How does one sanction evil?
The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.
But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.
On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.
Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.
[Spoilers for Bungo Stray Dogs Seasons 1-3 Ahead]
I have no plans to make any sort of big “best of the decade” post, purely because I became an anime fan right around the midsection of this decade and always feel I can become more cultured. However, if you all would permit one instance of passionate and opinionated hyperbole, it would be that Psycho-Pass is one of the best science fiction series of the past decade.
But that word “series” carries a certain connotation. After all, there have been three seasons of Psycho-Pass and about four films, not counting the novel and video game spin-offs as well. Furthermore, after season one, the quality of the series is contentious at best.
Some argue the first season is the peak and then all sequels pale in comparison to varying degrees. It’s a perspective that I can’t necessarily argue with, even if I enjoy most of the content after season two. Regardless, I think that the series’ continued lifespan speaks well of the intentions of the creators at the beginning: To create a new popular brand within the Sci-fi genre.
I want to take a closer look at the series piece by piece – similar to my Bungo Stray Dogs retrospective – and look at the franchise as a whole to see if it was a one-trick pony or not.
Ghost in the Shell (GITS for short), the acclaimed manga by Shirow Masamune, portrays a future Japan after a third and fourth world war that has advanced prosthesis to the point that full-body cyborgs exist. The series has existed in animated form ever since the classic from 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and each new entry has taken a different approach to utilize this world to talk about philosophy and ethics through the lens of a post-singularity world. There is one entry, however, that has been glossed over in the past, but which I believe to be criminally underrated.
This is my unedited essay on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. This will contain spoilers for the film, so read at your own peril. If you would like the SPOILER-FREE review, click here.
It’s one thing to review anime that no one talks about, and that’s pretty fun. Chances are if I’m struggling to find content discussing an obscure show that looks cool, there are others just as aggrevated. I feel obligated to give these shows some publicity, whether it be good or bad. What’s more interesting are the times when the anime I’m reviewing is a more obscure part of a well-known series.
Recently I had the opportunity to analyze a film for my course on media criticism and decided to write about Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel to the very influential Ghost in the Shell from 1995. Despite having the same director and an impressive visual onslaught, the film has never gotten the same acclaim. after all these years. This surprises me, because given the choice between which I like better… I might enjoy Innocence more.
This is a reworked, SPOILER-FREE version of that essay, so treat this like a review of the film. For the UNEDITED ESSAY, click here.
It’s a criminal understatement to say that Superheroes are pretty big in America. The Marvel Cinematic universe alone has been releasing some of the highest grossing films every year since 2008, having released 16 films at the time of writing. Superheroes and what they stand for are integral to American pop culture. America isn’t the only country with superheroes, but it is safe to say it popularized them by creating some of the most iconic heroes ever made.
So it’s interesting what happens when artists from other countries craft stories about Superheroes. How do they view superheroes and what kinds of stories do they make about them? British comic artists like Alan Moore opt for a more grim take on superhumans in alternate timeline stories like Watchman or even in established properties like Batman: The Killing Joke. But recently, Japan has made a few Anime that have captured the superhero market of America in a big way.
One Punch Man by Studio Madhouse and My Hero Academia by Studio Bones are two of the most popular Anime of the last three years. Both produced by credible high-profile studios and both garnering a fair following in the US. The former a viral hit and the latter an ongoing shonen series that is essentially a textbook guide for how to do a shonen series right. On top of all of that, these shows are fantastic superhero stories.
There is a reason I chose to analyze these two series through the lens of superhero fiction rather than say the shonen genre like most people do. The most monumental difference I notice between these two Anime and superheroes in the west is that the government doesn’t just coexist with superheroes, but actively regulates and monitors them.
Keeping this in mind, what would it be like to live in the worlds of these shows or even be a hero in one of them? Are these societies and their systems stable? Most importantly, what do these shows do with the superhero genre that isn’t too common in American superhero fiction?