[SF] From Now On We Begin Ethics – A Great Ending

Short form (SF)! A very short post for an impromptu Thanksgiving special! Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t already, consider reading my article: The World’s Finest… Manipulator? Fiction, Mental Age, Maturity, & Manipulation published on November 21. 

I talked about a manga called From Now On We Begin Ethics in an article quite a bit ago. For those who don’t know, the manga is set in a high school ethics class taught by a man named Takayanagi. In it, I discussed the excellent tone set by mangaka Shiori Amase and since then it has gotten a live action adaptation consisting of 8 episodes. The cinematography isn’t particularly impressive, the tone feels different than the manga, and the mannerisms of Takayanagi paint a different picture of his character than the impression I had- but this isn’t a review. If that’s what you’re interested in: the quality is good enough to warrant a watch and it’s interesting seeing a conscious effort to diversify shooting locations. In fact, there’s one reason I would in fact recommend watching it if you’re a fan of the ongoing manga: the live action ending.

An important theme I drew from my reading of the manga was the practical application of philosophy to the real world. The characters within its universe are presented as learning from Takayanagi’s lessons and nearly always their lives are better as a result. Important here is that the students themselves, armed with what they know and in conjunction with what they learn, make their own decision and decide their way forward. That way, even after school is over and Takayanagi is only a distant memory, they’re able to conjure their own beliefs and think for themselves. It’s a pleasant depiction of education and the live action adaptation actually enhances the factor of application in its closing moments.

The last episode‘s climax is bittersweet to say the least as Aizawa confesses to Takayanagi but is ultimately rejected. Not everyone can get what they want, and Takayanagi cannot ethically date Aizawa as her teacher. His words do give way to speculation about his backstory and previous relationships, but I opt to think this is more set dressing and a way to let her down as gently as possible. This confession isn’t what I want to focus on- it’s the montage that comes after. The show, with its high school setting, was filmed on location and not a soundstage, but that didn’t mean the artificial atmosphere a television show exudes wasn’t present. There’s a certain sterileness that can be felt, despite many shots being naturally lit from what I could tell. Yet, in a sobering and brilliant moment, the façade of a show fades away into the present.

Usually, when we talk about the present as a setting, we’re transitioning from a significant amount of time in the past. At the least, it’s a few decades. That isn’t the case here however. Instead, the show presents us with a Japan post-COVID. Whether it be convenience store workers, people commuting to and from their job, or students out and about, they wear face masks. It’s in this mass of reality do we find the characters from the show going about their lives the same as any other person. They’re normal people in the same circumstances as we are. They’ve gone through difficult trials and tribulations, but they’re no superhero. They’re just like you and me, all collectively in the same world, able to move forward one step at a time. Would it have worked animated or in the manga? Sure. Would it have had the same impact? I don’t think so. Let’s celebrate then that live action adaptations do have a benefit!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

From Now On We Begin Ethics – Understanding People & Ourselves

This article is in dedication to Irina. Thank you for your support!

[Going forward, I want to thank people in a more concrete way when they mention my blog or nominate it for things. I decided that a good way to do that was to make content I thought they specifically would enjoy. As such, this is an extra article to the standard 2 – 3 minimum per month.]

When we grow up, the majority of our time is spent in schools: institutions meant for education. They’re designed to give children a foundation of knowledge to stand on while also simultaneously teaching them how to behave in the world. It’s in schools that people learn to interact and communicate with their peers and mentors; developing bonds and the ability to empathize. That is the intended result. A result that doesn’t always come to pass.

For one reason or another, and sometimes even without one, children can be isolated from their peers and the world. Regardless of whether it’s self-isolation, ostracization, or somewhere in between, it happens. Isolation in of itself takes many forms. It isn’t merely the number of people around you that dictates whether you’re isolated or not. The experiences you’ve been through, your outlook on life; they can create a barrier that allows no entry. How do you connect with people who are perceptibly so unlike you? 

“They haven’t gone through what I have. They don’t understand me.”

Or is it the opposite? 

“I don’t understand them. I don’t understand the world.”

Perhaps you’ve experienced that yourself. Perhaps you continue to experience it. I believe everyone has at least once, even if only in a small way. 

The manga I’ll be discussing today is called From Now On We Begin Ethics. For the most part, it’s an episodic manga with every chapter presenting a student who is struggling in some way. The common link is their teacher, Takayanagi, and his class on ethics. 

I bring up this manga in particular because of how close to home it can hit. Each chapter feels as if someone’s life story is being poured out onto the page. I found myself in more than one chapter and saw friends in others. It didn’t make me feel vulnerable though. Honestly, it was a bit relieving. To not be understood, or worse yet to be misunderstood, is a tragic thing. In that same vein, the realization that someone does understand is akin to taking weight off your shoulders. I’m almost certain you’ll be able to find yourself in it too.

I don’t just mean that you’ll find a parallel to your own experiences (though you’ll do that too). Takayanagi’s words will find their way to you personally. You’ll feel as if he’s speaking to you

There are quite a few themes littered around but two are generally prominent:

“Your feelings aren’t wrong.”

“Finding your own answer.”

The former is something every character and person in real life should hear. We are human. That isn’t an excuse to use when we make mistakes. It’s something we admit to ourselves so that we’re humble. We’ve all felt jealous of a person and what they have. At times, we’ve even come to hate people. That doesn’t make you a bad person. Those emotions define you as human. What you choose to do with your emotions defines you as you. Never forget why you feel a certain way. 

The latter is similarly important. Our lives are filled with choices and we rarely have the luxury of time to decide which choice is correct. Only in hindsight can we see the full picture. Thus, we’re always left with regret; regret we shouldn’t have. We question our actions and how we live our life; desperately searching for the correct answer.  Of course, there’s no one correct answer. This can leave us clinging to the answer another person has found for themselves. The only one who can ultimately decide who is correct is ourselves. 

Even Takayanagi doesn’t hold all the answers.

The themes I just discussed aren’t new or avant garde; neither are my explanations of them. Actually, they’re both pretty basic and I recognize that. What elevates it is the actual dialogue itself. Given that Takayanagi is teaching, he brings up several quotes from famous philosophers and explains the meaning of them. However, he also brings the hypothetical into reality, expounding on the psychological and sociological effects of living by an old adage. 

What can we learn from it (in terms of writing)?

I’ve rewritten this several times and couldn’t come to a satisfying singular answer. Everything I concluded was purely based on emotion and I wasn’t sure I could even frame it subjectively so as to point out how you could benefit your writing. That’s when I remembered that not every literary device was entirely objective. There’s one device in particular that I always hesitate to bring up precisely because of that: tone.

Tone is a very difficult thing to purposefully implement as it usually comes off too strong. The question of how to implement it is even more difficult and quickly breaks down into a discussion about diction more than anything else. It’s easier to point to examples when instructing, though this can fall flat when the example isn’t understood. This is far from the fault of the learner and an inevitability of the fact that everyone processes information differently. 

Nevertheless, I believe wholeheartedly that Shiori Amase, the mangaka, brilliantly uses tone to its fullest potential. While she likes to provide answers through Takayanagi, it never comes across as an absolute. Following the theme of “finding your own answer,” never does the manga make you think that you’re wrong. Rather, it encourages different ways of thinking that may conjunct or diverge with your own. 

To capture tone as wonderfully as she does, you need to remind yourself what your manga is about. What’s the core theme and not just this arc’s theme? In the end, From Now On We Begin Ethics isn’t a guide to your life. It isn’t something you learn how to act from, it’s something you learn how to think from; hence ethics. If you do this as Shiroi does, it’ll reflect subtly in your writing. If you don’t feel like the tone you’re trying to capture is represented enough, have some people read through it blind first. Then, if you don’t get the comments you want, you can be more hands-on and purposeful with tone’s implementation. 

For those who plan to read it, and I highly recommend you do, be advised that it contains mature content. Bullying, drug abuse, suicide attempts, nonconsensual sex, mental illness, and domestic abuse are part of the currently released stories. The manga is not completed as of the date published. Read with care. Also, please remember what I said before. Takayanagi’s actions aren’t always in line with what you should do. This manga is about ethics first and foremost, not medical care.