Kokkoku: A Show Made by its ED Credits
01 February, 2018 ~ ElDynamite ~ Anime
Kokkoku is a work that, even within the first few minutes, is very clear about its social critiques. We're immediately presented with a somewhat dysfunctional family in which only the woman work, yet which is nonetheless defined exclusively by the (undeserving) men.
This lack of respect for the value of women extends past the power of institutional sexism, and seeps deeply into the personal views of the many male characters in the show (with the notable exception of the head villain), whether they express it intentionally or not. The father clings to his "title" of "head of the household", yet the only thing that qualifies him for that position is his status as a middle-age man. The grandfather falls into the same old trope of viewing women in power as "scary", even though he's otherwise fairly respectful. And comment is hardly needed on the sexist vulgarity of the mobsters.
This is good and all, and I expect that this dynamic will be leveraged more heavily in the episodes to come, at which point a more thorough analysis will be necessary. But what really has me interested is not so much this fairly standard discussion of sexism-- rather, it's the meta-discussion that surrounds the work and the literary process itself.
In anime (and perhaps in film in general), the presence of the narrator, as the representative of authorship, is often quite diluted. They speak rarely, and when they do, it is seldom more than a third-person omniscient acknowledgement of someone's mind. But there's one place where we can see the narrator's thoughts directly: the OP/ED credits. In these sequences there is no story to be told-- there is only the narrator, the god of the work and the stand-in for the author, revealing their musings on the work.
So what does the narrator, as the representative of the literary process, think about the world and characters of Kokkoku? What does authorship think about the world and characters of Kokkoku? (I invite you to look at the ED credits again. Here's a link without sound-- YT seems to be hammering it. Potentially NSFW.)
WHAT'S IN A GÉNÉRIQUE?
In the ending credits, during the narrator's repose after recounting twenty minutes of narrative, we see that the narrator, too, thinks of Juri as an object. The composition of the credits is (by my count) 13 "normal" sequences, 6 pinup sequences of Juri, and 1 pinup sequence of Majima. That's 7 more pinup sequences than should be expected from an action show trying to paint women as agents rather than as objects. Yet no matter how hard the narrator tries to hide his sexual fantasies of the only two women in the story-- one of whom bares nothing but head and hands-- they keep reappearing, flashing between flaccid attempts at a more "serious" ending keeping in pace with the more feminist narrative.
The credits are all the more interesting because there's no in-world justification for them. The narrator cannot even justify them on the basis of the classic "that's just how they're like"-- because they so obviously aren't, according to the narrator's own storytelling. The narrator goes through pains during the episode body to show how Juri, and to a lesser extent Majima, are mistreated on the basis of sex, but ends up mistreating them in exactly the same way in the footer, viewing them through the same eyes as the mobsters he considers scum.
The ending credits thus cast aspersion on the narrator himself, as well as on the creative literary process he embodies. The narrator's inability to distinguish the characters he writes into existence from his sexual fantasies threatens to undermine the validity of the feminist nature of the narrative, and we can as readers only hope that the narrator's storytelling does not degenerate into the softcore pornography that has afflicted anime, and the male-dominated corporate literary process in general, for so long. Yet even if it does, we'll have seen it coming, and we'll know exactly why: because the narrator may in truth be little different from the mobsters in his view on women, behind the narrative he weaves.
Now, the source material finished publication about five years ago, and the anime adaptation has probably been slated for a while. But I would like to request that you entertain the comparison between the two-faced sexism of Kokkoku's narrator, and the two-faced feminism of the public figures (many of whom were likewise storytellers) who have been, and yet will be, deposed in the wake of the Weinstein scandal.
The acknowledgement that the literary process itself is a product of the social systems in which it exists is not new. But the modern conflict between what cultural products say and what their creators do has thrown into question the very cultural validity of those products. Kokkoku-- at the least, this adaptation-- is acutely aware of its own susceptibility to this problem, and yet still seeks to create a compelling story that does not fall prey to it. It's aware, and it's brave. Will it succeed?
Disclaimer for future readers: This analysis was written with regards to the first four episodes of the anime adaptation.