TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
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THIS SHOT

I hit rock bottom in March of 2016. I was forced to withdraw from my dream school because my depression had made it impossible for me to succeed academically. I can remember telling myself that I’d manage to fix everything, but those were delusions. I was “averting my eyes” from the truth. I was so lonely. As my life started spiraling downwards, I never once considered asking for help.

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it me

I kept telling myself that I had the power to fix my situation all on my own, but every time I tried to focus on fixing things, I ended up just going to bed. I was spending so much time escaping into anime, especially shows like Clannad in which I could live my ideal wholesome trad fantasy.

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I love how I can just randomly insert these Monogatari screencaps an y’all can tell how they relate to my experiences. You can tell, can’t you?

I had reached the point where I figured that I don’t deserve the company of other people, but I still strived for companionship, always sabotaging my efforts as a way of sparing the person to whom I was trying to reach out the burden of having to deal with someone as rotten as me. Nobody had to suffer besides me when I spent time with anime. When my entire world finally came crashing down on me, I blamed myself for being lazy, piling on even more self-hatred than I had already accumulated.

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We all have that Ougi voice in the back of our heads.

It was not too lit fam. Anyway, part of me is still ashamed of the fact that I had to take a medical withdrawal from Notre Dame. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed and that I had long lost control of my life by no fault of my own, but I still haven’t internalized that.

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When I returned home, I spent like three months almost entirely in my basement, curled up on the couch listening to music or watching anime (It was during that period of time that I first watched Monogatari 20 times in a row). A few days after I got home, I rolled over on the couch in the basement and heard some noise. It was my little sister playing with her barbies, which she hadn’t done in a long time. I chatted with her. I’d been crushed with shame whenever speaking to anybody since getting home, but for some reason, I felt totally comfortable chatting with my little sister then. She was in eighth grade at the time. This became a regular occurrence, and she’d always tell me she loved me when she was done and went back upstairs. My little sister became my best friend and helped save me when I hit absolute rock bottom. Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.28.29 PMOne of the most compelling scenes in Sword Art Online is in the first episode of the Fairy Dance arc, after Kirito has met Sugou *gag* and learned that Asuna is going to be married off. Kirito is absolutely devastated. His wife is going to be married off without her consent to a creep that she hates and Kirito can’t do anything about. And yes fuck this conflict it fucking sucks. Maybe it’d be okay if he wasn’t so rapey and the objective wasn’t so blatantly for Kirito to protect Asuna’s “purity,” but oh well. Its a testament to how great a character Suguha is that this is my favorite SAO arc despite all of that. Anyway, with a creeper stealing his online wife, Kirito has totally sunken into a pit of despair. This is rock bottom for Kirito.

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You can’t see his eyes, so you know shit’s serious

That evening, Suguha enters Kirito’s room after he fails to respond to her when she tells him the bath is ready. She enters his room because she cares about her br- see, there I go, that’s way more specific than I need to be, I’m just stating the obvious. Anyways… Suguha’s perspective shapes this scene in Kirito’s room, which Sword Art Online utilizes as a representation of his now devastated internal world.

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Suguha opens the door to Kirito’s room, and with her brings light and warmth. The Nervegear, in the foreground, was responsible for stealing the already distant Kirito away from Suguha for two whole years.

She finds her brother sitting alone on his bed in his room. The room is illuminated only by the moonlight streaming through the huge window in the corner of the room behind the bed and is freezing because it’s the middle of January and he hasn’t turned on the heater. In the first three shots of Kirito after Suguha enters the room, his eyes are hidden by shadows. Suguha turns on the heater and asks what’s going on. Kirito tells her that he just wants to be left alone, which is, of course, the last thing you should say when you want to be left alone. Perhaps Kirito was subconsciously trying to reach out to Suguha in that moment.

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Love how she’s got a bit of that Virgin Mary look going on with that towel

The concern in Suguha’s voice grows stronger in response to that most obvious of red flags and we see a look in Kirito’s eyes more harrowing than anything we were privy to during his experiences in Sword Art Online. Our (new) heroine immediately swoops down on him, taking his hands in hers, and asks him what’s wrong and if he’s alright, to which Kirito initially responds that “its nothing.”

 

Suguha’s demonstration of her love for her brother brings warmth to the room (she turned on the heater) and to Kirito (grasping his hands). That warmth, that love, allows Kirito to open up to her. We get to see the extremely rare “vulnerable Kirito,” a side of him we’ve only seen him show Asuna. He apologizes to Suguha, expressing his despair, saying, “I’m so hopeless and weak,” then expressing his regret that Suguha has to see him in such a compromised state, something he had sworn not to allow happen. Kirito gives an extremely vague explanation of his situation, breaking down into tears in the process.

 

Suguha throws her arms around him, allowing him to cry into her, uh, bosom, and tells him to hang in there and not give up on being with the one he loves. She instills hope in Kirito.

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The next morning (after waking up in same bed as her), Kirito reflects on and affirms Suguha’s words of comfort and encouragement. And then he conveniently gets a message that leads him to the answer to all of his problems BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT.

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*plot convenience inbound*

Just as Suguha brought love and warmth to Kirito when he needed it most and encouraged him to keep fighting, so too did my little sister comfort me when I needed it most. And since then, like Suguha, my little sister has always been my biggest cheerleader, encouraging me not to give up in my struggles to overcome myself. Oh, and now I’m finally going back to Notre Dame, I’ve finally finished clawing my way back up from rock bottom, and I was only able to do it because I had my little sister cheering for me all along the journey.

Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.29.26 PMScreen Shot 2018-12-24 at 2.31.12 AM.pngI’m gonna be writing more about Suguha, since this isn’t as much about her character as it is about the projections of my own experiences onto this one scene in particular.

TWELVE DAYS: WATCH LADIES VERSUS BUTLERS

Ladies versus Butlers is good, easily one of the best fanservice shows. If you know me, you know that my view is that the strength of a story is entirely dependent on the strength of its characters and the dynamics between them. This wasn’t something I expected from this show, but Ladies versus Butlers has what is easily one of the most entertaining and compelling rivalries in anime. I often say that fanservice and otherwise perverse fetish-fueled harem shows are often responsible for producing bombastic and charismatic female characters. Everybody loves Lala and Momo from To Love-Ru and Aqua and Megumin from Konosuba. Monster Musume has a more well-rounded ensemble cast, but all of the women have that fire in them that make them so fun to watch. Ladies versus Butlers has Selnia Iori Flameheart and Tomomi Saikyo.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 6.37.49 PMSelnia and Tomomi, I think, are much more multi-faceted than the examples I gave above. They’re not like Lala, who has no problems and makes a habit of causing extremely amusing problems for Rito. Selnia and Tomomi’s bombastic personalities are both fueled by their own insecurities, which are exacerbated when they are in each other’s presence. Selnia and Tomomi were deeply jealous of each other from the moment they first met and throughout the show, both are driven almost entirely by their desire to confirm their superiority over each other. Every scene that Selnia and Tomomi share is extremely interesting, and as the series goes on, they progressively become more entertaining and intense, especially in the scenes the two share alone. These are the scenes in which one of Ladies versus Butlers’ greatest strengths shines the most. The direction of Ladies versus Butlers is way better than a fanservice show has any right to be. As Selnia and Tomomi’s rivalry begins to substantiate as a competition for Akiharu, the main character, the staging of the scenes they share becomes increasingly theatrical.

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One of my favorite scenes in the series is in the fifth episode, when Selnia and Tomomi get locked in the bathhouse together… don’t you roll your eyes at me like that. No of course they don’t have towels. Y’know, actually I think I’m just gonna end it here.

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TWELVE DAYS: FLIP FLAPPERS AND FUNERAL

Triumph is not a word many people will ever associate with 2016. Last year was a pretty rough year for everybody, but nobody wants read about how much 2016 thoroughly sucked. I’m going to focus on perhaps the only redeeming aspect of 2016, which was, of course, Flip Flappers. Given that a majority of humanity’s suffering in 2016 was self-inflicted, I’m still not sure that we deserved such a fantastic work of art as Flip Flappers, but I’m not going to complain. Of course, in typical 2016 fashion, this masterpiece went largely unnoticed even in the anime community and continues to be criminally underappreciated. It is worse than bad things happening to good people; it is as if nobody realized these good people even existed. Of course, being a ridiculously well versed connoisseur of music (something with zero real world applicability), I am quite used to works of art that change how I see myself or how I see the world or how I perceive the human experience going unacknowledged and unappreciated by any humans with whom I actually speak. Whenever I think about that, it upsets me that so many people are missing out on such great, beautiful moving music. Funeral by Arcade Fire triumphed by winning the attention span of music fans across the country in the mid 2000s. Arcade Fire was able to rise above the ocean of competing indie rock bands because Funeral, the band’s debut album released in 2004, is itself the essence of triumph. Funeral is triumph over relatable obstacles that we all face: depression, the struggle with identity and the many other mundane toils of the human experience, and it does so by dreaming. Funeral exhorts us to adopt the disposition of a child. Dreams can come true, even once we’ve grown up, and we need to remember that in order to hold onto hope for the future.

And this brings us back to 2016, the year in which it seemed hope had finally been extinguished for humanity. But we had Flip Flappers (and when I say “we,” I mean the infinitely small fraction of humanity that spent each week this fall excitedly anticipating what adventures Papika and Cocona would embark on next). Flip Flappers, like Funeral, is triumph incarnate. These two works of art deal with all the same themes and struggles and both deliver a resounding message of hope for the world. Funeral and Flip Flappers aren’t concerned with what’s going on with the rest of the world. They are focused on the generation of hope through perseverance as an individual through all their personal struggles. These two works hinge on triumph. Flip Flappers is the most flamboyantly triumphant anime in recent memory, and Funeral might very well be the most triumphant album of all time. In dealing with their shared themes and conflicts, Funeral and Flip Flappers frequently mirror each other’s uses of imagery and tone. The expansive orchestral nature of Funeral’s instrumentation is the perfect match for the vast visual vocabulary of Flip Flappers. Funeral and Flip Flappers are exuberant celebrations of Life, specifically youth, of the beauty and struggles of growing up, and of the fantastical journey of self-discovery.

In order to make its message hit hard, the world shown from Cocona’s perspective in the beginning of Flip Flappers is dark and claustrophobic. Nick Creamer wrote about this in his crunchyroll column early on in the Fall season, and it provides a perfect articulation of the implications of the barren and oppressing world in which Cocona finds herself wiling away the days of her adolescence. Whether the viewer realizes it or not, they have been given a glimpse into Cocona’s mind, and this characterization is much more efficient, subtle and compelling than any rambling Oregairu-style monologue. Cocona is depressed.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.34.40 PMOne of the most original aspects of Flip Flappers is the probable source of Cocona’s depression. Natasha from Isn’t it Electrifying argued in an article for crunchyroll that it would only be reasonable for Cocona, who is clearly grappling with her sexuality, to suffer from depression. It’s a consequence of the alienation that she experiences from realizing that she is different from the rest of society, which assumes that all people are heterosexual until they say otherwise, and the difficulty of being different, especially when your differences may cause others to resent you. They may even cause you to resent yourself. The struggle to escape depression is equal parts self-discovery and regaining control of the direction of one’s life. Flip Flappers is one of the best depiction of struggling with depression anime has ever given.

Dealing with depression is, for too many people, an essential part of growing up, and the greatest challenge is always grasping the reins and seizing control of your own life. This is a theme that serves as a foundation for the entirety of the album Funeral. Flip Flappers and Funeral are triumphant because they tell of overcoming immense difficulty and taking action and seizing control of your life. They also are fantastic artistic documents of the power of love and self-discovery. The coordination between the anime and the album is not a direct song-to-episode one correlation, so I’ll just organize this essay using Funeral’s track list.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.28.11 PM.pngDespite what I just said, Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels) is almost a line by line parallel of Pure Input. The crunchyroll synopsis of this episode was “girl meets girl; girls go on an adventure.” That’s exactly what happens. Neighborhood 1 tells of two young neighbors who, at the height of a blizzard so strong that the snow has completely buried their homes, run away together. The meet by digging a tunnel to connect their windows, and then they run away, leaving behind their sobbing parents. Flip Flappers’ shifting settings of Pure Illusion provide mystical worlds that are spawned by characters’ thoughts and perceptions. The snow covered world Arcade Fire creates in Neighborhood 1 is very similar to the first Pure Illusion that Cocona and Papika visit together. Papika takes Cocona by the hand in Pure Input and brings her on an adventure to a winter wonderland within pure illusion. In both the show and the song, the snow can represent both the crushing weight of depression and all the other petty burdens that weigh us down as humans. In Pure Input, Papika and Cocona appropriate the snow for recreational use, throwing snowballs and building snowmen.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.14 PMSnow also represents the impermanence of youth and the magic of love (2018 note: no clue where I pulled that from but okay). Change is inevitable, it’s merely a matter of how we change and whether or not we embrace it. In the chorus of Neighborhood 1, the speaker reflects on how his/her partner helped them to change for the better during their experiences together after they ran away from home, from their parents, and never looked back. As the series goes on, Papika changes all the lead in Cocona’s head with her Golden Hymn, “Dai-dai-dai suki!” By going on adventures with Papika, Cocona comes to recognize what has been missing from her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.30.04 PMWe see the first sign of evidence that Cocona may be changing for the better after her half-transformation, which was triggered by her desire to save Papika. Cocona makes a decision, a decision to step out of her comfort zone to do something. She rejects her anxiety and indecisiveness to take action, and when she does so, she transforms and gains the power to save Papika. This is Cocona’s first step toward seizing control of her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.40 PM.pngThe theme of escaping to fall in love is also especially relevant to the fifth episode, in which Cocona, Papika, Yayaka and the twins have all been trapped in yuri hell, a version of their school that crosses the Class-S genre with horror. The Class-S genre revolves around very deep “friendships” between young women. The horror that Flip Flappers pulls from the genre is its expectation that these relationships inevitably end before adulthood. Bloom into You’s seventh episode also dealt with this notion, which Sayaka’s former girlfriend had left with her when she said she’d grown “too old” for their relationship. That notion is dispelled when Sayaka learns of the relationship between her teacher and the owner of a local coffee shop. Flip Flappers depicts an epic escape from the restrictions of the Class-S genre, one that I think is reflected by the escape Neighborhood 1’s young couple into the snow.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.21.16 PMNeighborhood 2 opens with driving drums. The drums carry on the momentum and the potential for growth, change and love that lies before Cocona now she has proven to herself that she is capable of taking action. Cocona must continue to push and play an active role in her own life, but she’s afraid, and understandably so, since Papika had nearly died in their first journey to pure illusion. In Neighborhood 2, the chorus reads like a cheerleading squad, singing, “come on Alex, you can do it, come on Alex, there’s nothing to it!” Cocona wants connection with Papika because she isn’t totally rejecting her. However, Cocona’s anxiety hinders her ability to express herself, as the chorus demands, “if you want something, don’t ask for nothing.” Within Cocona’s heart, her desire for connection with Papika doesn’t override her fear of losing Papika. However, as they plunge into pure illusion once again, the decision is no longer for Cocona to make. This song’s exhortations are relevant throughout the entirety of Cocona’s coming of age story.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.36.44 PM“Une Anne Sans Lumieree” is the intermission in the four Neighborhood songs that make up the first half of the album, and the mood becomes much less urgent. This reflective song, with its nostalgic guitar motif reminiscent of the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” allows us to open our ears and listen to sound of blossoming love. Cocona is inherently self-conscious and must be noticing bits of evidence that she may be falling in love with Papika, especially in school from the Yuri Hell, which is loaded with Yuri imagery. What makes this experience so blissful for Cocona is the fact that Papika both prompts and embraces Cocona’s feelings. Beforehand, nobody seemed to be able to relate to Cocona’s experience of being different, but Papika lives and breathes being different and, as shown in episode two, is embraced for it. The song repeats that “if you see a shadow, there’s something there.” Cocona is bright enough to realize what’s going on. Just as the show relies heavily on visuals to accomplish most of the storytelling, the music of “Une Anne Sans Lumieree” itself perfectly captures the feeling of falling in love. The coda of the song, especially, perfectly captures the acceleration of romance. The tempo picks up at the end of the song and it becomes much heavier. Once you realize that you are falling in love, you can’t step on the breaks.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.42.53 PMNeighborhood 3 (Power Out) is the first of three fist-pumping anthems on this album and is the thematic centerpiece of the album. It perfectly boils down what Cocona must do in her coming of age story in order to liberate herself from loneliness and depression. It is a call to arms to fight for what you want and for what you love. It also grounds itself in a very real stage of development for children in the suburbs of the first world. Arcade Fire’s third neighborhood is one populated by adolescents who no longer feel any responsibility to obey their parents, or whose parents have grown apathetic. Essentially, the third neighborhood is one without any parents, so basically any anime neighborhood ever. All jokes aside, the absence of parents makes this setting the stage in life in which you are forced to become independent. The energy and urgency of the song are perfectly suited to the challenges of self-discovery and agency, challenges that Cocona knows very well. The song is predicated on a problematic turn of events, but the decision of those in the song to go out into the town are framed as having ends other than ameliorating the situation. They go out to find a light, to chase dreams. At the beginning of the series, Cocona is faced with the dreaded career survey, a staple anime representation of uncertainty about the future, the most universal kind of anxiety. Part of Cocona’s problem is that she doesn’t have a light to go out and find.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.55.33 PMThe kids in the song also go out to pick a fight, meaning they feel strongly enough about something to take a risk and go fight. Cocona first acts confrontational when Yayaka reveals to her and Papika that the end game for collecting the amorphous is world domination. These things that are important to us are fundamentally linked to who we are. Cocona expresses distress and reluctance to return to Pure Illusion after she realizes how their Inception inspired meddling changed Iroha-senpai. At the end, Cocona turns against her mother to fight for her independence and agency, which she built over the course of the show, and her relationship with Papika. She knows she loves Papika. Loving Papika is central to who Cocona is, who she has become. At the end of the series, it would be true to say that Cocona is Cocona because Papika is Papika. The power was out in Cocona’s heart before she met Papika, but as a result of their adventures, Cocona learned to take it from her heart and put it in her hand.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.22.01 PM.pngNeighborhood #3 is also very reflective of Yayaka”s personality. Yayaka is impulsive, and if you were to ask yourself which characters from Flip Flappers would ever pick a fight, the first name that would come to mind would be Yayaka. Of course, Yayaka despises this aspect of her personality and wishes somebody else could make all her decisions for her. Cocona, on the other hand, is struggling to learn to make decisions for herself, and must reject Mimi, her mother, when she says that Cocona can’t be trusted to make decisions for herself. One line in particular in this song captures Cocona’s mindset at the beginning of the story. Arcade Fire uses a storm as metaphor for growing up, singing “growing up in some strange storm, nobody’s cold, nobody’s warm.” Cocona rediscovers warmth when she meets Papika and Yayaka must ignore her orders and protect Cocona, who is a source of warmth for her. Musically, the melodic cacophony of Neighborhood 3 is a great reflection of the messiness of youth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.08.18 PM.pngNeighborhood 4 expresses frustration at how slowly things change, if they change at all. Cocona’s passiveness, her inability to make things happen on her own is captured in the song’s chorus, which says “a watched pot never boils, well I closed my eyes and nothing changed.” Flip Flappers contradicts this song by introducing Papika to Cocona, a wildcard who forces Cocona to start to change.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.39.13 PMUltimately, Papika and Cocona aren’t too concerned with preventing the bumbling Asclepius’s plan for a New World Order. They are concerned with each other and themselves. The song notes that all the neighbors are burning. Everybody else falls in love, and Cocona is having a difficult time navigating her first experience with romance. The Crown of Love, which comes next, reverts the focus to a key scene earlier in the series, the Mad Max pure illusion and the mask. Tension boils between Cocona and Papika in the first three episodes, exploding in a fight and a reconciliation. The Crown of Love is a plea for forgiveness, and is an important reminder that real love, a real healthy relationship needs both partners to be comfortable enough with each other to fight. Cocona is forced to that point by the mask, but it is not the last time they will fight.

Wake Up is the thematic successor of Neighborhood 3 (Power Out). Wake Up is about braving your way through life. For Cocona especially, this is a much more difficult struggle. The song exhorts children to wake up and seize the opportunities to make mistakes now. Cocona’s fear of making mistakes prevents her from taking an active role in her own life. Not only does Cocona need to “hold her mistakes up,” she needs to realize that mistakes are a fundamental part of growing up. Cocona has to wake up and start playing an active role in her life. In doing so, she has to accept who she is, regardless of how much her identity deviates from society’s norms, and then actively embrace Papika and her feelings for her. At the beginning of the story, Cocona is faced with the career survey, but she can’t see where she’s going. By the end of the story, Cocona has accepted who she is and has the confidence in herself to believe that wherever it is she’s going, she’ll be comfortable with herself.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.03.25 PMWake Up also repeats Neighborhood 3’s emphasis on agency with the lines, “with my lightning bolts a glowing, I can see where I am going.” Once Cocona learns to become independent and take control of her life, she’ll have less anxiety about the future. Yeah, Haiti’s lyrics are way too specific and violent for any reflection on Flip Flappers. Musically though, its lush and playful, which is an excellent description of Flip Flappers.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.32.30 PMRebellion (lies) is the final of the three anthems that dominate Funeral and it returns to the theme of embracing the naiveté and idealism of childhood. These are assets in the journey to knowing yourself and understanding life. The defiant message of this song is that happiness is possible, contrary to what the world tells us, and that’s not a lie.  Honestly, anything else I have to say about this song in relation to Flip Flappers would simply be retreading points I have already made. For example, the line “sleeping is giving in” is another exhortation to take control of your life and not running away from your problems. To be honest, the reason I originally scrapped this was that I figured it was all so obvious that it doesn’t warrant me going in depth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.05.04 PM.pngIn the Backseat just perfectly captures Flip Flappers’ understanding of dependency. The lines, “I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak” are a perfect portrait of Cocona at the beginning of the series and in episodes 11 and 12. In those two episodes Mimi returns and assumes the responsibility of making all of Cocona’s decisions for her. This is also exactly what Yayaka wanted, to have other people make tough decisions for her. The line, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life” is a great expression of how growing up is entirely oriented towards eventually becoming independent.

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Okay this was really messy, but I’m glad I’m getting it out there in some form, since so many people have expressed their desire to see it. Honestly, I didn’t even really touch on everything. Most of this was written in January of 2016, I can’t believe how much my writing has changed since then.

Violet Evergarden is Good, Actually

*Disclaimer*

So this is my first post since, like, July, right? To make a long story short, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble in my personal life over the past few years, yadda yadda yadda, I’m not in school right now and am in the middle of psychiatric testing to see if I have some sort of cognitive issue (other than ADHD, which, boy, do I have). Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I have trouble stringing my thoughts together. Think about it this way: you’re walking along the shore leaving footprints in the sand and every few steps, a wave comes and erases your footsteps. That’s what my thinking has been like lately. In addition, I have crippling self doubt that has kept me from posting this up until now, despite the fact that I’ve been working on it since the first episode of Violet Evergarden aired. I want to get these thoughts out there regardless and contribute to the discussion, so I’m like, whatever, now, here you go Anitwitter. I won’t make any progress improving if I don’t do anything, right? Okay, on to the good (bad) stuff.

Also, check out Zeria’s video that does exactly what I set out to do here, except better.

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Violet Evergarden is good. Yeah yeah yeah, the animation is splendid and it’s like one of the most beautiful anime productions ever, or something like that, yeah, everybody knows that and nobody is denying it. I think that what we’ve seen of Violet Evergarden so far is exceptionally well written. Yo, it ain’t hyped enough. This is so much better than Clannad.

Kyoto Animation produces good anime almost exclusively, but very few of them really gave me the impression that they were ‘smart,’ at least not as a whole. This isn’t a knock against Kyo-Ani at all, and it’s not to say that their shows are dumb, the stories they adapt simply rely more upon emotional intelligence and empathy. That’s the way it ought to be for those stories. A Silent Voice was very smart, I think, especially with the way it depicted Ishida shutting others out of his world. This is what I mean when I say its ‘smart,’ it finds a simple, creative and compelling way of visually representing the psychological state of Ishida.

Hyouka is smart too, especially in its occasionally fantastical depictions of Oreki’s mental state and the creative animation that typically accompanies the exposition or solving of mysteries. Hyouka is also ‘smart’ in it’s depiction of Mayaka’s social anxiety and frequent frustration, and smart in a way that made the most of the studio’s strong character animation work. The depiction of Satoshi’s unspoken self-loathing is equally compelling. Chuunibyou was pretty smart as well in its depiction of the complexities of the grieving process.

I think this is the sort of smartness that the Kyo-Ani team has mastered better than anybody else in the industry. This smartness is also what makes  Kyo-Ani’s sparse sexually charged scenes so special. Kyo-Ani’s product can be just as sensual and unconventionally erotic as anime that focus more on the blossoming sexuality of their awkward teenage characters. Of course, I also know absolutely nothing about animation, so please don’t take anything I say seriously.

I suppose that, for me, a ‘smart’ show is one that presents its characters, conceits or themes in such a compelling manner that I find myself reflecting upon it frequently.

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Being smart alone doesn’t necessarily make a show good, in fact, being ‘smart’ isn’t even necessary for a show to be good. Even though my favorite show of this season so far is A Place Further than the Universe, I think Violet Evergarden is probably the ‘smartest,’ primarily because Violet Evergarden is heavily informed by psychology. Kyo-Ani manages to make important psychological concepts and their manifestation in Violet’s experiences accessible and even relatable to the audience. Casual viewers that don’t recognize the ways in which psychology informs the foundation of Violet’s character can still understand Violet’s story because of Kyo-Ani’s presentation.

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Violet’s emotionless demeanor is the most obvious symptom of Violet’s problems. Violet’s story is one of a former child soldier that was trained into a doll now carrying out her final orders to live and be free. Violet takes pride in her identity as a weapon. She has been conditioned not to consider herself human and, for the most part, nobody else in the military besides (maybe) Gilbert seems to have treated her like a human. Violet needs to become human, to embrace her identity as a human, rather than as a weapon, in order to be free and truly live.

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Though she has survived the war and has been discharged from military service, at the beginning of the series, I would not say that Violet is free. Violet’s continued commitment to military conduct is not simply out of force of habit. Violet is completely dependent upon orders. She can’t function without them. The first episode demonstrates this during the meal scenes. Violet does not touch her food until Hodgins vocalizes permission for her to eat. Hodgins has been out of the military for just as long and it takes him a while to realize that Violet’s mentality is still totally entrenched in the war. Violet’s dependence upon the structure that the military provided, demonstrated by the way she treats every job like a military operation and her approach to customer service, is just the most tangible evidence that Violet is not yet living free from the influence of the military, which robbed her of her childhood and groomed her into an ideal child soldier, an emotionless killing machine. I’ll note here that it seems as though Violet was taken as a prisoner of war, so it seems she had already been refined into a weapon by another military by the time she met Gilbert.

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Why would Violet cling to such a state of mind, especially one so contrary to Gilbert’s order to be free? Well, I’d say that mindset probably safeguarded Violet from the potential horror of sitting alone with her thoughts and reflecting upon her experiences. Prompted by her encounter with Gilbert’s brother, that shoe finally dropped in episode seven, while Violet sat alone on the train.

Although Violet may be expressionless, her behavior reveals some of the specific ways in which her characterization is informed by psychology. The most obvious of these is her oral fixation, something which really stood out in the first episode. I’ll spare you the psychobabble and give you the sparknotes, or rather, the senpainotes version of what this means. Basically, Violet didn’t really get all the care and attention she needed as a child (infant, technically, but I don’t want to limit that arbitrarily), so she’s “making up for it” now by occupying her mouth with things like her dog plushie, putting on her gloves, and, most importantly, with the broach Gilbert gave her. All of this is reinforced by scenes where we see Violet curled up in the fetal position, another symptom of regression. Violet is trying to make up for the deficit of care and love she received as a child with love from Gilbert, something that makes sense given her background as an orphan and child soldier. Unfortunately, Gilbert ain’t coming back.

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Violet is in denial with regards to Gilbert’s death. Accepting that death will only become more painful for her as she comes to understand what love is as an auto-memory doll. Violet is clearly repressing memories of her experiences during her time in the military. She remembered Hodgins from the night before her final battle, but in one of Hodgins’s flashbacks, it’s shown that he had seen her before then, fighting and killing in what I can only describe as an Atrocity Exhibition. Childhood trauma is almost always the subject of repressed memories. Being a child soldier, it’s difficult to imagine that Violet’s memories of that experience could be anything but traumatic. What is likely most traumatic about this, as episode seven has suggested, is that Violet was forced to kill. The military molded her into a moe murder machine, but it seems that, rather than directing her rage towards the militaries that wielded her as a weapon, Violet’s realization that she is indeed on fire will only cause her to hate herself.

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“I’m so fucked up”

If there are any aspects of Violet Evergarden that go underappreciated, let me know in the comments, I’m curious to hear what others have to say.

 

Hitagi Crab: You Are Not Alone

Hitagi Crab: You Are Not Alone

Monogatari holds a very special place in my heart. When I started watching Bakemonogatari, I was having a tough time. It was the last time I watched anime as a means of escaping the world, which, for me, seemed to hold nothing but failure. Monogatari was the first anime that made me really think about what I was watching and the first that I treated the same way I would treat literature. It wasn’t a decision I made on my own, Monogatari forced me to see myself in its characters. It wasn’t straightforward assertions of ideals, which can be found in many anime, which was able to break through my shell of denial, it was Monogatari’s subtlety and incredible characters.

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One thing my mother often said to me around that time, when I had effectively become a college dropout, was that there is no difference between depression and cancer. My natural response, which I did not vocalize was, “yeah, except, y’know, everything.” Of course, I could comprehend the argument my mother was making. Even though people can’t see depression and don’t really take it as seriously, the way it can interrupt your life is similar.

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That’s why I had to withdraw from my studies at the University of Notre Dame. Despite my mother’s encouragement, I couldn’t not consider myself a failure, y’know? Of course, how could you expect me not to blame myself at a time when I was mired in self-hatred? My mother never told me that my situation was not my own fault. I’m glad she didn’t let me play the victim.

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No matter what she said, she wasn’t going to fully convince me of her comparison between depression and cancer. Nobody purposely behaves in a way that makes them more susceptible to cancer.

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Nobody finds comfort in resigning themselves to a fate determined by cancer.  Nobody with cancer is content to wallow in their own pain.

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Bradford Cox reflects on depression and other forms of sadness and self-hatred in the Deerhunter song, Revival. He plainly states that, “it doesn’t make much sense.” Well, ain’t that the truth? I can testify that doesn’t make much sense, having firsthand experience. I also imagine that it doesn’t make much sense to those watching their friends or family struggle with it. In fact, I know that it doesn’t make much sense to them because they’ve told me. Unless you tell people, they have no way of knowing what you’re dealing with, or that you’re dealing with anything at all. If you don’t let anybody close, the only people that will notice are those that have been there before and those that are still there.

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Even those people, however, will never be able to understand. They’ll never truly be able to put themselves in your shoes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t care. Bakemonogatari’s first arc, Hitagi Crab, captures this experience perfectly in the scene of Senjougahara’s exorcism.

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I’ll start with the central visual metaphor in this scene, the most concrete example of layered storytelling that I can prove without a doubt. Senjougahara’s exorcism illustrates not only the firsthand experience of struggling with your problems, it also illustrates the experience of watching others struggle with their problems. During the ritual, when Oshino is counting and questioning Senjougahara, the implied perspective shifts subtly from Araragi to Senjougahara.

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Once Senjougahara has spoken about her emotional baggage and laid it all out, she is told to open her eyes and is asked what she sees. Both she and the camera are able to see the weight crab, beautifully depicted by Shaft.

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Senjougahara answers, and Oshino says that he can’t see anything, and, when asked, Araragi says likewise.

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Confused, Senjougahara says, “but it’s clearly visible… to me.” There’s the first layer. Our personal problems are ours alone. Even if somebody has been through a similar experience, nobody has shared in your specific struggles other than yourself. Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 8.30.51 AMDepression and other problems of this nature, which everybody has to deal with as they grow up, are undetectable. They lie in the mind and manifest no physical evidence of their existence, at least not through natural means. They aren’t such concrete ailments as cancer, but they are no less real. The second layer is the demonstration of that point. The crab tackles Senjougahara, sending her flying across the room and pinning her against the wall. When this happens, the camera has been returned to Araragi’s perspective, and he calls out to Senjougahara upon seeing her launched across the room by a force that remains invisible to him.

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Although Senjougahara’s problems can’t clearly be perceived by Araragi and Oshino, the effects that it have on her can be. With depression, one of the most outwardly obvious effects is loss of interest. When I was plunging into depression, the first thing people noticed was how much less enthusiastic I had become, how much more I was sleeping, how frequently I had started skipping classes. Even if your friends and others that surround you can’t perceive your problems in their own right, they can certainly perceive the toll that your struggle with them has taken on you. That is enough evidence for those that truly care for you to express their concern and reach out.

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And, as with Senjougahara, the only way to truly deal with your problems, is to acknowledge and accept them, instead of repressing them.

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Senjougahara’s exorcism is presented as a full blown religious ritual. It requires ritual cleansing of each of the participants and appropriate attire, which, for Oshino, is his white priestly garb, the only time we see it. Araragi is able to wear his typical school uniform, which is a black version of the typical ones modeled off the military that are used in schools across Japan. Senjougahara, however, having been asked to wear something demure, wears a beautiful white dress. It’s not too over the top, but I think it’s enough to evoke the image at which I am hinting.

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Although it probably doesn’t leave much of an impression on the first watch, coming back to Monogatari and seeing Oshino in anything but a flowered shirt is pretty shocking, especially considering that Araragi’s typical description of him is “an old guy in a Hawaiian shirt.” Oshino certainly is a very laid back character, not lazy, as Araragi sometimes describes him, but he definitely gives very few fucks. The question you should be asking yourselves now should be, “what sort of occasion would get a guy like that to get dolled up?”

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I’m trying to give readers the pieces they need so that they can put together themselves the imagery which I saw, and which I believe Nisio Isin and the staff at Shaft intended.

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Yeah, the show frames Senjougahara’s exorcism as a wedding, and Araragi is the groom. This shouldn’t feel farfetched at all, considering Senjougahara confesses to him just three episodes later, but there’s a lot more to it than just foreshadowing.

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One way in which Senjougahara deals with her problems, the weight of which she gave to the crab, is by isolating herself from the rest of the world and attempting to drive away anybody that might try to approach her. Marriage is a lifelong bond between two willing parties. While Senjougahara and Araragi seem to share a lifelong bond, at least at the current point in the series, the more important implication of this wedding is that Senjougahara will start to let other people into her heart, starting with Araragi.

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That’s how she will begin to make it better. Shortly after her exorcism, Senjougahara approaches her father, who would later tell Araragi that she had been distant up until that point. In the third arc, she opens herself back up to Kanbaru, her friend from middle school, even though it must be difficult to involve herself with somebody who’s feelings for her she does not reciprocate. Later, off-screen, she meets the fire sisters.

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She becomes Hanekawa’s confidant in Nekomonogatari Shiro.  In the shot above, the same dawn lighting is shining into the cram school on the morning after the night Senjougahara spends wandering town in search of Hanekawa. Not only does Senjougahara open herself to a less-than-open Hanekawa, she even embraces and accepts her flaws, manifested as Black Hanekawa. She trusted Hanekawa enough that, even though she was certain that her home would burn down based on the fires at Hanekawa’s home and at the cram school, she still slept in her apartment that night. She trusted that Hanekawa would be able to accept the parts of herself that Senjougahara herself had accepted when she embraced Black Hanekawa. Of course, there are some parts of us that we alone can embrace, and for Hanekawa, that was Kako.

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In Koimonogatari, we learn that Senjougahara and her father spend New Year’s with the Araragi household. She even had the strength to entrust her fate to the man that she believed ruined her family. Starting with Araragi, Senjougahara opened herself up to the rest of the world.

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The story of recovery, be it from depression or some sort of other internal struggle, is never one with a clear ending. You never reach a completion point, you only ever have those times when you look back and realize how much progress you’ve made. It is a constant effort, but it is certainly worthwhile.

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In elaborating on the implications of framing the exorcism scene as a wedding, it seems I have gotten ahead of myself. Most of the evidence for that framing is visual. If you were to read a transcript of this scene alone, you obviously would not be able to come to that conclusion. However, there is a conclusion that you might reach from only reading the characters’ dialogue that could be just as insightful. Oshino’s questioning of Senjougahara reads like a session of therapy. Oshino accepts Senjougahara’s response that she’d “rather not answer” to one of his early questions, but when she hesitates to answer the question regarding her most painful memory, her hesitation is what indicates to Oshino that he’s found the source of her problems.

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Just talking about it, acknowledging that it’s a problem enables Senjougahara to see the crab, upon which she has left the burden of all her problems. Of course, mustering enough willpower to even “just talk” about your problems is no easy feat. When Oshino first told Senjougahara that she alone could save herself, Senjougahara told him that there were five conmen who had told her the same thing before him. Really, Senjougahara? Five? Yeah, we know Kaiki is a conman, God bless him, but that would mean not only that four other conmen happened to target her after that, but also that she and her father fell for the same trick four more times. What do I think?

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I think that the other four were well meaning specialists, and that the problem was that Senjougahara had not yet reached a disposition where she was able to face her problems when she met with them. This time was different. This time somebody reached out to her, and seemed to care more about her wellbeing than she herself did. Senjougahara saved herself, but Araragi helped make it possible by reaching out to her.

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I don’t really have a pretty way to tie this whole thing up. I hope that you’ve learned a new way of looking at Monogatari. I love this show for so many reasons, chief among them being the characters, who are as broken as we are. Monogatari is a series about dealing with your problems, and so, one of the inevitable messages is that everybody has their own problems. They might not be the same problems that you face, but, regardless, you are not alone.

I know Monogatari only works for me the way it does because I’m open to it and because I’ve taken the time to rewatch it more times than I’d like to share. If nothing else, these first two episodes, the Hitagi Crab arc, are certainly worth revisiting. It’s the most endearing introduction to a series I’ve seen in any anime. I love this show and I hope at least a little bit of what I’ve written makes sense.

 

Monogatari and Me

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Y’know, I’ve watched a lot of anime. That is an understatement, especially since I could have seen at least twice as many as I’ve seen by this point if I hadn’t spent so much time watching and rewatching the Monogatari series. Although I just used the past tense, this is an ongoing process. I’m in a perpetual state of rewatching Monogatari, to the point that there is very little rhyme or reason to it. For the most part, now, I just jump randomly between the various story arcs from NekoKuro on. I’m not going to call Monogatari the greatest anime of all time, but it is certainly the most special to me.

There is so much going on in Monogatari, and that is yet another understatement. Monogatari means ‘story’ in Japanese, but exactly what is this story about? A lot of things. Now I probably sound like a dumbass, with my consistently ambiguous answers. I’d say that Monogatari captures the essence of the two most prominent dilemmas that arise in the human experience: the struggle to face and deal with our problems and the struggle to be together. And also a boatload of other things, including the relative merits of little girls, proper toothbrush etiquette and, quite prominently, the art of the stupid pun. I recently finished reading the first volume of Bakemonogatari, and in the author’s note, Nisio Isin basically says that Monogatari was an excuse to make a lot of stupid puns (the one he had in mind was the tsundere/tundra pun from Hitagi Crab). It’s a testament to Monogatari’s capacity to captivate its audience that it manages to be so popular overseas, given the fact that Isin’s puns fall apart in translation, for the most part.

Instead of trying to put together a cohesive essay on what Monogatari means to me, I’m going to ramble on until I have to go to class and take this test for which I haven’t studied. That’s in 38 minutes, so let’s see what comes to mind in that period of time as I type and listen to the 1984 album “Let it Be,” by the Replacements, which has really been growing on me. As soon as I finished typing the first sentence of this paragraph, I knew exactly what direction I’d be taking my charismatic rambling.

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The choice I’ve made, to dedicate this time to blogging about Japanese cartoons rather than take control of the reins of my life and try to live up to my full and fantastic potential and study for this test, is precisely the sort of choice that tend to set the average Monogatari characters down the path to an apparition. If you’re not familiar with the series, Nisio Isin, the author, uses these apparitions to represent the psychological turmoil of the character they are afflicting. Almost every Monogatari arc involves a character avoiding their problems the way I am. I’m sitting here avoiding studying for this test because the task of trying to cram a month’s worth of reading into forty or so minutes is quite daunting, although I’m sure I could somehow manage to get something out of it that will help me on this essay test.

It’s actually just a quiz, and I’m sure there’s no way I’ll get under a B-. I totally BS’d my way through the first quiz and was able to pull off an A-, which surprised even me, I could probably manage to do it again. However, there’s a reason I’m sabotaging myself like this. If I do well in all my courses this semester, I’ll have to make the choice between returning to the University from which I withdrew just over a year ago on the eve before I first watched abrasive in your face panty shot that opens up the first episode of Bakemonogatari.

That was the lowest point in my life. Anime was my means of escape at the time, but Monogatari, which I was watching then for the first time, wasn’t going to let me off that easy. Instead of being able to forget about my problems with the sort of power fantasy I had been expecting, I found myself watching the most endearing cast of characters I’d ever seen be forced to face their own problems, often after doing everything in their ability to avoid them. Senjougahara avoids her feelings about her mother by repressing them, or in the literary framing of Monogatari, by dumping them upon the weight/emotion crab.

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I was at the same place as Senjougahara when I first watched Monogatari, a deep depression characterized not by feeling incredible sadness, but by feeling nothing at all.  Of course I pretended not to notice the parallels between Monogatari’s characters and myself the first several times I watched the show, but that was just another example of me avoiding my problems.

 

If there is a single Monogatari arc that best captures the stubborn persistence humans exhibit in avoiding their problems, it’s Tsubasa Tiger, or Nekomonogatari Shiro, which might very well be my favorite arc of the series. This arc, wow. At first glance, Monogatari seems to be a show that has ten thousand things going on at once, but I don’t think that’s quite the right way to think about it, and NekoShiro makes a pretty great case for that. There are indeed dozens of layers to Monogatari. It is packed with explorations of a variety of struggles that all people deal with. However, Nisio Isin focuses his attention on different subjects in each arc, so the show never has too many ideas flying around within the same contained story. In Nekomonogatari Shiro, the primary focus is the nature of the way humans avoid their problems. Mamaragi, in her brief exchange with Hanekawa, provides the story’s primary metaphor for the way we avoid our problems, regarding it as “averting your eyes.” Hanekawa adopts this metaphor in her subsequent reflections.

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Hanekawa goes to ridiculous lengths to avert her eyes in Nekomonogatari Shiro. The key to Hanekawa’s success, thanks in no small part to Senjougahara, is that she realizes what she’s doing. Even once she has come to this realization, she still seems to subconsciously be making every effort to avert her eyes. She goes to the library (every book in which, according to the novel, she has read) for information to help her resolve the crisis she had found herself in, despite knowing very well that she won’t find anything useful. She doesn’t acknowledge the obvious implications of the fires burning down the places she’s slept until Senjougahara forces her to. She tries to get out of “playing cards” with Karen and Tsukihi as well. Its then that Hanekawa takes the next step toward facing her problems by discussing with the Fire Sisters what feelings they associate with fire.

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Alright, and twenty hours (actually days) later, that quiz for my anthropology class, of course, did not happen, because, y’know the universe is ridiculously easy on me and I rarely get what I deserve. Well, actually, that’s not really the case anymore. Yeah, that quiz I didn’t have in anthropology? It was not the only thing on my plate. I also had a Philosophy paper that was due today at noon.

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It was absolutely not my best work. As a matter of fact, I actually didn’t even make all the points I was supposed to make. I regret procrastinating it so much, I missed a great opportunity to make myself look cool by writing some cool shit about Substance-Attribute Ontology. I had a great analogy about the nature of substances in Descartes and Leibniz’s views and html addresses. I spent so much time avoiding getting started on this assignment. Why? And you know me, right? Writing and philosophy are like two of my favorite things.

Whatever, I totally bombed that paper. Maybe if I get the opportunity to fix my mistakes I won’t actually blow it. There is only one thing standing between me and returning to the University of Notre Dame, from which I withdrew a little over a year ago. I was supposed to return in the Winter but I bombed a class that I could have aced. In fact, it was a class I actually loved, so much so that I now plan on majoring in that field, anthropology. It’s not a reflection of my Idiot blood. My Father, God rest his soul, would never have let this happen. Maybe I’m like Araragi, and I’m doing all of this as some sort of punishment because I hate myself. I don’t know. If I want to fix everything and live happily ever after and follow my dreams, that’s still possible. I can still get my shit together. I suppose what will determine whether or not that happens is me, and whether I make the judgement that I deserve to be happy.

To be continued…

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