It wasn’t just the Geass that made Code Geass (Or why Re:Creators doesn’t feel coherent yet)

This will contain Code Geass and Re:Creators spoilers.

In Code Geass, the very first episode sets the main theme of the rest of the series with a single line: “The only ones who should shoot are those prepared to get shot.”

Initially, the full meaning of Lelouch’s assertion is obscure to us; even if we take it literally, does it simply mean that what comes around goes around, or is there more to it? As the series progresses, the theme becomes clearer as we come to understand what it means to wield power. Through the deaths of Shirley’s father, Euphemia, Shirley herself, supposedly Nunnally, and Rolo, the series asserts that power is nearly indistinguishable from the ability to hurt others, that it is truly distinct only in theory.

Finally, just as Lelouch ascends the throne as what appears to be an evil despot, he stands to face judgment for his crimes. As he falls before Nunnally in a pool of blood, he remembers all those he hurt, all of the people whose worlds he destroyed in creating the world anew. “The only ones who should shoot are those prepared to get shot.” Those with power must be prepared to atone for whatever evils they commit with that power, unconditionally.

What, then, is the main theme of Re:Creators?

Mamika questions the common sense of the world that she once knew; Meteora comes to terms with the death of her creator by playing the game she is from; Alicetaria questions her existence and the meaning of her and her entire world’s suffering; and Souta answers her with an impassioned speech, that we write characters whose virtues we aspire to, whose actions give us hope.

But before Souta made his response, I had been losing hope in Re:Creators. Because while each of these questions are asked using the premise of fictional characters entering the real world, none of them truly embody it the way the Geass embodies power. As it stands now, they’re still just a series of one-offs that don’t tie together all that well, and in the case of Mamika, might never get the chance to.

It’s pretty evident, especially with the latest episodes, that this series means to interrogate why people tell stories and what it means to be a storyteller. But at the same time, the characters from those stories almost feel neglected by comparison. They are the physical manifestation of stories that have grown beyond their creator, the physical representation of the power those stories have to move the hearts of people in the real world. So why does it feel like sometimes they only exist to move the plot forward?

Wam vs. Sansa, or how I learned to stop worrying and just watch cartoons

Seikaisuru Kado has been a little underwhelming lately. Of course, I went in expecting a sci-fi drama not unlike Arrival, and the first arc mostly met those expectations. The alien Yaha-kui zaShunina offers humanity a source of infinite energy, Wam, and much like with the Heptapods in Arrival, their mysterious gifts coupled with unclear motives threaten to throw the world into chaos, and our main characters must learn to communicate with zaShunina to resolve this conflict.

Once the issue of the Wam is resolved, however, zaShunina then puts forth the Sansa, a device that makes sleeping unnecessary for humanity. It is at this point that Seikaisuru Kado transitions from a drama about human communication and understanding, set against the backdrop of politics and close encounters of the third kind, to your more typical sci-fi thought experiment. “What is it that makes us human?” it asks, rather bluntly. And once the strengths of the initial premise are discarded, it becomes easier to notice how flat the characters are overall, like how Shindo is basically your overpowered web novel main character but as a diplomat, and how stereotypically moe Tsukai is.

With episode 9 finally explaining what zaShunina desires from humanity, I would’ve thought that Seikaisuru Kado would return to its initial themes based on negotiation, but just as with the resolution of the Wam, it opts for plot twists instead. Although, if I really think about it, that didn’t start with the resolution of the Wam, but with the introduction of it. None of that talk of negotiation being about understanding others ever really played a big part in the direction this series was going. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it and all of its stupid tropes anyways, so heck.

also hi im alive

Tsuki ga Kirei impressions

If I had to describe Tsuki ga Kirei in one word, it might be “subdued.” In some ways, it even lacks a driving force for the plot; there are no goals, no antagonists, simply the passage of time moving the story forward. Yet, to call it relaxed would be mildly understating the focus it gives to the day to day anxieties of its characters, episode to episode.

Take the first episode for example: the two main characters who ostensibly will be the romantic focus of the show meet for the first time, but it isn’t until nearly the end of the episode that the two actually introduce themselves to each other. Most of the time, they live in separate worlds, Azumi in his literature and Mizuno in her track club, only occasionally and one-sidedly observing each other. But it’s these wordless moments where they simply stop and look, often for 10-20 seconds at a time, that give the audience pause to think about what the characters are thinking.

When Azumi is at the bookstore and picks up a novel called “Schoolgirl,” we might imagine that he’s thinking about Mizuno. When Mizuno is watching Azumi and squeezing her potato sack, we can guess that she’s nervous about asking for his contact information. And when the two sit in silent, mutual awareness of each other at the family restaurant, we can feel their embarrassment at their own family being seen by the other, as teenagers tend to feel.

Tsuki ga Kirei uses these simple associations to keep its slow pace engaging, trusting the audience to make the connection between eye contact and social awkwardness, squeezing a potato sack and nervousness, and the beauty of the moon and a confession of love.

What to expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records as told by its second episode

Disclaimer: I’m writing this having read up to the resolution of the class competition arc in the manga and the novel, and hindsight is 20/20.

To provide a necessary summary of episode one, Glenn Radars is a NEET who gets asked to be a substitute teacher in a prestigious magic school. He completely refuses to teach his class at all and then makes a fool of himself by losing in a magic duel to his student, Sistina. The entirety of the first episode is dedicated to setting up Glenn as a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn’t care about magic at all.

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A textbook, nailed to a chalkboard.

Episode two starts strong, with Glenn offhandedly challenging why Sistina and the other students value magic so much. Sistina responds that magic is about studying the principles of the world, but Glenn asks what use that is to humanity, and quickly descends into a one-sided rant criticizing magic as being only good for killing, only stopping when Sistina slaps him and runs away in tears. In just a few minutes, the show establishes the cynicism underlying Glenn’s terrible attitude towards magic, as well as his immaturity for taking it out on his students.

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In the next scene, Glenn shows a glimpse of his original love for magic, helping another student, Rumia, complete her magic circle. As they’re walking home from the school, Rumia explains how being saved from evil mages by a mage of justice inspired her wish to make magic an institution that actually benefits humanity, which further highlights Glenn’s immaturity in addition to outlining his path to redemption through making a real effort to reform magic.

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Gee, I wonder who that could be…

The next day, Glenn apologizes to Sistina and begins his lecture on magic, starting with the spell he lost the duel with, Shock Bolt. By deconstructing the incantation used to cast Shock Bolt, Glenn explains that magic is not the study of the world’s principles, but the study of human autosuggestion that allows the subconscious to interfere with the world’s physical laws. In short, magic isn’t a study of the world, but of how humans interact with it, reinforcing its status as a social construct that can be abused but also reformed.

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This nicely ties together Glenn’s cynicism, Rumia’s idealism, and magic as an institution, and it would honestly be great if the episode ended here. However, after some brief success as a teacher, Glenn then steps right into the world of conspiracies that drive the plot of so many generic light novels. As foreshadowed by the implications that it was Glenn who saved Rumia in the past, Rumia is again abducted because she’s actually a princess, and Glenn ends the episode by showing his magical, or perhaps anti-magical, combat ability. All of that well-thought-out characterization and setting becomes merely dressing for the salad that is Glenn’s history as an imperial military-level combat mage, and though it is a dressing which compliments that salad very well, it is one that would have had much more potential as its own salad.

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A real bait and switch.

And that’s what you can expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records, as told by its second episode. That being said, I’ve seen anime adaptations add nuance to the source material through good direction in the past, so here’s to hoping my expectations are broken.

(That uniform is seriously illegal, though.)

Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte.

Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is complicated. Bullying, make-up, and friendship are complicated. I wanted to make a post about how this manga subverts traditional narratives of bullying, but the more I focused on analyzing that single aspect, the more I felt like I was missing the point.

When we’re first introduced to our main character, Kobayakawa, it is through his scorn for the shallow friendships his classmates make, criticizing them for always just trying to fit in with their little cliques. His first encounter with the heroine, Hoshino, reinforces this anti-social stance, as she and her trendy friends make fun of him for not going along with their jokes.

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“What a depressing guy!”

But then he encounters her again while heading home from school, without her friends and without a shred of hesitation about jumping into a river to save a cat. He sees her, literally and metaphorically, without her makeup on, and he admires that heroic side of her to the point that he jumps into that river himself to save the cat (though he ends up being saved himself).

However, the premise of Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte, or Hoshino, Close Your Eyes, is that Kobayakawa has to help Hoshino put her makeup back on.

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Of course, Kobayakawa comically fails at putting on makeup for Hoshino because to him, it just means trying to fit in with those shallow friend groups that he despises. Hoshino constantly has to evade being seen by her friends without her makeup on, often after taking off her makeup to help their classmate, Matsukata, from being bullied.

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And Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is indeed about bullying. But it doesn’t really center on the bully and the victim, both of which are such prevalent stereotypes that you could probably point out who’s who in the picture above without any assistance. In fact, if you’re having any trouble at all, it’s probably because of the presence of a third party, Hoshino, delivering a drop kick and turning the whole scene upside-down.

You see, Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte is about Hoshino, and Kobayakawa, and all of the bystanders who get to decide whether they’ll do something to help or avoid getting involved.

(If you want to avoid spoilers, stop here and read up to chapter 11.)

 

In fact, as much as that would fit the stereotype of a victim, Kobayakawa isn’t anti-social because he was bullied. His trauma comes from having to watch as his only friend was ostracized by his entire class, not because of a bully, but because everyone saw that it was what everyone else was doing. Kobayakawa is anti-social because what he sees in those shallow circles of friends is the same herd mentality that slowly turned the whole class against his friend just for the sake of fitting in. He is anti-social because he despises himself for being unable to break from the pack himself.

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However, Kobayakawa’s aversion to getting involved with others also opposes Hoshino’s readiness to help others, so when he sees Hoshino taking off her makeup to help Matsukata, it is that regret and self-disgust underlying his admiration for her that he is unable to reconcile with her desire to fit in with her friends. Each time he tries to put her makeup back on, Kobayakawa is confronted by the question of why, if Hoshino can help others and make friends, does he do neither?

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And yet, it is with that same understanding of herd mentality that Hoshino keeps taking off her makeup. It is that same understanding that makes her upset even when the crowd takes her side against the ones bullying Matsukata. Hoshino keeps rushing to help others because she understands how painful it is to be alone on the other side, as she was the one who was once bullied.

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Once Kobayakawa realizes that, he rushes in after Hoshino to tell off the entire crowd, possibly the entire school, for just watching and following the mood as Matsukata was being bullied, but he still can’t forgive himself for not doing anything until Hoshino reassures him that the two of them aren’t so different. She can take her makeup off because she has it on to begin with, because her friends give her a safe place to return to when all is said and done, and Kobayakawa, too, has things that he can do.

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Hoshino, Me o Tsubutte says a lot about bullying. But its characters aren’t defined by one-dimensional archetypes of the bully or the victim. They’re defined by how they navigate the fickle processes of social inclusion and exclusion that can make a bully into a victim, and a hero into a bully, all at the whim of the complicit, condescending crowd.