Tag Archives: war

Attack on Titan: “Why We Fight” For the Otaku Age?

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There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. —Genesis 6:4-5

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyoujin) is the most popular new manga and anime in the world right now. Or so it seems, based on more than 20 million manga copies sold, high anime ratings, and at Anime Expo, as many cosplayers dressed in the uniforms of the Survey Corps as there once were Naruto headbands. Even within the usually snobbish English aniblogosphere, it’s the most talked-about series for the past two seasons. It’s also one of my favorite series airing right now, one I eagerly look forward to every week.

What’s going on? What’s led this story about the war between humans and giants to sweep through the anime scene faster than the Colossal Titan can knock down walls?

During the Second World War, the American government produced a series of propaganda films called “Why We Fight.” Produced and largely directed by Frank Capra of It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the series was initially aimed at soldiers, and only later shown to civilians. The films sought to convince the troops that, should the Axis Powers prevail in Europe and Asia, they would be an overwhelming, implacable foe that would easily overwhelm an isolated America with their sheer numbers. The enemy’s own propaganda, such as The Triumph of the Will, was spliced in to reinforce the fearsomeness and ugly racist ideology they faced. The films also sought to explain why the US was teaming up with the Soviet Union, who would not normally be an ally of a Western capitalist democracy. Sometimes you have to join forces with people who may not necessarily be to your liking in order to defeat an even greater enemy.

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One can see that the general narrative of Attack on Titan hits a lot of the same points as this classic piece of wartime persuasion. From the start, the viewer is convinced that the fight Eren and his family and friends face is one of sheer survival against a terrifying, superior foe. They need no films to convince them of that fact: the people they care about are eaten right before their very eyes. Eren’s goal from the day his mother perished is to avenge her death and to kill all the Titans, and in order to do so, he wishes to not only join the military, but to join its most dangerous and elite branch, the Survey Corps. He and his friends all enlist together, train together (mostly), and fight together…and by the most recent episode, all the main characters are all within the same Survey Corps that Eren sought to join from the start. Along the way, Eren himself comes under fire for his Titan-generating powers, but the authorities are eventually convinced that his dangerous powers are worth harnessing for the greater good of humanity, even though they know he is still not in full control of them.

Or perhaps “propaganda” is the wrong term. First off–just because something is “propaganda” (we just call it “advertising” today) doesn’t make it untrue, at least not entirely: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan really did stand for odious racial ideologies and did commit many atrocities. Moreover the goal of Attack on Titan in our world is not to necessarily convince us to join some real military and go fight literal giants or other oppressive enemies–except perhaps one’s own internal demons, as producer George Wada suggested in discussing his motivations for making the anime. It’s a ripping good yarn, full of intense emotions, action, and an uncanny ability to keep the audience guessing what comes next. (Few shows have been as difficult to discuss without the threat of spoilers than this one in recent memory.) This is a war story told from the perspective of soldiers, and it’s natural that themes common to war movies are featured heavily: camaraderie, corrupt senior officers/leaders in conflict with sharp, practical ones, grief at the heavy human toll of fighting, but always with the determination to fight another day. Some of the most thrilling scenes aren’t just the parts where the soldiers swing, Spider Man-like, from rooftop to Titan with their 3D Maneuver Gear–just in episode 17, there was a masterfully directed visual explanation of the Advance Scout Formation. The story is so gung-ho, even military strategy is exciting!

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But all stories are not going to just resonate within themselves, but in the outer world too. And societies often look for enemies to unite against as an easy way to unify the people and get them to adopt a desired attitude or take a certain action. Within the world of Attack on Titan, there is no ambiguity about the enemy: they are monsters (though we are getting more and more hints about what they really are), and must be stopped if the human race is to survive. Past fascist regimes also sought to dehumanize their enemies, often as a prelude toward genocide: the Jews are like rats, the Chinese are like dogs. (In turn, the Japanese were depicted as monkey-like in American propaganda, which made it easier to violate the rights of Japanese Americans by sending them to camps). In order to activate the primal human sense that you must fight, your foes must die or you die, you have to convince people that the enemy is both inhuman and incomprehensible on some level. By contrast, the heroes are soldiers: valiant men and women who risk their lives, whose best leaders are wise and who follow a well-designed plan, and even when they face obstacles and danger, they will ultimately prevail.

This is not what I am saying: that this is necessarily a bad thing or a bad or dangerous story that should be shunned. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge that the structure and the appeal of Attack on Titan is not an accident, because it plays on time-honored storytelling techniques that have been used to get people to get up and fight. And there are many things in this world that actually are worth fighting for in a metaphorical way. Wada’s comparison of the Titans to every human’s fear of change and the outside world is actually very compelling. We all have “Titans” in our lives that we have to battle daily, and Walls that hold us back. That’s a worthwhile thing to fight for: and that’s not mentioning fighting against social injustice, tyranny, or other worthy causes.

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Here’s the thing though: while this story is not trying to get people to fight a bad war, a story like it sometimes can. The South Korean nationalists who decried Attack on Titan as a piece of Japanese militaristic propaganda, where the Titans are the Koreans and it’s training Japanese boys to become soldiers, are certainly wrong: I’m sure Iseyama, Wada, and Araki did not think the Titans literally represent a particular nation or people. They just want to tell a great story that appeals to many people and perhaps give them a little more courage to live.

Attack on Titan is not going to get the current generation of Japanese youth to all join the Self Defense Forces (which, if Prime Minister Abe gets his way, will be renamed). But, in a world where North Korea rattles its nuclear saber, China grows increasingly hostile over a few islands, and there is serious talk about revising the pacifist Japanese Constitution…in the extremes, one can also imagine another well-directed film or TV series with similarly bombastic music, thrilling visuals, and daring heroes beating the odds that inspires youth all over to dress up like them, like soldiers. And in that alternate story, the enemy might not be as fantastical as monstrous giants. It might be clearer, and more immediate, and identifiable. It’s been done before, after all (start at 1:00):

So who are the Titans we need to fight against? That is the question.

It’s interesting that in a much older story, it’s only when the giants and their descendents appear that people became so evil that God sent the Flood.

An Ill-Managed War

Zach Logan and Tsukento have some interesting points to make over at the One Piece podcast.  They claim manga now exists in a state of war, and in the wake of SOPA, with ACTA on the horizon, that claim is certainly not hard to swallow. Some of their specific assertions, however, are rather eyebrow-raising.

Zach writes,

It’s law that is so sacred that it’s in the U.S. Constitution. These laws are what make the works of Oda, Kishimoto, and even Kubo a possibility.

There are two double-takes that I did as I read that. First off, intellectual property law as it now exists is an interpretation of older legal principles. It did not historically exist, though those principles did. While yes, the US Constitution does allow for Congress to secure rights for authors and inventors, copyright law in the 18th century was a very different beast from our modern concept of intellectual property.  Most of the rights that lawyers are now concerned with did not exist at the time, and especially noteworthy, it is only recently that intellectual properties are actually handled as real properties, rather than simply convenient fictions that exist to protect authors.  (Not coincidentally, the fiction of corporations as persons has also been stretched and reinterpreted in recent years.)

The modern reinterpretation is, if you will, the equivalent of a programmer kludging some code to make it do different things rather than starting cleanly from scratch. This is one reason people confuse copyright violation with theft, when the two are legally distinct: we are using old laws to handle rights and violations that did not exist when those laws were promulgated.  Zach may argue that copyright violation is morally indefensible in the same manner as theft, but then we are not entering a legal discussion: he is asking readers to share his morality, after which their agreement with his points will be obvious.

The term “sacred” – always a dubious choice in a discussion of secular law – presages this shaky claim. Pretending continuity between the copyright law of the past and the intellectual property rights of the present is roughly the same as asserting that Film studies existed before the earliest camera, that Protestantism existed before certain European monks re-interpreted the Bible, or asserting that modern Wicca should be identified with ancient paganism: it may lend legitimacy, but it is only true if one does not look too deeply. For that matter, the Constitution specifies that Congress may not prohibit, but may tax, the Importation of Persons – in historical context, the slave trade.  Ought we to treat America’s profit from the buying and selling of human beings as “sacred” as well? Even if intellectual property rights had appeared in their present form, appearing in the Constitution may not be a perfect indicator that a law ought to be treated with special reverence.

As a second major objection to this quote, US law is not what allows the works of Oda, Kishimoto, and Kubo to exist, because mangaka are producing content under Japanese law. Certainly, the US laws are very influential, and Japan has some ideas about intellectual property that are very close to US ideas (witness their agreement on ACTA) but suggesting that manga would not be made in Japan if the US had not developed this particular legal interpretation of an artist’s right to control his art is quite a stretch.  In fact, some economics experts argue that international rights themselves restrict art and lead to inefficiency.

Creating international trade rights creates an artificial scarcity where no real scarcity exists. That, by definition, is inefficient.

– Thomas Lenard

What Zach perhaps means to say is that the principle behind the law – the idea that authors are compensated for the work they do – is what enables mangaka to produce manga for a living.  On that we all must agree.  But this acknowledgement of necessity is a far cry from a ringing endorsement of the exact, current methods of ensuring that authors are compensated.  It is the methods that the angry fans the article quotes disagree with, and it is a distributor, not a creator, that they have vented their ire on. (Translation is an act of creation, legally speaking, but one who views a free scanlation is viewing a different creation from the officially translated product anyway.)

 

Tsukento writes, parodying an angry fan,

I also hope for the only major company that helped shaped this industry to crash and burn, preventing us from ever seeing official releases again!

But this misses the point. What industry? From an economic rationale, to someone who only wishes to view manga if it is free, there is no benefit derived from the existence of VIZ. On the other hand, if VIZ is going to DCMA takedown the sites these particular fans like, then VIZ is (from that point of view) harming them by interfering with what they want to do. Wishing for VIZ to collapse is therefore sensible for them from an economic perspective, given those starting points. Arguing with them over the finer points of VIZ policy but ignoring the basic truth that underlies their approach – that they do not accept VIZ – is not going to go anywhere.

Personally, I have paid for or been furnished with review copies of every anime I have ever watched – but I do not make the mistake of thinking that other people think as I do and are necessarily happy to support the system. Distribution in America does not directly affect production in Japan, and almost everyone in the discussion seems at least dimly aware of this. Everything I have seen leads me to conclude that people honestly believe US distribution of licensed works can collapse with no ill effects on production in Japan. (This is, I suspect, also conflated with attitudes about things being “cooler” or “purer” back when fans of an obscure medium swapped episodes or chapters physically. Fans who yearn for a return to that might not mind if the US industry downsized, mistakenly thinking that this would revert fan culture to its earlier days.)

If you wish to change fan attitudes about paying money for works, it will become necessary to explore the truth of these assumptions and demonstrate their falsehood, preferably with hard data. Only after fans concede the necessity of the existence of a US industry to handle distribution and licensing can they be convinced that this industry is worth supporting.  I don’t mean to put the burden on Zach and Tsukento – it’s VIZ, FUNimation, and other companies that have failed to recognize this crucial step in securing their future.  Their eyes were on Tokyo, not America; they took their hard-won legal ownership of distribution rights for cultural ownership without taking steps to ensure a congruence between the two.  Now, they are paying the price.

Fire Alarm Evacuates Otakon…convention war story potential.

A fire alarm prompts the evacuation of the entire Baltimore Convention Center, into the muggy heat that was outside. So an estimated 30,000  people walked out of the center. Attendees waited for close to an hour to enter back into the premises.

Otakon Press was quick in dispelling rumors that this incident was not as serious as what rumors were circulating around, like a kitchen fire as I believed. I spoke with Otakon Press and got this quote from Alyce Wilson, “Information given is that it was a false alarm.”

Everything about this evacuation, was done pretty smoothly. The impact of this evacuation was not as big as anyone would think. Why am I even reporting about this, when I wasn’t at the scene, to showcase Jon’s images that’s what. I got some images from height of the evacuation. There are more images, that still needs to be sorted through. So for a convention as this, one can see the scale of how much people were at the scene.

Panels were delayer/restarted and the dealer room hours were extended. On Sunday, I went and spoke with some dealers, and they did mention that some potential business was probably lost, but if the customer was a serious buyer, then they stopped by.  After the convention center opened up again, there was a slight surge in business for dealers before attendees realized that the hours were slightly extended.

Did I jump around a bit? For this article, probably – but as far as convention memories, this is probably going to be in the minds of convention attendees. Something should always happen at a convention other than the scheduled convention event, so for random Otakon 2010 moments, this is a story to be remembered.

There are some more images on Anime Diet’s Flickr.

“Assault Girls” is rape!

From Nipponcinema.com and Assault Girls official homepage

Plot: In the aftermath of global thermonuclear war, the Earth’s surface has been turned into a desert battlefield.

Krauser III’s Take: RapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRapeRape…Wow, I must say I love it from the looking at the trailer! Shit, nothing beats girls kicking asses and this movie is rape! My terrorist from hell side is rising for a full salute! Totally need to see this!

UPDATE: Kotoko sings for the movie OP. Check it out (Tokyo Tosho)