Subject Shift, And Quite A One

I started this blog last summer as kind if a venting grounds during the release schedule of the atrocities brought to light by the Planned Parenthood sting-operation videos. Having started on that political and outrage-laden foot, the blog has been mostly political since then. And while much more could be said on those topics, and I have considered doing so several times, I have noticed that the Thought Disposal has been entirely homogeneous. I intended to have this be a blend of interests, truer to the blog name, bordering on spontaneous, randomized, and interrelated, wibbly-wobbly…shtuff. Also, at this point, as many of you no doubt are, I am tired of the of the election 2016 spectacle that Ben Shapiro aptly described with an expression of ingenious mollification as a “turd tornado.”  So in an attempt to gradually move back to that original intention of heterogeneity:

I say “gradually,” but really this may be a yank of the E-brake. This post is meant to introduce those reading some ideas I have under construction, of a pair of open series (serieses? siri? syria?) which I have decided to call, “T.V. Apologetics” and “Song Study.” Both of these subjects are favorites of mine, the study of which I expect to go mostly go without a hitch. But I say “mostly” because the “T.V. Apologetics” will include, if not predominately be about, anime series. Since that is what I expect will be a point of issue and loss of faith in my self-identification as a connoisseur and critic of entertainment, the rest of this post will be an unoriginal, but still somewhat necessary defense of anime as a storytelling medium.

Now, some of you may be asking, “What/Who is this ‘Annie-mu?” Others slightly more informed on such matters may be thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know you were that kind of weirdo. Cartoons? Subtitled characters with blue hair? Really?” Others, most likely millennial males, may be saying this while stuffing their nostalgically cherished DragonBall Z collections and Naruto headbands out of sight.

For those who are still confused, anime is Japanese animation…or, yes…cartoons. Now, usually, “cartoons” is often reserved as a name for American animation, so there is an unfortunate danger of mistaking an association between anime with the likes of Looney Tunes or something like them, not because one is lower in quality than the other, but because they are both so very different. Both are capable of zaniness, silliness, and irreverence, but anime has proven itself many times and in many ways of engaging with serious topics that can, precisely because you are not expecting such things from an animated medium, rip your heart out when you least expect it, leave you horrified, or do both at the same time.

Examples for the Anime literate and research for the illiterate:

Fullmetal Alchemist‘s “Night of the Chimera’s Cry”

Steins Gate‘s entire plot (despite its definite and numerous comedic moments)

Psycho Pass‘s engagement with psychology, human administration of justice, and free-will v. determinism

Speaking for myself, I was someone who new that anime was a subject you didn’t raise in cool company. But as I got my feet wet and later lowered myself into the culture, I discovered the main point that I would like to get across here (which I think I’ve stolen from a video by Gigguk) that anime is not a genre, but is a medium of story-telling. Being a medium, it has certain abilities, one of which is the ability to tackle subjects and ideas in a way that simply could not be captured by current technological means in a live-action format (if anything, it showed me that live action shouldn’t be attempted at all, but I am willing to be proven wrong by Ghost in the Shell  or Death Note if they turn out to be a success [not holding my breath, though]).  J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” offers a description of Fantasy that could certainly be applied (and which Tolkien might have been willing to apply if he had known of the future of visual arts) to anime:

In human art, Fantasy is a thing best left to words, to true literature. Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy. Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly and audibly acted. […] Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy. […] This is, of course, partly due to the fact that the producers of drama have to, or try to, work with mechanism to represent either Fantasy or Magic. I once saw a so-called “children’s pantomime,” the straight story of Puss-in-Boots, with even the metamorphosis of the ogre into a mouse. Had this been mechanically successful it would either have terrified the spectators or else have been a turn of high-class conjuring. As it was, though done with some ingenuity of lighting, disbelief had not so much to be suspended as hung, drawn, and quartered.

Now, I know that this is an argument against the capabilities of current technology to a degree, which always elicits rebuttals of, “but technology is always improving and what looks bad today might be astonishingly realistic tomorrow.” And while I hope that realistic representation in media continues to march progressively onward and upward, the point that Tolkien makes remains, that mediums of storytelling have characteristic pros and cons. The great thing that fantasy literature and anime share as mediums is that the actors chosen to represent the characters and the effectiveness of “mechanisms” used to suspend your disbelief in fantastic elements do not determine the success of the message because all of those things can be optimized to the exact specifications required by the story. That means that the storytelling process can actually be about the story itself. The anime story can stand on the same merits that a book would without relying on the believability of an actor’s performance and an effects coordinator’s skills/capabilities. In short, with anime, the sky’s the limit of possibility.

The final point is an address to another reaction toward this new direction of mine who will say, “How can you say that anime and anime culture somehow reflect a gospel-centered story-telling?” or even “Why are you dragging Jesus into this easy-going hobby of mine?” First, while I do plan to speak to the scriptural merits of the shows, I hope to speak to its other merits in a show-review sort of way for those interested. But to the concerns of “dragging Jesus into it,” I will say that the assumption of being permitted to do so stems from believing that God is responsible for creation as Scripture says. I have been reminded by Chesterton and Tolkien recently that human imitation of God includes imitation of creation:

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. (Tolkien “On Fairy-Stories”)

Because God is telling a story, we tell stories. Because God created a world, we sub-create  worlds. If you take yourself too seriously to exhibit mirth or zaniness in your sub-creating (whether they be cartoons or anime or otherwise), you’re probably not fully imitating the God who was not only willing to, but did create  frogs, sheep, and tarsiers. It’s not even a matter of “good Christians engage in acts of sub-creation,” but rather, “we are all creatures and, regardless of faith in God as creator, we can’t help our urges to engage in sub-creation with Christ-affirming narrative tools.” Even post-modern, edge-lords who want to flip “good conquers evil and gets the girl” traditions on their heads because its more “realistic” and to get their rebellious kicks have to have something foundational to flip.

Therefore, I believe that anime series and films have the same potential, if not more so because of the capabilities of the medium, to exemplify the gospel as any other medium does. I know that focusing on this cultural niche may alienate much of the already small readership that I have garnered for a rarely updated blog. I regret that. However, I hope that those of you who love stories, even if you aren’t open to the idea of anime, would find these exercises in analysis to be fruitful. Also, it’s not like I will drop political posts all together, but that I still have much to learn before I can be a joyful contrarian like Chesterton with regard to politics and not let it totally drag me into a cynical spiral. I only mean to warn that you can possibly expect some future installments of this nerdy kind if I find time to wander back to this blog (maybe). Lots of grey area descriptors in that last sentence, but this is your heads-up.

Because I have just started a new term, though this is the announcement of a new series, unfortunately, you shouldn’t expect that to mean an increase in content production any more than usual. But, for those of you who are already steeped in the culture, I expect my first post will be about either Parasite-the maxim or one of the Fate series installments. I am not one to ride the seasonal-hype-train, so these are not 2016 series. I hope the rest of you find it in your hearts to forgive me. But a narrative nerd’s gotta do what a narrative nerd’s gotta do. That may include similar analysis of other favorite shows of mine like Doctor Who, about which some of you may have already heard me gush. But until then — Sayonara , yall.

 

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