NOTE: This blog is a bit personal, a bit of a rant, and might even come off as pretentious. It is mostly unedited because I wrote it as a way of getting things off my chest.
A part of me wishes I would stop reading comments and discussion about Flowers of Evil. People are still criticizing the anime for taking its rotoscoping approach. Recently the video and images of the live-action that they rotoscoped over for the anime were posted on niconicodouga, and some people have claimed that it is actually better than the finished anime.
I read another comment (from a few weeks ago) saying something to the effect that "I hope they keep the semi-rape scene". I'm not sure which scene they are referring to since I have not read the manga, possibly it is the one from episode 3. Then I realized how disturbing it actually is for someone to hope for a rape scene. Is this the type of people that watch anime? Is this what people think of when I tell them that I like watching anime? That I look forward to loli-sex scenes and the like?
It doesn't help that Flowers of Evil stars a male lead who I identify with to a large extent. So when people criticize the character for being weak-willed, indecisive, a wimp. I feel like they just are not taking the time and effort to understand his character and where he is coming from. It is one thing to say that he has acted wrongly and condemn him for his actions (for example stealing Saeki's uniform). It is another thing to just ignore him, call him names and conclude that the world is better without scum like him. By extension then, sometimes I feel like people who criticize characters like Kasuga, or Shinji from Evangelion, are also criticizing me. That by extension, I'm weak-willed, indecisive, not worth paying attention to, not worth trying to understand etc.
Part of the reason that I continue to write comments on this website, and write occasional blogs is because I hope that by doing so, I will be able to help open people's perspectives. Maybe if I write my thoughts on an anime, or an episode I just watched, I can help people look at anime differently, or consider something that they have not considered before. Another part of the reason I continue writing on this website is because by writing about anime I am simultaneously trying to figure out more about myself. Why do I watch anime? What do I find interesting/fun/cool/, why do I find it interesting, and what does this say about myself as a person?
So, I try to keep an open mind when looking at characters and judging characters. Trying to understand a character is like trying to understand another person. The difference of course being that these characters were created, and their actions scripted by the author. Characters are kind of like foils or examples. And it's just annoying to read comments where it is pretty clear that little effort is being made to try and understand characters or their story. This does not just go for characters that I relate to. I like to believe that every anime is interesting on some level. The very fact that a certain anime gets produced is enough to start a discussion.
Again, perhaps this is all just me trying to justify my hobby, to justify all the hours I have spent over the years watching anime, trying to justify that my education in the humanities is worth it and relevant to everyday life.
P.S. On a lighter note... I only realized after I wrote this that there is some good discussion going on at the Crunchyroll Flowers of Evil Discussion thread (you just have to go to the latest pages). I'll probably somehow end up posting comments both in the anime vice discussion thread and CR. It's not spam if they don't know I wrote it on another site! >=D
Back near the end of January, school was back in full swing. I was kind of depressed with the way life was going and wasn't thinking straight. I was somewhere in between finishing my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2 and starting Mass Effect 3. I was pretty hooked on role-playing as my female Commander Shepard, and my grades suffered.
I almost stopped watching anime. But I wanted to start watching a new anime anyway. Something light-hearted and humorous to take my mind off my more 'serious' studies. It just so happened that Crunchyroll had just acquired Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up . I didn't give the plot much thought at the time... something about a pint-sized Demon Patrol team who aims to keep Earth safe from Demons.
I remembered hearing about its retro-anime art style (since it is a remake of an anime from 1973) and its fan service. Sounded simple enough, so I gave it a whirl and watched the first episode. And I'm enjoying it so far. The opening should give you an idea of what the series is going for:
There is a noticeable amount of fan service and it uses familiar tropes and situations. But I think Ghastly Prince Enma is one of those anime that uses tropes in a tongue-in-cheek way. It parodies those tropes and exaggerates things to allow the audience to distance themselves from what is being shown. Sometimes this leads to laughter, other times to consternation or indifference. For me, the best case is when I'm watching an anime and I find something interesting to think about. And Ghastly Prince Enma was able to do just that! So in my books, this anime is a success so far.
Basically what I found interesting about this anime is that it can be interpreted as a bunch of kids playing make-believe! You know how some children play house during recess? Others pretend to be characters from their favorite TV show. I personally pretended to be characters from Final Fantasy games as a child (good times). With that said, children are really smart. Psychologically-speaking, playing make-believe can be very important in helping children understand social roles and also improve social relationships with others.
Children are also incredibly curious, sometimes brazen and fearless. You know that one child who sticks his finger in everything? Or the other child who always says what's on his mind? Or one that always pleads, "let me seeee!" Well the thing is, they're all trying to do the same thing, learn about the world, and they're doing it the only ways the know how.
This also applies to playing make-believe or role-playing. By playing make-believe, children are basically using tropes, stereotypes and archetypes to learn about the world. Tropes can be thought of as guidelines, a brief sketch of types of people, types of events, or even things what is appropriate or inappropriate.
So this is why I think the characters in this anime can be thought of as children playing make-believe. The whole anime revolves around the "Demon Patrol", which consists of 4 characters. Each of them have their child-like counterparts imo:
Prince Enma: A hot-headed demon prince boy who uses fire magic. He wields a staff that turns into a huge burning hammer. He is also quite the pervert. Remember that kid who always teased girls and was also kind of loud, obnoxious and troublesome? Well, that's Enma for you.
Yukiko: A pale-skinned ice princess, who is childhood friends with Enma. Although it is clear from all his teasing that Enma likes Yukiko (trying to look under her skirt and all that) Yukiko won't stand Enma's perverted antics. Often literally giving him the cold shoulder. Remember that one girl who always seemed to stand up for the trouble-maker in class (in this case Enma), but no one could really understand why she puts up with him?
Kappairu and Chappeaudie: Kappairu is a kappa spirit who acts as the group's "spy". Meanwhile Chappeaudie is a talking wizard's hat who acts as the teams intelligence on demons. However they aren't really that helpful when hunting down demons. Usually it's Enma that takes care of the Demons, with his huge fire hammer. So Kappairu and Chappeaudie are kind of like Enma's sidekicks. They are Enma's "friends" but just aren't as cool or powerful as Enma. But there is one thing the they have in common, they're perverts and wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of Yukiko naked (or other girls for that matter).
And lastly, we have Harumi, a human school girl who is technically NOT part of the Demon Patrol. But after a series of events, she is co-opted into the group to help them. Harumi acts as the archetypal stand-in for the audience, the "voice of reason". She's almost like that transfer student who is somehow pulled into a weird social circle, but ends up going with it anyway.
So I've sketched how the Demon Patrol can be though of as children playing make-believe. But then, who are all the demons they fight supposed to represent? Well, they could be anything! What is clear is that the Demons are affecting the world negatively (whatever they are). But one answer is that they might stand for adults. I don't know about you, but as a child I found some adults scarier than others. Heck, depending on how old you are, some adults can be twice your size. You may not understand they're motivations, why they get mad at you. Sometimes they do things that seem clearly unfair, other times they are very kind.
For example in episode 3 Harumi notices that her teacher Miss Chiiko has been acting differently lately. Usually she is fun-loving and enthusiastic, but recently she has been throwing temper-tantrums, going on angry rampages. Eventually with the help of the Demon Patrol, Harumi finds out that Miss Chiiko was infected by a kind of Demon virus.
Eventually they track down the demon, Enma defeats the demon and Miss Chiiko is back to normal. Enma tries to grope Miss Chiiko and Yukiko a number of times a long the way, but is unsuccessful. It seems that being a 'demon slayer' doesn't translate to getting girls to like you.
All this is to say that 'demons' are just a stand-in for what children don't understand. If you don't understand something, make things up for it! They don't know why Miss Chiiko got mad, but maybe some demon infected her! Likewise, Enma's inability to control his sexual impulses is almost like a young boy going through puberty. His hot-headed nature and naivete keep Enma from giving up. So what if Yukiko kicked him in the balls for trying to touch her? Enma is a child trying to figure out his place in the world. Playing a role like a fiery prince who hunts demons is like a way of giving himself confidence to explore the world! Sure he might get into trouble along the way and a lot of the times he might be wrong and make mistakes, but that's all part of learning.
So yeah, that's what I think of Ghastly Prince Enma. I am enjoying it more now that I realize it can be interpreted as a bunch of children playing make-believe. Initially I didn't really plan on drawing comparisons to Mass Effect or role-playing games, but it seems rather apt now. I can think of role-playing not as escapism, but as an opportunity to think about the world in a new way. A lot of the times this requires taking a step back, looking at the bigger picture.
In this blog I didn't really show any of the actual demons, or get into any of the underworld mythology. How those are portrayed could provide some commentary on the actual world as well. But on the interpretation I have presented they can be thought of as products of children's imagination. Seeing the world through the lens of a group of kids playing as the "Demon Patrol". In this way I think Ghastly Prince Enma is actually quite charming. I would recommend to anyone interested in watching it to go in with an open mind, and don't take everything so seriously. It's a parody after all.
P.S. Some miscellaneous pictures
Tari Tari is a well-made, short, feel-good drama/slice of life about a group of high school friends who form a small choir club together. Throughout the series they experience both personal and group-related struggles. For example, since they are a small club of only 5 students, they often don't have much say in student council budgeting decision, and are often brushed to the side when competing with performance space with other clubs.
But it's not all club/school drama. The characters are given reasonably nuanced background stories and personal struggles that they each overcome. For example, Sawa wants to be an equestrian jockey, but her father is opposed to this idea. Ultimately, though, since this series is only 13 episodes, by the time I finished watching the series, it felt a little shallow. Tari Tari shares some of the same staff that worked on Hanasaku Iroha, a 26 episode drama, which did a great job of fleshing out the characters and developing the story. By the end of Tari Tari, the characters graduate high school and are heading in different directions. They plan to keep in touch and will never forget all the great memories they had together. Thus the moral of the story is, friendship is important.
I feel like Tari Tari has some great characters and could have done a lot more with them than what was shown in these 13 episodes. From the beginning of the series I had no doubt that there was going to be a happy ending. The problem with these types of slice of life is that they feel shallow. I kind of feel like PA Works tried to condense all the positive emotions in Hanasuka Iroha into 13 episodes, but the problem is it doesn't show the negative emotions enough for all the happy parts to feel justified. For example, yeah Sawa's father doesn't want her to be an equestrian, but when later he changes his mind and starts supporting her, it feels very arbitrary. Like the writers went and said "hey, closure, there you go, let's move on." I guess it's hard going from making a 26 episode anime to a 13 episode one.
It ends up feeling a little rushed and shallow. It almost becomes just another cliché slice of life, where nothing goes wrong or everything turns out fine. But like I mentioned, there is enough nuance in the characters and plot to make them seem more realistic and likable, even if they end up feeling a little instrumental to the happy ending that it works toward. If I had to give it a rating, I'd give it a 7/10.
If you are at all interested in this anime, but haven't watched Hanasaku Iroha, I'd suggest watching Hanasaku Iroha instead.
What does it mean to be haunted by the memory of something? First we need to figure out what memories are and how they are made. Let's say that a memory is an imprint of sensory experience from the first person perspective. It can be any combination of sense experiences like touching, hearing, or seeing, or even more complex emotions like being sad or angry. And it has to be from the first person perspective because we assume someone is/was having these experiences for it to leave an imprint on. Memories are fascinating phenomena and play a huge role in regular human function. With that said, sometimes it feels like there are some memories we would like to block out, or even forget completely. Since memories are essentially past sense experiences and humans have limited cognitive resources at any given moment, being able to focus one's attention on certain memories instead of others becomes an important skill. So, to answer our initial question, to be haunted by memories just means that some collection of past sense experiences keep making their way into the person's attention at the expense of the person's cognitive resources.
This is essentially what is happening to Rokka, the female protagonist in Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Around 30 years old, her husband died 6 years ago due to cancer. Rokka continues to work at the flower shop that she and her late husband founded. The story of Natsuyuki Rendezvous is about Hazuki, a young man who falls in love with Rokka and tries to make her happy, but Rokka isn't exactly ready to move on. No matter what Rokka does with Hazuki, she still has the memories of her deceased husband at the back of her head.
There are two things that make Natsuyuki Rendezvous interesting. First is the presence of Rokka's dead husband as a ghost. Rokka's dead husband, named Atsushi, wanders around the flower shop as a ghost. The problem is no one can see or hear him except Hazuki. Atsushi tries to distract and deter Hazuki from getting closer to Rokka. As a result, Hazuki essentially becomes love rivals with a deceased man both because of the fact that Rokka can't get the memories of Atsushi out of her head and because Atsushi is still around as a ghost. Rokka's memories of Atsushi probably persist longer because she's in the same environment (the flower shop) that she was in when Atsushi was still alive and working with her at the shop. It also doesn't help that their flower shop uses their last name (The Shimao Flower Shop). All around Rokka she has these reminders of Atsushi which help bring up memories of him. In a way, you could compare ghosts to memories. Ghosts are supposedly the imprint of a living person, or spirit, left behind because they have something that they want to finish or do.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts or spirits is not the point, the question is how ghosts or memories can affect the day-to-day life of a person by 'sticking around'. In a way, both Hazuki and Rokka are being haunted or bothered by the memory of Atsushi. Likewise, all three of the characters are clinging onto (or at least have trouble not thinking about) something that might just be better off letting go. Rokka keeps thinking about Atsushi, even though he is dead. Atsushi wants to protect Rokka from having another partner, even though she might be happier with someone new. And Hazuki wants to make Rokka happy, even though it's clear she has some.. unfinished business with her dead husband.
The second thing that makes Natsuyuki Rendezvous interesting is the use of flowers and the comparisons that can be drawn from plant life to human life. Flowers don't have minds or memories (that we know of), but they do go through a cycle of growth and death each year. In spring, flowers blossom, then die in winter, leaving behind seeds for another new batch of flowers to bloom next spring. It's less straight forward when dealing with humans, especially when relationships are involved. This is because of the phenomenon of memories. It wouldn't be a problem for Rokka to go out with Hazuki, if memories had some sort of fixed lifespan, like after a few years after a particular sense experience, the memory just disappears forever. But we all know human memory is a lot more complicated than that. Now you might be thinking, wait there's amnesia. All Hazuki has to do is give Rokka a serious concussion that will erase all her memories of Atsushi. =D But.. would that really be the right way to go about forming a relationship? Is there a right way? Some people spend lots of time and money on dating and their partners, and many a drama can result from lingering feelings for exes. What would you do? It's hard to say because we're not the ones experiencing Rokka or Hazuki or Atsushi's emotions, thoughts or memories, they are! Likewise, they can never really know what each other is thinking.
At the end of episode 4, Hazuki is about ready to give up, having gotten drunk, and stumbling into the flower shop, he gives in to Atsushi's request to lend him his body. With Atsushi having control over Hazuki's body, he is no longer just an imprint or a ghost. What will he do with the chance that he's given? It's not clear how long Atsushi is planning to borrow Hazuki's body (because this happened at the end of the episode), but now Atsushi has a chance to talk and interact with Rokka to make new memories with her to help her move on... or not. ;)
Well hello there! If you're interested you can now check out any and all Hanasaku Iroha episode pages and read about the episode or view screenshots of the anime.
And there you have it! I've done pretty much everything I've wanted to do for the series. I haven't added staff credits, and haven't added all the images to character pages, but I think I'm ready to let this one rest. Believe it or not, this anime aired a whole year ago! And I think if I do any more with this series I might just start not liking the series. Hanasaku Iroha is a memorable series about life, love and work. Great characters, great stories, but just like how the characters at the end of the last episode have to move on from the Kissuiso, it's time for me to move on as well.
--------------If you're interested, you can watch Hanasaku Iroha for free at crunchyroll.com