Blue Heaven – realism in fiction

Today I want to talk about Blue Heaven, a manga by Tsutomu Takahashi. Also if all goes according to keikaku plan this will be the first in a series of post where I’ll be focusing on different aspects of “realism” in storytelling (hence the title). So let’s start!

Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven is a story about a dangerous individual being rescued from a small boat in the middle of Pacific ocean. His rescuers bring him aboard a luxurious cruise liner packed with passengers. The guy isn’t just dangerous, his hands are already covered in blood and there is no way to hide the fact, so he will have to flee from his benefactors to retain his freedom, while committing new crimes, all on board a huge ship in the middle of nowhere. Sounds interesting? How about you go read it, if you haven’t already? I am going to have to spoil at least half of the manga, so consider it carefully. The manga is only 24 chapters long, plus a few unrelated bonus chapters, it is not going to take too long.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

Alright, let me first recount the story. As I said, the story begins with a cruise liner saving a guy, Seiryuu, from a boat. There were two living people on that boat, and as we soon learn from that second guy, there were 11 more of them, but Seiryuu killed those. By the time we learn these details, Seiryuu had already escaped from his cabin, killing the person who guarded him, and started wandering the liner. The next thing Seiryuu did was finding a lone passenger and striking a conversation. They drink together, then Seiryuu get into his cabin and murders the guy, but not before interrogating him to get as much information as possible. Thus, Seiryuu was able to assume the identity of that passenger, and get a little bit of a breathing room. After all, that cruise liner holds about 2000 people, finding a new face isn’t an easy task.

Blue Heaven

So, what did the liner’s crew do to counteract this? First, they immediately saw the situation in all of its complexity. They rightly guessed that Seiryuu will mix in with the public rather than with the crew. They understood that there are only a few people who know Seiryuu’s face, and that those people would be targeted by him. Recognizing that their enemy is capable (being able to kill 11 people), they armed a group of people with guns. Also, they made a facial composite, which would soon prove to be useful, as one of the personnel members recognized Seiryuu as one of the passengers she saw earlier. You see, they did a fairly good job already. They also decided to call all the Asian passengers to one room, where they could try to identify Seiryuu. This is a drastic measure, definitely not something you would want to do to your passengers, and it is pretty questionable in terms of safety of those passengers. But, it shows crew’s dedication to deal with the problem as soon as possible.

Blue Heaven

Okay, so this is the summary. At this point of the story I was pretty happy and had high expectations for the rest of the manga, here is why. First, we have a pretty simple setup, an isolated place and two parties at play, “everyone” vs “the murderer”. It is a classic setup and I like it. I prefer it when the identity of the murderer is a mystery as well, but well, it is fun to read either way. Second, both parties play intelligently. Seiryuu seems to be on top of the game, he doesn’t make huge mistakes. You can say that he would have been better off hiding instead of roaming the ship, but I’d argue that is not his style. The crew too, they escalate the situation by bringing in guns, facial composites, calling the passengers into a single room. Can you immediately think of something they had forgot? Maybe having a dog tracking him? Maybe trying to take Seiryuu’s fingerprints? I would say it is reasonable to assume that they didn’t have trained dogs and dactyloscopy specialists on this cruise liner. So, my point is, the crew played it smart as well. At this point, I was eager to see the next moves, who will do what.

Blue Heaven, Fuyuki Jyungo

It is not what usually happens, by the way. Usually I would watch a similar two party struggle story and I would go “oh, why did they do that?”, “this came out of nowhere o.O”, “now that was kinda dumb -_-”, etc. Blue Heaven managed to capture my attention by being realistic, by showing me that it operates by sane logic. So, when I see Seiryuu posed with a situation that has no simple solutions, I wonder what he will do, how he is going to stay ahead of his pursuers. I expect the manga to give me a reasonable answer and waiting for this answer is exciting.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

Now, unfortunately Blue Heaven didn’t deliver. They soon introduced mentally and physically deformed neo-nazi family which decided to hunt down Seiryuu using submachine guns and explosives, which they conveniently had on the ship with them, unbeknown to the crew. They didn’t hesitate to kill random passengers and crew members, soon turning the manga into a depressive farce. This part was not interesting to read in the slightest, and I think it was because it didn’t seem real. I can believe into rich people carrying guns without permission and not being afraid to use them when needed, but I am not going to buy psychotic racist villains who outright slaughter people for no reason. Not only it makes no sense, but also there is nothing interesting about it, it is just repulsive. And well, the manga had been a bit repulsive all the way from the beginning, cause the utter disregard for human life was the motif of the story; but then it was balanced by the interesting struggle I described above.

Blue Heaven, Yoshiko Natsukawa

So, what I wanted to say is, Blue Heaven lots all of its appeal when it decided to introduce nonsensical characters, a bunch of cartoon villains basically. You can call it lazy writing, I’d agree with that. You can also say that the author lost his inspiration. Or, you can say that the story was supposed to be disgusting and I just mistook it for something else. People do write disgusting stories intentionally, check Gyo by Junji Ito, for example (here I don’t mean “disgusting” as a derogatory term, I think it is rather a weird genre or a theme or something).

Blue Heaven

But, even if it was lazy writing or an intentional spiral down, for me it seems that the driver of this motion was the loss of realism. But it may be just a personal preference. Another element I didn’t like was Seiryuu’s backstory. That backstory consists of Seiryuu spending about 10 years locked in a room, being thrown in there when he was 11. Regardless of everything else, there is no way he could be that strong and healthy after growing up in such conditions. That doesn’t make sense, and I didn’t like it. So, there you go, maybe I just don’t like nonsensical elements in fiction and my judgement is purely subjective.

Blue Heaven, Seiryuu

It is kinda ironic that one of the motivations that drives Seiryuu is wanting to know what the real world is like

Also, I want to add that the story didn’t need to lose its realism I don’t think. I would have been happy to read a story where Seiryuu runs around, hides himself and is being found eventually. Let the good guys win since they have such an overwhelming advantage. Sounds boring? I’d chose that over cartoon villains every day!

These are my thoughts on it. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you think I am wrong to attribute the quality of the first half of the manga to its realism? Tell me in the comments.

Asura

Asura is the Sanskrit word for demon. Sura is used to refer to gods and asura literally means ‘the opposite of sura’. The only reason I decided to watch this movie is because the movie’s title sounded interesting. So I wasn’t expecting much from the movie.

Asura is the story of a boy who was abandoned in a forest when he was a baby. He never learned how to talk and he did whatever it took for him to survive, including cannibalism. There was a huge famine going on and he didn’t have anything else to eat. He is no different from an animal. He walks on all fours and eats raw meat.

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The protagonist- Asura

This isn’t anything new. We’ve seen many stories of abandoned kids and how they grow up. Even Tarzan did this. Unlike Tarzan, Asura actually shows what it means for a baby to be abandoned. Asura isn’t eating bananas and making friends with gorillas. Instead he is being chased, hunted down, attacked and feared. Most people don’t even use ‘him‘ when they talk about him. They use ‘it‘.

Asura’s mom gave birth to him and at first, she gave him lots of love and care. She didn’t have much to eat and she put up with it. It got worse with time to the point that she once ate meat from a rotting human corpse to feed herself. When she didn’t have anything to eat, she decide to eat her baby. She set up a fire and threw Asura into it. It started raining and she came to her senses. The reality of what she had done dawned on her and she ran away, leaving baby Asura all alone in the forest.

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Asura’s Mom

Asura grew up in the forest all by himself. He ate whatever he could get his hands on, including crows and dogs. He once attacked a monk who is far stronger than himself and got defeated. The monk took pity on him and gave him food. He named him Asura.

Asura left the village and went into the nearby village in search of more food. He killed the son of a noble because a stone the guy threw hit him and people hunted him down. He ended up falling off a cliff and was left to die. A young lady named Wakasa picked him up, cared for him, fed him and taught him words.

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Wakasa

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Wakasa and Asura

Look at how small he looks beside her. Asura is only eight years old and yet he knew a lot of things kids his age are not supposed to know.

Of course, this wouldn’t become a dark story if it ended there. Wakasa fell in love with a guy and it upset Asura because she was spending little to no time with him. Wakasa was the only human he ever came into contact with and the time he spent with her meant a lot to him. Asura tried to kill the guy Wakasa was in love with and ended up being hated by Wakasa.

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I’ll stop here and not spoil the rest of the story for you. Let me just say that Asura doesn’t suddenly get a happily ever after and look at the world through rose coloured glasses.

Here is an interesting question though. The movie is called Asura but Asura isn’t a demon. If anything, he is like a wild animal. It isn’t his fault that he kills humans. No one taught him that it is wrong. If one of the villagers killed him, it wouldn’t be that guy’s fault either. After all, if there is a tiger attacking the villagers and killing them, you need to get rid of it. The movie does a good job showing how terrifying Asura’s existence would be to normal people and it also shows Asura’s perspective, how the things he was doing aren’t wrong when you look at them through his eyes.

Asura has beautiful animation. The art is unique and has a hand-drawn feel to it. They combined it with nice 3D graphics. The music is also good and suits the mood.

Asura has lots of blood and gore and a dark story. It might even leave a bitter aftertaste. If you’re okay with cannibalism and the gore, give this movie a chance.

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See you next time ^^/

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Figuration Libre

If you want to praise JoJo I think you would talk about its sense of humor combined with its unique narrative, especially the visual aspects of it. Like, it is fun to watch a vampire whose head was just split in half putting it back together, but having it a little off, so he has to adjust the two pieces, which seems to make him slightly annoyed.

Even better is to watch two dudes fight, where one throws a steamroller at another, and then both repeatedly punch it to make the machine hit the opponent. There are hundreds of awesomely stupid things like that in the series, and they all work because of how the show presents them. It is not all about actions scenes either, this anime can make even a static image work. Like this one, when an ark antagonist assumes a ridiculous pose and the anime treats it like focal point:

Dio Brando

It isn’t just one particular antagonists, they all do the poses

The whole anime is like this. People act as if they are actors on a stage, they strike poses that look like they belong to an athletic dance performance; the events are unpredictable and ridiculous while the characters are always in dire predicaments. You never know what would happen, would they outsmart their enemy or would they just overpower him or her, or will they get out on a sheer luck.

The anime went through four generations of JoJos already, each had their unique visual style, interesting quirks and interesting people to hang out with. There is a lot to say about each of the JoJos, a lot to praise in each season. But if I were to guess what would not make it to the list of praises I’d name the art style and animation.

JoJo is one of those (un)fortunate anime that were adopted from a manga with a got a huge and dedicated fan base. It is a common theme now to try to appeal to such fans by treating the source material with an utmost care. This usually means that the script, the key scenes, the character designs, all would be made as to follow the manga as close as possible. But JoJo took a step further, adopting an animation style that brings the characters closer to their manga look. This can be seen in the Stardust Crusaders, where character designs are notably heavier, which limited the fluidity of the animation and the diversity of the facial expressions. Take a look, can you imagine these faces moving very much? Right.

D'Arby

Polnareff and Kakyoin

Joseph Joestar

But even when the art style is this restrictive you can find animation gems. There was an episode where two brothers were trying to attack Jotaro Kujo (the third generation JoJo) and his friends. The younger brother had a power that allowed him to read near future in his comic book. It is not clear to me how much of an advantage this gave them, but the comic book did look pretty awesome. Here, take a look.

Boingo's comic book

This comic book inspired two alternative ending sequences made specifically for the episodes that feature this comic book. I’ll post a few screenshots from the second ending below ^^

You can watch the whole thing too, I definitely recommend it. Here is the first one:

What I found especially interesting is that this art style looks very similar to something called Figuration Libre, a French artistic movement. Here some examples of how this art looks (these are works of Robert Combas).

Do you see some similarities? When I first saw that JoJo’s ending I was very impressed by how unique it was, and I was even more impressed later when I realized it was an artistic influence of this not very well known French art style. I think this is the role those progressive art movements should play, discovering new forms of expression, new interesting aesthetics, and then giving them to the public by influencing popular commercial works, such as illustrations, decorative artworks and TV animations.

So what I wanted to say is, even in a show like JoJo you can find some awesome pieces of art, if you look carefully. It would be easy to brush aside this ending theme as some lazy weird joke, since the animation imitates still motion which creates an illusion of simplicity, and it would be easy to ignore it because the the art style looks so childish, while in fact it is very deliberate. Good job, whoever is responsible for this awesome piece of animation ^^b

JoJo's scenery

Just putting a few cool looking pictures here, which have nothing to do with Figuration Libre. Don’t mind me.

D'Arby

^^/

Kakyoin eating eyeballs

Okay, I’ll stop now -.-

If you want more art style talk, check out this post on Madoka Magika and postmodernism. If you wanna read more about JoJo, here are a few reaction posts on the first and second seasons.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo, episode 1 – tropes

Before we start let me say that this is not a review of Denpa-teki na Kanojo. If you want a review – we already have one written by Shaurya, you are welcome to read it. Here I want to discuss this OVA rather than to review it, so I’ll assume you’ve seen it. It is a good show by the way, and it is fairly short too, so if you haven’t seen it you can start watching it now and come back in 40 minutes =)

Ame Ochibana

I decided to write about Denpa-teki na Kanojo because it gives me a great opportunity to talk about certain recurring setups in anime. Before we start though I would ask you to try not to let any negative preconceptions about these tropes to guide you as you are reading.

The first trope I want to mention is “harem”, basically it is a setup where you have a guy and a group of girls who are showering him with their attention. It is a weird definition, but I find that it works pretty well. I’d personally consider it to be a harem setup if there are at least three girls who show interest in the protagonist. If there are just two of them you can use more specific terms like love triangle or something; these are just words anyways. First episode of Denpa-teki fits this pattern nicely, as Fujishima Kanako (the class rep girl), Satsuki Miya (the girl who turned out to be a psycho) and Ochibana Ame (the Juu’s knight with weird haircut) are all talking with Juu (the protagonist boy) almost exclusively, and each of them shows a distinct interest in him, though their feelings may be different in nature and depth.

Juu Juuzawa and Miya Satsuki

What do you think, does it make sense to call it a “trope”? If you have a character-driven show it is only natural that there would be people of both genders, and since all of them are teenagers it is also natural that there would be a bit of a romantic tension there. And since Denpa-teki is a short anime you can argue that there wasn’t enough room for more than one male lead, so it just happens that Juu has lots of girls interacting with him. Right?

Juu with Ame

While this is a reasonable thing to say, I don’t think it is quite right. Regardless of the writer’s intentions, making your protagonist seem popular with the opposite gender affects the way the show works. Supposedly, it makes the guys who watch the anime associate themselves with the protagonist, and it makes the girls pay more attention towards him because he is popular. These ideas sort of popular are psychology-based speculations, and it is a broad-brush picture. It doesn’t have to work this way, if at all, for you in particular, my dear reader, so don’t complain :P So anyway, making your protagonist popular will likely change the way your audience views him, in particular it would likely make people to wish him well. And this can be exploited.

Kanako Fujishima

Let me give you an example of another show that falls under the harem definition I gave. In Neon Genesis Evangelion its protagonist Shinji Ikari is living together with Misato Katsuragi and Asuka Langley. He is also the only friend of Rei Ayanami, thus making it thee girls none of whom likes him very much, but they do hang out together almost constantly. This anime definitely does exploit the extra attention that Shinji’s popularity draws to him. It does so by making him fail miserably at everything he tries and by making him give up without trying half the time. So, because you wanted him to succeed you feel disappointment, frustration and even anger. Read what people say about Shinji, you’ll see just how well this worked out, he is a legitimate contender to be the #1 in the “most hated characters” list. All because the show is very effective at making you wish for Shinji to succeed. Of course, it is not just about him being popular with the girls, there are like half a dozen different ways the anime establishes him as a character you root for. Check it out, it is a pretty great anime series.

Shinji Ikari, Misato Katsuragi, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley. The white haired boy is also a friend of Shinji’s

So with Evangelion I’d say using the harem trope was an effective choice that helped the show in achieving its goals. What about Denpa-teki na Kanojo? It is similar, in a way. Imagine you don’t care about Juu at all. Then the events of the OVA become bland, like a not-so-scary horror film. But then imagine that you do root for Juu very much. Or, better still, imagine that you are Juu. Then how do you feel about Fujishima’s death? She is a person who was always running around you, she was a classmate, she was generally friendly and so on. Feels pretty horrible, right? And what about Satsuki’s betrayal? Forget the emotional side of the situation, just being beaten up with a bat and then stabbed is awful enough already. This is how the first episode of Denpa-teki na Kanojo is supposed to work, I think. It tries its hardest to make you root for Juu, and then it uses this connection between the viewer and the character to deliver the impact.

Juu with Satsuki

If you doubt that the OVA was set up to exploit this trick, remember when Juu was attacked by Satsuki. It was a second after she finished a sentence that was worded as if she was going to admit her love for him. If you were gonna root for Juu this was the time. And a second later he is beaten with a bat but that same girl.

 

So, I think this trope can be used as a writing tool, rather than just being a fanservice device. Of course, there are dozens of anime where harem is the genre, and that is a different story altogether. Also there are anime like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where the harem setup seems to be used only to make the show more appealing, so in a way it is just a fanservice.

The second trope I wanted to talk about is quite similar to the first one, but it is slightly less obvious. I would call it designing a character to be likable. In Denpa-teki it is Juu, of course. Lets describe him. He is a strong and brave guy with a clear sense of justice. He is slightly wild, but not dangerous. In fact, even when attacked he might not fight back, if there is a reason not to. He would rather get hurt than let another person be hurt. He wouldn’t take advantage of a girl, even if there are no consequences and more over he wouldn’t even want to be in such a position. He is sensitive, being able to understand how a person feels, even if that person offended him or physically hurt him. This particular trait has an absurd magnitude, as Juu is able to be worried about a person who just broke his arm and leg. Even when stabbed in the gut, he thinks of the mental torment his attacker is in. He is also a nice guy to hang out with. When he decided to spend time with Ame he asks her where they should go to, even though she was willing to tail him wherever he himself would want to go. He treats Ame as a person and as an equal even though she constantly suggests that she is his servant.

So, what do you think? Half of those traits are just a normal behavior of a good person. Being strong, brave, just, chivalrous, selfless, nice, that is a reasonable package for a protagonist, there are tons of characters like this. But that is not all there is to it. While the traits themselves are fine, the show obviously puts a lot of effort into showing that Juu has ’em, to the point that half the anime’s run time is spent on establishing his character. As a consequence it feels like half the show was written in such a way as to allow for Juu to display various aspects of his personality.

The disproportional amount of time the show spends on Juu, the more than impressive set of great qualities he has, the fact that the show is willing to throw some of its realism out of the window to make Juu look cooler (as with the scenes where he displays kindness towards Satsuki who tries to kill him), the fact that the show is interested in minute details of his personality while the rest of the cast gets a bare minimum of development, all this makes Juu a “designed to be likable” character, at least in my opinion. In particular, it seems he is sort of designed to feel dateable, as a good portion of of his qualities relate to the way he treats girls. Also his character does not display any human faults that would allow him to grow later, which shows that the writers weren’t interested in his dynamics, rather they wanted to see him in his perfect form from the get-go. And, as I mentioned, some of his actions seem unrealistic and even clash with his personality, which indicates that giving him those characteristics was more important than keeping him “real”. These choices are also a part of the reason I call him a “designed” character.

Just to make it clear, I wouldn’t call most of the characters designed to be anything because they aren’t. Satsuki and Fujishima are both just functional characters, they serve their purpose and that is pretty much all there is to them. Ame has a bunch of different and interesting characteristics, but they don’t have a purpose; she isn’t meant to fit in any kind of mold, like Juu is. Most anime characters aren’t designed to be anything, they are just written to the best of writer’s abilities to fit into the story, serve their role and hopefully be interesting. Sometimes a character would fall into an archetype or something like that, but as often as not it wasn’t because the writers wanted it to happen, but rather because they couldn’t do any better or didn’t care at all.

At any rate, the designed to be likable Juu serves the same purpose as the first trope, making you more invested in the guy and in all the stuff that happens to him. I think all together it does a reasonable job, and the episode leaves a good aftertaste too. Tropes often feel like a lazy writing, but in the case of Denpa-teki na Kanojo they seem to work fine. The show’s impressive visual language holds your attention, and the writing is fairly clever too. Just as an example, remember the scene where Juu asks Ame to hit him because he was doubting her, thinking she was the murderer? She hits him making him bleed. This establishes yet another great quality of Juu’s, him being proactive in setting things right, apologizing the way that would not take advantage of the meek disposition of the person he apologizes to. But it also shows that Ame is not a doll and has feelings as well. If she wasn’t at least slightly annoyed with Juu’s lack of trust she wouldn’t have hit him hard enough to make him bleed. This is a clever way of achieving two goals with a single brief scene.

What do you think about it? Do you think the use those setups I talked about takes away from the anime? Do you think it is meaningful to talk about designed characters the way I did? See you in the comments ^^/

Dirty Pair: Project Eden

I am a big fan of good art and animation. If a cartoon looks great I would be happy to watch it, regardless of its other qualities. I would also like to tell other people about how good it was, but that is when things become difficult. Talking about art is hard in general, even if you limit yourself to a particular genre or style. Talking about modern animation where every piece may consist of a wild mixture of dozens of different styles is harder still. Not to mention that animation isn’t only about art, it is also about movement, which makes everything even more complex.

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That is why when I see an anime that showcases one particular aspect of animation I feel an urge to share it with others, which is the reason I am writing this post. Project Eden is a comedy, a movie about two girls with bad enough reputation to be called Dirty Pair. Same as in other Dirty Pair movies, they are solving a crime case, blowing up stuff in the process. But more importantly, Project Eden is about an art style. But, what is an art style? I’d say it is a combination of the color palette the anime uses, common details of the character designs, the drawing and animation techniques and the choices of what to show on the screen. It seems arbitrary, but hopefully it will make sense in a moment.

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Project Eden loves black, blue, red and hot pink. In my experience blue and black are a common combination in older anime, Yoshiaki Kawajiri used these colors a lot in his films. Adding red and hot pink makes this movie extra flashy, gives it more contrast, but also makes it feel less serious.

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The characters are equipped with some awesome 80s hair, but are otherwise simple. This is compensated by the animation, where the characters slightly go off model, move pretty freely, have enough different facial expressions not to be boring. Project Eden doesn’t win any prizes for the characters’ looks, but I think they go pretty well with anime’s visuals.

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Judging by how it looks and its age, the anime is hand drawn and cell animated. I think this type of animation technique lends itself well to darker and more contrasting color palettes. My guess is that cells were making the colors darker and were taking away some of the contrast, producing the nice look shows like Project Eden or Cyber City Oedo or many others of the sort have. Also the character designs used in this anime work well because the faces are always slightly morphing and changing; I don’t think it would look as good with more static computer-aided animation. This is why I mention animation techniques as a part of an art style, cause shows like Project Eden look the way they do thanks to the animation methods that were used back then when these shows were made. It also makes these anime unique – because of the change in animation techniques it is unlikely that anything that shares Project Eden’s style will be produced again.

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Now finally, what about the choices what to show on the screen? Project Eden shows us explosions, lots of technical facilities, all kinds of electrical discharges, dark blue monsters, space, spacecrafts and space stations. In short, lots of space enthusiasm sci-fi settings. This allows the anime to display its colors in all their glory. If your anime takes place in bright lit rooms or in the daylight there is no way to make Project Eden’s color palette work. Furthermore, the colors, the hand drawn animation, the sci-fi theme, they all go together, they create the atmosphere of the movies of this period. The bright explosions contrasted with dark blue background remind me of Macross: Do You Remember Love movie, the constant mindless destruction- of Tank Police OVA and maybe a few other OVAs from that time.

I don’t know if I should talk about the anime itself at this point. Maybe I’ll leave the plot be and let you see it for yourself. I guess the promo posters for Project Eden may look kinda iffy, the two lead characters being dressed like prostitutes and all, but oh well. Their costumes are completely stupid and don’t suit their personalities at all, obviously they were designed to attract attention to the anime. But there isn’t much more then that, just a stupid choice for the character’s uniform.

Oh, and before you go, watch the opening for this movie it is worth the look. It kinda illustrates all I wanted to say in this post. See you next time!

P.S. If you wanna read me talking about other anime with beautiful animation, you can check out my posts about Madoka MagicaThe RescuersThe Old Man and the Sea and Colorful. Or, take a look at Shaurya’s posts about MushishiGarden of Words and this post about Tokyo Ghoul. We don’t usually talk as much about the animation itself though.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is good example of a show that I normally wouldn’t feel like writing about. It is like trying to make a review of Confucius’s works, you wouldn’t attempt something like that just for fun. Innocence is probably the only movie so far that made me feel like I’m not educated enough to be watching it. The characters are literally talking in quotations, referencing European philosophers, Buddha, Confucius and some Japanese writers. And in my limited experience, quotes from philosophical texts make sense only in context. The text may have a couple paragraphs that build up reader’s intuition before delivering a few sentences that contain the core meaning of the text. Without a context these sentences are just mysterious collections of words, almost indecipherable. So because I wasn’t familiar with most of the texts cited in the movie, I just had to accept that I have no idea what characters imply by their words, which is a weird experience.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Batou

Spoilers below

The movie is focused on questioning the boundaries of what a human being is. Not the word itself, but the classical interpretation of it. When you say ‘human’, you may think of one of the existing humans, or you may think of a being with the biological properties that we associate with being a human, or you may think of a being that looks and behaves as a human should, or maybe something else yet. The variety of the ideas that are covered by the umbrella word ‘human’ is interesting in itself. What’s even more interesting is how fragile these ideas are, and that is what the movie displays.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

The main character of the film is a cyborg Batou, the former partner of major Kusanagi, who ceased to be a human in the previous movie (watch it, the phase will make sense then; the movie is too good to be spoiled here). The main plot line starts with Batou looking into a case of robots killing their owners. Those were so-called ‘sexaroids’, the term is self-descriptive. As Batou proceeds with his investigation he has conversations with all sorts of crazy people, like a woman cyborg who makes a convoluted argument about these androids being the same as people, somehow implying that their imperfections compared to humans are similar to the imperfections children have, compared to adults.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival, monk

A little bit later Batou talks with a guy who converted his brain into a computer program and his body – into a robot. This person was saying so much crazy stuff that I hesitate to even summarize it. One of the things he said was that humans’ limited perception causes the incompleteness of their reality, and the species that have a ‘complete’ reality are the ones that either have no consciousness at all, or those who have an unlimited consciousness. As examples of the two he mentions dolls or gods. Obviously there is a little difference between a doll and a robot and it all gets extra weird because the guys saying those things is essentially a robot himself, though he had started his life as a human. Also, if you had to make a mental effort parsing that sentence about perception and consciousness – there you go, that is how the whole movie is.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Batou

The reason I described these episodes was to give you a sense of how the characters in this movie think. You show them an android and they wouldn’t say “yep, that’s a robot, just a moving piece of metal, not a human at all”, rather they would avoid categorizations altogether, and more importantly they would avoid assigning emotional labels to these categories. Normally we consider robots to be things, objects that don’t have intrinsic value other than their cost. Not so in this film. I’ll give an example.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival

At some point Batou finds the source of the problem with the killer robots. The facility that produced these androids was giving them emotions by effectively copying a human brain into their system (they refer to it as ‘ghost dubbing’, and a ghost is a little different from a brain in GitS universe, as far as I understand). The procedure is very damaging for the human who’s brain is copied, a few sessions are rendering the person an invalid. They used children for this, against their will, of course. So one girl who was used there decided to try and make the robots go berserk, I guess by directing her emotions a certain way during the copying process. As the result the robots produced during this session were murdering their owners.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Carnival

So, when Batou heard that the robots were murderous because this was the girls’s way of sending out a help me signal, he gets angry. You think he is angry because she caused many deaths? Nope. Here is the quote:

Batou: “Don’t you realize what kind of chaos you have caused? I am not talking about just the humans. Didn’t you think about the dolls who were forced to have malicious ghosts dubbed into them?”

Girls: “But.. but.. But I didn’t want to become a doll!”

Another character: “You cry for bird’s blood, but not for fish blood. Fortunate for ones with voice. If dolls also had voices, they would have screamed ‘I didn’t want to become human!'”

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, doll

This dialogue is so weird. You can’t have your main characters be so cold, to have them equate the value of a child’s  life and the well being of a bunch of robots. Yet, this is the movie that can do it. If this ghost dubbing procedure somehow takes away the ‘human essence’ from the donor and transmits it to the recipients, then maybe it would make those dolls partially human. Does it justify treating them as humans? Or maybe ‘treating someone as a human’ is an inherently flawed idea in a world populated by dolls with human minds, AI who used to be people, cyborgs that can’t be sure if whether what they experience is reality or a simulation.

Hope this wasn’t too boring to read. See you next time ^^/

Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)

If you’ve been an anime fan for a while, chances are that you have already watched Kuroshitsuji or at least saw a couple of pictures of Ciel and Sebastian floating around the internet. I watched all the anime seasons and I am currently reading the manga. I will be covering both the anime and the manga in this post.

Kuroshitsuji is a story about Ciel, a guy who formed a contract with a demon for the sake of revenge. The demon is called Sebastian. The contract states that Sebastian will have to follow Ciel’s every order while making sure that Ciel isn’t killed until he extracts his revenge. Sebastian gets to feed on Ciel’s soul once he fulfills the contract.

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Ciel- That mark on right eye is their contract seal

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Sebastian

This little detail itself makes Kuroshitsuji different from other normal shounen. We have seen a lot of characters burning for revenge. We saw Sasuke wanting to kill Itachi first and then wanting to damage the Leaf Village once he learned the truth. We also saw Kurapika sitting in a basement filled with dead eyes and planning to kill the Phantom Troupe. Here comes the question, what do these people plan to do after getting their revenge? Killing people for the sake of revenge will damage them but at least they get to live. Even if they end up being a broken mess we can at least hope that time might heal these people and give them enough reason to live. With Ciel this is just not possible. Once he gets his revenge he will be dead and Sebastian will eat his soul. There will be nothing of him left. He has no future. This makes Ciel’s revenge scheme even more cruel and brutal.

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It doesn’t mean Ciel is a good guy

Ciel isn’t the kind of guy who would happily play the tragic hero role. He is fixated on revenge but he isn’t seething mad like Sasuke and at the same time he isn’t laughing and having fun with friends occasionally like Kurapika. He is cold and calculating. Imagine Aizen or Izaya wanting revenge. They won’t take a gun and run around the town shooting their enemies. Instead they will sit calmly in their houses, lay traps everywhere, wait for the enemies to come attack them and then torture them to death with a mocking smile on their face. Ciel is the same, he just shows a little more emotions than Aizen or Izaya.

Ciel is the England Queen’s watchdog. He deals with underground crimes when he gets a request from the queen. It is a job that his family members have been doing for a long time. Ciel’s parents were murdered by a weird cult, leaving a ten year old Ciel behind. Those murderers then tortured Ciel as part of their weird rituals. We don’t know much about what had happened to Ciel during that time (Maybe it is revealed in the later chapters of the manga and I haven’t read them yet). We just know that Ciel was broken beyond repair at that point. He decided to become the head of the family and take the responsibility of being the Queen’s watchdog. He takes care of criminals and thugs that the queen can’t punish directly. People around him don’t treat him kindly for that. Some even say that he is just a dog with a collar around his neck.

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I wish these people will remember that they are dealing with a 13 year old kid

There was a time Ciel had to decide between capturing a serial killer or saving the victim. He knew that he might not get another chance to capture the killer. He decided to capture the killer and let the victim die. He even said that he has no regrets regarding what he has done. There was also another time Ciel told Sebastain to kill a bunch of people since he believed that they could no longer be saved. He felt they were better off dead. So he went ahead and ordered Sebastain to kill them all. That is not something a typical Shounen protagonist would do. Actually Ciel might be the only one who would do something like that. He might even be more of an antagonist than a protagonist. You usually end up liking him though, despite all the things he does.

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The relationship between Sebastian and Ciel also makes it even more interesting. Sebastian has to follow Ciel’s order and has to protect him but it doesn’t mean that he is Ciel’s knight in shining armour.  There was a time Ciel had to sneak into a room to find something. There were snakes guarding the room. He ordered Sebastian to capture them and put them in a cage. He told Sebastian to release the snakes before the room’s owner comes back. He then went in to investigate the room. It took longer than he expected and he didn’t manage to get out in time. Sebastian released the snakes anyway knowing full well that Ciel was still inside. He wouldn’t let Ciel die but he doesn’t mind letting Ciel get bitten by a snake. He thinks it is more amusing that way. Here is their conversation during that incident.

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Sebastian is indeed a powerful demon but he is a double edged knife. If Ciel isn’t careful he will get end up hurting himself more than he hurts his enemies. Also Sebastian only cares about keeping Ciel safe from physical harm. He doesn’t care about his mental state. If someone important to Ciel was in harm’s way, he wouldn’t lift a finger to save that person unless Ciel orders him to do so. If Ciel was unable to give the order in time, he would just stand by and let that person get killed. He doesn’t care about how much damage it might do to Ciel. If they were trying to catch a criminal and Ciel makes a mistake, Sebastian won’t say anything and he won’t try to correct him. If the criminal ends up escaping because of that and Ciel has to face the consequences of it, Sebastain will just smile and say ‘Too bad.’

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He says that he is just a pawn. He won’t move until the king orders him to move.

The fact that Ciel used to be a nice little kid before his parents’ murder makes this whole situation even more difficult to digest. He occasionally shows that he is just a child, especially when he wakes up screaming and trembling because of a nightmare. He quickly recovers from that and goes back to being the calm and calculating Queen’s watchdog. He is just a kid who should have been having fun playing with his friends and enjoying life and yet here he is, walking through blood covered streets, examining dead bodies for clues, catching criminals, getting kidnapped, getting hit and killing people.

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Young Ciel

If you haven’t watched Kuroshitsuji yet I recommend reading the first 22 chapters of the manga and then watching the Book of Circus followed by the Book of Murder and Book of Atlantic. The original Kuroshitsuji season changed the story drastically and Kuroshitsuji II has nothing to do with the manga. They are not bad but the original story is much better and darker. You can watch the first two seasons of the anime after watching the Book of Atlantic. You will be able to appreciate the story more that way.

Kuroshitsuji has many interesting characters and good comedy.

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Ciel’s Servants. They are an interesting bunch

Kuroshitsuji is a good anime and I highly recommend watching it. Let me warn you that it has a dark story and can leave a bitter aftertaste.

See you next time ^^/