Bagoum Literature Club

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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 the only question they ask her.

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.

THE AUTHOR

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.

This is a caption with no image, since I need to keep the blog PG13.

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.

WRAPPING UP

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?

We'll see.

Disclaimer for future readers: This analysis was written with regards to the first four episodes of the anime adaptation.


HxH: Alluka and the Mirror of Erised

20 January, 2018 ~ ElDynamite ~ Anime

Kilua's journey through Hunter x Hunter is largely one of self-discovery: it concerns his attempting to understand what he desires, and what he must sacrifice to achieve it. Primarily, what he desires is the capacity for love: he wants to be able to love Gon, but struggles with squaring his desires with his upbringing. The Alluka arc thus stands out as one of the few where he acts independently of Gon, and so today I'd like to discuss some of my thoughts on the Alluka arc. Specifically, I'd like to discuss how Alluka is a confirmation and crowning of Kilua's persistent themes, as well as how Alluka serves as a mirror, especially with regards to Kilua's hero arc.

Safety or Love

The assassin mindset indoctrinated in Kilua by Illumi is one that expressly contradicts the love Kilua hopes to express. Loving another, in this case Gon, means being willing to carry the risks concomitant with valuing the life of someone you cannot trivially tell to run away at the first sight of danger. It is thus when Gon's well-being is at risk that Kilua is most severely struck by paralysis, unable to bear the dangers of love, but also unable to turn away.

You can run, but you can't take Gon with you.

Alluka is, for Kilua, the most concrete crystallization of this tradeoff. He can love within the safety of banishing Nanika, but it will be a cheap and brittle love. Or he can carry the danger of Nanika's destructive power, thus sharing a robust yet risky love.

We are, in a magnificent act of misdirection, lead to initially believe that Nanika is something that must be sacrificed: we cannot, after all, put so many people at risk for the sake of "something" that has alighted from some unknown plane. Such a power must be destroyed or quarantined. But how different is this perspective from Illumi's "always be 100% safe"? More pointedly, Kilua's plan to save Gon is in itself risky, perhaps even more so than not sacrificing Nanika.

Deciding Nanika's fate is Kilua's final trial, but this isn't made clear until after he screws it up. When I first watched through this, I expected from the start that Nanika would be banished so that Alluka would be "freed" of her "curse". But this is the wrong thought process. Alluka and Nanika are two hearts as one, and you cannot treat them otherwise. The riskless love that Kilua initially desires with Alluka does not exist. He must accept all of her, or none of her. As he once did for Gon, he must now do for another.

There is no love without danger.

The Mirror of Erised

Within the framework of the hero's journey, Alluka stands clearly as a metaphor for hell. Kilua descends into the deepest parts of the estate to find her, and her power explicitly threatens to destroy the world he grew up in. But she is a very special kind of hell: she only destroys in proportion to the greed of the demand. She forces those who gaze upon her to look inside themselves and come to terms with their deepest desires, then destructively punishes them if necessary. Much like... the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, there is a mirror hidden away in a restricted section of a library, that reflects the greatest desire of anyone who gazes upon it. Upon first encountering it, Harry becomes enamored with his reflection in it, which shows him with his family. While it does not physically destroy anything, the dreams that it offers drives many to madness, nearly doing so to Harry as well.

Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.

-Albus Dumbledore

There are a multitude of similar setups across literature, but I bring up this comparison because Kilua's hell (Alluka in this arc) is best represented by a mirror, since all his obstacles are internal. It rarely occurs in the story that Kilua loses for a reason other than his own insecurity regarding safety and love. Gon loses to Knuckles because he's too slow, but Kilua loses to Shoot, and almost to Rammot, because he can't stand up to someone stronger than himself. When captured by the Phantom Troupe, Kilua's most pressing worry is one of self-doubt. Thus, in order to escape from hell, he must kill the part of himself bound by the laws of assassins-- and it's pretty difficult to see yourself without a mirror.

Meanwhile... Gon is studying his welding flashcards

Nanika forces people to confront what they most desire. For Kilua, this is "love without risk", a chimeric combination of human love and assassin surety. But Alluka forces him to realize that-- in the vein of the Mirror of Erised-- just because you want it doesn't mean it's possible. Kilua looks upon the "love without risk" that Nanika reluctantly offers him, but with the aid of Alluka he comprehends how ephemeral it is, and finally overcomes his heroic flaw of lusting after it.

Wrapping Up

I found the Alluka arc incredibly powerful, because it so pointedly condensed and crowned everything that Kilua had gone through up to that point. It was a confirmation that Kilua's freeing himself from the grasps of his family extended past simply yanking out Illumi's needle, a confirmation that he was no longer an assassin, but now a human. We see that Kilua's love can extend past Gon, that through introspection in the mirror of Alluka he's finally succeeded in establishing himself as an individual. Thus does he finally complete his hero's journey.

In other news! I plan to write another piece on HxH soon, likely on either the themes of rage and delusion in Chimera Ant, or on the character of Lorelei also in Chimera Ant. Catch me on the reddit thread or on Discord and let me know what you think of this piece, or what you'd like to see.