I’ve been reading A Diary of Darkness, kept by the Japanese journalist Kiyosawa Kiyoshi from 1942 until his death in 1945 (trans. Eugene Soviak and Kamiyama Tamie). Oh, it’s so good.
The diary covers international affairs, political happenings, and daily life in Japan over the course of the Pacific / Greater East Asia War. Despite strict censorship enforced by the military government and the arrest of several of his intellectual friends for “thought crimes,” Kiyosawa bravely risked his own arrest to produce an honest account of the madness that descended on Japan during the war.
But it’s not just a typical diary either. Kiyosawa kept the journal on the hope that he could use its material to produce a history of Japanese international relations after the war. Thus, along with recording illuminating vignettes of everyday life, Kiyosawa managed to produce a real-time account of the collapse of the Japanese homefront with scholarly rigor as good or better than any secondary source for understanding Japan’s progress during the war.
In politics, Kiyosawa was a committed liberal – more than anything, he complains about the stultifying effect attacks on the freedom of speech had on Japanese society. It’s remarkable then that the journal survived, a powerful testament to the singular importance of that freedom in maintaining a peaceful and democratic society. I regret that he did not live long enough to see Japan become such a society. But hey, it’s nice that he tried.
So anyway, in lieu of something more substantial, here are three quick impressions:
Now though, with the conclusion of the fall 2019 anime Beastars, about a high school for anthropomorphized animals struggling through a conflict between herbivores and carnivores that results in the murder of an alpaca, I finally have something good to suggest to my students in Tokyo Ghoul‘s place — because Beastars does everything that Tokyo Ghoul tried to do, just better, from themes about discrimination and growing up to its general production quality (even despite Beastar’s sometimes awkward 3D animation).
First then, I suppose I should briefly re-explain my distaste for Tokyo Ghoul before moving on to my recommendation for Beastars itself:
~ because it’s not like anybody’ll click that over-sized link above!
Have you ever come across such a perfect line while reading translated literature that you just have to go check it out in the source language, comprehension be damned?
I found one such line in the Konjaku Monogatari Shu, a collection of hundreds of late Heian-period Japanese short stories, 90 of which appear in English inJapanese Tales from Times Past (trans. Naoshi Koriyama and Bruce Allen). It was a Christmas present, but I’ve already hit volume 19, tale 21 in the Buddhist moral tales section, titled “Snakes are seen in a vat of sake made from rice cake offerings.” In the context of its most delightful line though, I think I might want to rechristen the story “Buddha and the Boozer.”
But first, a quick synopsis of the barely two-page tale for context:
For the past year or so, I’ve made casual tradition out of picking out the worst-rated anime towards the end of each season just to… see. I’ve covered a few here on this site and avoided writing about several others because I couldn’t even finish a single episode. But with the addition of the anime short Tenka Hyakken: Meiji-kan e Youkoso! (rated 4.8 out of 10) to the bottom of my list this season, I’ve begun to pick up on a trend that I had never noticed before:
All of the worst, or at least the most bizarre, of my bad selections in recent months originated as adaptations of gacha or collectible card games.
Now that I am teaching again, I find that I have the most trouble answering questions related to motivation, usually some variation of “Why do we need to study this?” And as awful as this might sound, I truly don’t know how to satisfy that question. I do try — depending on the student, so far I’ve replied:
“Maybe if you study it more, you will learn that you do like it. I used to hate algebra but look!, I’m teaching it to you now.
“Oh, you want to make video games? Well, you’ll need this math when you start programming classes…”
“Yeah, I don’t know why the Ottoman Empire is a state standard either, but you need to study a wide breadth of subjects because you never know where those connections will come in handy.”
Of course, every discipline will have their own specific answers. A US Government teacher will discuss the importance of civic education for a functioning democracy. Or a geologist might just say “‘cause rocks are cool” and that’s a fine and dandy reason. At the very least, I hope I’ve done better than a coworker who told a student that if he hated social studies, “Just wait ‘till you’ll have to take economics. Economics is the worst.” Yeah, sure, that’s a great way to prime students with a good attitude for their required courses in an already maligned field…
I think though, I struggle to answer because I never considered the question important. When I went to school, I studied because I felt that I had no other choice. Then, by the time I reached college, I had developed strong enough interests that I no longer needed to put effort into the choice anyway — I would have pursued the topics that I enjoyed regardless of the opportunity to do so at a university (and as I continue to do now in a hobbyist capacity here).
So, with the students, I’m dodging the question. I give two vague hypotheticals (“Maybe…” “You never know…”) and a cutesy if cynical appeal to self-interest (“You want to make video games?”) but ignore the more fundamental problem of education:
When does Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou)take place? I googled the question and found no answer on the first few result pages. So, while re-reading the manga through a surprise digital detox sprung on me by a broken computer, I thought I could provide an answer:
Porco Rosso, the 1992 anime film about a flying pig-pilot who does battle with sky pirates in interwar Adriatic floatplanes, might be Studio Ghibli / director Hayao Miyazaki’s most memed movie. In addition to that thumbs-up image above, plenty of lines make common appearances on anime meme boards like “You make me think humanity’s not a complete waste,” “Laws don’t apply to pigs,” and the classic “Better a pig than a fascist:”
But for all the memes, Porco Rosso is a surprisingly apolitical film, with those lines representing more throw-away jokes than a vigorous thematic ideal. Yes, the titular character Porco is a typical anti-authority anti-hero who chafes under the rule of Depression-era Italian fascists. But he’s also such a severe misanthrope that if he happens to take anti-fascist action, he only does so because the facists happen to be in charge. Combine that apathetic position with what might be Miyazaki’s weakest feminist message among his otherwise excellent cast of believable female characters and I don’t know what to do with Porco Rosso. Yes, it’s beautiful, as all Ghibli movies are. But despite the anti-fascist hype, it lacks much of Miyazaki’s characteristic thematic focus. In a word (or two), it disappoints.
Okay, I’ve already done my sarcastic mockery of Assassin’s Pride but I feel compelled to dive into this bit of madness again. The image above fascinates me. Why why why would anyone wear a necktie in their chest pocket like that?
Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World got a sequel season! Who could have guessed after the ambiguous dead-end from the original series? And I liked the original for having the audacity to resist profit-seeking seasonitis and end…
But with that initial gripe out of the way, I liked the second season. Though it lost the unrelenting forward energy of the teenage-runaway road-trip from the first season, it still works well as a thoughtful examination of love and other adolescent delusions, this time from a more mature perspective now that James and Alyssa, the lead couple, have aged out of their aborted Romeo-and-Juliet fantasy. If nothing else, I enjoyed it for another chance to hear Alyssa say “fuck” and “shit” in her adorable Yorkshire accent (and beyond Alyssa, the whole cast imbues just one impassive word — “okay” — with so many meaningful, implicative tones that they could craft an entire language).
No, I don’t have any serious problems with the second season or even much to say.
Rather, I’ve been more interested in the way people have discussed the series after the fact. With few exceptions, most of the reviews I have read describe the characters in psychiatric terms: depression, PTSD, autism, social anxiety, borderline and antisocial personality disorders. To be fair, those professional writers do cover other varied themes like The End of the F***ing World’s unique trope-busting crush on teenage romance stories. But good luck finding a fan discussion on social media covering any thematic topic other than mental health while armchair psychiatrists on Quora and Reddit argue over where James falls on the autism or antisocial spectrums.
The experience reading through so many other’s thoughts on The End of the F***ing World left me wondering: when did fiction become so heavily medicalized? Why has it become a default impulse to diagnose characters, not with basic emotions like sadness or loneliness or more lofty literary problems like ennui or alienation, but with specific psychiatric pathologies like depression and PTSD?