This post is part of The 30 Day Anime Challenge Series alongside the Cosmic Anvil Kickstarter campaign. Click here to read the introduction, and click here to check out and support the campaign to help us fund the printing and distribution of our first collected volume of our manga-inspired comic series, Age of Revolution.
[SPOILER ALERT! There will be some tragic/death scenes and plot twists mentioned in this post.]
What shocked me the most out of all the anime I’ve seen so far has to be the surprisingly dark themes in Puella Magi Madoka Magicka. I went into the series blind only knowing it was about magical girls but it turned out to be a hell of a lot grimmer than that!
Even the cute cat-like creature, Kyubey, who initially appears to help and guide the magical girls turns out to be an emotionless, scheming alien that has a total lack of regard for the girls’ lives! Mainly as he doesn’t tell the girls that once they become Puella Magi, if they fall into despair they become the very witches that they are fighting!
Honorable mentions: L’s Death (Death Note), Maes Hughes Death (Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood), Lucy killing Kouta’s Dad & Sister (Elfen Lied) and Eren becoming a Titan (Attack On Titan).
Until recently I would have had a hard time choosing between moments for this one. That was until I saw the feature-length anime Perfect Blue at the Kotatsu Japanese Animation film festival in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago, and am still trying to get over it weeks later! [Just as a warning, this film is rated 18 (R-rated) and I will be discussing some very NSFW content.]
Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller about a J-pop idol called Mima who, after enjoying some success as part of a pop group called ‘CHAM!’, is encouraged by her management to try and channel her talents into acting instead of music. She unhappily complies, taking up a small role in a TV crime series. Unfortunately, following this break she starts to become pushed into doing more and more ‘mature’ work, supposedly to be considered as a ‘serious’ actress, involving a hideously gratuitous rape scene on her TV show, and nude photo shoots. Whilst this is going on, Mima also becomes the victim of online stalking in the form of a blog that claims to be written by her called ‘Mima’s Room.’ The blog tells Mima’s fans how unhappy she is with her new life whilst detailing with creepy accuracy everything that Mima did each day. Moreover, people around Mima who could be seen to be taking advantage of her keep ending up dead.
As Mima becomes more and more unnerved by the attacks, the stalking, and being forced into uncomfortable situations for her new line of work, her mental state becomes more and more fragile. She is haunted day and night by a ghostly projection of herself in her J-pop persona who mimics that words of the blog, making Mima question her own identity and image. Is anything in her life real anymore? Who is the real Mima and who is the performer? As the film shifts between her real life, her TV life, and the waking nightmares in Mima’s head, we as an audience also become less and less sure of what is real and what is fantasy, to the point at which all three blur incomprehensibly together.
In a film that is wholly quite shocking all the way through, perhaps the most shocking scene for me – other than the twist at the end – is when Mima is attacked by her stalker (the writer of ‘Mima’s Room’) in the TV studio at night who beats and nearly rapes her before she is able to escape him. She runs away for help, only to find that his unconscious body is gone. The scene is eerily similar in lighting and placement to the one she shot for the TV show is stars on, and the disappearance of his body also reinforces the feeling of uncertainty that the attack ever happened at all.
I felt super uncomfortable watching both of the sexual assault scenes in this film, which I know is the correct feeling you’re supposed to have when watching them, but I also felt very divided about their execution. On the one hand their unflinchingly graphic nature worked to add to the film’s classification as a horror/thriller, and as both were revealed in the end to possibly not be real at all, their almost overly lecherous overtones could be fabrications of Mima’s intense nightmares. However, I am always dubious of how far rape scenes need to go in terms of graphicness. After all, rape is an expression of violence and dominance, not sex, and the constant leeriness of the camera angles as Mima’s clothes are ripped and her body positioned in suggestive poses throughout both ordeals seemed unnecessarily sexual.
Based on a novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satoshi Kon, this film was interestingly originally supposed to be live-action direct to video, but after the studio was damaged in the Kobe earthquake of 1995 the film’s budget was slashed to the point that it could only go ahead as an animation. It would be fascinating to see which – if any – alterations to the film were made through this transition. I can’t help but also wonder if the film’s highly graphic subject matter would be a little less shocking if they were performed in real life by actors rather than drawn figures. After all, as much as I’m used to and open to anime grappling with adult themes, it still feels quite shocking to see cartoon depictions of murder and sexual violence.
Honourable mentions: Eren gets eaten by a Titan and survives (Attack On Titan), the chimera is revealed + the ending of Full Metal Alchemist, Asuka’s death (End of Evangelion), Shinji masturbates over Asuka’s comatose body (Neon Genesis Evangelion), L’s death (Death Note), Kyon’s death (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), the ending of The Big O.
SPOILER ALERT! This entry is a HUGE spoiler for The Big O, so if you are watching/reading it or are thinking of watching/reading The Big O, DON’T READ ON as this is a major spoiler!
I think I have already mentioned Big O in this series of blogs, so I’m not going to go over the plot again, but I will say that this anime definitely makes you think.
It’s film noir style matches perfectly with it’s story, a tale of twists and turns, corrupt governments, femme fatales, and hidden identities. It’s truly a brain teaser that has a great merge of style and substance.
However, the film noir feel get’s flipped right on it’s head as it becomes ultra-Sci-Fi at the end. Yes, there are giant robots and androids in this anime, but the anime up until the end was always more of detective drama, but everything changed when the finale happened.
The final episode blows your mind. It has the standard giant robot fight take place that you’d expect of a mech-themed show, but in the final moments of the episode, Angel – the femme fatale who has been teasing the protagonist Roger – transforms into a giant robot called ‘Big Venus’. She walks toward Big O, the city vanishing with every step she takes, until there is nothing left other than Big O, and then Big Venus merge with him, and the end of the episode fades out with the same monologue that Roger gives in the first episode. This reveals that the world that Big O is set in is a virtual reality, and that Angel is the one who controls it all, once this is discovered she resets the reality to the first episode of the show, and it all just loops.
This blew my mind… It doesn’t help that the episode itself doesn’t really explain what’s going on. It feels like reading an essay without a conclusion, or a mathmatical sum without a result. You can see all the workings, but you can’t really see what it’s meant to lead to. So only when reviewing it and reading up on it did the pieces fell into place for me, and even after discovering what the final episode meant, it broke me.
Sorry for spoiling it all, but I will always recommend Big O to people, as it’s clever, it makes you think, and it has giant robots. What more do you want?
Written by the Cosmic Anvil team.
Check out our own Welsh-manga (or ‘Wanga’) series, AGE OF REVOLUTION on our official site and Comixology! And if you want to join the fight to get the AGE OF REVOLUTION Volume printed check out our Kickstarter page!