Existentialism and its discontents: for those of us who do not believe in God

To be entirely honest, I did not expect to want to write about something today. I wrote about the impossibility of deriving meaning from Code Geass just yesterday (under my pyrexia I also cursed), and I have also completed a blog post two days before that. Honestly, I haven’t been as productive as this since the latter half of last year!

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I searched Danbooru for god, and this is what came out

But while the IRC is a scary place, there are also times when one is glad that he has hung around at a certain moment. Such was my feeling a few hours ago when Anh came around to #animeblogger. She started blogging a little more than a week ago, and seems to be promising (with regard to her writing and her choice of anime). Someone who searches for meaning in anime is someone who is worth corresponding and communicating to. In addition, her favorite anime are Honey and Clover, Welcome to the NHK, and Princess Tutu. I won’t say much about Honey and Clover, but I have blogged at length and attempted to analyze Welcome to the NHK. I can’t say anything about Princess Tutu, because I haven’t watched it yet.

Her second post dealt with Hang, a one-shot manga written by Hiroki Endo (who also wrote Eden and For Those of Us Who Do Not Believe in God). This inspired me to revisit For Those of Us Who Do Not Believe in God (I will shorten it to FTUWDNBG from here). While I’ve read FTUWDNBG before, I remembered that I read it without the idea of analysis: I read it simply to pass the time, and most of us know that one must be in a proper mindset when one analyzes or dissects something, be it a novel, an anime series, or a manga.

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Because you are god if you don’t age or die after forty years of looking like that

I believe this decision of mine was great, because with the re-reading of the manga I have also learned more about philosophy and read more novels pertinent to the matter which FTUWDNBG tries to discuss.

In terms of setting, I believe Mephisto by Klaus Mann (who was the son of the juggernaut Thomas Mann) is a good comparison: there is something happening within the play, and it is crucial to the story, but there is also something happening outside it. [Disclaimer: I am familiar only with the general flow of Mephisto, but I have not read it yet.]

The manga begins with a serial killer placed on a pedestal: he has killed an inordinate amount of people. He has been convicted and is bound to be executed. Simultaneously, the narrator tells the life story of the serial killer, going into his familial background and his past in general: having been consistently abused by his parents and growing up without any friends, he has transformed into a murderer. A lady comes in the set and sits across the killer, with the prisonbars separating them from one another. She was raped by him, and if not for a lucky break, would have been dead; quite understandably, she wants to kill the murderer violently. She curses the killer and one discovers that she has lost her brother to the homicidal freak as well. The play then segues into the lives of those behind the play, whether acting in it or simply helping behind the scenes.

One discovers that there is a couple: the director, Tajima, and one of his staff are lovers. His irate actions are because he and she have not been doing too well recently. Katayose, one of his staff, talks with Tajima (the guy), and it is suggested that Tajima physically abuses his girlfriend. In Katayose, philosophy in general subtly begins to introduce itself within the manga: Tajima asks him why he’s happy, and he replies that the reason is that he does not get hurt (while I am not a philosophy major, I do think that Katayose espouses a form of nihilism: belief in nothing). Because he does not believe in anything, nothing hurts him, and he is happy.

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Remember Bazarov?

In another scene, one can see that Tajima does beat up Kogure, his girlfriend. However, Endo is very sharp in subtly suggesting otherwise. It doesn’t seem like a scene of domestic violence, but of sadomasochism. Tajima always told himself when he was young that he wasn’t going to becoming like his father, who was a wife-beater. Kogure tells him that he has a father complex (I assume in the negative, from what the father has done to his family), but Tajima retorts ‘You’re one to talk,’ suggesting the same.

The play continues. Hajime (the narrator), uses a real-life example, Henry Lee Lucas, who was influenced by a sister but later on recanted his confessions. Shikano was having the jitters behind the stage because she has not been called yet, while the narrator proceeds. It in in these following scenes that I believe I looked over in hindsight.

‘I don’t believe in any of this “God” stuff,’ the serial killer quips, and it is in this quote where we are reminded of Nietzsche’s famous utterance more than a hundred years ago: ‘God is dead.’ The female victim agrees with him. I believe their atheism stems from a loss of faith in anyone but themselves. If God truly existed, he would not have allowed me to be beaten up; if He existed, he would have killed me before I killed these people; if He existed, my brother wouldn’t have died: if he existed, I would not have suffered as painfully. This is very reminiscent of existentialism: in existentialism, instead of depending upon deities and gods to give meaning to human lives, people must search for it on their own and in their existence.

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Jesus Christ

The manga returns to the lives of the staff. Takako (the female victim), is with Hajime (the narrator), and Shikano (the girl with the sunglasses) interrupts them. Her spoken reason is that she needs Hajime to help her with the lockers, but her vexatious queries insinuate that she has more than passing emotion or just friendship towards Hajime. The scene shifts to Kogure with the serial killer from the play (who we discover is Kusano). Kusano suggests through his words that he likes Kogure, and gives reasons to it. His piercing words lend credence to my hypothesis that Kogure is a masochist, however.

The manga returns to the play after a short game of soccer with Hajime as its center. In the play, Hajime transforms into the brother of the female victim from the narrator (this is because of the lack of actors). He appears to both the serial killer and his sister, and is noted by the killer to be a good man from his forbearance.

The reader slowly discovers that the play in itself is an allegory to the lives of its staff and actors. Kusano has been bullied in his earlier years; Takako lost her own brother in an accident and is sour regarding her omiage (arranged marriage); Hajime is a nice guy within the play and without. Shikano played a blind girl in the play struggling with life, and she quips: ‘but tears must be pretty.’ Outside the play she is struggling to be able to express herself properly as well.

The play ends with the serial killer’s execution, and explication regarding their lives is undertaken by the mangaka. What Takako said to her fiance regarding the fire was haunting, however, and is a re-positing of the existential question. To her, the fire was pretty. But it killed someone. Ultimately, the fire was still pretty.

At the very end of the one-shot, the people are still straggling (and struggling) in life. However, I’d argue that they grasped more meaning within their lives, and I believe the ending speaks of that. It is not merely God that directs us in our own lives; it is our decisions and our actions, that, God or not, make or break ourselves.

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7 Responses to “Existentialism and its discontents: for those of us who do not believe in God”

  1. totali Says:

    But I didn’t get a pony for my birthday. God doesn’t exist!

  2. itsubun Says:

    thank you for the introduction, you’re too nice. and thank you for taking the time to read hiroki endo’s short story. he’s an amazing mangaka and i’m glad to see that there are other people who take the time to appreciate his work.

    jesus is a trap

  3. Christopher Fritz Says:

    I read through a whole post here, but the only thing I got out of it was “I can’t say anything about Princess Tutu, because I haven’t watched it yet.” I hope you consider checking it out sometime this year, Michael, because I’d love to read whatever you might write about it. The novelist in it says it best: “All you children who love stories, come gather round.” A series for those who love fairytale stories.

  4. Ryan A Says:

    Ah Endo! Will check this out soon. Last 2 days been too busy ~_~

    God does not exists, bad things happen, has been going for a millennium. People can make their own existence, drive their own carousel or what not… just like people getting angry, anger is a choice ^^

  5. smashingtofu Says:

    You did a Goth post before which nets you many manga critic points from me : d

    You did Hiroki Endo one-shot which also nets you many more points!

    You are doing well Grasshopper!

    lol

    Anyway seriously, I am very much naturally geared towards the humanistic or existentialistic side, so this particular one-shot does strike a strong chord with me. I was also in Drama so I was pleasantly surprised that someone actually did a ‘drama’ setting, literally.

    Oh and great great post!

    I’d also like to add some recommendations of manga too, but if I did that, the list would be endless!

  6. anime|otaku » Blog Archive » The Lunar New Year: (5) On nouveau bloggers Says:

    […] She loves Hiroki Endo and his works. I have read of Endo in the past but our chat regarding him reminded me that I needed to revisit the man. I did, and here is the post. […]

  7. skinnyness Says:

    Thanks mate. Not bad submissions you got going on here. Got some more sites to point to which have more stuff like this?

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