[Angelus] Sora no Woto: an attempt in deconstruction, the subversion of moe, and its (in)ability as an anime series

When I saw the opening animation of Sora no Woto, I was instantly reminded of Elfen Lied: both shared OPs that alluded to the symbolist art of Gustave Klimt. Back when I first saw Elfen Lied I was impressed more with ‘Lilium’ than with the animation; I only became more informed when I chanced upon a recent Penguin Classics publication of ‘Venus in Furs’ by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. I was always meaning to read that novel as ‘Venus in Furs’ was the prototypical novel for masochism, but I never had the chance to revisit the bookstore I found it in. I believe I chose purchasing ‘Wandering Star’ by J.M.G. Le Clezio instead, as I wanted to know what was in the mind of a recent Nobel laureate in literature.

A Klimt painting in the Penguin Classics cover

A Klimt painting in the Penguin Classics cover

Were I totally uninundated with Sora no Woto I would have assumed it to be a serious series basing solely from its OP (maybe it was going to become darker): Elfen Lied was as serious as an anime series could get, as while it was Gundam Wing and Cowboy Bebop that led me into anime, it was Elfen Lied that totally annihilated my assumptions about it solely being for children and young adults. When I saw Lucy bloodily decapitating her captors, it was an irreversible epiphany: I had become besotted with anime as a medium, and there was no turning back. Seven years hence, I am still here, and I will keep on being here. Beneath all the cliches and the redundancies, there are still people like Masaaki Yuasa (Kemonozume and The Tatami Galaxy) and Shinichiro Watanabe (Bebop) who keep anime fresh. I do not believe anime will ever get boring for me, as long as I don’t consume it in excess. Familiarity does breed contempt, and I want to avoid that with the medium I have been very, very fond of these past few years.

The OP reminds me of Klimt.

The OP reminds me of Klimt.

I had my doubts, however, as the art design of the series was eerily similar to the designs of another series recognized to be moe, that is, peppered with youthful and beautiful girls acting cute. These doubts were confirmed with the very first episode, where the situations of the first episode involving Sorami with reference to reality was extremely absurd: if the two World Wars had anything to teach, it’s that nothing comes out unscathed from the war, not even children or adolescents. George Santayana became more popular as an aphorist than as a philosopher because of his quotes, and one of them was that ‘only the dead have seen the end of war.‘ The torment never ends for those torn apart, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually by war, and it only really ends upon death. The event of war breaks so many borders of decency and humanity: it is a crisis that blurs the line between men and beasts. It was thus to my surprise when four war-worn men did not do anything to a cute girl. I don’t even mean rape: there was not even one sexual innuendo coming from any of the men in the train. I believe in the goodness of humanity, but I also believe this was a subtle reminder by the creators of this series that this was never going to be a series rooted in reality. This was corroborated with the surrealistic use of bugles to tell time and to communicate. Despite the grittier realities of war it alludes to, the series was never going to take itself as seriously as that; the viewer is instead privy to the day-to-day life of young female soldiers without a war to fight. Does anyone mind? No, not really. But the setting in itself is a deconstruction of moe: it is the proof that moe can be shown even in situations such as war. In contrast to the fluffy and light settings of universally recognized moe shows, like K-On, for example, the viewer is shown a series that has a darker milieu, and in spite of this, still shines with moe as well as the other shows. I do not use the term deconstruction in the strict, Derridan manner as I am unfamiliar with nearly all of his philosophy, but it does present a slight (but jarring) disconnect with most people’s perceptions of what moe seems to be. I may be mistaken, but I assumed moe pertained to cute girls doing stupid, fluffy things on cute places in their lives. This series was about cute girls doing stupid, fluffy things in an army in their lives, and that makes all the difference.

Does anyone remember Band of Brothers? Or the seminal Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan? Both the series and the movie were about men struggling as they faced a horrific war that seemed, to them, interminable. Both were also united by the idea of brotherhood, of a team being more than a man, and despite facing nearly impossible odds, acted as one to chase a common goal. In Band of Brothers it was to win the most decisive battle of the Second World War; Saving Private Ryan, on the other hand, was about a group of soldiers fighting to save the last child of a mother who lost her other children as war’s casualties. A central focus of both series and film were the unity that the teams shared among their people as they pursued their respective herculean tasks. Sora no Woto seems to evince this same unity within the army girls (the third episode is a prime example); however, it does not have the grit or the violence that the film and the series had in spades or their realism. Its captive audience, however, seeks neither the grit nor the horror: in fact, I would argue that they would be alienated by the series had it contained these elements. The ingenuity of the series’s creators shows itself by limiting their deconstruction by merely bending the rules instead of really pushing the envelope (of moe): by changing merely the setting of the series, they have ultimately changed the imagery of moe without altogether breaking its bounds.

A further illustration of this ingenuity is with the fifth episode: the three youngest members are told to complete an outing that Kureha believes is really a mission incognito. It does seem like that at first, but at the end of the episode their commanding officer, Phylicia (or Felicia) really just planned to lead them to some fine imagery of the No Man’s Land as well as to leave their marks in an outpost as some sort of tradition.

This pans out later on ...

This pans out later on ...

The illustration that I am referring to is the incident of Rio with the wild boar: there must have been a violent altercation between the tomboyish Rio and the boar, but it is not shown within the episode. The viewer can only see what happened afterward, where Rio is in the hot springs dirtied. The show deliberately avoids violence even when faced with a situation where violence is inexorable. Instead, the camera pans to the girls taking a bath and having fun despite their long day. There is merely a suggestion where there was none beforehand, and yet this also subverts moe pretty well. Even the suggestion (not its entelechy, mind you) is an act of subversion. Yet, again, they are not pushing the envelope, but merely tiptoeing the line between what is moe, and what is
not moe.

... to a dirtied Rio Kazumiya

... to a dirtied Rio Kazumiya

Episode six contains another wonderful subversion. Were I a viewer fond of thorough subversion and total deconstruction, the Baccano-like scene invoked by the wine dealing with guns ablaze and all would put a huge smile on my face; as I have forewarned myself, however, I easily saw through the charade and immediately knew it was all an act. The entelechy of violence in the fifth episode seemed to have been transformed into reality only to have it subverted as a play, as merely an act: the reality of violence still is not expressed.

The Baccano dream scene is a farce.

The Baccano dream scene is a farce.

Episode seven, I believe, is the apex of this deconstruction and the apex of the intelligent subversion: there is actually violence that occurs within the show and the horrors of war are seen within the episode itself but it is within the context of the past. The show still remains to be a show about cute girls doing stupid things, but given the dimension that these girls are not merely cute: one of them locks the ghosts of the past within her heart. Phylicia is fleshed out as not merely a placid and kindly captain, but one who also experienced a tragedy first-hand that haunts her present, as can be seen in her hallucinations. One must note that nothing violent happens in the present: that at the girls’ present time, nothing violent happens and it ultimately is all about them doing cute things that make them attractive. The fact, however, that violence was seen, reenacted, and experienced in a purportedly moe show is an obvious subversion of the genre: the fact that reality seeped in, even in the recollection of the past, is a divergent path undertaken by the series from shows akin to it. I believe that this episode is the climax of the deconstruction (even if it may not be the climax of the series) because the events of the past episodes seem to build up into the development of the visceral imagery found in this episode.

This evisceration is the closest the series has been to the reality of violence in war.

This evisceration is the closest the series has been to the reality of violence in war.

The absence of Rio’s episode with the boar surreptitiously suggested of violence unseen and not felt by the other girls as well as the viewer; the next episode shows violence that is actually just a masquerade, a charade, a play. It is, however, a violence seen by the viewer and seemingly perceived by the characters involved in it, although there was actually none. The culmination of this is the seventh episode, where Phylicia has actually experienced the reality and the entelechy of violence without any pretensions or falsehood: it is a violence that she felt and perceived and actually experienced in the past: there were no cut-scenes and no plays, but it was a violence that occurred in the past. Although it affected and still affects her deeply, it did not happen within the chronology of the present in the show. There is no violence occurring with the other girls or with Phylicia currently, thus following one of the unspoken rules of a moe genre, which is that violence is a surreality (not was).

It was funny noting that even Phylicia herself is subtly fond of Derrida and the postmodern. ‘Evidently, there is no “meaning” in this world,’ she says. The avatar of moe’s deconstruction is also fond of its precepts! Episode seven was a most wonderful episode, a gem among its more mediocre counterparts.

Having seen episode eight, I am also wont to think that the seventh episode was the climax of the series. Episode eight to eleven seem to return to the girls’ day-to-day lives acting cute and doing nothing or acting cute and doing cutesy stuff. The same suggestive stuff that occurred in episode five, however, also occurred in the twelfth episode: only the gunshot was heard, and then the aftermath that was Aisha’s injury. There may have been blood seen and found but violence is still unseen, impalpable: only its result was perceived by the characters. The subversion has not been esemplastic: it has not been holistic – only apocryphal.

Nevertheless, while the ending was quite tacky in order to jibe with the series’s title, it was heartfelt. The ‘violence’ was limited to machine gun shots repelled by the Takemikazuchi. No blood was further shed other than Aisha’s, and the ending was highly predictable even from a distance.

To conclude, I think I’m in agreement with a comment made by VIPPER I found in Omo’s blog while I searched Google for ‘Anime no Chikara.’ He says:

I think there is possibly some confusion over our interpretation of Anime no Chikara as well. I was under the impression that the whole purpose was just to bring famous directors, animators, etc. together. I don’t think that necessarily means the project will come out great. There can be wonderful directors working on a project, but when they say “okay we need K-on, but make it somehow intelligent” they probably had a really tough time trying to make it work.

In ALL regards, Sora no Woto was a complete failure. Otaku saw right through it, and I’m glad they did. This is going to be a problem that Anime no Chikara is going to face if they continue down this path and they will inevitably be forced to do one of two things:

1. Say “fuck it,” and completely sell out. No need to hide behind anything, bring the best animators/directors/whatever they are trying to claim and put them to work on the biggest moe-fest possible and don’t bother to hide it. Otaku appreciate that, and I would appreciate their honesty.

2. Say “fuck it,” and go the opposite direction branching out hard, trying to create something new and powerful. Judging from their understanding of the market and their horrible attempt to “subvert” the moe genre through Sora no Woto (that’s my analysis at least), this probably won’t work. Highly experimental work is a possible choice in here, and they might choose that path if their attempts to make a middle ground between “new and exciting” and “modern anime formula” keep failing.

This was what I exactly found in the series. As a deconstruction of moe, it was good; but as enjoyable anime or anything else it wasn’t awesome or exciting (except for the seventh episode, and that was because it had shades of the second option VIPPER offers us). There must be a total deconstruction, a transcendence of that limiting mathematical enveloped that does not merely get pushed a little forward but totally pushed over. It’s either they pander unashamedly to otaku, or they subvert the genre altogether: a middle ground alienates both audiences, and while I’m sure otaku would be grateful to the first option, I would prefer very much the second one. After the seventh episode there was merely more of the same mediocrity and middling progression that there was pretty much nothing to look forward to. While as a deconstruction it was quite intelligent, it also does alienate quite a few of its viewers. They have also got to do something with that title of theirs: Anime no Chikara suggests a lot of force and power that Sora no Woto does not contain.

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7 Responses to “[Angelus] Sora no Woto: an attempt in deconstruction, the subversion of moe, and its (in)ability as an anime series”

  1. Blue-kun Says:

    Nice post, mike. Even though I don’t quite agree with some of it, I do respect your opinion, which seems to be shared by the majority of the anime fanbase, anyway!

    To me, Soranowoto was just a cute series with a bit of content actually thrown in into it. And that’s fine. They managed to play out the cute side of the series really well, while, at the same time, adopting a very interesting setting and developing it with each passing episode. Mix in the musical score and the very nice animation provided by A-1 Pictures and what is there to dislike? Unless you’re a diehard hater of the moe genre, I’m sure you’ll have an enjoyable ride with Soranowoto. Well, at least if you accept that it’s just a story about girls doing cute things and not exactly an war epic, as a lot of people were trying to imagine it as.

    Oh, and by the way, while the K-ON character designs comparisons end up being inevitable, I wonder if (most) people know that Soranowoto looks like it does as a sort of homage to it? Key Animator/Character Designer Toshifumi Akai (Soranowoto) is a confessed admirer of Yukiko Horiguchi’s (K-ON!) works. He’s said that to public already, even going as far as being credited under a pseudonym that read “Horiguchi Kami!” for his work on Hayate no Gotoku, haha.

    Anyway, that’s that. Good post, keep it up, and long live Akashi-san.

  2. Ryan A Says:

    Good entry!

    it does present a slight (but jarring) disconnect with most people’s perceptions of what moe seems to be.

    I definitely agree here, and this goes along quite well with the two options you recognize in the last paragraph: pander openly or subvert. I as well prefer the subversion which we had in Swoto, and the viewers who were itching for the former, well.. that was silly of them.

    It isn’t consistent enough to be a Top 10 gem, although episode 7 brought it to another level. I think it goes to show that there is potential to walk the line of a genre or focus (moe) and still retain decency… but then again, we already had true tears.

  3. Michael Says:

    @Blue-kun

    Thanks. I thought that the setting wasn’t in line with the lightness of the story. I didn’t hate the show, it just wasn’t apt for me. I also thought in the line of it being a war epic, because the setting surrounds the story. I thought VIPPER pointed it out best.

    Long live Akashi! The Tatami Galaxy is an awesome, awesome show.

    @RyanA

    Thank you.

    Ah. True Tears. I also disliked that series … but having a choice is better than fence-sitting. The reason why people at least respect K-On is due to the fact that it does not hide its nature and its audience: it panders openly to the moe crowd, and people are glad because of that.

  4. Moe Pol Pot Says:

    Lol, how old were you when you first watched Elfen Lied? If that is serious and mature, then the Evildead saga must be deep psychological horror.

  5. schwuler Türke Says:

    I get letters from kids, teenagers and young girls who just want to be Mac. I’ve had quite a few people actually say that they’re going to become a Marine or a JAG lawyer because of me… the character. I think that’s pretty cool!

  6. world art Says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

  7. big weebaroo Says:

    I had trouble enjoying the series because of its frequent immaturity and the final episodes left me completely baffled. I was left with an overall neutral experience; charming but dumb was my final verdict.

    And that’s why I’m so glad I found this post! Thank you for helping me find some meaning in this series!

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