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Archives de la catégorie ‘Manga / Anime’

Kishi Seiji’s vision of the world

I’ve been thinking for a while about making a little essay on Kishi Seiji, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. I fell in love with his directing in Ranpo Kitan, and was very much impressed by Dangan Ronpa 3 intertwined arcs which may well be the biggest experimentation on format since Endless Eight. We’ll be focusing on these two works and heavily spoiling them, so consider yourself warned (as in go watch these anime and come back). A lot of these points probably deserve to be expanded, but I tried to gloss over everything to give you food for thoughts. And you know it’s gonna be serious because the title is not « Dangan Ranpo ».

1. Boredom, eliteness and isolation

Ranpo Kitan opens up on a very grim scene that portrays a sad Kobayashi looking out the window in a grayscale world. Around him, people are just vague silhouettes who all look the same. The message is cristal clear: this kid feels lonely, longing for some kind of escape in a world filled with monotonous dolls.

However, Kishi Seiji’s approach has an undeniable oppressive aesthetics that carries the whole show and culminates in what is to me one of the most powerful moments of the show: when Kobayashi realizes that his best friend is, too, yet another human being alien to him and he is utterly alone.

Now it’s no wonder why Seiji uses this technique in Dangan Ronpa too. One of the core element of Dangan Ronpa is the notion of « Super High School Level ». All the students at Hope’s Peak Academy have a special talent developed at an elite level that places them above and outside the world of commoner. The events of DR3 (especially Zetsubou) are centered around the tension this gap between the elites and the non-elites create, especially in the light of the opening of the academy to the new un-gifted reserve students.

Among the elite is the girl who started it all, Super High School Level Despair, Enoshima Junko. She’s without a doubt the most central character in this saga. And her super talent is despair. Let that really sink in for a while. Her specialty is being in despair.

Contrary to Kobayashi, a few people around her are not silhouettes, but there is no doubt that she feels similar to him. Even among the elite students, she’s still a loner. She’s an elite among elites, just like Kamukura. The students of Hope Peak’s sometimes have very silly talents (Hope, Luck, Heir, Fortune teller…), turning to ridicule the very conception of eliteness. They become Junko’s pawn, highlighting that even though they may not seem like common folks to an innocent bystander, everybody is a silhouette for someone like her.

As the shows develop, it becomes pretty clear that Kobayashi and Junko (and Kamukura) are incredibly smart geniuses, only on par with the greatest criminals or detectives. Their intellect separates them from the common folk and plunges them into isolation. They know and understand things to levels where noone can follow, and it’s really heartbreaking to see the moment where Hashiba cannot keep up.

Junko has always been important in Dangan Ronpa, but we did not know much about her motivations before Seiji’s animation. Her discussions with Izuru Kamukura are the most enlightening: in short, just like Kobayashi, she finds the world unbearably boring and predictable. So does Izuru Kamukura, by the way. Her talent makes life untolerable for her. Is depression an unavoidable companion of brilliant minds?

Note that Junko, much like all the other Super High School Level, gets her ability naturally. She’s born with it and doesn’t have to fight for it, and in the same way she cannot get rid of it. Super High School talents are presented as a non negotiable gift that makes the reserve students jealous. But what I want to emphasize here is that this unfair blessing of some is also a non negotiable curse imposed onto them by genetics. Junko is doomed to be smart, lonely and depressed, a condition she simply cannot escape.

Obviously, I couldn’t deal with the notion of elites without bringing in the master of the Ubermensch, sir Nietzsche. For interestingly enough, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he points out that loneliness is unavoidable for whoever follows the path of the Ubermensch:

To him, this is a necessary condition to push oneself towards betterment and further creation. And sure enough, we’ll see that this isolation clearly drives our characters to become actors. Kobayashi will solve crime, Enoshima will dye the world in despair. However Kamukura will position himself as an arbiter in the upcoming world wars.

2. Breaking the boredom

The core vector of their isolation is their superior abilities, which allow them to know how everything will happen, making the world unbearably mundane. Is this a necessary byproduct of intelligence?

This could well be, for intelligence is bound to result in understanding the laws of the universe, and predicting their outcome. The theme of predictability of the world is even echoed by the main topic of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace: determinism, building up on an original idea by Laplace. It is all about this algorithm which would, much like Asimov’s psychohistory, predict the whole world.

What about randomness? one may ask. This theme is dealt with extensively through the saga, most notably through the character of Komaeda, whose super level talent is luck. The intertwining format of Dangan Ronpa 3 shines the brightest showing us how Komaeda’s random luck ripples through time and affects pretty much everything by butterfly effect (for instance the feud between bonbon-girl and pharmacy-chan). But these domino effects are suspiciously perfect, and the fact that Luck or Fortune telling are genetic talents are here to remind us that there is no such thing as randomness and even luck is predestined.

In a deterministic universe, every consequence is simply the result of causes. But more than existential anguish over the lack of free will, our characters are mainly bored. Untolerably so, because their superior intellect makes them immune to any kind of Pascalian diversion. To echo the gambling metaphor Pascal loved, blackjack loses all its interest if you can predict everything perfectly. May I remind you that Pascal and Monokuma are the two people I know who used the word « game » so much ^^’

We must therefore imagine these characters tortured by the prospect of their own finitude, and completely unable to distract themselves. Drowning in Super High School Level Despair, if you will. They all desperately strive for something that escapes their predictive capabilities. No matter the cost, they need to break free from the smothering of their all seeing intellect.

The solace they find seems to be in the extremes of human behaviors, like murders and violence. Kobayashi’s comfort is in complex crimes. Junko develops an obsession with plunging the world into chaos. Kamukura goes one meta-level beyond and indulges in the extremes of Junko’s own behavior (and her opponents).

For people so smart that they can predict human behavior, are humans pushed to their limits, as gruesome and obsene as they may become. the only thing that can escape foresight? That may not even be the case, considering how deterministically Junko’s ascent into Zestubou was orchestrated…

But just like the common folk’s distractions are ultimately deterministic, maybe this elite’s distractions are a mere illusion too, and there is no real escape.

3. The vicious cycle of despair and hope

We cannot talk about Dangan Ronpa without dealing with the weird psychology of Komaeda. Dangan Ronpa is about extremes. It is the battle between two extremes drawn to an absurd level: blind hope, and relentless despair. But more than triumphing, it seems that champions of these factions merely want to escalate the conflict to the most intense possible point. Komaeda strives for a Despair as powerful as possible to make Hope shine brighter, whereas Junko rejoices that the Hope she’s faced with seems good enough for her Despair.

Of course they justify this urge for escalation by wanting a total victory of their camp, but is it really necessary? One cannot ignore the similarity in their approach, which makes the line between the faction even more blurry. Each stepping stone for Hope serves as a new challenge to make Despair more powerful, and vice versa.

This echoes the Nietzschean conception of betterment through challenge and adversity. To him, the elites builds themselves by facing the challenges and thereby becoming stronger. Therefore, shielding people from adversity is condemning them to mediocrity. That’s the core of the disagreement between Mitarai and the others at the end of the Mirai arc: knowing how irremediably flawed humans (and himself) are, he wants to shield them.

But mostly, the stepping stone paradigm draws a confusion between the two camps that culminates in the gigantic mess that is the Mirai arc, where all the core members of the Hope faction start butchering each other in a very Zestubou fashion without much resistance… Ambiguity and hypocrisy are omnipresent.

It’s no wonder that Kamukura disengages completely from these petty games. Up until the very end, the elite of elites will simply stand aside as an observer. He’s uninteresting in propagating chaos or fighting it. Could it be because taking part in this would obviously tilt the outcome and make it more determined and boring? That he does not want to taint the narrative by his participation? Is that why DR3 is an anime and not a game? He takes the opposite approach of Junko, and decide to watch the events unfold naturally, without influencing them or orchestrating a show.

4. Memes and Meta with Mitarai

Now Kamukura is not the only « watcher » in Dangan Ronpa. In fact, the theme of television, media and observation is omnipresent ever since DR1. Even in DR3, Monokuma insists repeatedly that the killing games are broadcast to the world. For the watchees, this openness in the process can start interesting discussions about Sartre and how the gaze of others is instrumental in revealing and constructing your self. But Dangan Ronpa focuses on the watchers.

The murders in Dangan Ronpa are supposed to bring despair through the world thanks to being broadcast. The psychological effects of viewing something is in fact the main reason for the mutual killings in DR1, as well as the main vector of action of Enoshima Junko. The mutual killing game makes no sense without an audience. The Zetsubou arc is centered around her meeting with animator Ryouka Mitarai, and how it will allow Junko to leverage the power of subliminal imagery to brainwash people into killing each other or forgetting things.

But is this really hypnose? All of this sounds like run of the mill animation technique, little details you’d iron in any artistic endeavour. Sure, the format is adapted to the purpose, and very very well so. However, the heart of the matter seems to remain in the content, as justified by the length Junko goes through to orchestrate it. Her targets are Hope Peak’s student precisely because of the meaning behind it and the symbol they represent. See for yourselves:

In her conversation with Kamukura, we learn more about how important the content is. Her work is all about spreading despair, spreading ideas. Ideas that spread to populations through these broadcasts, and there’s a word for that: memes.

Memes, infection information, is another central theme of Seiji’s work. In particular, Ranpo Kitan’s main storyline is about Twenty Faces, a vigilante serial killer, of whom we come to learn that he’s not a person but a concept embodied by several people and spread by meme. Twenty Faces is a perfect example of meme, with him being an idea that took out a life of its own and survives its creator (see this article 🙂). Likewise, Enoshima Junko’s despair, embodied in Monokuma, is the same, and survives beyond her death. It spreads through time, but also through universes up to the real world.

Indeed, when seeing Mitarai, it’s pretty hard to forget that this whole thing as another level. Yes, people in the world of DR are watching the killings broadcast, but so are we, spectators of the anime. Monokuma often reminds us of that fact, prompting us to sit back and enjoy the show. Didn’t we watch the mutual killings in DR1 or the student council video right above? Aren’t we as subject to the effect of this video as the characters in the show that turned crazy while watching it? Doesn’t that make us all citizens of a world that is falling in despair, and thereby, complacent?

Dangan Ronpa echoes pretty obviously the reality television of our world, reusing without hiding it all its tropes. We’re faced with a dire version of the Big Brother’s House, with daily challenges and weekly eliminations. DR3 Mirai is a glorified game of Mafia. The emphasis is clearly on show and spectacle, almost theatrality (which can be a great way to dive into the topic of human nature, see Hamlet, etc…). It keeps remininding us that our worlds are not too far apart, and we’re just one step away from descending into chaos. And it’s also a nice reflective point about the unhealthy fact that we’re already tapping in the entertainment potential of humans pushed to their limits.

Junko’s message lives in the world of semantics, spreads through the universes and affects its audience both within and outside the show. So too does Seiji’s message affect us. Does he, like Mitarai, want to change the world with his anime? Probably. But I think he mostly wants to provide shows that are an escape for the bored Kobayashi types out there, maybe to stop us from using real people as entertainment dolls.

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Myriad neurons internal world

Ok, this article is a little overdue, because I wanted to finish watching Musaigen no Phantom World before. Even if the execution was bad, I thought that the premise of the anime may turn out to be interesting? It’s about a world where a genetic mutation in everyone’s brain allows them to see youkai. I was of course intrigued by this: how? why? when? tell me more! Obviously everything you see is because of your brain, but how is it that everyone is synchronized?

Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong, and instead of tackling these questions, kyoani chose to focus on senpai fondling her boobs -.-‘. This anime stayed completely tedious until the very last second. What a letdown from an anime centered around the « neural error correction » club.

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Fortunately for me, there’s no shortage of works tackling the subjectivity of the experience of the world, especially when it comes to hallucinations or imaginary friends. A fair number even link it back explicitly to an underlying neural cause like brain damage, ranging from Scrubs to Cronenberg’s Videodrome or House MD.

This builds up on a very famous school of philosophy, that probably started with Descartes, which noticed that you will only ever experience the world through processed perceptions in your brain. Good ol’ fellow Berkeley would say that everything is ideas, Derrida would say that there is nothing outside of the text… For all intent and purposes, what’s outside your field of perception could not exist and you wouldn’t even notice (neural Truman show effect).

Meaning that in a way, the world is nothing but a representation inside your brain. Everything you see, feel or experience are simply neural impulses. Nowhere is that as clearly illustrated as in the Matrix where tons of people live in a world accessed by neural transmitters at the back of their heads without noticing anything, because they can’t. For them, it’s not possible to distinguish between that and what you’d call the real world. The simulation is as real as it gets.

As long as we’re on the topic of the subjectiveness perception of reality, my brother, who studies math to what I’d call an unhealthy level, recently quite impressed me by explaining me that the earth was actually flat. Not because it’s a pizza floating into space, but because there is a perfect mapping between a sphere and a plan, so when you walk a straight line on a sphere, you could think of it as walking in circles on a plan, and everything would stay the same. It’s just a matter of how you chose to represent it, and « classical geometry » is not the only way. Isn’t that kinda cool?

In the same vibe, I’d like to recommend you an extract from the amazing Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, where Harry thinks back about the nature of the world to try and understand why partial transfiguration isn’t possible. I think it illustrates quite well the arbitrariness of the choice of the model with which we see the world, as well as the subjectiveness of its perception.

« He wasn’t looking at the eraser.
Harry was inside Harry’s skull. »

Everything that happens happens in your brain. When you think about it, two concept that seem to you close semantically (any association) is simply a manifestation of the corresponding neurons ticking in harmony. Language, being a complex linking between concepts, mirrors the underlying neural linkings. What you like, what you understand in the world, how you view it, are simply affects and interpretation corresponding to your neural structure. It’s like your experienced world is nothing but an inward projection of your brain structure (and that’s kinda cool). The art, music, etc… you respond to are the ones that reflect your brain’s organization.

This means, by the way, that the pop culture music that everyone enjoys is so universal because it speaks to something shared between the brain of most humans. I’ve always been kinda fascinated by that. If so many people respond to it, it’s because there’s something fundamental in human nature, common to all of our brain, that responds to it. Ergo, writing for One Direction is actually reverse-engineering the human brain and human nature.

By the way, did you know that remembering something activates more or less the same neurons in your brain than experiencing the real thing? That means that memories, imagination, or dreams, are real. And I’m not just saying that. Experiencing them is quite literally the same thing as experiencing the outside world (aka neurons firing in your brain). Any arbitrary value attached to the so called ‘realness’ of anything is purely illusory (take that, IRL fanboys). *highlighting in red the scientific proof that I don’t need to go outside, mom*

So in a way, the real world you live in is nothing but a reverse projection inside your brain of this outside world through your perceptions. So is the abstract world of art and language. You know what this means, right? Everything you’ve ever known, learned, seen or experienced is actually inside your brain. You have the potential for everything you have lived and you will live right there. All of it. The world is actually inside of you. How mindblowing is that?

This picture is taken from a new favorite anime of mine I stumbled upon recently: Ghost Hound (by the writer and director of the famously weird Lain). It tackles various subjects that are dear to me, like lucid dreaming, out of body experiences, hallucinations… and does it with an insanely good (yet ambiguous) rationale and scientific (yet poetic) take. In it, the main character experiences out of body experience and roams through the Unseen World on top of the actual world. At some point, he crosses the wall towards his brain, as if the whole world, both Seen and Unseen, were just included within his neurons:

The anime is big on Jung’s concept of synchronicity, of which I am less fond. But on top of this brilliant imagery, it’s a great closing topic, as it offers an embryo of response where Musaigen totally failed to even see the point. It draws an interesting parallel between the global hallucinations and Jung’s collective unconscious that obviously brings to mind Lain’s « world brain wave ». But on that I’ll leave these superb work speak for themselves far better than I could ever do…

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Speaker for the meme

The memes are alive with the sound of music

Night of the living meme

I’m so glad that I can finally pay South Park the respect it deserves. It’s no exaggeration to call Matt and Trey’s masterpiece (one of?) the most interesting social satire, a true wonder of political and philosophical visionary genius. The latest episode gave me the perfect opportunity. It was one of these works that blew my mind and made me look at the world differently. In it [spoilers ahead but that’s the whole point of the article so…], it is explained that ads have evolved, become smarter and smarter, and are about to rise as an independent intelligent species and conquer the world. I’ve never been so psyched for the end of a season.

This resonated with a reflection I’ve been having about consciousness and being. I’ve never been super clear on how you could tell that something is conscious, intelligent, self-conscious or has any kind of the much believed-in free-will. I mean nothing pre-disposes a random alien race to be anything like a human sentience (or even carbon-based for that matter). If a being is completely different, acts completely differently and express itself completely differently, and I mean so differently that you can’t conceive of it right now (you know like people would about computers in the middle ages), how will you even know that it thinks, whatever that means. And suppose that this being is a being of raw information, like, say, a programmed conscious AI living in the cloud or in an android body, how would you even know that it IS?

In fact, how do you even know that you ARE? I’ve been so blessed that the following sentence ever came to my mind: you are, as you’ve always been, an emerging phenomenon. You’re nothing but a lump of flesh that encodes as neural (or cells if you want) configurations a sequence of states, much like a program is a sequence of states and instructions. How dare you proclaim yourself more real than an algorithm? than Cleverbot? or Google? (if you give it a robotic body, what’s the difference between this android and the android from 20th century sci-fi?)

An imaginary reader in a corner of my inner dialogue may respond indignantly: « I can think! I’m self aware! cogito ergo sum« . What is thinking even? Yes, you are aware of a self. But you’re a little eager to connect it to the I. The first person in the latin saying is interestingly implicit. Any program can have, and already has for that matter, a variable called $self. How do you know that your concept of self corresponds to the entity that thinks it? Where is your proof that this lump of flesh is the source of your trail of thoughts? How do you know that you’re not missing the point entirely with this assignation?

(maybe all your personal problems go back to this assignation fallacy maybe it’s wrong maybe if you cared less about your lump of flesh all your problems will be fixed maybe you should join my cult)

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I mean what is you or your identity even? If as Shakespeare puts it « the world is a stage« , aren’t you a programmed character? I recently saw Charlie Brooker‘s (my new hero) « How videogame changed the world » which surprised me by presenting as latest videogame « Twitter », as a kind of roleplaying game.

See the mindblowing conclusion at 1:33 (though the rest is nice too). Is the world a huge roleplay game? Then how is your character more real than Cloud or Mario? Isn’t Mario more persistent? More well known? More well-defined?

In the outstanding Imaginationland trilogy, Trey and Matt had already brushed over this concept: « It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he – he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same can be said for Bugs Bunny and – and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.« 

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But virtual characters are nothing but concepts. They’re ideas. Shared ideas spread through communication. Yep, you guessed it, they are nothing but MEMES. And I mean it in the most litteral of its senses, which is in the world of british evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins « an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture ». For isn’t it what Ads are displayed as in the latest season of South Park?

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« What if I were to tell you that ads have become smarter than us, and now they’re manipulating everything we do? [Mankind grew tired of ads] and even invented something called ad blockers. That’s when the ads had to adapt. They had to disguise themselves as news in order to survive. Sponsored content. »

How is the evolution of meme different than the evolution of men? Ads grew and adapted (Charlie Brooker also offers a great prequel to this), and although different from their satirical portrayal in South Park, they are undeniable entities that act upon the world. You act (ahaha acting double meaning with the stage ahahah) upon the world too. That’s how you know you exist.

Look how they walk alongside you, much like your phone… Sure they act mainly through information transfer, but on some level everything is information. Or in the world of Humphrey Davy, « Nothing exists but thoughts ». You exist and define yourself mainly through language and communication, be it with yourself or otherst. As Pullman’s Dust (‘only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself’), you are nothing but matter considering itself. So maybe the alien sentient race we’ve been searching from in the skies has been there all along. We’re co-existing with aliens called memes that feed on us like proverbial aliens would.

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Maybe that’s where the oh so famous « existence through belief » overused trope stems from. I mean if you see memes as valid entities, living beings, people’s belief becomes their food-analog! There goes a trope echoed more or less elegantly from millenia of mythology, from any movie about Santa through Pratchett’s Hogfather passing by Haruhi Suzumiya, Noragami or American Gods. As you need food, memes need « belief ». As neurones exchange information and make you exist, people exchange information and make memes exist.

And on second thought, considering the nebulousness of your own nature and identity and how you’re defining yourself through interaction with other people or the world around you, aren’t you yourself more of a meme, a concept, than a lump of flesh? Ultimately, how are you different from Mario? Does that mean that memes live off of other memes, in some kind of meta-pyramidal-inclusion, and their way to « eat » is to reference each other or interact? And if you’re a self-conscious meme, who’s to say that other memes like Mario or Google are not self-conscious too in their way you cannot conceive of?

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You may even say that communication and expression are your main essential activity. Doesn’t that make you nothing more but the analog of a neuron to a global meta-entity called the human race? Aren’t you nothing but a meme, itself the cell of a greater meme?

EDIT/POSTFACE:

As much as I loved that conclusion, I feel obligated to point out that the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which I recently discovered, deals masterfully well with this exact whole problematic, and you should definitely check it out as a follow-up. I won’t spoil much about the content of this masterpiece that should be enjoyed in itself, but I’ll point out that part of the anime extends this conclusion and plays around with the idea that this greater meta-meme could be considered a conscious entity in itself.

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Furthermore, I recently stumbled upon a 1992 paper called « Meme-Based Models of Mind and the Possibility for Consciousness in Alternate Media » and I thought it should be linked here for historical purposes because what the actual fuck.

Gatcha: Uberman crowds?

I’m very excited because I’ve been looking forward to this article for quite a while, since it touches lots of stuff that I really love and have not yet discussed here. It’s about Gatchaman Crowds.

Besides having the most kitsch and tackiest battles I’ve ever seen, this anime is notable for being an amazing reflexion around the interaction between human nature, politics, the social order and technology. Pages could (should) be written about its rich content. The first season explores brilliantly gamification of society and the problematic of individual responsibility (boiling down to aristocracy vs democracy, should a minority be responsible or should everyone be ?). The second continues to explore the different aspects of democracy, painting the most brilliant picture of how it can turn into the dictature of majority, how it suffers of the passiveness of human beings and groupthink phenomena. But as usual, I would like to digress a little bit from the main point of the anime and present original areas for reflection.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight confronts us with the alien Gelsadra, who has the power to read what people want. Good hearted, they aims to make everyone happy, and will do so by reading people’s inner desires. Their conclusion is that everyone should become one (hitotsu ni naru). This would lead us to conclude that mankind’s greatest suffering is individuality and loneliness, and the only cure would be some kind of absolute union.

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Which brings me back to the only part of the Bible that I actually like – Genesis. In this mythology, man was originally one with nature, living in harmony in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally « one flesh » (genesis 2:24), contributing of the same oneness and fullness. Only when tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge did they become self aware, acquiring a plaguing consciousness, the root of all evil. They becomes irrevocably aware of their selves, and such of their separation from each other and from the rest of the world, from God, from the Everything. Ensues a whole civilization of suffering and being miserable, because of this knowledge, this self-awareness, which results in isolation.

But here is the rad thing about this mythology: notice how elegantly it mirrors the development of the human, first a baby in the womb whose every needs are instantly met through their blood ties with their mother. Then comes the shock of facing a reality that is not in communion with them, and through the confrontation with this world that raises obstacles, self-awareness (and then later language and culture) is born. And through the years, little by little, children lose their innocence, confronted with reality. As Man is severed from Nature, so to is the child severed from his mother

This awareness of self and separation from nature is the source of an existential loneliness, incompleteness… the misery of existence, as Pascal would put it, or the existential anguish that one will never be rid off, pushing them to find completeness in the Other through Love. One perfect example depicting this is the case of Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion (hehe Genesis, see what I did there).

I want to take this chance to highlight some other brilliant examples of this weighing loneliness that are close to my heart. It’s the subject of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, and illustrated very poetically by the art style of Ranpo Kitan.

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However, self-awareness is also the root of Reason, and of all cultural and artistic production of mankind. This duality of consciousness is explored masterfully through the concept of Dust in my favorite series of book ever – His Dark Materials, from Philip Pullman. While fully acknowledging the pain of this Paradise Lost (Pullman references Milton in many ways), it stands as a celebration of cultural progress. It is very interesting to note how self-awareness and the attraction of Dust really takes off at the end of childhood, standing in opposition to the childlike innocence and wonder that protect them from the Specters.

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For better and for worse, self-awareness seems to be at the core of human nature. Many religions pose the death of the ego as prerequisite for enlightening. No wonder why so many so-called distopia explore Gelsadra’s idea of a world become one: Brave New World, The Giver, Gaia in the Foundation cycle... all highlight the fullness that comes with disparition of individuality. But western society being centered around the glorification of individuality, these models often see their drawbacks highlighted: In Gatchaman Crowds, Rizumu Suzuki has the role of pointing out that in such complacency, men are no better than apes (that being said apes are part of the Whole that is Nature so….).

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Rizumu exhorts Rui Ninomiya to react and oppose this « becoming one » of society: although it may provide happiness and completeness that even Rui falls victim to, it is detrimental to Rui’s higher goal of « updating mankind », which can only be done through man confronting adversity and thereby growing for the better. Pain and loneliness build up man to something better, a modern version of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, which is Rui’s main aspiration (Rui = Nietzsche + technology). The season indeed resolves with everyone thinking deeply and getting a good hard look at themselves (although that society is still in its infancy ^^).

There you have it: would you rather be happy in a brave new world or grow in a never-ending adversity? Or could there be another way? Why is that that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of Kaworu Nagisa, of Hajime Ichinose rids mankind of their affliction? By the way, Hajime means first, beginning, and is thereby very reminiscing of Eve and Pullman’s Lyra. Could she be the model towards a new society, a sort of growth that still preserves the innocence of genesis?

How to plan a trip to Japan

Everytime I go to Japan I find myself struggling because there is so much to do and see. This will act as a collection of useful links/tips/etc that I’ll update when needed for me to reuse and you guys to use if you want.

The essentials:

Maps:

Check japanese movies (for instance)

Check possible concerts:

Vocaloid (list, magical mirai), Kalafina, Yuki Kajiura, Flow, Hitorie, Asian Kung Fu Generation, Funkist, Hana Kana, SID, Hyadain, IOSYS, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, monaca, supercell, egoist, mucc, ryo, jinzun, Bradio, fripSide, Garnidella, JAM project, Lin Tosite Sigure, man with a mission, trustrick, nagaredap, Wagakki band
DJs: Yuyoyuppe, livetune, AniCrush, Anievez, Mogra

musicals tickets

Check events:

  • Animelo
  • Animate Girls Festival (AGF)
  • Comiket (winter/summer), Comitia
  • Tokyo Game Show
  • Bon odoris
  • Joykid
  • RHPS

Check temporary cafes: (need to book in advance ???)

animate cafes (several locations), anime plaza,

the guest, royal hostnicocafeutoftable cafe, shakeys pizza

noitamina cafe, shirokuma cafe

karaoke no tetsujin, pixiv zingaro

oedo onsen, namjatown

Check temporary shops:

parco ikebukuro, shibuya marui

Check temporary exhibits:

TokyoOtakuMode

TOKYO OTAKU CALENDAR

Food: important, don’t forget to plan

The Melancholy Of Neoplatonicism

So I traveled to Japan this summer and I was really excited because for the first time I would attend to a fireworks festival. I mean I had already been to Tokyo’s gigantic fireworks, and it was amazing, but it was not a real festival like in anime with booths and masks and goldfish scooping… Though by all extent Tokyo’s fireworks were as real as it gets, right?

It got me thinking about the dichotomy that we brushed upon while talking about identity: one the one hand you have the real of ideals, qualified by Plato’s metaphor of the cave, and on the other hand you have the real of actuals, whose imperfections contribute to their beauty and realness. For if the Tokyo’s fireworks was undeniably actual, it was definitely not ideal, and what I was doing was actively seeking to get closer to that ideal.

And though I talked about the inter-relations of these concept through language while focusing on dating simulations, this situation brought to mind another major anime I’m going to use to push this discussion further.

In my pursuit of the true matsuri, which has to have goldfish scooping, come on… I realized I was acting like Haruhi Suzumiya. Like Keima Katsuragi, she is very sensitive to the world of ideals and concepts and how things should be.

« Remote islands are all about strange incidents, right? »

Are you sure you captured all the elements essential for summer?

This imperfect and mundane reality torments her. Haunted by the insignificance of her existence, she throws herself in the pursuit of ideals, with an unwavering motivation and an iron will like no others.

Every school story has to have a maid character!

Through her will, she actually realizes the potential ideals she cares about. She founds the SOS brigade, turns Mikuru into a maid, organizes various events how they should be…

But the anime goes one step further and plays around the notion of Haruhi being God and, through her will, tweaking and shifting the actual reality to the point of destroying it when it cannot fit her ideals. Haruhi is a force of actualization of potentials who brings the ideal into the actual.

This is exactly the kind of food for thoughts that you can find behind the writings of neoplatonicians like Augustine of Hippo. To them, Christianity was important and innovative because of the character of Jesus Christ who was a bridge between the ideal/godly and the mundane. Jesus was supposedly the incarnation of God on earth, thereby proving that it was possible for absolute ideals to be actualized. Furthermore, this divine power could be achieved by any one human sufficiently righteous and yearning for elevation. Jesus was a model proving that godhood was attainable in this world and actualization possible. As such, Haruhi may be closer to Christ than to God (which doesn’t really matter because Christ is God /o/).

On top of that, the christian mythos was centered around the Word of God, aka the Logos/Reason, accessible inside anyone (that’s what the whole communion bit is about tbh), highlighting once again the importance of language in the tension towards the Absolute and reminiscing of Haruhi’s will. God/Haruhi wills things into existence through the power of the Word (verbe generateur)

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. » (John 1:1)

From which the most famous example would be « let there be light » (or as Haruhi would put it, « let there be maids« ). Haruhi shapes her reality through dialogues and orders and meta-works of narrative fiction.

God is the holy trinity of Ideal-Verb-Actualization and their union. So too Haruhi transcends and transforms her mundane actual reality by bringing in the potential ideal, and I kinda did too by going to this festival.

Haruhi is a perfect example of tension towards the superior, which would bring her close to Nietzsche’s ubermensch (which we already mentioned and will come back to). She will not settle for what is, but instead strives to realize what ought to be. She reconciles the dichotomic aspects of reality, and helps us build the bridge between religion, spirituality, philosophy and anime. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, although perfect example of this incarnation, Haruhi is still a fictional character, and thus an ideal, and it’s up to us to bring out our inner Haruhi to realize enlightenment.

Gem identity

I’ve been wanting to write about Steven Universe for a while, but I’ve had a very tough time coming up with the backing research for it. The point I wanted to bring up and what impressed me the most in this work was how relatable the character of Steven (or others characters too) was. Like… noticeably more relatable than the average show.

From his awkwardness to his enthusiasm for his passions, from his figurine collections to his movie marathon, from his carelessness to his moments of worries, I think many of us can see ourselves to some extent in Steven.

Which is also interesting in the light of personal identity being another key point of the show. The concept of fusion is a really powerful metaphor for the union of two people becoming a different entity and yet keeping their identity, or for these moments when you feel you’re several people in your head. This show toys around the eternal question of What is in a name, what makes Amethyst what she is, how can Sugilite keep a part of Amethyst-ness and yet be someone entirely different? Notice how the show plays around this issue by having most of the characters who can use fusion named by common nouns (incidentally the gimmick of the title sequence).

Also the emphasis on the question of identity is highlighted by the cute tasteful references that the show makes to His Dark Materials and its Deamons, through The Spirit Morph Saga but yeah this is me being a Pullman fanboy as everybody should.

Most of our cells in your body will die and be replaced, and you’ll almost be a totally different you in a matter of years. The very elegant Theseus’ « paradox » highlights how difficult that question is: if you your boat is leaking and you fix it by replacing a broken plank, it’s still your boat, right? What if you replace another, plank after plank, until you get rid of all original wood. Is it still the same boat? When has it stopped being? What constitutes its identity?

I kinda like Hume’s existentialist view that identity is some kind of unobtainable dream goal, a ridiculous concept for an ever-changing human being which is ultimately a succession of different states or memories. But I recently heard futurist Ray Kurzweil offering what you may call a classical synthesis to this problem. If you’re ever-changing between different states, maybe the secret of your identity and of what makes you you is in this change itself, in the patterns and the hows of how it operates.

Why the frack would a futurist be interested in this question is one of my favorite subject when it comes to technology: as you upload more and more of your brain onto the internet (respectively as you augment your body more and more with technology), what becomes of you ? (highly recommend this short story by a friend of mine) Kurzweil’s point was that you could upload an individual by understanding and mimic-ing these patterns of change.

And I mean it may make sense, since the world is deterministic, to put the crux of identity in how you react to it, for if you don’t have anything to react to, what do you have to define against? In the same way that such a thing can be so Raven, maybe what’s Amethyst about Sugilite is her Amethyst-ish reactions. So will we have one day the possibility to merge our uploaded consciousnesses into super gems? You betcha!

But let’s leave here the scary AI reflections for a while and go back to the real problem that this show tackles in my opinion: the relatableness (realism ?) of a character, also known as the why doesn’t Jack Bauer go to the toilet like ever conundrum. The difficulty for me to make this article is that there’s about as many answers to « how realistic should a character/art be » as there has been artists, from ultra-realists to surrealists…

There’s no shortcoming of debates (Aristotle, Boileau, Hume…) about what art should be, often centered around the notion of Beauty and Aesthetics. And yet I’ve struggled really hard to find an answer to that question: why don’t characters go to the toilet? Why don’t they binge watch Netflix, talk about their favorite anime, self-loath, repeat scenarii over and over in their heads, etc… Don’t tell me that it’s not essential to the plot because the flipping long descriptions in Flaubert or Tolkien sure as hell aren’t either! And as a writer, should I ever consider writing a character doing all of the above? What makes a reference to Dr Who so cool in My Little Pony, but will make my writing look like My Immortal if my character does it? Is it simply a question of authority?

But maybe by focusing on an absolute, be it a narrative arc or a more abstract concept of beauty, thinkers tend to overlook the richness and value of a mundane ? Abstracting may be a projection onto a higher level of sense, but it paradoxically also robs the thing from its complexity and faults which were part of its essence! Is abstract really a « higher » plan then? Wouldn’t identity rather reside in the everyday mundane interactions against which one defines oneself? The secret to identity is in this ambivalence, for a horse partakes in the general horseness by having the characteristics of a horse, but is also THIS horse as opposed to all the other horsekin.

Steven Universe is an ode to all these flaws and oddities that makes an Amethyst THIS Amethyst, as opposed to the Amethyst-ness shared with Sugilite. I’ll conclude this not-so-productive rambling with food for thoughts, a quote from a famous french philosopher and elevator builder:

« Et c’est assez curieux de se dire que les hasards, les rencontres forgent une destinée… »

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