Friday’s Feature: You Have No Power Over Me – Man vs Self

This is my last feature for March and my last feature for now on conflict so I’m ending the month with Man vs Self. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts on Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Technology or Man vs Society be sure to check out the posts.

I’m not going to lie, this is my favourite type of conflict. It seldom gets to take centre stage as normally this is a conflict that runs as a B Plot to the main action, but every now and then you get a story that puts a character’s inner conflict front and centre and does it in a relatable and entertaining way. Then there’s Tokyo Ghoul which has a perfect set up for a nice inner conflict and after a few freak outs early on just kind of dismisses any further inner conflict in favour of all the action focussed conflicts they can throw at you.

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Anyway, Man vs Self is pretty much what it says. The character is their own worst enemy. The only thing standing in their way is themselves and their doubts, their fears, their confusion, their inability to take action. These stories are great because with the exception of the superbly over-confident, almost everyone can relate. Even if we’ve never gone through exactly what the character is going through we can feel their uncertainty and hesitation and inner conflict and we know how incredibly debilitating those feelings can be.

Why does this type of conflict work?

01. It pairs well with other conflicts. As I said earlier, there are only a few stories where man vs self is the only focus of the story. Mostly it sits as a character drama or side story as we wait for the character to overcome this personal block before they can take on other conflicts in the story. Its effective and doesn’t feel like padding because it is relatable. That said, when done poorly, it mostly just feels like a character flinging emotions around and dragging the pace of the story. A real understanding of nuanced expression is kind of needed to pull this one off and do it well.

02. Relatability. This is human drama at its most basic. Even if you don’t interact with others or have conflicts within your family or with the society you live in, even if you face no natural disasters or murderous robots, you do have to face yourself every single day. And very few people love who they are every single day. More importantly, we doubt ourselves, we second-guess are choices, we hesitate at crucial times, and we regularly create drama where none exists. This is real life and seeing it play out in stories where the hero doesn’t just grab his sword and run into the fray but actually looks at the situation and feels his own vulnerability have a great deal of appeal. Of course it kind of takes some of the wish fulfilment out of the story.

03. The emotional affect can be enormous. From watching March Comes in Like a Lion I know that each week I’m a little shell-shocked at the end of the episode. It isn’t that anything big has happened as in most episodes very little actually happens. But because of the relatability of Rei as a character (or at least his struggle to keep moving forward in the case of his own depression and doubts) and watching this journey unfold, I find myself remembering a lot of the moments where getting out of bed for another day just seemed too hard or I’ve wanted to escape from a situation regardless of the consequences. The story hits hard and admittedly this impact will be different depending on how well you’ve related to the character and the set-up and your own experiences, but when you find the story that you connect with, this type of conflict is the one that is going to get under your skin and become truly unforgettable.

How does this work in anime?

Case 1: Yuri On Ice

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One of the really interesting points of Yuri On Ice as a story was the lack of antagonist. Even the other skaters weren’t really antagonistic. There was some rivalry but this was not something Yuri was trying to overcome. He was trying to overcome his own fear and lack of self-worth. He was never bad at skating (he made it to the grand prix the year before even if he came last – which still made him sixth in the world). He was never weak. He just couldn’t deal with the pressure and expectations of such a big competition and his perceived failure shattered what little confidence he had.

While Victor becoming Yuri’s coach certainly acted as a catalyst to Yuri turning things around, it can be clearly seen that Victor did not know Yuri well enough, or understand Yuri’s mental state well enough, to actually help him overcome it. Yuri had to find that himself. Admittedly, it was Victor’s arrival and attempts to coach that spurred Yuri into action.

However, because the conflict of the story was Man vs Self rather than Man vs Man, Yuri not winning the gold is still a perfectly fine ending. The point of the story wasn’t to crush the opponents. The point was to see Yuri finally skate the way he knew he could in a competition (and you have to admit taking out a world record is a pretty good consolation prize). Yuri has conquered his inner self and his final performance of Yuri On Ice shows that to the world.

Case 2: Soul Eater

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For a show full of external conflicts, Soul Eater continually returns to the characters themselves and overcoming their own inner weaknesses. Maka demonstrates this type of conflict numerous times throughout the series.

Unlike Yuri, Maka comes off as confident. She studies hard, has a clear dream, and is determined to succeed. Yet, despite her hard work, Maka and Soul hit a real snag early on causing them to lose the souls they had so far collected and sending them back to step one. This gives Maka’s confidence a real hit early on in the series and the few times she is reminded of this failure we see her try to resolve herself but we also see her obvious frustration. Soon after her confidence takes another hit when Professor Stein easily takes down both her and Soul. She is forced to face her own weakness and again this causes frustration.

However it is Soul’s injury that he sustains while protecting her, after she’s engaged in a fight that she could have avoided and if she’d been a bit quicker thinking things through could have escaped, that really hits Maka’s mental state hard. For a long time after this, Maka is withdrawn and struggles to work with Soul or even look at him. It strains their relationship and their partnership as weapon and meister. Because mental stability is needed to bring out their full power, to resonate, and to fight, this inner conflict faced by Maka continues to dominate a lot of screen time as they face progressively harder villains in the story.

In honesty, it is this part of Soul Eater that I love. The fights are cool, the villains zany, the pace works well enough, but it is all pretty typical action anime. It is the character focus, and particularly Maka, that really drew me into this world. Without this inner conflict getting played out across the series, I doubt the show would have left much of a lasting impression on me.

Conclusion

Man vs Self can be highly satisfying to watch as a form of conflict. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As many characters have proven it can be highly entertaining when you are at war with your inner voices. However, this type of conflict does allow that exploration into some of those denser topics such as depression and anxiety and it is great to see some of these ideas get a little bit of screen time as it gives people a little insight or gets people talking about the ideas.

That is the end of this series of posts on conflict. I’ve certainly barely scraped the surface of any of these ideas so I guess I’ll revisit them at some point but for now I’m going to move on to other ideas for awhile.

What is your favourite man vs self anime or character suffering from inner conflict?


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Friday’s Feature: I Am Not a Slave – Man Vs Society

My focus for March on conflict in stories continues as we look at Man vs Society. So far I’ve had a brief look at Man vs Man, Man vs Nature and Man vs Technology so if you missed any of those be sure to check out the posts.

Man vs Society just lends itself to dystopian futures, though obviously this isn’t the only way this type of conflict plays out. Essentially this occurs when a character, or group of characters, feel trapped or oppressed by the society they live in. Whether this is because of overt government or military control or whether it is simply because of societal norms not matching their personal views, the character feels obliged to rebel or escape from this oppression. It’s definitely a theme most viewers can relate to.

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This type of conflict works well on both small and large scales. Whether the conflict is within a family and the child wanting to be free of their parents’ expectations, set in a school with students feeling oppressed by the rules of the environment, workplace, or even the entire country, most members of the audience can understand how a character might feel in the situation, even if they don’t directly relate to the type of control being exerted. However, as I said before, this type of conflict also works excellently in science fiction and forms the basis of a large number of dystopian texts. Fear of control and fear of losing freedom linked to events and trends that we already see around us is a great way to build relatable conflict into a story.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Man vs Society works as a type of conflict but let’s look at the main reason why it is effective.

01. People are constantly attempting to balance selfish desires with the basic instinct of connecting with other people. It is a conflict we face everyday as to whether we act fully as ourselves or act in a way in which others find acceptable. For some this is a major conflict because who they are is so vastly outside of the expected norms whereas for others it is a fairly minor conflict in most situations, but it is an internal conflict that everyone faces every single day. Seeing a character make choices to defy those norms and to act on their own desire (whether it is a good desire or not) has a real appeal to audiences. They see these characters as brave or as true individuals and whether their actions have merit or not they are associate with desirable character traits. The fact that a lot of these characters succeed at causing change in the society they are acting in (whether that be the smaller or larger scale) really plays into the wish fulfillment that people have for making a difference as an individual. In very rare cases we see these characters faced with failure but then they are still seen as noble for having made the attempt.

02. When played on the larger scale, this can lead to some very cool stories. Bring on the Hollywood movie where the single character rallies the downtrodden and brings down the government. It’s sensationalistic but it is so fun to watch play out even as you wonder what would happen on the day after when they now have to face the reality of a transitional government system? But that is not the point of the story. The point is the uprising and the success.

03. A lot of the time these stories challenge viewers to question what they accept as the norm. They make audiences think and reflect about the expectations we have of others. While they may probably won’t change too many people’s behaviour they at least start the conversation about why certain things are the way they are. It lends itself to being the starting point of a dialogue that might be badly needed.

How does this work in anime?

This is one type of conflict we come up against time and again in anime and it isn’t surprising. Japan is an incredibly ordered society (not overtly oppressive but there is a lot of social pressure to conform to expected behaviours).What is interesting is how characters in anime respond to the pressures they face as, unlike so many Hollywood movies, their first impulse isn’t usually to bring things crashing down but rather to work with people to bring about change. That isn’t to say there aren’t some characters reaching for the explosives.

Case 1: Psycho Pass (not yet reviewed)

Psycho.jpg

This was probably an obvious choice for Man vs Society but what I find interesting about it is how many characters are trying to work within or outside of the social norms surrounding them. The three main examples are below but pretty much every character has some sort of conflict with the society in this anime.

Kogame is an obvious discussion point. Originally an inspector, after the death of a colleague he became obsessed with revenge and he became flagged as a latent criminal. Even after this he continues to pursue revenge for his friend regardless of whether that puts him in direct conflict with the Sybil System or his current colleagues. He literally throws away everything for the sake of bringing down his target. What makes this interesting is that it is hard to decide whether Kogame is actually wrong for this approach.

Makishima is similarly working outside of the Sybil System though in his case it is because the system does not actually recognise him in the first place. His crime coefficient can’t be measured and so the system cannot judge him leaving him feeling alienated from everything. I’m still not sure that is sufficient justification for intentionally helping other people beat the system to commit horrendous crimes,  but it does highlight the dissatisfaction felt by those who feel ignored by society.

Though if both Korame and Makishima are finding ways around or defying the system, Akane is the character that honestly understands that the system is needed, even if it isn’t perfect. That doesn’t mean she accepts everything at face value and isn’t going to work to change things, but it does mean that she accepts her limitations at the time. While the end of season 1 may have seemed unsatisfying to some people, I preferred this ending to the usual blowing it up and thinking everything would be better approach. Akane understands that her society is not in a position where it can function if Sybil stopped immediately even as she has learned that the Sybil System isn’t the ideal solution that people have been told.

Case 2: The Devil is Part Timer

Devil

This is an interesting anime in terms of how it sets up the conflict. Originally Maou is the person in power apparently oppressing humans and generally doing all the things you would expect from a demon in control of a country. However, he is overthrown and forced to flee. He ends up in Japan with limited use of his magic and no authority. However, instead of surrendering to despair, Maou sets about conquering the new world through working his way up in a chain food store?

While this concept is played for laughs there’s quite a few moments when you are forced to consider what is really going on with this story. Could Maou actually succeed at rising to a position of power from part time worker? That’s basically the question they want us to consider. Because as kids we’re told hard work will help us move up and rise to the top. We are told this over and over. Yet the reality is most people won’t. Maou, a demon lord, succeeding at rising as fast as he does to shift manager raises some real questions about what it actually takes to get ahead (admittedly the anime isn’t really interested in dealing with the topic seriously).

Even then, the challenges Maou faces are regularly not from his home world. He faces challenges of rival shops, needing identification, paying rent, and even his housemate getting scammed online. All of these things highlight the way people get cornered and trapped everyday by the mundane functions within our society and given they at times stump a hero and a demon from a world of magic is both hilarious and incredibly telling of how complex life really is in the modern age. My number 3 reason why these sorts of stories work was because they challenge us to think about what we accept as the norm and The Devil is a Part Timer beautifully highlights some of the things that are considered everyday and yet create challenges and complications for people just trying to live. It doesn’t tell us to eliminate these things, merely asks us to look at them from a different point of view.

Case 3: Terror In Resonance

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It would be impossible for me to visit the idea of Man vs Society without looking at this anime. This story tackles acts of terror head-on from the viewpoint of two would be terrorists. That said, it isn’t willing to really take on the role of terrorists, choosing instead to make the main characters opposed to actually killing anyone even as the commit various crimes and destroy massive amounts of property with explosions.

What is interesting is that the main character ultimately only want their story to be heard and believed but they know early on that even if they simply told their story and released it online it would be buried, covered up and denied. They had to make enough of a scene that it could not be covered up any more. Their actions and logic might be faulty but the actual criticism that stories that need to be told aren’t getting the attention they need, and that truth has become incredibly irrelevant to global discussions, is well made and quite timely.

This anime makes it clear that it isn’t about what is right or wrong. It isn’t even about what you can prove. It is all about how people perceive things that matters. Nine and Twelve take advantage of this and allow people to perceive them as terrorists because it suits their interests. The story isn’t perfect but it definitely has a lot to say and the journey is quite an interesting one.

Conclusion

There are so many other anime I could have gone into for this topic. Jormungand, Bleach, Sunday Without God, No. 6, and so on. Even My Love Story has the basic notion of defying expectations when Yamato is forced to defend her choice in Takeo to her friends. Basically Man vs Society is an inevitable conflict as we try to balance individual ideas and goals with overall benefit for the masses so these sorts of stories aren’t going anywhere and that’s probably a good thing.

What is your favourite Man vs Society focussed anime or what is your favourite dystopian movie?


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Friday’s Feature: It’s Out of Control – Man vs Technology

This is my third post for March on conflict in stories and as the title says I’m looking a Man vs Technology. If you missed my previous two features check out Man vs Man and Man vs Nature.

Man vs Technology is pretty easy to define. Something has been built (either by man or by some sort of advanced species, or by some ancient civilisation) and for whatever reason it is wreaking havoc. Usually in the form of mass destruction of humans. As a general rule these are cautionary tales and haven’t really changed much from their use in Greek mythology. Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man and being punished for it. Flash forward to Frankenstein (also subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’), or look at the Alien movie franchise with its installment ‘Prometheus’.

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There is one area of ambiguity in this type of conflict in that some of the technology we’re talking about has will. Think about the terminator and self-aware machines consciously deciding to wage war on humans. But other technology in question just loses control or has unintended side-effects (terrible movie but The Core is a great example of stuffing something up with technology and then needing technology to fix it – albeit totally implausible science being applied).

As indicated by the longevity of this type of story and the fact that the basic narrative model is pretty much unchanged, this type of conflict works really well. Why?

01. People fear what they don’t know. As evidenced by our long history of persecuting people for saying things that go against the accepted norm of the time period. We’ve just moved on a bit from arguing about whether the earth is flat or not (or at least most people have) to arguing about whether gene splicing will actually lead to mutant super-powers.

02. A lot of these stories are built on actual technology or ideas in the current society so allow people to connect current trends with the problems in the story. While time travelling robots seeking a single woman to kill might be far fetched, the idea of computers ‘thinking’ is not. And what if they did decide the world would be better if they were in control?

03. Mostly these stories are pretty straight forward. We’re either dropped into the problem straight up or we see the development of the technology that will inevitably go out of control or cause some problem. And we almost always end with some moralising by the characters about how we should respect and be cautious around technology or new ideas.

How does this work in anime?

This is an interesting point because while anime is full of giant robots and the like, almost all of these stories are focussed on the human conflicts being played out behind these. Very few actually directly look at the Man vs Technology aspect. It’s more Man vs Man reinforced by improbable tech. So with that in mind I’m going to look at three anime that each have aspects of a Man vs Technology conflict but none of them are really true examples of this story as they also draw heavily on other types of conflict.

Case 1: Heavy Object

There’s a lot of Man vs Man in this story with different nations pitted against each other but if we look at Qwenthur, the engineering exchange student, the conflicts he faces are almost all (with one or two exceptions) to do with how to stop the seemingly unstoppable objects.

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There’s a wide range of objects as each core group seem to have at least one, and they fight on a variety of terrain. Seeing Qwenthur running around on the ground trying to avoid being squished, or clinging hopelessly to the outside of one of these massive structures is fairly engaging. What works well with each of these are the weaknesses Qwenthur exploits. They are the human errors in design or use. There’s a clear message where the military groups have all but put absolute faith in their objects and yet these objects are human designed and flawed because of that. It’s in that respect that this part of the story squarely falls into the Man vs Technology category. It both applauds the achievements of man’s ingenuity and use of technology and cautions us about becoming too complacent because of it.

Case 2: GATE

This is kind of the opposite of a Man vs Technology story, though I guess if you were on the side of the fantasy empire it’s very much a case of completely unstoppable technology in the hands of your enemy. If you haven’t seen GATE, essentially a gate opens up in Japan and from it streams an army of armour clad soldiers and beasts from a different world. They are quickly subdued (though not without fair numbers of civilian casualties because even low technology is effective against families shopping) and Japan organises to send their military through the gate to secure the other side and then… Not sure if they are conquering, friend making, or hunting resources for expansion or some combination of all three really.

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Why include this on the list? Because of the gate itself. What is it? Where did it come from? Why did it open? They’ve established a base on the other side but what if it closes? While these questions aren’t addressed in the two seasons of this show, the story and essential conflict between worlds only exists and only continues because of the gate itself. Destroying the gate, assuming anyone could figure out how, would essentially shut down the war. Amazingly, very little attention is given in the story to the nature of the gate and that feels like a lost opportunity.

Case 3: Katanagatari (Not yet reviewed)

This story revolves around Shichika and Togame trying to track down 12 Deviant Blades. There’s a whole bunch of political mumbo-jumbo as to why they should do this but the deviant blades themselves are representative of man over-reaching. Essentially a swordsmith created 1000 swords in practice for the 12 deviant blades. Those who wield the 12 blades are severely effected by their poison. However, as this swordsmith could see into the future, the design of many of the swords surpasses anything that should be possible in the current time and most people wouldn’t have a chance against a deviant sword wielder.

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Enter Shichika, the seventh head of the school Kyotoru style of sword fighting (that conveniently doesn’t use a sword). The origin of this style is closely tied to the creation of the deviant blades but I won’t go into details as it is better to find them out as you watch.

What works with this story is that the technology is fantastical for the time period being represented. While some of the swords look like swords, most defy the logic of the time. But rather than reject what they can do, they are still called swords and simply labelled deviant. The collection of these blades dominates the majority of the story and there are some interesting discussions around the nature of the blades and their creation as the story progresses, as well as whether they should be allowed to exist or not.

Conclusion:

Yeah, I know, I didn’t include any giant robot stories here. As I said at the start, the issue with most of these is they step squarely into a Man vs Man style of conflict with the technology not being a point for discussion or moralising (mostly). Possibly Code Geass and the F.L.E.I.J.A comes close to where even the characters in that story look at the destruction and cringe.

Still, there are always small cases of Man vs Technology interwoven into larger stories and with the world the way it is, this type of conflict isn’t going anywhere.

Over to you: What are your favourite examples of Man vs Technology conflicts?


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Friday’s Feature: Crying Won’t Help – Man vs Nature

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash - Haruhiro fight

Continuing my focus for March on conflict in stories, today I want to look at Man vs Nature. If you missed last week I had a quick look at Man vs Man conflict so please be sure to check out the post.

Right from the start I know I’m probably going to get some corrections to this post because when I talk about Man vs Nature conflicts I include all natural disasters, monstrous creatures and unstoppable supernatural forces. I don’t however include supernatural creatures that have high levels of human characteristics such as vampires. While some of the vampires from the past may have met my idea of ‘nature’ most modern vampire stories just have slightly strong and occasionally sparkly protagonists and really they interact with the plot in the same way a man vs man conflict should. I also know that some people classify man vs supernatural as its own category of conflict but again, due to the way it works in stories, I kind of lump them both together.

With that said, let’s jump into Man vs Nature.

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I think the main element of this story is that the source of the conflict is an unavoidable and unreasonable force. The characters can’t negotiate with hurricanes or asteroids or giant man-eating lizards or whatever other natural phenomenon is coming their way. That doesn’t mean that the characters don’t make the situation worse or don’t stir up trouble (you know by destroying the habitat of that sleeping horde of whatever and setting them loose). However, Man vs Nature is distinctly different from Man vs Man because there is no will or motive on the opposing forces side. It just is. Deal with it.

But this conflict works so incredibly well (particularly in major Hollywood movies that have increasingly used them in a flimsy attempt to portray the togetherness of the human race). Why does it work?

01. Most people understand the fear, anxiety, concern of natural disasters even if they’ve never directly been in one. Whether it is flood, fire, storm, earthquake, volcano, natural disasters are pretty much a fact of life and as kids we learn disaster drills and lessons about prepping for storm season. We watch the news and see the tragedy and the helplessness. And even if it isn’t a large scale thing, we all know that sometimes animals act unpredictably. Sometimes stuff just happens and we have to deal with. This type of conflict strikes a real chord with pretty much everyone.

02. This type of conflict can easily be scaled up or down. It can be a wolf terrorising a single farmer or it can be a world ending sun explosion. The basic story remains identical as does the effectiveness of the conflict allowing a diverse range of scenarios. Of course, that leaves this open to some incredibly poor writing when the characters, which are the only part of the story that can really allow the audience to connect, are not well crafted. In that farmer and wolf story, that farmer better be one compelling individual or your audience will check out quick no matter how many chickens the wolf slaughters.

03. Awesome visuals. Whether it is a monster, animal, or natural disaster, you can do some very cool things visually with this type of conflict. It lends itself to spectacle and when done well can certainly deliver.

How does this work in anime?

Interestingly enough, while there are some anime that have natural disasters in them, they aren’t as prolific as you think. Kaze no Stigma has a short arc focussed on an eruption because the family that were supposed to perform the ritual to prevent it were unable to. And of course there’s Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. However, despite the lack of world ending storms in anime, there are some excellent monster and other unstoppable forces of nature stories to choose from.

Case 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Grimgar is an odd anime when you think about the conflict of the story (mostly because for large parts of the story the characters are simply dealing with survival). While there are moments where we see Man vs Self issues arise, the real killer in Grimgar is the world these characters have found themselves in. They don’t know how they got there and they don’t start out with the skills they need to survive but they need to learn them fast.

What makes Grimgar particularly effective is that almost all the conflicts take place in the woods, in ruined cities or in a network of underground tunnels. The civilised locations, the town where they have their ‘home’, is relatively safe and other than the occasional inner-party squabble they don’t really face any danger there. Grimgar plays on fear of the unknown. Of venturing further out of your comfort zone and confronting enemies that you may or may not be ready to take on. It’s the excitement of exploration mixed with the fear of death lurking around every turn. In short, it plays with this core conflict and really uses it to keep the audience on edge whenever the characters aren’t in the town. It makes you aware of all the dangers you would face if taken out of the comfort of the modern world.

Case 2: Another (not yet reviewed)

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In terms of supernatural forces that are untouchable and certainly unreasonable, the curse from Another is probably the clearest cut force of nature that can be found. Like a storm it has a mappable path and you can see the trail of destruction it has left, but you can’t do much about it other than take shelter and hope you are one of the lucky ones once it has passed.

It works well because even before the audience is let in on the particulars of the curse, there is a tangible weight on all of the members of the class. You can see that something is effecting them but you don’t know what or why. Even once our main character learns more about the curse, there’s still nothing he can do about it as his classmates and the occasional family member die one after another, month after month.

Unlike Grimgar, Another has a clear end point, at least for the characters we are following. In Grimgar we never know when, if ever, the characters will escape the world or whether they are just stuck there for life. In Another they just have to survive the year. Just one year. And then it turns out there is another way to stop the curse as well which is ultimately the path taken (admittedly the price was pretty high by the time everything was done).

Conclusion

I’m going to be honest, I love disaster movies. Yeah, they are formulaic and mostly filled with one-dimensional characters and trite writing, but occasionally you’ll get one where the cast really just manages to have some real chemistry and they sell the situation they are in. Besides, regardless of bad acting and dialogue, most bad disaster movies are still entertaining as you play count the cliché or laugh at poor special effects. In anime, I find that this type of conflict tends to be treated a bit more seriously. Less flippant one liners and throwing beer bottles at storm clouds and more introspection about what it means to be a human and alive.

Your turn: I’d love to hear what your favourite Man vs Nature conflict in an anime is and why.


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Friday’s Feature: We’ve Got a Problem Here – Man vs Man

For the month of March I’ve decided I’m going to focus on the negative. Quite literally. I’m going to focus my features this month on exploring types of conflict in stories using examples from anime. To start off with I decided to go with the most straight forward: Man vs Man.

Or Human vs Human.

Or Alien Robot Thing vs Interstellar Goop.

Whatever works for you. What’s improtant about this type of conflict is that there are at least two sides each represented by a character or group of characters. Pretty much every Gundam series ever nails this type of conflict by setting up different factions with conflicting agendas and then the story sits back and waits for the inevitible chaos.

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This type of conflict works for a few simple reasons.

01. Generally the goals fo the opposing forces are known and clear. This guy wants to save the girl that the other guy kidnapped. That army wants to overrun that land and the army over there wants to stop them. This girl is going to hunt down the guy who killed her father and return the favour, meanwhile the guy doesn’t want to die. Whether the audience sees all perspectives or not is irrelevant. We pretty much know who is who and what they want.

02. Because the characters have opposing goals, they are moving toward each other and the story pushes them into conflict adding excitement and tension to the story. Basically, because they all want things, they are actively seeking them out and this gives plenty of opportunities for interactions, skirmishes, surprise ambushes, negotiations, or any of dozens of other things that could make the story interesting.

03. People get it. They face conflict with other people every single day so when they see a character getting blocked from achieving their goal they can relate. They also get really happy when the ‘bad’ guy gets taken down because it gives them some vicarious satisfaction that somehow their obstacles will eventually get mowed down.

How does this work in anime?

Like most medium for story telling anime has done pretty much everything imaginable with this particular theme however where we see it most obviously is in action anime.

Case 1: Bleach (Not yet reviewed)

While there are other types of conflict driving the events of Bleach from time to time (with over 300 episodes you would hope it was more complex than he stole my chewing gum), the story continues to come back to the idea of man vs man.

ichigo

In the early seasons, Ichigo literally works his way up through increasingly stronger opponents to reach his goal of saving Rukia. It’s why the first seasons of Bleach are incredibly satisfying. After a season of learning how to kind of be a shinigami, Ichigo has a simple goal placed in front of him. Save Rukia from execution in Soul Society. The audience gets this, they respect that goal, and most of the viewers want to see Ichigo succeed.

However, the various shinigami of Soul Society don’t want Ichigo to succeed (and yes we do cross a little into Man vs Society but for the most part Ichigo isn’t focussed on bringing the society down, just the next opponent standing in front of him). The shinigami he faces have a variety of motivations, which ultimately keep the story interesting, but their goal is simple. Stop the intruder. Once again, the audience gets this goal. Ichigo has barged into a world he doesn’t belong in and is disrupting things. It makes sense that those who live there are choosing to defend it.

ichigo-v-ikkaku

Ichigo vs Ikkaku is a great example of this. While Ikkaku isn’t exactly the hard working drone of society, he does love a good fight and Ichigo more or less falls into his lap (which results in the lucky dance, and please let us never remember that). I like this battle for a few reasons. Ichigo isn’t yet ridiculously overpowered and it really is just grit and determination that keep him from being seriously killed (that and Ikkaku isn’t really being too serious which costs him). I also like Ichigo’s logic as to why he chooses to fight rather than run, as a certain other character did. His decision to stand and fight wasn’t totally pig-headed for once but rather a simple understanding that if Ikkaku was stronger than him, running was not going to help. Ichigo essentially has to cut Ikkaku down in order to continue his quest to save Rukia because Ikkaku is not going to back away from this fight.

Ichigo v Kuchiki.png

However, it is Ichigo vs Byakuya that most clearly expresses this idea of opposing goals. Byakuya is 100% convinced that he must follow the law and so has personally made it his absolute duty to ensure Rukia’s execution is carried out in accordance to the law, even though she’s his adopted sister. This fight is one of the best in Bleach and comes as Ichigo’s power is really coming into its own. What really works about this conflict is that we’ve seen these two characters coming toward each other for quite some time and we knew by this time that neither character could or would back down. While the outcome is kind of obvious, it is definitely a fight worth watching, although you are advised to watch out for cheesy shonen dialogue being shouted mid-battle.

Case 2: Death Note (Not yet reviewed)

Alright, let’s take the swords, bows, and other pointy weapons away and look at this type of conflict in a more modern setting. Modern but with a note book that can kill you. Arguably, Light and L absolutely define the man vs man conflict. From the contrasting blue and red colours they are painted in during the opening to their declaration that they both represent justice (and cannot both be right) everything about Death Note pits these two against each other. There are other characters hunting Kira down but we all know that this story revolves around these two characters and the mind games they play with one another.

death_note

What works particularly well about this story is that both characters have strengths and weaknesses. L has the power of the police and large information networks for much of the story meanwhile he is missing the crucial bit of information he needs. That is, he doesn’t know about the existence of the Death Note and even once that is revealed he is given false information as to how it works which throws him off. Light on the other hand has access to police information, knowledge of the notebook and death gods, but has a massive ego and tends to act rashly when provoked.

Watching these two maneuvre around each other and manipulate situations to try to get more information is truly fantastic and one of the best man vs man conflicts I’ve watched. What is really fascinating is that you honestly don’t know which side you want to see win. Yes, Kira is a mass-murderer and Light progressively becomes more unhinged as the story goes on (or was always unhinged and finally revealed it). But, he is taking out criminals and the world is changing. More importantly, we spend time with Light early on and he’s a charming character. While you probably wouldn’t want to meet him in real life, as a character you are sympathetic to his cause and as he is arguable the protagonist of the duo he is kind of the one you are positioned to stand behind. L on the otherhand is introduced later and it takes a fair while before he becomes anything more than an intriguing idea in the story. By the time you warm up to him, it is hard to really want his victory even though technically you know Light should be stopped.

I won’t spoil how this ends for those who haven’t seen it but it is definitely a story to check out.

Conclusion

While man vs man might seem like an overused plot line, when used well it can be highly effective and entertaining. That doesn’t stop lazy writing from causing some big problems. Like what happens when there is no opposition worth noting or the opposition exists but you don’t really know why they care about stopping the protagonist. We see this a lot in romantic storylines where a girl will declare herself a rival but other than being painful they serve no point in the story and mostly we all just wish they would go away so we could focus on the actual relationship and its genuine drama rather than plot contrived ones (not looking at Orange).

So let’s open this up. I’d love to hear what your favourite man vs man conflict in an anime is and why.


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Iron Blooded Orphans Episode 34

Review:

Negotiations, long discussions, training, and an action sequence that I’m guessing had a purpose but I honestly don’t even remember what that particular group were trying to achieve. I’m thinking on rewatch it will probably make sense but on a week to week basis there are just too many names and too many different intrigues to keep them all straight. As an episode, this was kind of a nothing. It didn’t do anything particularly interesting or anything particularly bad. There  was just a lot of shuffling characters from where they were to where they are going to need to be for the next round of conflicts.

Iron Blooded Orphans is available on AnimeLab.

The Morose Mononokean Episode 11

Review:

I feel this episode would have had far more impact if my internet connection hadn’t continuously dropped while trying to watch it. As a result, I saw the episode in 2 – 5 minute blocks with a lot of frustrated waiting and reloading in between.

The episode picks up from last episode and we finally see Ashiya face a consequence for being an overly kind nit-wit. The question becomes will this lead to anything resembling a real conflict to be resolved or will they just wrap it up nicely in the first three minutes of the next episode (if there were any hints after the credits, I didn’t see them this week due to lack of loading). I enjoyed this episode more than the last couple despite the interruptions but I still feel this anime hasn’t quite managed to nail consistency or engage me with the characters as well as I would have liked to be.

The Morose Mononokean is available on Crunchyroll.