I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
The King's Banquet in Fate/Zero
WARNING: This post contains spoilers on some anime
Anime has been a big part of my formative years, from binge-watching the popular ones online to reading Youtube reviews. To my surprise, they have done more than instill in me a wider imagination. In a way, anime has enlightened me in how the world writes its own stories.
An Emotional Epiphany
The first anime I fell in love with was Naruto. The concept of ninjas always amazed me. The fights and the animation, even for its time, drew my attention the screen and nothing else. However, it was the delivery of the characters that touched me to my core. I was 10 when I saw Zabuza and Haku lying dead on the snow-covered bridge. That moment cemented my love for the series and for anime in general. Why? Because there was a story told. It was about two men (and yes, Haku is a man) dying as a result of the system they had to live with. Shinobi were not meant to show emotion or vulnerability and in a way, the snow buried that. Nothing changed for the world. Haku was Zabuza's tool, as much as Zabuza as a tool to whoever hired him. And yet, here they were, realizing their humanity and showing that they were more than emotionless pawns or killing machines. As Kakashi would later teach Naruto, "Shinobi are those who endure."
The experience of watching this scene and many more spoke to me about the many ways the shows we watch impact our lives. For me, it was an emotional epiphany. For others, it could be the thrill that comes from watching the show or learning from it. Still, there is a myriad of reasons to watch what we love but also discuss them.
In the case of Naruto, it taught me to view these fictional characters as people like us. Even if they were never real, their stories resonated with us. The examples I gave may have been villains but the fact the show goes into so much work into empathizing with characters who are supposed to oppose the heroes says so much about the dedication they have to making us cry or feel anything for what we watch.
From my personal experience watching anime, there are two reasons why we should talk about our shows in a way that provokes discussion.
1. They provide emotional catharsis
This might be the most obvious reason why people watch anime or anything for that matter. They provide an emotional release from the stresses of everyday life. Action shows excite us while dramas let us cry our hearts out and relate to characters in bad situations.
What makes anime different is the somewhat exaggerated displays of emotion we see, ranging from bloated heads to sparkling eyes. One Piece is a great example of this as it makes use of funny expressions, such as Sanji's eyes being replaced by hearts and accompanied by a nosebleed. They may be distractions but funny faces aside, their over-the-top expressiveness helps us see that there is nothing wrong with opening up to the wackiness of life.
Some would say animated facial expressions should not be easily equated with what we have but they do show us one thing: these characters have feelings. When we see them laugh and cry, we know they do because we have seen situations, outside of the usual plot and action sequences, that expose their real selves. I can think of no better example of this than in Naruto and the character of Zabuza, a man who shielded his own heart to embody what an ideal shinobi should be, emotionless. And when he saw Haku die to save him, at first it would seem natural since Haku was Zabuza's tool. And yet, when Naruto spoke to him about it, he suddenly began to cry, pointing out how his words were sharper than a kunai knife's edge. He opened up to a child he was ready to kill because he recognized his feelings for a child he was ready to let die for himself. He felt it. He felt his connection to Haku and how he had let it snap. Thinking back, it was no wonder why I love this show. It never stops making you see how painful it is to hide behind a mask of no emotion. Kakashi fits this motif the best, rarely showing his mouth or even a kind smile but his mask always hides the pain of his past and all the regrets that come with it.
2. They deliver relevant social commentary
Anime has always been praised for its character and world-building capabilities but much has also been said of its perception of real world issues. However, there is more to this than blatantly telling an audience that war is hell and racism is real. The creativity they put into telling the world's stories drives forward the point about art. It is pure expression.
Two anime arcs point this best: Hunter x Hunter's Chimera Ant Arc and One Piece's Fishman Island Arc. The first one discussed humanity in its darkest and finest, with characters slowly realizing their true natures and facing the horror of the world around them, represented by the Chimera Ants, highly-evolved humanoid ants who use Nen powers. The second involved a rebellion by a group of Fishmen in order for them to fight humanity. The antagonists may have represented the powerful inhuman threat to the world but they might as well be another ethnic group rising from the slums against oppressive masters and becoming more powerful and dangerous than them. It took a nuclear bomb to debilitate the King of the Chimera Ants and destroying a giant flying boat to stop the bad Fishmen but these acts came at great costs. Humanity used violence to end violence and even in victory, there was still a mountain of corpses to await them.
Fate/Zero is a series dedicated to exploring the fundamental concepts of kingship and the different ideologies encapsulated by the participants of the Holy Grail War, including Kiritsugu Emiya's utilitarianism. Each paradigm is elaborated and then deconstructed to show both the pros and cons. This all culminates in a play akin to a Greek tragedy, where we see the consequences of the hero's actions, often leading to lives being lost. Where Kiritsugu murdered his foes to bring about a greater good, his Servant Saber was an idealist who acted as the selfless role model to be admired, only for her perfection to make her followers turn away from her ideals, neither showing their true selves or their inner agony.
These examples show different sides to the arguments each series tries to present. More importantly, they reflect different colors of humanity. From the extreme ways we strive to survive to the ideological conflicts that determine the justice we adhere, anime has brought to our screen some of the realities and turmoils we, as a species, face.
There is so much to discuss about anime but in summary, the way they present emotion in varied ways and the different themes and realities of the world are rich enough to deserve even some level of academic study. With more attention to anime and the ways they affect people's lives, we can do more than binge but also
© 2018 Mar Louie Vincent Reyes