Hackjobs & Horror Shows: Finding the Superversive in Anime

I’ve talked a lot here about the wonderful stuff Japan has to offer, and I’ve got something in that vein below, but first let me talk about something I hear a lot about people who complain about anime and manga- and have for years: genre mashing.

The West’s establishment, for commercial reasons as often as not, divided up fiction into genres generations ago. Today we’re conditioned from an early age to think in categories that are only appropriate to someone selling a product at retail on a shelf- where space is finite, and thus precious and scarce. The consequence is that our popular entertainment–including popular written fiction–got increasingly siloed into commercial categories and we see this as How Things Are, instead of conveniences for commercial ends. Fantasy here, Horror there, and Don’t Cross The Streams.

It’s not quite so severe over in Japan. Be it comics, games, or film/TV you’ll find blends that would never happen in the West become successful (e.g. Neon Genesis Evangelion)- and it’s been that way for generations. Some of it is cultural, some of it is down to individual preferences by the productions, and some I can’t explain because it tends to cross into what TV Tropes calls “Fridge Logic” (i.e. just coherent enough to hold up while watching or reading).

And sometimes, when something out of Japan comes West, we don’t get the real thing. This isn’t so much of an issue now, but back in the 80s and 90s that involved wholesale rewrites and hackjobs that neutered the original’s content- including its themes, motifs, etc. such as what happened to Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross, Super-Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSEPEDA to make Robotech and what happened to King of Beasts GoLion to make part of Voltron.

This is a shame, because when I’ve seen the real thing I find that often the excised elements–while horrific, and often tragic–can lend dramatic weight to a narrative that is ultimately Superversive. The aforementioned GoLion starts not on an alien world, but on an occupied Earth, and the series (being an ’80s production) doesn’t pull punches on what it takes to defeat Evil and rebuild what is Good. The Galaxy Express 999 series has full-on horrific elements that seem tame due to presentation, but rightly chill to the bone when you think about it, and yet the heroes go what needs be done anyway despite what they suffer and lose along the way.

Of all these blends, none work so well as Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. It’s gothic, romantic, Romantic, horrific, and so very tragic- down to the viewpoint character as well as our protagonist (who are not the same individual), with the point driven home in the epilogue.

So go give our friends in the East another chance, especially the older stuff in its pure form, and eschew the Flanderized and Bowlderized adaptations because sometimes the real horror isn’t the story, but rather the story about what was done to the story when butchers got their hands on it as it came to the West.