone in an instant. It’s amazing that he hasn’t done this before. Kallen insinuated as much when she confronted Lelouch and demanded to know if her thoughts and feelings were her own. I can’t quite recall her backstory, but I don’t recall any in-depth pre-Zero indoctrination going on, and Lelouch told her that her thoughts were her own on his behalf. In a series that’s primarily about toying with the thoughts of people, this is an important question. The very existence of Geass makes one (edit: me) question how much of their beliefs are their own, and how much are planted there, either by a mass media outlet or a magical power of command. Is it nature? Nurture? From whence does personality come?

The power of Geass as a sure-fire indoctrination tool is frightenting. So why doesn’t Lelouch use it? The most likely answer is that Lelouch is reserving his Geass as a trump card, rather than as a common recruiting tool. After all, it can only be used once on a person. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, that in a later episode (possibly near the end) Lelouch conscripts an entire army of Geassed soldiers to fight against Brittania. Of course, that might mean we get into a Geass war with Emperor Charles, which wouldn’t be a very fun thing for Lelouch.

This post might possibly be an incoherent mess compared to my usual things, as I keep thinking of things to say and start shoving them willy-nilly into the text, but for some reason my brain is now working overtime on Code Geass. I certainly hope that, somehow, in the next 23 episodes, Code Geass R2 provides enough material to answer these questions, and possbily raise several more for my overthinking pleasure. And, if not, well, at least we have Goro over-the-top-ness and melodrama and cute girls. I can’t really complain with that.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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April 2008