Emotion in The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Violet Evergarden

This season, I have been watching Mahoutsukai no Yome and Violet Evergarden and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they explore many of the same ideas.

In Mahoutsukai no Yome, we are introduced to Elias as a character who is devoid of emotion. At the beginning of the series, Elias believes that about himself, but as his relationship with Chise develops, it becomes self-evident that he does have emotions but has not been socialized enough to understand himself or those around him.

Violet, the titular character of Violet Evergarden, is definitely human, but at this point in the series we’re not exactly sure of her backstory. We know that she has been used as a weapon on the battlefield, but it’s unclear what that entailed. Unlike Elias, we know she has definitely been around people for a long time, but she thrived in the military environment of complete order. She works as an Auto Memoir Doll in part to understand what love is, but also largely because it’s the only thing she can do now that the war is over.

While I was initially hoping that Mahoutsukai no Yome would develop differently – I wanted the series to further operate as though Elias was actually devoid of emotion and show the limits of relationships when one side is unable to reciprocate emotionally – now Elias and Violet are both in the thick of it, learning what it means to love and be loved.

I’m sure I will have more profound things to say once both series conclude, but for now, I will simply say that I am hooked.


Comparing Devilman Crybaby and Tokyo Ghoul

This post is very spoiler heavy for both Devilman Crybaby and Tokyo Ghoul. You have been warned.

First it was PewDiePie. Then it was akidearest. And after that The Anime Man and Gigguk also boarded the hype train for “Devilman Crybaby.” So I watched it last night with hubby and after being so amped up for it… It fell short. Really short.

The first two episodes were difficult to watch. It felt like the anime was trying to make up for its lack of an original plot by being edgy. While, for the most part, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the art style, it did keep the graphic sexual scenes from becoming completely impossible to watch. The sex scenes aren’t the “sexposition” type in “Game of Thrones” and they aren’t meant to be arousing. They are meant to disgust you. Disgusted I was and if it weren’t for the hype, I would have stopped watching after the second episode.

“Tokyo Ghoul” explored very similar themes and, in my humble opinion, did it better than “Devilman Crybaby” in almost every single way. The sad thing is, even with all its religious references “Devilman Crybaby” just didn’t go as deep as “Tokyo Ghoul.”

The Root of All Evil

In “Devilman Crybaby,” the devils possess humans at the raves. These parties are dubbed “Sabbath” gatherings, which can be interpreted as a strictly ironic name, but can also be understood as the height of a kind of hedonistic cultural belief that casual sex and drugs is as close as people can come to reaching the divine on earth. This suggests that society at large abandoned religion and traditional spirituality and was instead embracing an artificial, chemically induced kind of religious experience that was focused solely on bodily pleasures. In fact, the only religious characters we see are Miki and her family, who are ill-equipped in the face of pure malevolence; they are so out of touch with the mindset of the general populace that it is no wonder they all die.

Miko is another character whose physical desires corrupt her. She hates Miki for being a faster runner than her. She believes the people around her only value her due to her connection with Miki (which is somewhat true). Miko loses herself spiritually and thinks she must reclaim her identity as the true “Miki” by proving herself to be the physical superior of the two. Miko derives her worth from her body, so it makes sense that she allows Nagasaki to take lewd photos of her while Miki does not.

At the rave, Ryo breaks a bottle and starts attacking people to make the devils appear and begin possessing people, further driving home the point that evil manifests when people operate purely as animals. While Akira had agreed to become possessed to defeat other devils, he remains a good character because he retains his empathy and love for others. This is what sets him apart from Ryo and the other devils; Ryo doesn’t believe in love and has no compassion. On the other hand, Akira does not want to sacrifice those at the rave for the sake of the greater good. Akira becomes a “devilman” somewhat against his will after his body was contaminated (he is forced to drink some alcoholic beverage and swallows some other drug, most likely ecstasy).

In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Kaneki becoming a ghoul is somewhat similar. Kaneki is socially a bit awkward and very innocent. He is attacked by the ghoul Rize on their first “date” (ghouls survive by eating human flesh). Rize dies from steel beams falling on her and the doctor who saves Kaneki decides he’s going to transplant Rize’s kidney into Kaneki to save his life. Like Akira, Kaneki’s body becomes contaminated. However, Akira goes in with his eyes open while Kaneki is blindsided. They both become hybrids; half monster, half human.

In “Devilman Crybaby” the existence of evil in the world is demonstrated to be a lack of compassion for others and surrendering to physical desires. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the origin of evil is not nearly as straightforward. The existence of ghouls is never explained. Yet, we see characters who take their condition as ghouls in different ways, and their choices of how they manage their urge to eat flesh show their differing moral standards. On one end of the spectrum is the gourmet, who makes a spectacle of finding the best tasting people and eating them, and on the other end are characters like Hinami, who is just a child, and Yoshimura, who takes in wayward ghouls and helps them blend into human society. “Devilman Crybaby” introduces the devils as having a predisposition toward evil. In fact, Silene briefly comments on the sexual depravity of the devils and flippantly asks why they should resist their urges, a point that is never brought up again. Only Akira has overcome those urges and influences others to follow suit. The characters lack depth and immediately flip from evil to good. “Tokyo Ghoul,” by contrast, shows that people (and ghouls) all have the ability to be evil and most only choose to do what they believe to be necessary, though some will go out of their way to cultivate their evil tendencies.

The Price of War

“Devilman Crybaby” and “Tokyo Ghoul” both end with all-out warfare between the “monsters” and the humans. However, the battles begin and end very differently. In the beginning, Kaneki and Akira’s bodies are invaded by evil forces, but Kaneki, who was completely innocent and did not consent to what was happening to him, must recover and almost died from the experience. Akira, on the other hand, knew what he was getting into and actively tries to grapple with the evil in the world and use it to his advantage. (This is the difference between Bilbo stumbling upon the ring and Elrond thinking he can wield the power of the ring without being corrupted, though this does not seem to factor into why Akira ultimately dies while Kaneki lives.)

Side-note: Kaneki is simply more developed than Akira. After Akira becomes a devilman, his personality does not change. Kaneki, however, radically changes as a result of Jason’s torture. Before his encounter with Jason, Kaneki struggles to exist as a ghoul, being too conflicted to eat. After being tortured, he embraces the power that comes from being a ghoul and puts himself on the front lines, eating other ghouls to become stronger, so that he can protect the people he cares about. (I would say this is similar to Frodo using the ring to hide from enemies when he needs to.)

Akira and Kaneki both position themselves as leaders against the “true monsters” they face for the same reason: they both want to protect those they care about. However, the line between good and evil is less clear in “Tokyo Ghoul” than in “Devilman Crybaby.” In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the ghouls that Yoshimura brings together at Anteiku (a coffee shop) regard each other as a family. The viewer sees them as the good guys and they are the ones that end up being attacked by humans – not Aogiri, the ghouls that do not attempt to live peacefully among humans. In other words, the final war is between two sets of people that the viewer believes to be good. The humans are retaliating against all of the innocent people that have died and the Anteiku family are fighting for their right to exist. This is what makes the final battle so heartbreaking.

Conversely, in “Devilman Crybaby,” the final battle still feels like a war between good and evil. As stated previously, the only devils who reclaim their humanity are the ones approached by Akira. Plus, the only human death the viewer really cares about is Miki’s. Sure, the circumstances of Miki’s family’s deaths are quite sad, but it was the situation that was sad, not the loss of any beloved character. Ultimately, there was Ryo/Lucifer, his band of devils, versus the humans, who were misguided but good for the most part.

Both shows have that one human character that is basically Jesus/completely pure and is almost killed for knowing too much fairly early on in the series. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Hide represents everything that is good and innocent. I don’t think this needs to be explained if you have seen the anime. During the final battle, he is wounded trying to save humanity, of course, at Anteiku: where good and evil meet, literally and figuratively. We don’t know for sure if he dies in the anime but he sure looks dead.

Miki is the sacrificial lamb in “Devilman Crybaby.” While the deaths of Hide and Miki symbolized the inability of the good guys to protect the innocent from the evil of the world, the ending of “Devilman Crybaby” is much more nihilistic. While Hide dies because he inserted himself into the fray (which, perhaps, is inevitable in its own way), Miki has no chance whatsoever. Miki is hunted down by humans because she announced to the humans that Akira is a devilman and that not all the devils are evil. Humanity didn’t want to believe her and just wanted to silence her. People already referred to her as a witch because of how fast she was at running. Both humans and devils wanted her dead and the vast majority of the good guys died trying to protect her.

The final battle in “Tokyo Ghoul” is a purge. The wrongs of the past are wiped out and the survivors have a chance to rebuild and learn from the past. The final battle of “Devilman Crybaby” is the end of the world. Good cannot compete with the destructive nature of evil. Not only does the symbolic representation of good die, but then its strongest defender, Akira, dies as well. Lucifer regrets killing Akira but there is nothing to be done. God finally steps in and destroys the world. Really, though, the world seems to have already been destroyed by the time God pokes his nose in.

While “Tokyo Ghoul” is a cautionary tale that exemplifies the dangers of embracing the evil within and not looking for the good in others, “Devilman Crybaby” laments the unavoidable destruction of all that is good in the world. “Tokyo Ghoul” is a story of hope and “Devilman Crybaby” is a story of mankind imploding due its lack of humanity.

Cinderella Phenomenon Review

I downloaded “Cinderella Phenomenon” on a whim—I was actually waiting for “Fausts Alptraum” to finish downloading and browsing the other free games on Steam when I came across it, and I was absolutely blown away.

In the game, you play as Princess Lucette, the “ice princess” who shows more affection for her dolls than for anyone in her actual life. In an effort to thaw her frozen heart, a witch places the fairy tale curse upon her. Her curse is a twist on the Cinderella story. Instead of going from rags to riches, the princess finds herself in an alley with nothing but rags to her name. No one in the kingdom seems to remember who she is. In order to break the curse, the princess must perform three good deeds.

Eventually, the princess arrives at a tavern for the cursed. The player is then given the option of choosing who to ask for help. There are 5 different people to choose from, and each story can either have a happy ending or a bad ending, depending on what you do.

The Good Stuff (No Spoilers)

This game has beautiful artwork, and the in-game music is incredible. (Oddly enough, the only music I don’t like is the song they used in the promo trailer.) While the plot may seem simple, the longer you play the game, the more nuanced it becomes. Each character gives you entirely different pieces of the puzzle, and each arc becomes more complex. Plus, if you forgot to save the game and need to retry for a happy ending, you can fast forward through everything you’ve seen before.

The Bad Stuff (No Spoilers)

My main complaint with the game is that your choices really don’t make that much of a difference. The main plot of the game is predetermined, so your “choices” are more preferences on how you would like to phrase what you say. Even if there appears to be a major choice in front of you, you will likely end up actually performing the same actions eventually, though your character will feel differently about what happened later on. In short, though there are a lot of “choices,” remember that each route only has two possible endings. You will unlock a bit of different dialogue depending on your choice, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Additionally, in intense moments where the characters comes closer to the camera, the models don’t always look so good. It’s not something that particularly bothered me until I got to the last character. The game has so many gorgeous backgrounds and artwork, but there are those few moments that stick out like a sore thumb.

Finally, there are more than a few grammatical errors and some of the descriptions are a bit redundant. One more pair of eyes on the finished product could have easily eliminated those issues.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed “Cinderella Phenomenon.” If you like re-imaginings of classic fairy tales, you should definitely download it. It’s currently free on steam.

Spoiler-Filled Plot Critique

Continue reading “Cinderella Phenomenon Review”

‘Til It Happens To You

The first time I heard Lady Gaga was on the way to my high school prom. Inevitably, I found myself checking out The Fame from the library and dancing to “Poker Face” for the week after. At the time, I never would have expected a song like “‘Til It Happens to You” from Lady Gaga, but I am glad that she is using her position to try to change the world for the better.

However, I really think that “‘Til It Happens to You” falls short lyrically. I don’t mind at all that the song is vague about what “it” is – “it” could be any kind of traumatic experience whatsoever. I also don’t have a problem with the message that it is insensitive and disrespectful to tell people how to cope and/or grieve. My problem with the song is that it doesn’t encourage people to move forward.

Before writing this post, I watched the music video and her performance of the song at the Oscars, and I applaud both of those things. At the end of the music video, we see the victims transform into survivors. They open up to their loved ones and move forward with their support.

Similarly, at the end of Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars, there were survivors there, coming together in solidarity and showing that they were not defeated by what happened to them.

Without these outside influences though, the song can really leave the listener in a bad mental place. Consider the opening lines:

You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together
You’ll be fine
Tell me what the hell do you know

On the one hand, yes, telling someone that time heals all wounds is generally unhelpful. What makes time the healer of wounds is that over time, you have to do hard work to get over something. You develop coping mechanisms. You realize your life didn’t end when whatever happened took place. You become stronger because over time you slowly realize you have learned how to deal with it.

The speaker, understandably, throws the empty advice back in its giver’s face. However, instead of simply making the point that it’s not that simple and words don’t mean anything, the song also says, “You don’t know that I’m going to be fine.” It gives the speaker permission to feel isolated, to feel that no one can help them, and, essentially, to wallow in their pain. While the music video and the performance show people coming together, the song alone doesn’t create a sense of community between people going through any particular issue.

The song further reinforces the idea that it’s impossible to move on:

You tell me hold your head up
Hold your head up and be strong
‘Cause when you fall, you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on
Tell me, how the hell could you talk
How could you talk?
‘Cause until you walk where I walk
It’s just all talk

Again, this section goes beyond making the point that moving on is easier said than done. Trauma can impact a person for the rest of their life and it is insensitive and cruel to tell someone how quickly they should recover or what their recovery should look like. Again, though, the speaker is essentially saying, “I don’t have to ‘move on.'” No one can force you to heal, naturally, but this also introduces the idea that it’s okay to give up. Additionally, if someone truly cares and does their best to give you advice, even if the advice is bad, they are still trying to be there for you. And, honestly, while the advice the speaker receives is a bit oversimplified, it isn’t bad advice. Instead of arguing and being defiant and justifying why s/he hasn’t moved on yet, the speaker could very easily respond by saying, “I’m trying.”

Let’s examine the lyrics from a different perspective. In the former reading, the “you” in the song is assumed to be one person. Instead of a close friend/family member/other loved one trying to encourage you by saying these things, let’s imagine that the “you” refers to society in general. I think this is more so how the song was meant to be interpreted given the current political climate, especially following the revelation of the “grab ’em by the pussy” comments made by President Trump. (Another inciting incident could have been Rep. Todd Akin’s remark that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” to avoid pregnancy.)

Side note: While I do think this is the true intent behind the song, I didn’t discuss this reading first because the first time I heard the song, that is not how I took it – probably because I simply listened to the song without the video or performance. Additionally, without the context of either of those two items, the song isn’t necessarily about rape or sexual assault. At any rate, I loved the song and was floored by it and had listened to it 19 times before I realized I was in a really bad head-space.

Some of the lyrics make more sense if we assume that the “you” in the song refers to societal pressures to move on, or even to specific politicians. “’til it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real,” in particular is much more poignant. For sexual assault survivors and anyone who suffers from an invisible disability, the song serves as a defiant proclamation that yes, these problems are real and they will not be swept under the rug or minimized because they make other people uncomfortable.

In the end, though, the song has the same issues no matter who you assume to be the “you.” For instance, let’s assume the speaker is clinically depressed and is making the argument that depression can be managed but is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. Society arguing that “you’ll be fine” or “you’ve got to get up and move on” is somewhat minimizing the issue, but the speaker is still being a bit defeatist by responding by saying, “what the hell do you know?”

While it is not the job of any person suffering from a mental illness or getting over a traumatic event to defend themselves to the world, the song could have avoided sending the (most likely) unintended message that it’s impossible to cope with whatever the speaker is going through by including more specific details. I understand that this is very difficult to do in a pop song. It is also true that the ambiguity of the song makes the speaker easier to relate with. However, simply pointing out that someone doesn’t get what you’re going through doesn’t help that person understand. Asking “what the hell do you know” doesn’t necessarily make the listener want to understand either.

Ultimately, my main criticism with the song is that it doesn’t align more with the music video or Lady Gaga’s performance of the song. While the music video and performance were obviously meant to create a dialogue about sexual assault, the lyrics don’t open up the conversation. They close the door on the listener who fails to understand. What the hell does the listener know? Nothing more than they did before they listened.

My Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

I know I’m a bit late to the party, but after mulling it over for a few weeks, I still have a lot of thoughts on 13 Reasons Why and the hubbub surrounding it.

  1. Yes, it is “Triggering” for some people, and I think that is necessary. How can you effectively talk about suicide otherwise?
    Firstly, if you are depressed, you may become obsessed with stories about depression and suicide for many reasons, including: you’re not sure how to cope and want to see what worked for other people, you want to know you’re not alone, you want to see if you’re crazy, you want to compare yourself to others that have been diagnosed with depression to find out if you’re being over-dramatic or if you really are depressed, you want to see what therapy is like without actually going to therapy or having to admit you have a problem to anyone, you want to have hope that things will change, etc. I went through that phase as a teenager, and this is one of two works I read that really explored what it’s like after someone commits suicide. After reading so many books about people with mental illnesses who slowly get better and pull themselves up again, the stories seem hollow, calculated, and unoriginal even when they’re not. While we want depressed people to read stories that inspire them to keep going and seek treatment if necessary, not discussing the aftermath of what happens after a suicide makes it easier for it to remain a fantasy. People commit suicide in real life and we can’t be afraid to talk about it.
  2. It should be painful to watch.
    When watching/reading 13 Reasons Why, I overwhelmingly got the impression that people with depression or those contemplating suicide were not at all the intended audience for either work. That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to interact with it (I certainly did), but it is something to bear in mind. I think the works are great for the people they were intended for – people who are trying to understand what it feels like to want to give up on life and where those thoughts come from. I also think it can make a lot of people reexamine their behavior and realize how something they perceive as small or inconsequential can be very hurtful to someone with poor mental health.Young people in particular have a tendency to mock others who are asking for help. If someone says they are contemplating suicide, typical reactions are, “you won’t do it,” “you just want the attention,” “you don’t have it that bad,” “you don’t really mean that.” Or, even worse, “do it.” While I don’t think that one show on Netflix is going to rid the internet of comments telling people to kill themselves or that kids are suddenly going to be able to fully understand their peers as complex individuals, I think it is striking enough that it will give people a moment’s pause before they say something awful. The portrayal of Hannah’s suicide and her parents finding her body are so jarring that I think it can make a difference. Just like it can take having a homosexual friend to make kids aware of how damaging it is to use gay as an insult, I think seeing even a fictional character in that much pain can drive home to kids what it means to be depressed and make them more aware of the weight of their words.
  3. Vindication
    While 13 Reasons Why does a good job showing the pain of everyone that Hannah leaves behind, there has been a lot of criticism that it justifies her decision to end her own life. The people that bullied her or treated her poorly, especially in the Netflix adaptation, must face justice for what they have done. Hannah told the truth about everything on the tapes and it is easy to equate being factually correct with being adequate reasoning for giving up. While I agree to some extent that neither version of the story fully explores how Hannah could have turned her life around, I also think it would have been out of place to do so.The only way I can think of to approach the issue is to do basically the opposite of Atonement. Instead of telling a full story with a fairly happy ending and then making the reader/viewer sob when they realize that the happy ending isn’t what really happened, the whole story could be framed as a “what if” scenario in Hannah’s mind. Then, at the end, we could see Hannah actually going to therapy or going to college or doing literally anything else. However, I think that would negate the impact of the piece. The story is told from Hannah’s perspective and she could not see a way out or was not willing to see it anymore. Introducing a “fix” to her problems at the end of the story would come as a slap in the face to the audience, like slapping a band-aid on a stab wound.

    If at the end Hannah lived, some of the points the work raises, in my opinion, would be taken less seriously because there are some people out there who would think the following: She didn’t go through with it, so what does it matter? This ties back into the whole, “you won’t do it” or “put up and shut up” attitude that a lot of people have. If she didn’t commit suicide, she would just be another whiny, entitled millennial that thinks the world is out to get her. Of course, some memes imply this attitude regardless, but I think writing off Hannah’s suffering is harder to do when the story ends and you have to live with the fact that she’s dead. She’s dead and maybe other people would have had the strength to keep going or would still have been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but Hannah, a girl that a lot of people identify with, could not, and we have to talk about why.