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Episode 11 -- No Entry
Or: Oh, You Thought This Wasn’t About Capitalism Being Bad?

Content Warning: Misae Ikari refers to herself using ableist language, and not as a form of reclamation but as though she has internalized society’s view of her.

Okay, okay, outside of the previous episode touching on unhealthy work culture, there isn’t anything specific pointing to Capitalism as the cause of Paranoia Agent’s ills like there is with, say Planetes, so it’s perhaps a bit misleading to say specifically, “Paranoia Agent is anti-capitalist.” But, at the same time, the show is a thematic deconstruction of the systems within which it was created, and it’s not like the system just started being exploitative towards its labor force after the show aired in 2004.

The reason I bring the topic up now is that this is the episode where all the subtext finally becomes plain text. Misae Ikari spends half the episode explaining exactly why Shonen Bat, by all rights, should strike her down, from her poor health giving her a low life expectancy and rendering her effectively infertile, to her husband’s constant absence (not to mention his own troubles as a detective), to the new financial troubles placed on both of them. And yet, Misae escapes with only a cut on her face by laughing at the easy out presented by Shonen Bat, reaffirming her right to life. In fact, the solution is eerily similar to something out of Planetes. Life is hard, but we must keep on living, holding onto the connections we have with each other at all costs, because isolation is how resignation sets in.

All this could be an episode in itself. If it were, I probably would have spent my time breaking down Misae’s monolog in finer detail rather than just waving at another anime I’ve blogged about and saying, “You watched that one too, right?” But there’s an alternate throughline at play here. I said Misae spends half the episode talking to Shonen Bat -- what, then, is the other half about?

Well, it’s about the other Ikari, obviously, the one formerly known as “Detective Ikari,” now stripped of that title and left with “Security Guard B.” Now, if the episode was simply a parallel, of Ikari learning to accept his new position, this half wouldn’t be that interesting, so it’s not. In some ways, Ikari has already accepted his new position, and rather well. Some might say too well, even. A phrase echoes throughout this episode from the last time we saw him: “This world has no place for a person like me.”

It’s not just him saying it either. Ikari has a chance encounter with a former arrest of his, an old-fashioned burglar who has also turned to construction security as a way to make an honest living, and he says it too. The world is hard, and they’d both rather wax nostalgic about the good old days. This is also where the Rising Sun matches come back into play, as a significant portion of their discussion comes while eating at the bar that provides them. We’ve tried to slowly unpack their meaning before on this blog, but it’s here that their meaning finally becomes clear.

After accepting the box of matches, Ikari leaves the bar to find a much simpler world than the one he left behind. This is implied to be Maromi’s doing -- Misae even draws that connection in her own speech, calling Shonen Bat “exactly like that dog.” -- which furthers the description I gave of that particular metaphor last week. “You’re tired, take a break,” the burglar says too, just before this two-dimensional world is introduced, as if it couldn’t get any more clear.

This portion of the show’s symbolic messaging is both something that I find obvious and something that I know is going to be examined more later, so I won’t dwell too much on it now, but I will make mention of the fact that even in this world, Ikari was still unable to catch his “classic burglar with a burlap sack” that he so often dreamed about. We also need to talk about what Maniwa is doing about all this, as he’s coming back into focus as well, just not quite in the way we left him.


Next time: We’ve gone from detective drama to isekai to anthologies within anthologies, it’s time to see Paranoia Agent’s final form: a superhero story.

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Edited by radio414

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Episode 12 -- Radar Man
Or: The Mystery Is Solved, Now It’s Time To Put Up Or Shut Up

Content Warning: There are some flashing lights at the start of the episode, an episode that also is primarily shown through the perspective of Maniwa who has lost his grip on reality, so there’s a significant amount of unreality throughout. There may be a bit of body horror in the doll scene and the fight scene as well.

Also, I was having trouble getting Funimation to play the Japanese audio again, so keep that in mind when clicking on any links this post might offer you; you might have to find your own again.

What does it mean that Maromi and Shonen Bat are the same? That’s the overarching question asked by this episode, and it’s something we’ve touched on before in this very blog. But we only really touched on the generalities, the way the two contrast with each other, not the actual connection keeping them together. We can guess at some of that even without the additional context provided by the episode -- Tsukiko Sagi created both of them, and they both have a unique relationship with her because of that (remember the first episode where Shonen Bat all but says, “Hello again?”) -- but it’s time to explore that further in the show.

First is the reveal that Maromi is based on Sagi’s childhood pet dog, a fact that surely would have been well-known in the show’s universe, but it’s okay because the show simultaneously gives us a deeper reveal: so was Shonen Bat, to the point that when Maniwa goes to Sagi’s childhood home looking for answers, he finds both the doghouse and an old baseball bat that immediately in his eyes manifests as a weapon to surpass him. So we can revise the connection to this: Shonen Bat and Maromi are connected by Sagi’s childhood, and we can start to imagine from the newspaper articles and Maniwa’s interview with Sagi’s father the exact point of connection then.

The episode also gives an insight into the nature of the two’s surreal actions -- why either of them might have manifested in the first place. Maniwa has lost himself in the search for Shonen Bat, but that does mean he’s able to see the underpinnings of our collective consciousness a bit better. For example, because he treated Makoto Kozuka’s game as real way back in episode five, that’s what allows him to manifest these weapons in the first place, and commune with the ancient master in the meantime. Similarly, because the otaku treated his dolls as real way back in episode three, Maniwa can now interact with them and they help him on his quest. And because people treated Shonen Bat as real, because there’s practically a cargo cult surrounding Maromi, well…

Because Maromi was Tsukiko’s dog, though, and has manifested again as such, Maromi only really acts in service of his master, and when Tsukiko needs to escape Shonen Bat, Maromi disappears from the world to bring her into Ikari’s fake one. Now, remember, Maromi represented a willful ignorance of one’s problems, the good cop to Shonen Bat’s doomer resignation. Maromi’s disappearance represents that ignorance is only able to last for so long, but, then again, the show posits by the episode’s ending, so it goes for that resignation as well. This is something each victim from the previous episodes faces. Harumi Chono has started becoming Maria once again. The ancient master dies, putting more financial pressure on Akio Kawazu. Yuichi’s bullying starts up again.

With Maromi gone from this world, the only escape from one’s problems is a visit from Shonen Bat. But Shonen Bat has gotten a whole lot more destructive since we last saw him.


Next Time: It’s literally called “Final Episode” so, I mean…

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Edited by radio414

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Episode Thirteen -- Final Episode
Or: Wait, was this just the plot of Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space?

Content Warning: A dog gets run over by a car, the camera only just cuts away in time to avoid depicting the actual impact, and even then, the aftermath is still shown.

We’re not done with this blog series just yet, but we are wrapping up this anime, so it still feels prudent to give my thoughts on the whole thing. It’s difficult though, because -- how do I put this? -- while Paranoia Agent is a really good show, this was also probably my least favorite rewatch so far. I’m not really sure why that is, though. It could, for example, just be a result of the weekly routine going stale. I don’t think that’s the case, though, and rather than lay out my own personal issues, I’d rather try and explore the qualities of the anime.

I can’t help but wonder if putting the movies at the end was setting myself up for failure. Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika are some of my favorite movies of all time, while Paranoia Agent is just “a good show.” Superb, yes, but not a favorite. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret any of my time doing this or anything, but there were also times I just kept thinking “can’t wait until I get to talk about Millenium Actress.” 

There’s also the fear of repeating myself. I just wrote about Planetes, a show using its realistic yet fantastic setting of future space work to critique the systematic issues of the present, and now here’s Paranoia Agent, a show using its realistic yet fantastic setting of Tokyo to critique many of the same issues. I even made fun of myself last week for it. It really could just have been a timing thing. To a lesser extent, because each episode spends its time examining one singular faction of people, I might have run into danger crossing paths with Utena as well, though, with Utena, the thirty-nine episode length means each character gets multiple episodes, and multiple episodes translates to more depth.

I think that last point has the greatest chance of being “it” now that I’m writing it all down because now I’m thinking of other symbolism-heavy anime that gets hampered by its own runtime in similar ways. Some of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s other projects, Yurikuma Arashi and Sarazanmai have thirteen and eleven episodes respectively, and while symbolism can condense down a lot, that still breaks down the central core to a single thesis and maybe some surrounding elements.

That’s the weird thing about Paranoia Agent. It is at once a police drama, an anthology of character studies, a structural critique, and a monster story. Remember, this is a show that came out of all the disparate ideas Satoshi Kon had, forced together. Packed together like this, it can start to buckle under its own weight. And again, it’s beautiful, I really do like it, and I would recommend it to anyone who can get past the darker elements that necessitate the content warnings at the top of basically every post. I don’t know what I would change even if I had the hubris to think I could even try changing things. It’s entirely possible I just wish I liked it more.

Or maybe it’s just because Satoshi Kon media doesn’t have good memes.

Two things need to happen for Shonen Bat (or whatever the memetic mass is now since Maromi is gone there is nothing holding him back) to be defeated. The first is that Tsukiko Sagi needs to return to the real world, having fled into Ikari’s fantasy world the last time Maniwa tried to approach her. This may be the more difficult of the two tasks. While the world proves to be incredibly fragile given any sort of scrutiny, there’s also no reason to scrutinize it. Tsukiko is under Maromi’s protection (and the reveal confirms that every Maromi in the world is working to keep the illusion going) and sees Ikari as a sort of father figure that she never had in the real world, meanwhile, Ikari now has the daughter he never got to have and the “good old days” world he so desires.

This is solved the same way the rest of the conflicts of the show have been. Deception, even self-deception can only get you so far; reality will always find a way to seep back in. In this case, it takes the form of Misae, Ikari’s dying wife, who was taken to the fake world at the end of the last episode for the express purpose of saying goodbye to her husband. Even before Ikari’s revelation, then, this is what starts the scrutiny. “How did you get here?” he asks. A better, if sadder, way to phrase this, is if this is “his world” as Maromi puts it, then why wasn’t his wife here already?

“The world I belong in doesn’t exist anymore,” Ikari says. And even still, despite knowing this, he rejects the next best alternative, tearing down the fake world and returning to reality, ready to face whatever might be there for him.

The second thing that needs to happen is that Tsukiko Sagi needs to accept what happened to Maromi. Here, I don’t mean “Maromi, the mascot she created,” but “Maromi, the dog she had when she was little.” Because that is where Shonen Bat sprung from. Unable to face the consequences of her distraction, she drops her leash and Maromi wanders into traffic, but the story she tells instead is of a boy with inline skates and a golden baseball bat. “In this way, you could become the victim,” Maniwa tells her.

This is resolved in flashback, as once she is overwhelmed by the scale of her lie, Sagi is transported back to the inciting incident, but changes her actions from “immediately concocting and deluding herself into a lie,” to realizing what she’s done and embracing her lost pet. “I’m sorry, Maromi,” she says. In taking responsibility, her creation is unmade.

And yet, the effects of the disaster linger. Ikari’s arc gets an epilog where he sees the ruined city and compares it to the aftermath of World War Two, finally cementing his realization that his beloved “good old days” never existed in the first place, and then there’s a two-year time skip, where Tokyo’s rebuilding is nearing its completion.

Here’s the thing: The final shots of the show are a recreation of the opening shots of episode one, which in itself symbolizes a cycle. There are some different readings you can take from this. An easy one is that “no matter the consequences, life goes on,” a rather touching ending that attempts to make one’s problems trivial but in a good way this time. Another is that it’s supposed to pair with the after-credits stinger, where a now insane Maniwa invites the viewers to watch the series again and see what clues they missed the first time around. My favorite, though, is this one:

The show presented its systematic critique, but, by the end, there was just a monster going around wrecking Tokyo. If changes were enacted, they were on a personal level (and we can get at some of them thanks to Tsukiko’s meaningful haircut and wardrobe change, which I’ll leave as an exercise for the viewer). The ending then, is a warning, that this will happen again. It must. After all, the final shot is of Maniwa taking the old man’s place in the parking lot, doing calculations scrutable only to him, and just like at the beginning, he widens his eyes in fear, aware of what will happen next.


Next time: Darren Aronofsky bought the rights to this movie so he could replicate, like, two shots from it. okay update it's a little more complicated than that but the shots are there

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Edited by radio414

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Movie One -- Perfect Blue
Or: No, Seriously There Are Side-by-Side Comparisons Of This Movie And Requiem For A Dream Check Them Out (also i updated the last bit there check that out too)

Content Warning: The plot of this movie involves a retired idol trying to break into TV acting while being hounded by an obsessive, murderous stalker. As stresses begin to pile up, her sense of reality begins to fray. There are gory murder sequences, multiple sexual assault scenes (one simulated rape, one real, and, depending on your interpretation, the photoshoot counts as well), and a bit of slut-shaming besides. There’s also a brief throwaway line in the first Double Bind scene that could be construed as transphobic, directly harkening to The Silence of the Lambs.

This movie is regarded as one of those “animation isn’t just for kids here’s an example” movies that rank alongside Akira and Ghost in the Shell, and yeah, just look at that list of content warnings. I’m writing this paragraph before I’ve even rewatched the movie and it’s still pretty sizeable just based on my memory. But there are other reasons for that besides the movie’s graphic nature. It would be a mature story even without that; without the stalker and reality-bending, it’s still a story about the give-and-take of the Japanese entertainment industry, about a woman who is coerced into situations she’s uncomfortable with to keep her career alive. It’s interesting, then, that this is not the only Satoshi Kon-directed movie about a star, but is the only one interested in these themes, but, then again, Millennium Actress has its own themes to deal with and he’d already made Perfect Blue.

Another reason the movie isn’t for today’s youths is just that the movie is set in the present of its production, which was around 1998-1999, and it shows not just in the technology being used, but how it is portrayed. Many early scenes are simply Mimi being introduced to the internet, something the more internet-savvy generations have a bit more trouble relating to. It is prescient, though, or at least the problems brought up by the movie -- that the internet as a whole is an anonymizing force for those who wish to do harm while expanding the spotlight of public personae to even their most intimate, private moments, thereafter keeping them in a nigh-indelible record; that -- never really went away, and are frequently seen as features of the system rather than bugs. In that way, a modern interpretation of Perfect Blue starts to ask questions about what we might have left behind in the transition to a digital world. To be clear, there’s no judgment here; the story ends happily (and, if you watch it with the English dub, even unambiguously so), but they are things that people tend to treat as trivial when they absolutely are not.

Just a week ago at time of posting, for example, the main story on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was about data brokers, how easy it is for one’s personal information to be obtained, bought, and sold, whether that’s to corporations for the sole dehumanizing purpose of generating future capital, or for malicious individuals to track their targets. The internet is even more public than we imagine, and yet still many treat it as a private comfort.

It’s this blurring line that Perfect Blue explores most of all. The Mima that appears in CHAM performances, the Mima that has a recurring role in hit detective drama series Double Bind, the Mima that haunts her nightmares wondering if staying as an idol might have been better (after all, CHAM starts doing much better very soon after Mima graduates), none of these are the real Mima Kirigoe. Satoshi Kon hadn’t directed much before this, but he demonstrates this here by already experimenting with his match cut-heavy style, comparing two personae directly through the change in the scenery surrounding them. She’s drawn from those things, of course, but the point is obsessing over a single, unchanging image is what starts the conflict. 

To provide examples would start to spoil the movie, and I do want people who’ve made it this far to watch the movie as blind as possible (though you’ll have to find exactly where by yourself), so to speak in the vaguest of terms, ask yourself while watching: what does each character see Mima as? Why do they think that? Some of this is easy; there are several scenes where characters say it out loud. The most important question, then, is what are they not seeing? And remember, this applies to Mima herself as well. The film references a metamorphosis, a change in herself, so it is as much a self-actualization story as it is the psychological horror it is billed as.

Honestly, I went into the rewatch of this movie expecting something good (obviously, I mean, I remember it being good the first time too), but not as spectacular as it’s hyped up online, but that’s changed now. I still don’t think it’s my favorite part of the Satoshi Kon canon (the list of content warnings a mile long certainly doesn’t help) but it is an important one, and definitely worth celebrating as we start the next step in this rewatch series.


Next time: I have literally started crying just thinking about this movie before.

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Edited by radio414

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Movie Two -- Millennium Actress
Or: For How Much I Love This Movie, You’d Think I’d Learn How To Spell “Millennium” Properly First Try

Yup, still a blubbering mess by the end of that.

Oh, but there are some content warnings to get through first: The main plot is set off by a schoolgirl developing romantic feelings for a man whose age is not described but is definitely in adulthood, though the actual relationship is ambiguous and never even close to sexual. In the Feudal Japan film, the main character discovers her lover is dead and immediately goes to commit suicide. I’d also put a flashing light warning during the post-war montage from all the photography bulbs.

Last week, I made an off-hand observation about the base similarities between this movie and Perfect Blue and noted that, despite that, none of the same themes made it over. Today, I would like to revise that statement. It’s not that Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress are two entirely separate movies tied together only by their production staff, it’s that Millenium Actress serves as its predecessor’s spiritual antithesis. If Perfect Blue argues that fictional stories, fictional representations of oneself, are a precipitous slope that one’s sanity might not come back from, Millennium Actress argues that it’s these same stories we tell ourselves that keep us going.

I’m about to spoil the entirety of this movie, partially because the movie spoils its biggest twist about ten minutes in (an not in a “technically just foreshadowing it, you know, like a good narrative would” way but in a “Genya has the key that means the artist obviously never got it” sort of way), but mostly because the central theme of the movie is futility, that, despite knowing that it’s not worth it, that it can only end badly, it’s still worth it just to press on. The literal actual final line of the movie is Chiyoko saying, “After all, it’s chasing after him that I really love.” If I’m going to talk about this movie, I want to do it in a way that exemplifies those themes. That being said, if you’d still rather go in blind (and weren’t, ah, blindsided by that quote a sentence ago), you have my blessing. If any of that pontificating interested you, give me a few more paragraphs.

Millennium Actress tells the story of Chiyoko Fujiwara, from her early life in 1930s Japan up until the modern-day. A chance encounter with a political dissident turns into a friendship (this is the romance listed in the content warnings) but before she knows it, he is forced to flee, leaving behind only a key, one that unlocks “the most important thing in the world.” Determined to find him, Chiyoko becomes an actress, with the hope that in her travels throughout the world and in film, she might find that man again and return to him what is his. In true Satoshi Kon fashion, it's a fictional biography (though the story was inspired by the life of Japanese film actress Setsuko Hara) told through the lens of a documentary, which itself is depicted in the blurring reality between Chiyoko's real-life quest and that of the characters she portrayed on the screen. It's not just her quest, though.

Every character in this movie besides maybe comic relief character Kyouji Ida has a dream, an ideal they want to achieve, and each of them fails in that dream. Chiyoko obviously never meets the man who gave her that key. Genya, in turn, never even gets to profess his love to Chiyoko, Eiko views Chiyoko as an obstacle keeping her from starring roles, Otaki’s marriage to her is based on a lie, and so on down the line. On the face of it, that makes for a pretty depressing movie. However, I said the principal theme was futility, and futility requires one extra ingredient: In the face of a hopeless situation, the futility comes from knowing it’s hopeless, and that’s really what matters here. That’s the twist that Millennium Actress throws at people, that they all know.

Now, this may seem contrary to the actual text of the movie. After all, the only ones who knew exactly when and how the man with the key died are Genya and the man who killed him, something Genya only reveals privately to Ida (and the audience) later. But I counter that argument with the final conversation, where Chiyoko talks about finding the man with the key in the afterlife. She knew he was already dead by then, and it didn’t matter. Why? Because that willful ignorance is more fun or, to use a more positive term, that suspension of disbelief, is more fun.

This is what I mean when I say I want any viewers I encourage to see this movie to know about it going in. That’s why I audibled to that specific term, one that has a history of use in media criticism. The audience can probably guess from moment one what “the key used to unlock the most important thing in the world” is, just as Chiyoko can. But it’s more fun to treat it as a MacGuffin, a thing the plot needs to keep moving forward. It’s not special until the audience makes it so. Is the lie worth it? I mean, yeah, this is one of my favorite movies.

“These things are still worth doing.” Yes, it’s one of those blog posts again. Part of me wonders why we keep running into this theme. I assure you, it’s not intentional. This one falls more closely to a sub-category that we haven’t quite explored on the blog, though: Why would you watch this knowing that it doesn’t end the way you want? Why would you want to experience the futility that I’ve already told you is there waiting for you by the end?

There are two common answers to this. The first is simply that of catharsis. This is the argument that says that we do these things to experience the emotion in a safe space -- in the case of movies, a dark, hopefully silent room. I may have been a blubbering mess by the end of Millennium Actress, but I knew I would be, and, to be honest, it was a good cry. To provide the second reason, and perhaps the more thematically cohesive one in this case, I’m going to point to another piece of media, this time a musical called Hadestown, which was written by Anais Mitchel and directed by Rachel Chavkin. Now, the story in Hadestown is literally that of Orpheus and Eurydice with a sprinkling of Hades’ kidnap of Persephone thrown in there for good measure. I can’t spoil these, they’re literally older than the written word. The show asks this question of itself, though, in its opening and closing numbers. “It’s a sad song,” sings Hermes. “It’s a sad tale -- it’s a tragedy!” And the question is answered, “We’re gonna sing it anyway […] Maybe it’ll turn out well this time.”

And that’s the key point, for both that show and the characters in Millennium Actress. Knowing how things are surely going to go does not deny them the fantasy that they might not. To draw on another Greek myth, I’m also going to draw a parallel to the myth of Pandora. After releasing the evils of the world from her box, Pandora finds one final thing left at the bottom: hope. In Millennium Actress, the almost-full moon is a recurring motif, drawn attention to by one of the few lines the man with the key has. “When the moon is full, there is nowhere else for it to go but to wane again. But on the fourteenth night, there is still tomorrow, and hope.” And that’s the comfort that keeps the world moving, that keeps Chiyoko’s search going, that pushes Genya to help her despite knowing more than anyone else the search’s true nature. It’s why I watch this movie. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out for the better.


Next time: The best Christmas movie don’t @ me.

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Edited by radio414

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Movie Three -- Tokyo Godfathers
Or: Everything Is A Coincidence, There Are No Coincidences

Content Warning: One of the three main characters, Hana, is a trans woman, and while it’s super cool and she’s super cool, there’s also a lot of misgendering. This is particularly prevalent in the subtitles of languages where pronouns are more gendered, like, for example, English. This is very much a “depending on the translator, and most translators are wrong” sort of thing. I understand when this movie was on Netflix many insults became outright f-slurs. Make no mistake, there are actual moments of characters expressing transphobia, but yeah, also keep an eye out for that. The movie also features a suicidal woman overcome with grief after a miscarriage, a dialog description of domestic abuse, and, in the scene where Miyuki and Gin are fighting in the trash heap, a brief instance of sexual assault.

I’d say this is a “love it or hate it” sort of movie, but that’s not really true. There’s basically one sort of person who hates this movie (that is, one sort of person I’m going to talk about here, dismissing the rest off-hand like the flippant amateur movie critic that I am), and that’s the person that sees this movie as nothing but a string of coincidences. In defense of this strawman argument, it is right. Very few actions in this movie are brought upon by a principal character making a decision -- the biggest one I can think of off the top of my head is Hana insisting that they keep the baby Kiyoko in the first place -- and if your reaction to the events of the ending is anywhere near “Come on!” then it’s entirely likely the other eighty minutes of movie were equally interminable.

It is, however, not the point of the movie. Instead, by loosely stringing together a series of vignettes, Tokyo Godfathers starts to ask questions about family and the redemption (and, because the events hardly matter and the character motivations do, light spoilers ahead!). The first is rather obvious. Hana, Gin, and Miyuki are basically a family of homeless people, with the former two being like an old married couple and the latter the child they’ve been raising for the past six months. At the same time, of course, each of them has a family they’ve left behind for their own reasons. The question is asked: Which of their families is the real one? I’ll answer this, but first, let’s talk about the other theme.

The reason these three are left wandering the streets of Tokyo is because of their past, which they find irredeemable. Gin left his wife and child in financial ruin, having racked up drinking and gambling debts. Hana and Miyuki both assaulted someone. But the feeling of irredemption is entirely one-sided. This is something introduced incredibly early on -- Miyuki and her father cross paths and never once is he enraged at the sight of her, instead desperately trying to get her attention -- and continues even after all three of the protagonists have started to get their acts together when Sachiko is introduced as well. Part of this plays into the setting; I called this a Christmas movie last week, and I meant it. The story starts with a Christmas Eve mass. “1225” is an arc number, for crying out loud, appearing basically any time there’s a number important to the plot.

This redemption does not come without work, of course. In one of the many times this movie states its thesis out loud with a character looking into the lens is in the hospital, where a doctor tells Gin, “All anyone can do is their best.” Now, there are a couple of different interpretations of this line. Perhaps the most obvious is a discussion of karma, the classic “What goes around comes around,” but that feels a bit lacking. Instead, I lean towards a more personal affirmation; by “doing one's best” no matter the consequences, one can continue onwards with their head held high. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie, but only at a first glance.

The trick is to view the character actions and the events of the movie as wholly separate, only occasionally overlapping (and really only near the end). Remember, that’s what we were doing anyway since the whole movie is one coincidental encounter after another. Even then, each character slowly learns to do the best they can. It takes some doing. Gin struggles with his alcoholism, Hana’s desire to be a mother kickstarts the whole plot, and Miyuki frequently stops herself short, but it’s there all the same.

And now we circle back to that first theme, that of a family of blood compared to the family you choose, and which one is more valid than the other. It’s tempting to say that it’s the former. After all, the whole movie was about returning Kiyoko to her rightful parents, and each of the protagonists has made up with their family. But there are three pretty big cracks in that armor, and all of them are rather obvious once they become apparent. The first is that Hana, Gin, and Miyuki still end the movie together, despite making up with their respective other families. The second is that Hana’s “traditional” family doesn’t exist; she was abandoned by her mother and her husband is dead.

The last one, though, is that by the end of the movie, all three are indeed related through Kiyoko. By the end of the movie, they’re asked to become Kiyoko’s godparents. In this way, it’s an odd subversion of both “A person always belongs with who birthed them,” and “your family is yours to create.” Neither are invalidated by the movie’s conclusion, which is simply a heartfelt, “Whatever a family is to you, you need one. Your family is whoever is always there for you.” And that’s a nice Christmastime message, I think.

Even if I’m posting this in April.


Next time: Imagine Inception but, like, good

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Movie Four -- Paprika
Or: I Dreamt Of A Butterfly Who Dreamt It Was Me

Content Warning: Aside from the obvious feeling of doubting one's own reality that permeates the movie, there is one moment I would like to point out specifically. There is a massive sexual-assault warning after Paprika gets captured by butterflies. Also, one of the main characters is overweight and spends a good portion of the movie dealing with fatphobia. I have seen people get (reasonably!) turned off of stories for less, so fair warning there as well.

This is obviously not Satoshi Kon’s first foray into dream logic -- again, quite the opposite, unfortunately, as this would be his last -- but it is the first time it is dealt with so directly as to actually be dreams causing the surreality. Instead, Kon takes advantage of the decade of cultural change since Perfect Blue’s release in 1997 to go back to the well his first movie introduced and dig a little deeper. In this way, Paprika asks its questions: “How do we see ourselves? Through what lens?”

Even without the characters spelling it out in the middle of the story, the fact that the movie brings them into such close contrast would be evidence enough. On the internet of 2006, you can be anyone you like, just as people often become other things in their dreams. But in both cases, that doesn’t make these creations “not you,” merely another facet. And this is true even when you try to deny it. To put in the perspective of a modern (at time of writing) meme trend, it would be like reading something you posted in some other character and being like, “This is nothing like me!” “My friend in Christ,” comes the reply, “You typed the words.”

Or, for those who’ve played those games, I guess it’s like the Persona series.

This is all probably getting a little complex, though, to be fair, we’ve dabbled in Jungian topics such as these before. Even still, it’s possible to pull back a bit and just enjoy the movie for what it is: a murder mystery straight out of Ghost in the Shell combined with a psychologist double-life story with a healthy dose of Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut thrown in there for good measure. That still makes it sound more complicated than it is, and, to be fair, I was being a little smarmy coming up with that combination, but really there are only three key themes at play here and we’ve already started talking about one of them. 

The murder mystery turns out to be part of a philosophical battle. The chairman is introduced with a long-winded monolog about how science is intruding on something sacred, with the culprit taking their own stand against what they perceive to be the natural order of things. This is especially apparent when it’s revealed that the machine in question, the DC Mini, was designed by genius inventor Kousaku Tokita for function first and safety… never. Given that this is a Japanese movie and similar circumstances led to the creation of the atomic bomb, well, I’ll leave the viewer to draw their own conclusions on the ending there. Suffice it to say, the nature of dreams and reality is the second key theme. To match the question motif I’ve been asking, this question would be “How do we see the world?”

Finally, then, is “How do others see us?” The initial motive suggested is that the culprit was jealous of Tokita’s genius, which Tokita himself seems difficult to see, but, then again, he doesn’t fare well in social relationships anyway. Meanwhile, Doctor Osanai outright says that he’s jealous of our lead, Atsuko Chiba, but she doesn’t think anything of it until much later in the movie.

I’m trying not to spoil this one because it is a mystery worth solving. Like with the Perfect Blue post, I’d like to just ask the questions to keep the viewer thinking throughout the movie. I will also add that the movie’s dream logic means it uses recurring motifs to draw the connections. When Detective Konakawa comes through that door or turns that hallway, he always moves the same way, for example, or how the parade always introduces itself with the same appliances at the front. Again, you can tune out and enjoy the gorgeous animation -- Kon and Madhouse were once again at the top of their game for this one -- but I would encourage you to keep thinking.

In terms of a finale, I don’t have much for this one because I spent most of that at the end of Paranoia Agent. I don’t even have a happier ending besides enjoying myself much more in these movies than I did with the show. I don’t have a happy ending in real-life, either; Kon remains dead, his final unfinished work remains in development hell, and, to tell the truth, these movies did not make that much money in the theater anyway. They were successful, sure, and obviously they’re good or I wouldn’t be talking about them, but not to the degree that investors might have hoped.

And yet, we remember them. Maybe that’s a happy ending enough.


I don’t know what’s going on next. I’m definitely taking a month-long break again, but after that, I don’t know if I have something in mind or if I’ll throw up another poll. If anyone has suggestions, I may as well listen, but otherwise, keep on the lookout for any of that.

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Episode One -- The Black Swordsman
Or: They Thought They Could Stop A Demon I’m Back

In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity or law? Is it like the hand of God hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control, even over his own will.

Content Warning: I’m going to put a broad one up at the top of this series and then reiterate parts of it as the episodes require. Berserk is a dark series. It is perhaps “the” dark fantasy manga, for all that that phrasing implies, and occasionally uses elements such as (but not exclusively) gore, sexual violence, and derogatory language as part of its story. I would argue that some of it is necessary for the story being told, which I will get to in a moment, although other parts of it, especially earlier in the series, are wholly extraneous and largely for shock value. Mangaka Kentaro Miura has admitted as such in interviews. There’s a reason Wyald has been adapted out of every adaptation of The Golden Age, for example. This is a link to a Reddit post with a timestamp and description of every sexual assault in Berserk (1997). I will be referencing it for the warnings here.

Episode One opens with a young girl harassed by a group of armed men in a bar. It is largely through implication but it does set the tone for the entire series, including what happens when Guts makes his appearance. I know this was a lot of reading already, and I apologize for that. I wouldn’t be talking about this show if it wasn’t worth it.

By the time I was into Berserk, Kentaro Miura was already dead.

It was actually a pair of eulogies that introduced me. I had known of Berserk before this -- it’s difficult not to with something this influential -- but it was these two that convinced me that firstly, someone like me (an Utena-watcher) could enjoy what I always thought was a gorefest and little else; and second, that it was still worth watching despite knowing it would likely end up incomplete.

The second point is something we’ll get back to later. It’s important to note here at the start that these are not unique qualities to Berserk. My introduction to Satoshi Kon was Tony Kon and Taylor Ramos’ eulogy retrospective on his editing style, and a tweet by Kon later directed me to then-free access to Millennium Actress. Kon even has leftover work that will likely never be finished. Nobody is going to direct Dream Machine despite how many people might want Studio Madhouse to work on it. But there is something that does make Berserk special, and I would like to broadly outline my thesis here for the rest of the show.

I have made a decent amount of hey regarding shows that depict the will to live and love as the cure-all for the systemic oppression the world inflicts upon us. Berserk is one of those. I will not deny that. But also, most if not all of these shows depict this theme as a revelation, something to work to reveal to its audience. Not so here. It is a stated theme in the opening of the manga and the show. Notice the question at the top of the post. To paraphrase it in a way that makes Void look less pretentious, it’s “What do you do when nothing you can do matters?” Hell, one character exclusively refers to our main character Guts as, “The Struggler.”

But even if you don’t get that, Berserk has more to offer. It has to. Each new character introduced asks more questions about both the world they exist in and ours as readers. Both Griffith and Casca have arcs running in parallel to Guts, not to mention Rickert’s development throughout the manga or the members of Guts’ party and their growth. These are questions like, “What does it mean to be trusted wholeheartedly by someone else? Does that make you their friend or their leader?” Void continues to ask questions like this at the end of each of these episodes. Yes, they’re broad and nebulous, but they are touched on.

Because of the lens I am using to introduce Berserk as a whole -- I’m not covering the 2016 anime lmao -- these may dip into the background from time to time, but I will bring up the other arcs where I can, and I invite anyone reading this blog, if any of this sounds interesting to you, to follow the manga as well. It’s certainly more available to purchase online than a Blu-ray that only this year got out of rights hell, that’s for sure. I’m sure you can find other ways to watch or read Berserk too, but I won’t say what those are. It’s there if you go looking, though.

Again, see those content warnings and there is no judgment if it’s not for you, but I do hope you enjoy.

One thing to know about the 1997 adaptation of Berserk is how low-budget it is. I don’t mean this as disparagement, just that it is the reason for much of the show’s aesthetic, especially for an episode that isn’t technically part of the arc of the show. Matte paintings paired with camera pans to simulate frenzy, cheating on even basic framing such as hiding mouth movements, and a transformation that takes place entirely off-screen. On the one hand, I respect it for this episode specifically. The Black Swordsman is already probably the worst arc in the series (mostly by being the first, before Miura had figured out what it was even about yet, and it’s still not bad. We’ll get to this later too), and The Golden Age is where people started paying attention, and is also the arc the rest of the show will be adapting. On the other, it is the first episode of the show. First impressions matter, and they didn’t even adapt the good parts of The Black Swordsman.

But speaking of first impressions, what do we have to work with?

The Black Swordsman is Guts at his lowest point. He is a lone wanderer, going from town to town and fighting both demonic creatures in human form called Apostles and specters haunting him because of a cursed brand on his neck. He is missing his right eye and his left hand, even if he has a nifty brace that doubles as both a repeating crossbow and a cannon. He has a massive hunk of metal strapped to his back, much too big to be called a sword. If you ask a random person to describe an edgelord, the result would likely not be too far from Guts as described here. But what’s important, then, is even with all of this brooding, there are still moments of benevolence. The very first thing Guts does after walking into town is save a girl from a sexual assault. His big nihilistic speech as he wails on the Snake Baron is still one in defense of humanity.

In terms of the world, the world of Midland is in ruins. More importantly, it is in ruins because of the supernatural. I have already mentioned the Apostles, each of whom has a magical artifact called a Behelit, but there is also mention in the opening pub scene of a “Lord Griffith,” a name Guts later associates with one of the five monstrous figures of his hallucination. It’s important to point out the magic, I think, because it’s about to become increasingly hard to find. This is one of the main adaptational changes the show makes from the manga. As much supernatural as possible has been excised from the Golden Age. Magic is a violent and disruptive force here, and its return signals the age’s end. Put a pin in that for later too, though.

By revealing itself to be an in-medias res opening episode, The Black Swordsman leaves us with a question: How? How did things get to be this way? What connection does Guts have with Griffith to drive him berserk at the mere hallucination of his presence? And who are those other people in the ending credits?

Oh, I suppose I’m jumping ahead of Void here to ask it the episode’s way. See you next week,


Next time: For what do humans come into being? What goals do they set for themselves in life? And why do they meet those destined to become important to them? Everything may rely solely on fate.

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Episode Two -- The Band of the Hawk
Or: Introducing the Love Interests. Yes, I Said Interests, Plural

Content Warning: After the midcard break is a surreal dream sequence where a young boy relives a sexual assault. Just after that, a woman is ordered against her will to lie naked with a man to share body heat. Above the break, I’m going to describe a scene involving encouraging someone to commit suicide.

It’s a bit early to be going too deep into the manga when I want to be focusing on the arc laid out before us here, but given we just finished all of what the show is going to give us of the Black Swordsman arc, I thought this would be a good place to talk about this arc in the manga and what you might have missed. For example, Puck!

Puck is an elf, of the androgynous, faerie-looking sort, who Guts saves in the tavern instead of that village girl and he continues to follow Guts around as he goes on his one-man campaign against the Apostles. While Guts outwardly rejects Puck’s company, elf pixie dust is a potent cure-all in this universe, so Puck’s presence becomes outright necessary if Guts is to continue moving. Puck is important because his nature contrasts against the rest of the world thus far. Kindness is possible in this world, even if Guts doesn’t want to admit it. It’s Puck who states the thesis of the series instead of Guts, leaving Guts’ belief in the indomitable will of the human spirit to survive mostly to subtext.

But what subtext it is! The only other major battle in the Black Swordsman arc is against an apostle only referred to as The Count. Unlike the Snake Baron, where Guts simply walks into town and calls him out of his fortress (or the first apostle fight that’s not canon don’t at me on this), the fight to get to The Count involves asking an important question: What even is an apostle?

The big reveal is that an apostle is a human who has made a demonic bargain for power and seeming immortality, but you must sacrifice whatever you most hold dear to do so, dooming the sacrificed to an eternity in Berserk’s version of hell. Behelits act as conduits for this sacrifice, and they only call the necessary powers when you are at your lowest point, so perhaps apostles could be seen as this: In the choice to either die or give up everything that made life worth living, apostles have chosen the latter. When you put it that way, all apostles are, in some twisted way, sympathetic creatures. Nobody wants to die, after all, and one can only imagine the point that many apostles were driven to before taking the bargain. But this is dulled by how terrible the sacrifice is, and the fact that most of them are, to put it lightly, terrible people. The Snake Baron eats children. The Count cares for his daughter and is depicted as truly caring for his wife (again, you can’t sacrifice someone you don’t truly love), but he’s a knight templar for his religion and has used his powers since becoming an apostle to inflict a reign of terror, executing anyone who even dares look at him funny.

Remember, Guts got a vision of demonic figures in the anime’s first episode, and he called one of them Griffith. This is our first inkling of what is doomed to happen by the end of the show.

But back to Guts and human life for a moment, because this is something I think gives a better introduction to Guts and asks a better “How did it come to this?” than anything that came before. The Count’s daughter Theresia finds out about her father’s demonic nature and is already disillusioned, but The Count’s dying declaration of love for her leaves her truly broken, wholly uncertain if there is anything worth living on for without him. Guts steps in and acts like the sort of edgelord that we have seen for three volumes of manga now, insulting her and going so far as to encourage her to kill herself if she really doesn’t see anything worth living for.

Theresia doesn’t kill herself, though. Instead, she proclaims her new purpose in life is to get revenge, to kill Guts in any way she can. Guts says he is glad to hear it, turns his back, and walks away. Puck, horrified by all this, flies after Guts and tries to confront him to his face but he stops when we see Guts finally breaking down himself. In the final panels of the Black Swordsman arc, Guts starts to cry.

Remember what Guts said in the anime. Humanity will always find a reason to live. It will make it up if it has to. But that doesn’t mean it will never hurt.

This is the episode that introduces Griffith properly into the story, and there are three quotes of his that I want to highlight throughout this episode, each so packed with meaning that we’re going to be spending the next twenty-some episodes unpacking all of them. Here they are in the order that they appear.

“Do as you will”

These are Griffith’s first words in the manga as he allows Corkus and the members of the Band of the Hawk under his command to attempt to rob Guts of some bounty money. It is a very simple statement that asks an implicit question: What do you even want to do? These days, if you’re a little pretentious, it calls to mind a specific quote by Robert Caro: “When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, you see what the guy always wanted to do.” In this instance, Corkus only has power over his men and is portrayed as ambitious to a fault. He says he wanted to challenge the same warrior Guts had and use that to attain his glory. Much of The Golden Age arc is a power struggle, and it’s what that power means and what the principal characters are using to get it or hold onto it that are the driving thrusts of the arc.

Then again this paragraph dances around the issue of Griffith being the one to say it. Griffith as a character has been debated over and over since the nineties, and some of the weight of this line is technically spoilers even to people who have read every published volume of Berserk, so I just want to point it out and put a pin in it for later.

“I believe you don’t have a purpose in life and put your life on the line as a way to try and find it.”

Much of this is covered in the preamble to this post (side note, I think I really like talking about Berserk), but let’s also get into specifics. Guts is a loner mercenary, traveling from battle to battle. His backstory, covered more in the manga but depicted in a dream sequence here, is that he was unwillingly taken in by a mercenary named Gambino who trained him from birth to earn his keep the only way one can in a mercenary camp: by fighting. After years of such abuse, Guts kills Gambino in self-defense and flees the camp. He fights in battles like he has a death wish, but a key character trait of Guts’ is his absolute refusal to die. Even when he has nothing worth living for, it is better than the alternative. This is why Guts is called “The Struggler.”

Griffith brings up Guts’ fight at the beginning of the episode with Basuzo, a man who, legend tells, fought off thirty men at once and fights bears on the regular. Guts was very lucky to not die in that fight. Then again, maybe it was fate.

“No matter what, I will get what I want.”

We ask again, what is it exactly that Griffith wants? In this specific instance, he wants Guts, though it’s not shown exactly what that’s supposed to mean. In the manga, Guts implies that Griffith might be the sort of person who wants to exploit him sexually (and in the Dark Horse translation, uses a homophobic slur I’m not going to repeat here), and there are certainly homoerotic undertones to Guts and Griffith’s relationship -- we haven’t even gotten to the water fight -- so maybe that is part of it, but that’s only one facet of what Griffith wants. It could be that Griffith wants what he currently has -- an adoring mass of people willing to fight and die for him as the Band of the Hawk. But that’s only one facet as well.

I’m beating around the bush. We saw Griffith last episode in Guts’ vision. We know how this is going to end. This line here is one of those “when you meet the character who is going to betray you” lines.

It’s also important to mention Casca’s introduction here. Although it’s difficult to get into Casca’s whole deal without a few more episodes under our belt, we can get a few inklings here, largely of her absolute loyalty to Griffith. She is the one who follows Guts and Griffith to witness their first duel and calls out out of concern for Griffith’s safety. Of all the members of the Band of the Hawk, her story is the one we’re going to spend the most time on, which is good because you can probably guess what happens to everyone by the time The Black Swordsman arc rolls around.

Next time: The story has begun. While they are entwined with strings spun by fate, the boy cries out, and the girl is stirred by emotion -- “It’s you who I want.” He does it to survive… That is why the boy wields his sword. Where will destiny take him?

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