A fascist anime? Doing a post-mortem on Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria

Fascist Hyakuren Haou
Careful where you wave that fist, you might hurt yours- Oh my god, is it bleeding?

I don’t really participate in the broader anime blogosphere. I made this site to satisfy my own boredom during downtime at work and, as such, I rarely read posts from other writers. But this week I stumbled across something interesting: a discussion about fascism in anime, starting with this article from SyFy.

The Syfy article explores the author’s discomfort with the use of fascist imagery in several anime. Contrary to some of the criticisms of the piece I’ve seen on discussion sites, it fairly acknowledges that most such anime make their fascist-look-alikes into villains to promote anti-authoritarian themes. For example, Fullmetal Alchemist includes an evil dictator called “Fuhrer Bradley” that the heroes revolt against by the end of the series. However, the article perhaps stretches a bit too far when it claims that “Fascism in anime becomes a problem when fans glorify and emulate these clearly evil characters.” When fringe fans choose to interpret a piece of fiction opposite it’s intended (and obvious…) message, I am not sure if it’s fair to fault the fiction itself.

In general, I disagree with the article’s conclusions. Uniforms alone do not define a fascist. However, the weak arguments in one article do not make all anime immune to criticism. I myself have accused precisely one series of promoting authoritarian politics: Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria (official English: The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar; my translation: The Iron Tyrant and Holy Valkyria; shorthand: Holy Valkyria).

This may seem like an odd choice. Given it’s Bronze Age isekai setting, Holy Valkyria has no fascist aesthetic to worry about (except for two “Sieg Patriarch” chants in the first and last episodes, but that’s perhaps a HUGE thing to “except…”). Most of its episodes either dither away through boring battle sequences or the usual ecchi harem nonsense. For the uninitiated, here is a one sentence plot summary: a magic mirror throws Japanese middle-schooler Yuuto Suou into a Bronze Age fantasy world, where he rules as “patriarch” of the Wolf Clan via a magical solar cellphone and a crack team of lusty little-sister sorceresses that help him defeat his rivals on the battlefield. Typical isekai, huh?

Despite the bland premise, Holy Valkyria is uniquely vile among the anime series I have seen. Though my early impression post probably leans more toward a rant than a rigorous analysis given my overwhelming disgust with the first episode, having completed the show, I stand by my initial assessment. Holy Valkyria contains a core of fascist-ish ideology, espoused by the protagonists of the series rather than the antagonists.

Of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To be clear: I do not want to validate Godwin’s Law or cheapen the word “fascism” with lazy accusations (see Orwell’s essay on “fascist” becoming a meaningless slur). As such, I will try to make my argument with greater rigor than I did the first time around. This post will not waste time judging the quality of the series’ animation or music or common isekai tropes. Instead, I will focus only on the themes that resemble fascist philosophy. I will start with a working definition of fascism, because to identify a fascist, you first need to know what one looks like. Then, I will compile the lines and scenes which I believe promote a fascist worldview, with a few concluding caveats.

Continue reading “A fascist anime? Doing a post-mortem on Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria”

Ready Player One, isekai anime, and the value of cross-cultural criticism

[By now, I think I am beating this dead horse mostly to annoy my friends, but hey, I need something to do in the office between class periods!]

As a capstone on my mad hate-bender over Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, I figured that I ought to watch the movie adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg. It was… fine. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it in the same way that I did the novel. Maybe that means Spielberg et al. deserve praise for achieving a rare “the movie was better than the book” moment. At the same time though, thrice 1/10 is only 3/10, so be damned with praise, I suppose (sorry, statistics pedants of the world, for using multiplication on an interval scale!)

The film corrected many of my biggest problems with the book especially because as a movie, it literally had no choice but to “show, not tell.” Instead of using Cline’s uselessly vague descriptors like “80s dance moves” the movie had to actually put the stupid dance on the screen for the audience to see. Even the awful pop-culture references, which were so annoying and lazy and unavoidable in the novel, mostly drifted away into the ignorable background because the animators crammed so many icons into the OASIS that focusing on any one of them became impossible (an upgrade from unavoidable to ignorable? damned with praise again!).

However, at 2 hours and 19 minutes, the movie dragged on for far too long through CGI cutscene after CGI cutscene. That excessive length might explain my lack of substantive commentary because after about 90 minutes, I started to zone out while twiddling on my phone and counting down every 10 minutes for the movie to end. Whatever. I am finally feeling a little fatigue discussing the franchise and don’t have anything special to say that professional critics haven’t so I’ll stop there with the movie.

I am more interested in seeing if I can make any meaningful comparison between Ready Player One and video-game setting anime. Initially, that was maybe my implicit goal. I grabbed the book as a self-conscious break from a month-long isekai binge thinking I could write about it. But, as much as I tried, I couldn’t force a comparison. This is not for lack of similarities. If Ready Player One’s virtual-world self-insert power fantasy had been published as a light novel, it would have cleanly landed in the isekai genre. Plenty of cynical forum posts have already noted how Ready Player One resembles a Western version of Sword Art Online. They fit together almost perfectly.

Instead though, I gave up on making a direct comparison because I stumbled across a much more interesting one. The works themselves did not differ much, but my cross-cultural styles of consumption did. As an insider in Cline’s nerd culture, I found myself far more critical of every little fault in the book: some lazy minority tokenizing here, a transphobic line there, and bad prose everywhere. Criticizing Ready Player One was easy like… uh… bullseyeing womp rats with my T-16 (what useless pop-culture reference would Cline use here?). By contrast, I lack that same cultural and critical context with foreign media. Despite the great similarities between Ready Player One and the isekai genre, the Japanese works genuinely challenged my analytical skills and resulted in far greater self-reflection.

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Is Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria the worst isekai ever?

What if I told you that this summer season there is an isekai anime even worse than How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, the ecchi harem show that uses slavery as an erotic comedy premise? Would you believe me? I didn’t even believe me at first; after all, there isn’t much worse in the world than slavery. But the first episode of Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria was without exaggeration the single worst piece of anime or television or any other audio-visual medium I have ever encountered. Maybe that demonstrates my shelteredness, but honestly, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord appears tame by comparison.

When, I say “worst,” I don’t refer to its poor production values (though the art and animation and music and direction all earn a clear “bad”). Instead, I mean that the ideas it contains come with implicit endorsements of violent, chauvinistic, morally abject ideologies. This goes far beyond the typical misogynistic wish-fulfillment found in generic shows like How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. It was so vile that I wanted to take a shower after watching it. I felt dirty.

Bear with me for a moment as I work through the show’s more innocuous elements before I offer my conclusions. I promise I will have a point by the end of this essay.

Continue reading “Is Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria the worst isekai ever?”