Un-Go (And Others): Nationalism Next Door

Un-Go is about nationalism.

Guilty Crown has a nationalism motif.

Horizon is all about nationalism.

But it is Majikoi that had the best line about nationalism.

That’s a lot about nationalism in one season of anime. I’m not sure if I can handle it, normally. However I have to hand it to Japan; they’re very creative with this stuff. I think this is a topic I would like to discuss further with other people, or read up on what various thinking types have to say in terms of, say, an analysis of Strike Witches or some such.

I think the case in Un-Go is the easiest, but also the most complex, to analyze. It’s a little less cut-and-dry than the overt, romanticized Nazi stuff in that hypothetical WWII that never happened. And of course, ultimately Un-Go strikes home; post-WW2 lit about Meiji era detectives unraveling government cover-ups seems like as close to home as it can hit as far as source material goes.

I think it is also important to take Majikoi’s dialog about our protagonist-harem-lead’s father into consideration. The discussion was in episode 6. The protagonist’s dad is marked a traitor to his country that the protagonist lives in. A mysterious man argues with him about how his dad has rejected his country for what it did, and offers a more acceptable alternative. It explains Rie Kaishou’s position as the commonly accepted norm; that it is okay to protect your family in this context, even if it’s very likely that your dad is a second-degree murderer. It’s the “village analogy” as expressed.

Bear with me for an additional minute: the village analogy extend even to what Ikuhara explained in his Penguindrum special material. It is a weak link but terrorism is the natural antithesis of nationalist notions (for sure, for a post 9/11 world), and it is the one tool in the show in which we explore the systemic problem of systematically subverting the system.

I want to really talk about Rie Kaishou. She, quietly, embodies this angle. In effect she is half of the narrator in Un-Go, but as the daughter of someone who pursued beauty (in the sense that Kaichou covered up things to smoothly transition both his constituents and to serve his own interest), versus Shinjuuro who professes as someone that pursuit truth. Well, and beauty too.

That is the beautiful paradox which sets the nationalism question in the context that, I think, Japan, wants to examine the issue within. There are definitely far uglier lenses in which we can look at the same, but I see these anime painting a relatively uniform picture in which the will of the people reflects some kind of “village analogy” notion, but like individuals themselves, a nation resorts to lies to uphold its collective identity. What separates someone who goes to jail and someone who didn’t were largely effects of their affluence, not their inherent quality as human beings.

Lacking better material to draw from, I have a hard time tackling Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere seriously in light of this topic. All I can say is that I enjoyed greatly the debate in which we reconcile modern notion of democracy with some form of “noblesse oblige” (to summarize in 2 words). I think the most I could say is that there is some kind of logical short-circuiting going on, albeit very subtle. The relationship between a lord and his charges is more the lens in which we examine that nationalist identity, but again that analysis taps into a more interpersonal interpretation of why character A would do X to character B. It’s the “village analogy” yet again.

To take a sudden left turn, it is reminiscent of the complaints I have heard over the past few years about sports journalism–a lot of it is focusing on “story” and the “person” behind the name or stat or some great play someone made in some game. Is it really truth? Or is it just some pretty thing that the masses like to consume? It isn’t even a matter of it is fiction or not (I don’t think people are faking deaths or what not), but rather what purpose does it serve?

In other words, what is nationalism doing in my anime? My anime, here, is decidedly the late night variety, the kind that other people like myself watch, except these other people are unlike me in that are the product of Japan’s Lost Decade. Is there some kind of cathartic effect in seeing some of the fundamental issues that bothers that entire generation of Japanese being put out as either character narratives or fancy what-ifs? In light of that perspective, I see Un-Go as ultimately an equalizing piece, one that deconstructs that nationalist pride in which the parents of today’s viewers have made a life upon. It exposes the lies that made Kaichou Kaishou the man he is today.

So how does that make of Rie and Shinjuuro? Besides, obv, OTP? Is the Otaku brave enough to find out? Only if every anime is as courageous as Un-Go. Only if. Very well-played, noitaminA.  And for that matter, every other production taking a risk on this topic.


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