Heroism is defined by the behavior of rising to the moment; of meeting a noble end, and fulfilling a higher purpose. There are three specific elements to heroism: the drive or purpose to accomplish your duty, the people you try to protect and save, and the power that you use to save and protect them. In balancing your power and drive as well as successfully accomplishing your goal, you become a hero; a status marked by either fame or glory. Sometimes heroes are born, other times they are made, or thrust into the role without ever wanting to be it in the first place. In both Gatchaman Crowds and Teen Titans, our characters are ‘heroes’ in a different sense. They are ‘masked’ and do not reveal themselves to the public, each having their own unique ability and using it for the greater good. They rise to the occasion. They save lives. They represent the best of humanity….
At a first glance, Uchouten Kazoku and Gatchaman Crowds share hardly anything in common, except for a flashy art style and smooth music. Kazoku focuses on the day to day lives of the tanuki family and its friends, while Gatchaman takes a look at the heroes of Tokyo City as they try to stop alien attacks on the home front. Yet both shows share a similarity that’s far deeper and more interesting than just the technical: the two have distinctive ways of twisting with social constructivism when it comes to gender. Social constructionism considers how social phenomena or objects of consciousness – such as sex and gender – develop in social contexts. Social constructs, then, are concepts that have meaning and shared understandings based on a given people’s ways of seeing, interpreting, interrelating and interacting. In Gatchaman and Uchouten however, this social phenomena is absent because the characters live in a different world completely. There is no interaction through the way that we, the audience (who live in a normal society) perceives it.
What is it that grabs me so much about Flowers of Evil? It’s a question that’s been burning in my head for a few weeks now as my love spirals deeper and deeper for the show. Four weeks ago, I was really into the series. Yesterday, I ended up buying all the volumes, sifting through them multiple times and coming to tear up at some scenes. By the time I finished Volume 5, I realized that I had read the entire series in one sitting – a rare feat, as I tend to enjoy manga in bits and not in stretches. As I carefully put the tankobons under my bed and opened my laptop, something stuck. It stayed like a thorn, pressing deeply into my side, and even as I tried to sleep, the question remained. What makes this series so good? Why do I love it so much, and what does it say about me as an anime fan but also as my own individual?
(trigger warning: depression, suicide, self-hurt; spoilers for the manga.)
Both girls leave him. Kasuga is alone more than ever in Episode 11 and is perhaps, emptier than he was in the first episode. Here, there are no books to console him, to give him the illusion that he is well-read and secretly more knowledgeable than anyone else in the room. His parents grieve at his actions and give him no sympathy whatsoever. The classroom and pool are even more awkward as he’s forced to see the faces of the people he has betrayed. But what Episode 11 is about the most is how Kasuga has betrayed himself, more than anyone. He has stepped on all of the ideals he held so dear, and has ultimately become nothing in the process.
The truth, though, is that the whole paradigm of “choice” in this circumstance is bullshit. In any other circumstance, the centerpiece of episode 10 would be a harem fantasy, the bland protagonist torn between two women who both appeal to completely different sides of him and also love him to pieces. Flowers of Evil transforms it into a nightmare, an emotional breakdown in the rain as two damaged adolescent girls scream at their prospective boyfriend, telling him to choose. In the end, going with Saeki would consign Kasuga to a life bound by society, incapable of expressing himself, while going with Nakamura would push Kasuga further and further away from society until it disappears all together. There is no right choice, just as there is no wrong choice. There are only choices with consequences, both good and bad, but consequences that Kasuga will have to face up to if he is to grow up and become a stronger person. But in the end, Kasuga doesn’t choose. When given a choice between sanity and deviancy, he chooses neither, instead shouting that he is neither good nor bad nor sane nor mad but empty. A hollow shell so caught up in his own presumption that when push came to shove, he couldn’t back up his own rhetoric with substance. Rather than deal with the consequences of his decisions he chooses to evade, and that hesitance exposes him to both Saeki and Nakamura for what he really is: a mundane, petty, pretentious person.
I did say this before, and my opinion still stands, though now I do realize that at least things get slightly better towards the middle of the manga, also known as the Scouting Legion arc. The anime hasn’t covered this yet, though I hope that it does, because that’s really where things start picking up and characters become a little more interesting and stand out in their own ways. With that in mind, let’s go back to this week’s episode, which actually turned out to be my second favorite after Episode 8. Wendeego didn’t enjoy the extended scenes of talking, but I really did – this was one of the few times where action and dialogue was mixed in evenly enough so that we got a sense of what our characters were striving for, whether they were new or not. This comes first in the form of Commander Pixis, who somehow is able to sonorus his voice and talk to the entire army, managing to give them a meaning to fight. What I did enjoy was how this wasn’t necessarily your typical inspirational speech – Pixis offers no comfort or happy dreams for his soldiers – but he does outline the consequences if people give into fear and back off from their duties. This is also seen when Pixis’ soldier gives a discussion about how these people who die aren’t meaningless (despite the anime seeming to suggest so) and have lives, blood, flesh, names – and that their sacrifice is no easy thing to digest and Eren will need to take responsibility for the people who will die today. It was very curt and necessary and I do wish that the show could reveal this aspect of war more instead of just monotonously repeating “People die a lot!” I guess we’ll have to hold on a little longer for that shift to take place though.
With this episode, I feel like the pace of the series has slowed to the point where it’s beginning to actively affect the story as a whole. While Titan is able to mine a lot of value out of character interaction and introspection, as I’ve said many times before I feel like it’s really at its best when the characters are charging right into the face of death, literally throwing everything they have into the pursuit of survival at the cost of what makes them human. The fact that the first several volumes of the series neatly subdivide into about two or three arcs means that while the manga remains incomplete, the anime could at least adapt the first two arcs before devolving into the kind of glacial pacing expected from Shonen Jump shows. At the moment though, the series seems to be running in slow motion. Part of it might be that manga is naturally a faster-reading medium than anime, but not only do scenes like the confrontation in episode 9 seem drawn-out to the point of melodrama, but if I’m correct episode 10 covered less than a chapter of the manga, if even. There’s been a significant amount of original material in the Titan anime thus far, particularly the series’s second episode, but while early bits and pieces served to establish character and lay background these later bits feel unnecessarily dragged-out.
Saeki may talk pure here in trying to see Kasuga as a normal human being, but in a later scene she tries to converse with Kasuga (as he’s hiding away in his room) and tell him that she accepts who he is and would rather him try to be open and honest with her, as she tries to do with him. This sort of unrestrained and raw behavior is something we’ve never really seen from the quiet, calm Saeki. This is a Saeki who can easily pick up the fact that Kasuga is the one who wrecked the classroom; that Kasuga, despite having a deviant side, can be ‘normal,’ and that Nakamura is pushing Kasuga to boundaries he’d rather not be broken at. Saeki is not perfect. She is not calm, she is not normal, and she is certainly not angelic. She may believe the best in Kasuga, but she does not (like Kasuga) make him out to be someone he isn’t. She has her own fears and her own issues.
Another point of contention that I have is with the plot of this episode. I feel that the episodic aspects — the villain of the week — were not put together well; there doesn’t seem to be any sort of depth or meaning to what happened plot-wise and that makes for a passive viewing experience. Things are happening, not events; and that’s boring anime. The serial features of the episode are weaker than those of the first episode as well. The first episode introduced a set of devices: a variety of alien species, your main characters, different world-building concepts, etc. — and the second episode is meant to expound upon this, but not quite in the way that Birdy did. The key to science fiction is in the world-building, it’s in the development of the serial elements of the show, but Birdy — rather than explore what they introduced in the first episode like aliens, Birdy’s life in space, or Geega’s purpose in coming to Earth — chose to introduce new characters, conflicts, and ideas. Birdy chose to expand it’s mythology at a fast pace that it simply cannot support, unbalancing the pacing of the show; just because it is an action anime doesn’t mean that basic things like plot progression and world-building need to be fast-paced as well, just that there needs to be a sense of excitement.