Saturday, March 20, 2010

:anime: Blacks and Head Shots in Anime (Part 2)

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(Note: As noted in the first post, because these cases not only involve the death(s) of a particular character(s), but can also delve deep into a show's storyline, naturally spoilers will be involved. Also, most of the titles covered are either for older teen or mature audiences.)

Case #2

Title: Blood+
[Official Site - Japanese, English; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Crackle, YouTube]

Character: James

Episode: 47

Description: One of Diva's Chevaliers, apparently her favorite. Rather generic-looking "black person" design: low-cut black hair, basic facial features and build. Noticeable, large pink lips.

Background: The heroine of the story, Saya, has reluctantly taken on the task of aiding the secret organization Red Shield in dispatching the world of Chiropterans--beastly, vampiric creatures that prey on humans. Part-Chiropteran herself, Saya is also in search of the twin sister, Diva, that she never knew. However, she is at the center of the atrocities and has loyal servants named "Chevaliers" to protect her. These individuals were once human, but after being given some of her blood, now possess the abilities of a Chiropteran: from super-strength and -speed and immortality, to the ability of turning into super-powerful versions of the creatures themselves (similarly, Saya's blood contains the same properties, as she has her own Chevalier, named Hagi). Among Diva's five protectors is the stoic, by-the-books James, a U.S. military officer who is fiercely devoted to the one they call "Mother", who she seems to care for him the most.

The Situation: A year following the destruction of Red Shield and a fateful encounter between Diva and Saya's adopted little brother-turned-Chevalier, Riku, who died after being mated with against his will, Saya's disposition had darkened considerably and now fights on her own, hoping to avoid involving any more of her family in the battle. On the other side, Diva is now pregnant with her and Riku's twins and not only dons a vestige all too familiar to her sister, but also sports a new child-like personality and body which she erratically switches back and forth between (though mostly dwells in).

After nearly killing her once before, James intercepts Saya and her comrades from the reforming Red Shield as they continue to hunt for Diva, but goes down--literally--into a large nuclear waste pit, after losing two limbs in a tough fight, nearly taking Saya along with him. It is revealed after a time that he just barely survived, as he was rescued before Saya's blood could compromise the rest of his body. What was salvaged was fused with one of the bodies from the mass-produced Chevalier soldier project that he oversaw (which, like all of them, happened to be white). As she watches him rest in a liquid-filled chamber in his new body, Diva, in her child-like form, remarks that it is not the James she knows and wants little to do with him.

James, however, is still cognizant of her words through the tank and is driven with stark determination--if not near madness--to win back her approval and get revenge on the ones who placed him in his state. After his recovery, he eventually confronts Saya and the others in his souped-up body, who are edging ever closer to dispatching Diva, and if need be, the twins before they are born. Being incredibly strong and having a near-impenetrable hide, James has them in serious trouble and nearly beat, but his Frankenstein-esque body soon begins to break down and crackle, as the MP Chevaliers have only a finite lifespan and were never perfected. As he becomes incapacitated, Saya dives in from the sky (with help from a winged Hagi) and impales James through the forehead with her caustic blood-laced sword. He dies shortly after and his body crystallizes and shatters, like all of those before him.

Analysis: This case involves another black character who can transform into a monstrous creature. However, what separates this from the Blassreiter example is that James did not have to die principally by head wound. The mere act of making simple contact with Saya's blood would have cause the interacting body part to crackle with fissures, so a well-placed thrust anywhere--especially on a decomposing body like James'--would have done the same job as on the other Chevaliers. Perhaps one could make the point that it was done for dramatic purposes, but when taking into consideration the historic pattern of black deaths, it felt more like it was done as a "forgone conclusion," that it was the one and only way to end the fight and that is just how he should die. In a series that leaned into the clich├ęd often, it stuck out more than any of its other deaths in just how routine it seemed.

On another matter, one might point to the image of a black man turning into a beast as an implication of the old racial stereotype of black people being depicted as "beasts" or "wild animals" in advertisements, propaganda media, and movies. While that instituted thought could be found beyond the United States in locales that contained black populations, such as Latin America, and in ones that did not, such as Japan, I do not believe that it is the case here. Aside from James and Wolf, there are many other characters that can transform into oddities in both Blood+ and Blassreiter, respectively. Though perhaps of greater notability is that their transformed bodies do not bear any of the typically-racist characteristics that have been commonplace among those old caricatures, like bearing the resemblance of gorillas or monkeys. Of all of the cases involving transformation, Wolf's could be considered the closest with his long, extensible arms, but that could be considered an embellishment, as his appearance-in-whole is decidedly un-gorilla-like. I would not characterize any of the transformation cases as acts of insensitivity, but when dealing with a racial issue like this study does, it remains something worth noting and taking into serious consideration.

In respect to his human profile, James looks rather average and unremarkable (essentially a basic "black person" type), but has a set of big, noticeable pink lips--a feature with its own racial history that still gets overemphasized in anime to this day. One could most likely attribute it to Japan's isolated island culture and largely homogeneous population or go further and suggest that such a limited exposure or outdated view of blacks may also play some role in the repeated instances of head shots among them (e.g. old imported films or other media with a racial tilt to them that had depicted such scenes). Conversely, Red Shield's Lewis, the show's only other major black character, bears a much different appearance. He looks more like a "regular" person and less like a stock character, and while he does possess sizable lips, it doesn't feel stereotypical. It fits his design well, perhaps due in some respect that they aren't pink and just match his skin tone, like most non-black characters. He isn't depicted in a token or stereotypical way, either, yet the same can be said of James, who in spite of his design, isn't handled or treated differently than his other Chevalier brethren or any other character. The same may not be said of his ultimate demise, though...

[EDIT: Made a few minor wording edits in the "Situation" section.]

[EDIT [04/25/10]: Screenshots added (James' profile image came from an old screenshot I took from a fansub when the series first aired in 2005 and Wolf's image came from Ep. 12 of Blassreiter on FUNimation Videos; all other Blood+ screenshots came from YouTube posts of the dub's television broadcast on Adult Swim (posted by [name removed]; Eps. 36, 44, and 47)). Sony's Crackle video site hosts the "legal" streaming of the series, but has not caught up to the episodes covered here as of this writing. I was personally not aware that they had begun to host it when I started writing this piece, as it was unavailable there or elsewhere "officially" when I was searching for video sources earlier in the year (I just found out about it today). Also, I changed James' timing of death to "shortly after" from "immediately killed", as he was technically still alive for a very brief time before ultimately dying.]

[EDIT [09/20/10]: Replaced the screenshots from the user-posted YouTube videos with ones from Crackle on the same site (Eps. 36, 44, and 47). I only found out about their YT page a few weeks after I finished Part 2, which were most likely posted around that time, as I had not come across Blood+ when I the site for the series beforehand. It is fully available for free there and at Crackle from the links at the top (dub only). I used YT for the screenshots, as the player and other objects were not visible when paused, like on Crackle. The new screenshots, while not exactly "HD-clarity", are much better in quality than the previous ones taken and are also in their native aspect ratio, not restricted to the 4:3 TV range of the Adult Swim broadcast from which the other videos were culled. I wanted to wait until I was finished with B&HSiA so I would have the time to take care of this and other image issues. Also, the source information of the previous screenshots have been removed, as there are official streams of the episodes online.]

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