OWLS Blog Tour: The Pride of the Protagonist

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Here we are in June and I’m writing my second post for OWLS (OWLS stands for Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect). I will admit, it took me a bit to get going with this month’s theme but I’m pretty happy with the end result.

For those who don’t know: OWLS  are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. OWLS emphasise 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: Pride

In honour of “Pride Month,” we will be discussing the word, “Pride” and its meaning. We will be exploring pop culture characters’ most satisfying and joyful achievements or skills that they possessed and whether or not these qualities could be seen as a positive or negative aspect in their personal lives and/or society.

The Pride of the Protagonist

I really struggled with this theme at first. Mostly because for me ‘pride’ is one of those double edged swords. Characters with too much pride annoy me as they come off as arrogant. Characters with too little pride also annoy as they come off as doormats. Though it is much the same in real life. I feel people need to have pride in themselves but it shouldn’t cross the line into being egotistical or conceited. And I kind of looked at this issue when I wrote a feature back in 2016 on anime characters who want to be the very best (no Pokemon in the post but a focus on Ichigo from Bleach and Light from Death Note).

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However, my personal thoughts on pride aside, in narratives pride is a driving force for characters. For better or worse, characters can make decisions and take actions to protect their pride and this moves both the characters and the plot forward. Still, at times you have to question what that pride is based on and whether or not it was particularly beneficial to act in that way.

For anime I’m watching at the moment, the immediate one that sprang to mind when thinking about whether or not pride was helpful is Record of Grancrest War. Now, there’s a lot of questionable decisions in the narrative outside of character motivations and yet I think a lot of the audience would be happy to accept a lot of the things that have happened if the character motivations would make sense.

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Now we could look at the choices made by so many characters in this anime. Marrine deciding she has to unify the continent herself and willing to even resort to chemical warfare to achieve that end. Milza being Milza. The number of commanders who have ridden out to their deaths rather than surrendering. The number of characters who have committed suicide upon losing a battle (and has anyone ever inquired as to the mental health of the mages because they seem particularly suicidal). But instead of looking at all of that, because it is messy and doesn’t relate well to other stories that actually have some logic behind them, I want to look at Theo and his decision to face Milza in a one-on-one fight.

Realistically, this just reminded me of Sarah in the Labyrinth:

Sarah: No! I have to face him alone.

Didymus: But why?

Sarah: Because that’s the way it’s done!

Didymus: Well, if that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it. But, should you need us…

Hoggle: Yes, should you need us…

Sarah: I’ll call.

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So, why does she need to face the Goblin King alone? She has a whole group of friends waiting and yet she’s going to go fight the guy with magic powers by herself, armed with… Confidence she’s the protagonist so it will all work out somehow? Even as a kid, this scene never sat well with me.

As does Theo’s decision to fight Milza one-on-one. It has already been established that Milza is by far the stronger fighter of the two. Despite Theo’s preparations to wear down Milza’s army and to isolate him, fighting him by himself is pretty much suicidal, given that in a realistic world, Milza would have broken through Theo’s defense and killed him early on.

That isn’t what happens though. Instead, Milza beats away at Theo, hitting his guard and sword continuously, and in the process he wears himself out before Theo prattles at him and then runs him through. And once again, we get an excellent look at why pride is not a useful trait for character survival when Milza is given an opportunity to just surrender and flat out turns it down allowing Theo to kill him and somehow justify it.

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An argument could be mounted that Theo has to beat Milza to prove he is worthy of leading the alliance and inheriting Vilar’s crest, but realistically if Theo lead the army that reclaimed the castle and wiped out Milza’s troops, would it matter if Theo had actually personally killed Milza. Furthermore, would it have mattered if the other characters had brought Milza down to the ground where Theo could have still walked up and done his little speech and offered Milza a chance to live before delivering the finishing blow?

But let’s expand that argument to more or less any story about a lone hero who rises up and some of the convoluted reasons narratives come up with as to ‘why’ they end up facing the villain alone.

Lethal Weapon gives us an excellent example of this in the fight of Riggs vs Mr Joshua. They are fighting on the lawn, literally surrounded by police all armed with guns, and yet they continue a smack down. Running around the perimeter, we see Murtaugh claiming he’ll take responsibility as it is Riggs’ arrest and the others shouldn’t interfere.

Um…

I’m not sure where that fits into any kind of standard police procedure or common sense. It makes for a great fight sequence. We get to see how tough Riggs is and how awesome he is at fighting. We also get to see him being the benevolent man and not killing Mr Joshua, you know, until Mr Joshua grabs a gun. But it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

From a character point of view, we can see why Riggs wants to fight him. That is clear. And the reason he might want him dead. But that drive, his sense of pride in wanting to be the one to take him down, is pretty silly in the grander context leaving him quite badly injured and almost killed. More importantly, despite what Mutaugh is saying, I’m not sure the rest of the police would just chill and watch for the sake of Riggs’ personal vendetta.

Over and over again we see these kinds of protagonists who push the limits and boundaries in the pursuit of defending their pride. And while there might seem to be something noble about this particular action, the end result is something that seems slightly faulty to me. To assume that an achievement is one you cannot be proud of unless you do it alone is really inaccurate and realistically, collectively having pride in the achievements of a group is more likely to lead to social cohesion than lauding individual achievements. Would Theo have been any less a character for not facing Milza alone? Would Sarah have failed to realise she could beat the Goblin King if Hoggle and Sir Didymus have accompanied her? Would Mr Joshua be any less dead or arrested if the full force of the police had simply swarmed him on arrival at the scene?

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Having pride is important as people all have value. But protagonists regularly go too far. They cross the line into believing that they must stand alone and it is only their strength that will succeed. While it definitely makes for some great viewing and has lead to some truly epic scenes, the application of this kind of pride into the real world would definitely be problematic.

So let’s bring this back to Pride Month. Pride Month isn’t about the lone wolf going off to bring down the villain in a showy display of individual strength and self-glorification. Being acknowledge for either your individual self or for your achievements (both individual and collective) don’t equate to tearing someone else down.

In that sense, Sailor Moon with her ‘love and friendship’ mantra is probably a better role model as she reaches out to her friends for support when facing her enemies and even reaches out to her enemies where possible.

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The Schedule for June: 

5: Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat)

7: Mel (Mel in Anime Land)

12: Zoe (Let’s Talk Anime)

14: Mistress of Yaoi (Yaoi Playground)

15: Zel (Archi-Anime)

17: Karandi (100 Word Anime)

18: Irina (Drunken Anime Blog)

19: Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero)

20: Marth (Marth’s Anime Blog)

21: Dylan (DynamicDylan)

22: Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News)

23: Marina (Anime B&B)

24: Dale (That Baka Blog)

25: Gigi (Animepalooza)

26: Takuto (Takuto’s Anime Cafe)

27: Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)

28: Crimson (Crimson is Blogging)

29: Carla (PopCultureLiterary)

30: Matt (MattDoyleMedia)

OWLS Blog Tour: The Compliance Trap Within Soul Society

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

1: Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat)

2: Kat (GrimmGirl.com)

4: Auri (Manga Toritsukareru Koto)

7: Miandro (Miandro’s Side)

8: Irina (Drunken Anime Blog)

9: Matt (MattDoyleMedia)

10: Mel (Mel in Anime Land)

15: Zoe (Let’s Talk Anime)

16: Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)

17: Karandi (100 Word Anime)

18: Carla (PopCultureLiterary)

20: Marth (Marth’s Anime Blog)

21: Marina (Anime B&B)

22: Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News)

23: Takuto (Takuto’s Anime Cafe)

24: Dylan (DynamicDylan)

25: Andrea (All Andrealinia)

28: Shokamoka (Shokamoka’s Blog of Wonders)

30: Mistress of Yaoi (Yaoi Playground)

31: Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero)