Welcome to my very first OWLS (OWLS stands for Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect) post. I’m super excited to be on board this month and joining in the tour. OWLS are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. OWLS emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Each month, OWLS will look at a specific theme. If you want to know more, please do click on the logo in the side bar.
The theme for May: Movement
We join movements, organizations, and systems that align with our own personal values and beliefs. Sometimes we join these groups because they believe in doing good and making positive changes in society. However, these movements can turn sour when a dictator arises or behind the good intentions, there’s a hidden agenda of oppression. It is in these groups that individuals start to shape their identities by questioning their values and beliefs or conforming to the system. This month, we will be examining “real and/or fictitious” movements, organizations, or systems in anime and other pop culture mediums, and the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and society.
Soul Society (Bleach seasons 1 – 3):
There’s no denying that organisations and governments get an incredibly rough representation in the vast majority of literature. They make for easy targets to be portrayed as impersonal, corrupt, violent and oppressive. They can easily symbolise everything that is keep you the individual from reaching your potential and keeping you down and there’s something quite cathartic about watching one headstrong individual take the mammoth organisation down. Very David and Goliath really and it speaks to a wide audience as the vast majority of people are not part of the them that these stories are vilifying for our pop-corn entertainment.
That isn’t to say that a strong message about the need for individuals to be aware of the power of organisations and to watch for corruption isn’t a valuable thing. 1984 in particular left a lasting impression in the minds of many and has been imitated multiple times since because the fear that our individual freedoms will be eroded without us even noticing is fairly sound in the modern world.
Be that as it may, there’s one organisation that immediately sprang to mind when I saw the topic for this blog tour and that was Soul Society in Bleach. What I find truly remarkable about this is we do in fact have a mostly faceless organisation rife with corruption and power mad individuals, where people are reduced to numbers, there’s a definite ‘us and them’ mentality, and yet despite this, Ichigo’s charge into Soul Society to rescue Rukia didn’t end in a fiery explosion bringing an end to this cesspit of a governing body but rather simply rooted out one individual who took advantage of the corruption and then left the corrupt leadership pretty much in-tact to continue business as usual and yet that was meant to be some kind of triumphant ending to an arc.
If you’ve never watched Bleach that would probably confuse you but there’s some definite points that need to be raised here as well as speculation as to the reason we don’t simply burn it all down and start over at the end of season 3.
Firstly, Ichigo never actually cared about Soul Society or its rules or laws at all. He barely knew about Soul Society, went there with limited knowledge, and his goal was not to liberate or create some kind of Utopian afterlife for souls. He went to Soul Society to save Rukia. Once she was saved, his work was essentially done and he had no further issue or reason to meddle in Soul Society’s affairs. And let’s be honest, Ichigo wasn’t exactly a political figure. He was a relatively jaded high school boy. Realistically he wasn’t interested in Japanese politics so what business did he have caring about Soul Society. The only thing he ever fought were those individuals who directly stood in his path. The fact that they worked for Soul Society was pretty much a non-point for him.
Secondly, those who reside within Soul Society tended to accept the situation as it was. There were the outer districts with the poor and then there were the extreme wealthy and then there were the Soul Reapers and everyone had their place and with one or two exceptions people complied with the expected behaviours of someone within that strata. Even if Ichigo had decided to destroy it all, they essentially would have rebuilt the exact same system because those living within it didn’t desire change. They were compliant within the system and it seemed most couldn’t have even imagined a different system.
This is despite the obvious flaws that were identified with this system during this arc. The only reason the villain got away with his plot was because he exploited these obvious weaknesses. Those who gave orders were faceless individuals in Central 46 but none of the Captains ever seemed to go there to speak with them directly. Messages were distributed via butterflies and not one of the Captains ever questioned those orders even when the extreme nature of Rukia’s punishment kept getting pushed. Okay, eventually some did question but this was a long way down the line and it was already well and truly too late.
Furthermore, the division between the squads and their captains, not healthy rivalry but outright division, ensured that each group was more or less blind. Information was not shared between all squads and individuals until very late in the piece and by then the villain had already pretty much achieved his goal.
Also, the system itself reduced people to skills and numbers. Qualities such as empathy or forethought or just being level-headed were not valued as such things aren’t really quantifiable. Instead fighting abilities and spiritual energy were raised up as the mark of strength and strength ruled regardless of how inappropriate for the role or where it was leading others to. This meant that a great many with clear abilities and gifts of value were overlooked or looked down upon. Most of squad 4 in point of fact were treated horribly despite the fact that they serve an incredibly valuable function in healing others as well as a myriad of other essential functions within the society. Those with such a gift should not be scorned and yet here they are treated largely like baggage.
Finally, the society was stagnating. Stuck in a past model where new ideas and approaches were openly scorned, the society was unable to grow and evolve with the individuals within it. One thing that remains true of all societies is that they evolve over time and a society that openly tries to stop progress is one that is pretty much doomed to failure or to at least repeating the same errors over and over again.
The entirety of Soul Society and the tenants it is built upon is fatally flawed, which probably explains why so many bad things happen and take the residents by total surprise each and every time.
And yet, unlike any Western film that would tackle such a story, the hero did not kill the leaders of this corrupt body and blow up some symbol of their power and then declare the people free. Instead we see him listening to Rukia, acknowledging her choice to stay, and then departing. He even agrees to work with Soul Society as a substitute shinigami in the future.
The thing is, by the end of season 3, most of the Captains know there is a problem. Most of their lieutenants are starting to look at their society with fresh eyes. While change doesn’t then occur immediately, over the course of Bleach we do see small steps forward for Soul Society that could not have occurred if a violent uprising had been the catalyst. Instead we see those who are leading the organisation starting to communicate more, starting to work in slightly different ways, and trying to avoid the pitfalls of the past. They aren’t exactly successful or rushing things by any means, but there’s certainly evidence of a change.
What this leaves the viewer with is a very different outlook from other stories and movies where we are left with the notion that corrupt systems must be immediately dismantled, violently if necessary, or are left with the notion that the government cannot be beaten. Stories like Bleach, and even Psycho Pass, make the viewer consider the slower but potentially more lasting change that can be constructed by working within a system and taking on each problem one at a time. Building on past successes and building bridges with others to try to overcome the past.
There’s no long term answer given as to whether or not this approach would work within the anime, that isn’t really the point anyway. So we’ll say goodbye to Soul Society here and turn our attention to those who rule in the real world and whether we are falling into the compliance trap and accepting things we should not, or whether we lack the imagination to even perceive what might be changed. And more importantly, turning our attention to our attitudes towards organisations we don’t like. Sometimes systems that seem terrible to an outsider work for those who uphold the system and work within it and even if the system isn’t working for those within, change driven from an external source may not be the best option.
The Schedule for May:
If you’ve missed any posts on the tour or want to know who is up next, the schedule is below. Be sure to check out some of the great bloggers and their posts this month.