While playing Tetris, I thought back to my last article where I said that, “Anime is closer to rehabilitation to circumstances and learning how to move forward more than anything else.” At the time, I thought the themes of freedom, self-expression, justice, and the like were an evident thing, commonplace throughout most anime, but who am I to say that? Sure, I may believe it, but was that a factual statement? There’s only one way to find out: research.
I’ll be covering the top 10 anime by popularity according to MAL as of June 7, 2020, looking at the themes we can learn from that correspond to current events. This article contains the top two.
[I had originally planned an analysis of the 10 in a single article, but with the amount of information, I’d prefer to split it into parts.]
Number 1 is Death Note, and boy do I love Death Note. It has remained in my personal top 10 anime since I watched it, only dropping out of the top 5 after a significant amount of time. Here are a few things we can take away from it:
What is Justice?
Both of these themes have been discussed by the anime community at length and I can’t offer anything new in regards to the series itself. In that same vein, I don’t feel it’s entirely necessary to expound on why I bring up these themes today since, to me, it seems obvious. That said, I’ll still be expounding on it anyway. This site is, at its core, one dedicated to teaching. If I didn’t explain it, I would simply be preaching to the choir.
At the beginning of the series, Light lives what could be called an ordinary life. Sure, he’s very intelligent, but that’s all. He’s certainly not obsessed with becoming a god nor mentally ready to murder a person. Yet, by the end of it, his god complex is abundantly clear. He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way, regardless if it’s morally correct. After all, he is the supreme authority, the god of the new world he’ll create. Any slight against him is heresy. Why? The power of the Death Note was too great.
Light felt as if he could do anything with the power granted to him by the Death Note. He played games with human lives and lost sight of his own humanity in the process. Certain police officers are very much the same. The authority they hold thanks to their badge can give rise to corruption if adequate training isn’t given. This is because, very often, they aren’t held accountable for questionably legal or even illegal actions.
To be clear, this isn’t entirely the fault of the individual as I will stress continuously. A system which forgives injustice will breed corruption. A person’s- a human’s morality doesn’t have a set form. It’s not biological. It’s learned. Formed. Therefore, regardless of who they may be, they will become corrupt if that’s what is taught to be socially acceptable. The root of many things is education and miseducation alike. This fact thought doesn’t allow officers to shirk responsibility for their own actions. All must be held accountable. I only pose that time in prison is not all that they must go through. Reeducation, regardless of whether they’re allowed to become officers again, is needed for true rehabilitation and change.
What is Justice?
As for the second theme, “What is Justice?,” this is best demonstrated by a trio in the anime rather than the usual duo we talk about: Light and L. Instead, we have to add Light’s father, Soichiro, to the conversation. This is because neither Light nor L always strictly adhere to the law unlike Soichiro. We know about Light’s willingness to kill, but from the beginning, L allowed a man to be murdered in his stead on television. All three have differing morals while pursuing the same: justice. All of it is just different means to an end, and who’s to say which character is correct? In my view: only Soichiro. Soichiro understands the sanctity of a human life and never compromises on his morals. Evil must be judged, appraised, and brought to justice- not killed without trial. The song There Are Lines from the Death Note musical encapsulates this well.
Justice in the real world is now being pursued more fiercely than ever; however, I just stated that justice is relative. We all have different notions of what it entails as is evident now. If I side with the BLM movement, which I do, do I know for certain that I’m correct for doing so? Yes. What should be valued, whether in anime or real life, is the human life and the rights we have. This is precisely what is being advocated for and should’ve been achieved a long time ago in the United States. Minorities, especially African Americans, have been mistreated and promised equality that never came. If this mistreatment isn’t unjust, I question what is. That said, I always must question my own logic lest I fall into a logical fallacy. I encourage you to as well. Another song from the Death Note musical captures this perfectly: Where is the Justice?, with its appeal to extremes.
Attack on Titan
Number 2 is Attack on Titan. I’m not caught up to the most recent season, but I’m familiar with everything up to it. That’s why I can showcase two things once again:
All people are separated because of their socioeconomic status. This is painfully obvious in the scene where a merchant’s cart obstructs an evacuation, the coup d’etat where the aristocracy values their rule over the lives of their citizens, and the entirety of the No Regrets OVA.
In these three examples, besides the socioeconomic thread interwoven in them, there’s also the concept of life being a commodity. In the merchant example, we don’t need to go far to see this. He quite literally values his cart and goods more than human lives. This is because, in his eyes, the life of an ordinary citizen isn’t worth much. [Or at least that’s what we’re led to believe his thought process was. No one is without fault or can’t atone for their past as we learn that he and his company are what allowed Trost to build up their economy again.]
It’s the same with the aristocracy. If they allow all Wall Rose citizens to evacuate to Wall Sina, their style of government will collapse and they won’t be able to live a life of luxury. They’d rather doom an entire section of humanity than allow that to happen. Who resides within Wall Sina anyway? What would you expect their class and standing to be? If you said wealthy and royals, you’d be correct. Not all of them though. In fact, there’s a large amount of people in the polar opposite position. You just don’t see them normally.
What’s a terrible way to deal with problems: sweep them under the rug. Welcome to the underground city, shown prominently in No Regrets. It’s full of various illegal activities and people who are poor, suffer from malnutrition, and Vitamin D deficiency from the lack of sunlight. Those above ground couldn’t care less though. After all, it’s a hotbed of criminal activity. Why should they spare money on criminals? That’s the theoretical mindset anyway.
Levi, Farlan, Isabel- they aren’t bad people. Did they participate in illegal activity? Yes, but the reason why is important. They didn’t do it just for kicks or to have a bit of fun. They did it to survive and help others pay for their medical bills that they otherwise couldn’t afford. In this situation, there was no way for them to survive except to turn to crime. What do you do then? When the people in power didn’t care and were themselves criminals? Do you let yourself and those around you die or do you desperately do everything in your power to prevent that?
It’s a similar situation in our world. Those in a low socioeconomic bracket can barely scrape their way upwards while those in a higher bracket turn a blind eye to them. We don’t offer a hand to those in need. Instead, many companies use desperate people to make a quick buck. They hire them to work in dangerous conditions without concerns for their safety or intent to help them should they get hurt on the job. Sweatshops aren’t a thing of the past and neither are mines where the miners and the surrounding homes suffer from pollution due to nonadherence to guidelines. Yet, those poor people are branded as criminals and nothing more. Many don’t see why they develop severe alcoholism or drug addiction or commit crimes. It’s not because they’re bad people. It’s because their childhood and upbringing was a harrowing one that harmed their mental state. There was no way to escape their situation. No one would hire them because of stigmas that purvey society. And you know what really hurts? When those in a safe position criticize poor people when they don’t even know how many problems they need to persevere and overcome in a single day of their lives.
Morality in Murder
To slightly backtrack, the sanctity of human life and what it means to take it is showcased well in AoT too. While Levi can come across as cold, he understands what it means to take a human life. That’s why when he hears the theory of titans being human beings, he’s visibly taken aback. Even during Season 3, when forced to fight human threats, he never rationalizes it as the right decision or pretends his morality is without fault to his subordinates. I liken this to the wider concept of a just war and the use of violence against protesters and rioters. Even if violence is being used against them, supported by the state or federal government, it doesn’t mean it’s correct.
The next article in the mini-series, I’ll be covering Sword Art Online and Fullmetal Alchemist. In the meantime, stay aware and stay safe. Thank you.