Forum › Gunbured x Sisters discussion

joined Sep 6, 2018

The heads of the church decided to keep some of the main covens around in order to maintain the cycle of violence and prevent radical social advancement (basically like the human village in Touhou).

Damn, I didn’t know Touhou had stuff like this. Now if I didn’t have to do an insane amount of digging and work to experience any of its primary media, maybe I’d like it...

This would also allow for Dorothy to realize that her entire crusade is pointless, because there is no absolute good or evil, and so the only thing she has left to rely on in this bitch of a world is her hunger for cute chicks.

Based.

society resets and we just have Dorothy and Maria chilling naked in the garden of Eden, snacking on each other's forbidden fruits and preparing to populate the world anew with soft vampire lesbians (a society I'm sure everyone would agree is utopian).

Omega based

soft vampire lesbians

Ah, I see you are a gay of culture as well.

Anyway, yeah, I think these are all really cool speculations. Characters like Dorothy are like catnip to me, as are and their interactions with others (especially the types we have here—otome-game-butch-prince-w/hidden-darkness and tough-and-haunted-yet-kind-and-innocent-vampire-girl: chef’s kiss) yet I still find myself getting distracted by the mystery. It’s remarkably compelling for a story that prefers decadent excess to subtlety, but it’s a really cool contrast.

last edited at Nov 21, 2020 3:08AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

Damn, I didn’t know Touhou had stuff like this. Now if I didn’t have to do an insane amount of digging and work to experience any of its primary media, maybe I’d like it...

I was kinda on the edge about getting into Touhou, because it always seemed like one of those standard moe, cast-full-of-cute-lolis series, and the sheer number of characters scared me away from it for the longest time. Now that I'm actually a Touhou fan, I can confidently say that it was 100% worth the effort, because it is one of the smartest pieces of media I have encountered, period. There is a spin-off story in Touhou where a Buddhist priest, a Taoist sage and an ancient Japanese god argue about the dynamics of human-yokai relations, each of them citing everything from Confucius to Zhuangzhi to principles of liberal market economy and eco-friendly policies, while also debating how yokai biology might inadvertently intersect with ancient Buddhist scripture to constitute alternative forms of Nirvana. You look at the three cute girls on the cover and expect SOL, and come out of it feeling like you've read the most interesting academic article ever written. I don't wanna derail this thread by gushing about Touhou, but if you're looking for intellectual media that balances some of the most innovative takes on existentialism, race relations and fantasy anthropology with vignettes of cute lesbians firing lasers at each other, Touhou would be right up your alley. There's nothing else like it anywhere (mostly because all the series that imitated it threw the anti-capitalist, feminist themes and philosophical discourse right out of the window and dialled up the horniness to pander to straight male consumers for gacha cash).

If you're still interested in getting into the series, I'd say that you should avoid thinking about in terms of linearity (like a series in which you go from book one to book two and so forth), and imagine Touhou as this giant, amorphous ball of content that you can throw yourself into from any direction. Read the TV Tropes page to get a general idea of what's what, since it really helps you figure out the characters, and if you find any character or pairing that catches your eye, look them up on Dynasty and enjoy the fanworks. It'll seem confusing as all hell at first, but people generally settle into a routine of seeing unfamiliar (but very cute) characters, looking them up on the wiki, shipping them with the first girl they interact with, looking up doujins of their pairings on Dynasty (they exist, no matter what combo you pick), and moving from canon to fanon to fandom and back. One day, you'll blink and realize that there are two hundred new characters floating around in your head, and feel like you've known them all your life. Then you can just enjoy the literal thousands of well-written, well-drawn fanworks, jam out to some of the best music ever made (and remade by fans), and compulsively headcanon everything. Basically, it's like climbing a long stairway and finding a fascinating new planet at the top- feels tiring at first, but you get so much more than what you've invested. Like, a basic knowledge of Touhou would allow you to enjoy about 33% of the works on this entire forum which would've previously seemed incomprehensible. It is completely and totally worth it.

joined Jul 15, 2016

So, just out of curiosity: Just how old is "Church is Evil" trope in Japanese media, and where exactly did it originate?

It's as old as time itself. And it's not just Japanese media. It's one of the best tropes in all of fiction, because it's so true to life.

While it is tempting to claim that the perception of organized religion as a social ill is "as old as time", I am more inclined to think that it originated during the Enlightenment, specifically in the radical Protestant environment of the notoriously anti-papist England and certain German states.

So, just out of curiosity: Just how old is "Church is Evil" trope in Japanese media, and where exactly did it originate?

[snip]

TL;DR- Part of it is just good old-fashioned religious scepticism that you commonly find in modern stories, where anyone who's super-devoted to any kind of faith is assumed to be kooky; part of it is Japan's weird love for European aesthetics versus their disdain for European society; and part of it is just because it lets you simultaneously set up and invert a status quo without actually needing to do much worldbuilding, since you've already established the three-act structure of your story's evolution- Act One, the church rules, Act Two, the church is revealed to be bad, Act Three, we take down the church and build something new.

First of all, thanks for the comprehensive summation. Secondly, while everything you say is sound, it still does not explain the very initial premise: "Act One, the church rules". AFAIK there was no period in European history where the Catholic church has been the sole hegemonic power like it is often depicted in Japanese media. The Papal States may have been this in theory, but the Pope's power has primarily been diplomatic and spiritual and was, most of the time, contended by the Holy Roman Emperors, French kings, and/or Constantinople. More pertinently, there has never been a theocratic regime in Japan or China (caesaropapist, maybe, but not theocratic), and the Papal States ceased to exist the same year that Cmdr. Perry arrived in Japan. So how and when did the Japanese media creators make the leap to "the Catholic Church is the World State" trope?

To be fair, Christianity was very aggressive up until the 19th century in converting every foreign country. Religion was a tool for political and economic control. Building catholic schools was never innocent. The Japanese rulers of the time understood it clearly and they used force to quell these foreign influences. Can't blame them really. Buddhism and Shintoism already were tools they mastered. They didn't need another tool in their land, wielded by foreign countries.

That's all true, but there is still a leap from "subversive foreign ideology" to "a fanatical theocracy that somehow rules the world". I am interested in that transition and when it occurred.

last edited at Nov 21, 2020 6:12AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

First of all, thanks for the comprehensive summation. Secondly, while everything you say is sound, it still does not explain the very initial premise: "Act One, the church rules". AFAIK there was no period in European history where the Catholic church has been the sole hegemonic power like it is often depicted in Japanese media. The Papal States may have been this in theory, but the Pope's power has primarily been diplomatic and spiritual and was, most of the time, contended by the Holy Roman Emperors, French kings, and/or Constantinople. More pertinently, there has never been a theocratic regime in Japan or China (caesaropapist, maybe, but not theocratic), and the Papal States ceased to exist the same year that Cmdr. Perry arrived in Japan. So how and when did the Japanese media creators make the leap to "the Catholic Church is the World State" trope?

That's an interesting question, but one that I feel might be answered best by applying Occam's razor to the whole mess. European society in the medieval era was hellishly complicated, with a fine, shifting matrix of power and influence between the Church and the various states. From the perspective of an author trying to write an 'establishment' that our characters rebel against, it makes more sense to just have one big, unified enemy that rather than a religious institution with hundreds of local chapters as well as regional monarchaies with varying levels of faith.

It's the same reason there's just one big Empire in Star Wars, or just one evil supervillain king in so many fantasy stories- the audience needs to feel the presence of a large, distinctive and compelling antagonistic force within the plot, and the more homogenous and well-defined this force is, the easier it becomes to comprehend the plot and draw mental lines in the sand. The Church vs. the Vampires, the Monarchy vs. the Rebels, the Government versus the Vigilantes- it's an easy-to-swallow, fun version of us-versus-them, perfectly suited for stories that don't plan on getting any more comprehensive or subversive than maybe one moment where are a character goes, 'Are we the baddies?' Like I said before, there's only so much detail you can give to the antagonists in a story before they either steal the spotlight, get too numerous to keep track of, and bog the plot down.

Hence, I'd argue that the World Church trope is not based on any historical reality so much as it is on a misconception thereof, on a deliberate oversimplification of what Europe in medieval and early modern times was supposed to be. It isn't based on any direct sociopolitical parallels, but simply derives from an approach to writing manga where you focus on effects over accuracy, on impact over research. In this case, the appeal of a religious order that controls everything is more compelling and entertaining than a complex web of conservative political maneuvering that a more realistic view of the church would entail.

In summary, the authors who use the World Church trope want the aesthetic of the church rather than an exploration of the intersections between the papal system and feudal societies. It's the same reason that we don't learn all that much about the various states and administrations in Mordor and their relationships to Sauron- all we gotta know is that there's an evil army that our heroes need to fight. So I'd argue that the World Church trope is actually an evolution of the Church is Evil trope rather than being bundled with it- since the authors know that everyone and their pet dogs can predict that the church will be evil, they set out to make the church as imposing and powerful as possible, simultaneously creating a clear status quo and an incentive to uproot it.

Admittedly, this is a rather messy way to explain it, since it's an unholy combination of misinterpreted history, authorial intents, copy-pasted story elements and the basic rules of writing epic narratives, but that's the way many tropes originate- there's no one clear Ur-example of a work using them so much as there is a general uptick in the instances of a trope, driven by everything from market interests, to prevailing political views at the time to media standards to demographics to the personal situations of the authors involved, yadda yadda yadda. If there does happen to be one work that indisputably used the Evil World Church trope first and then elegantly inspired every other author across the world to do it in clear imitation, I'd sure like to read it. But since nothing comes to mind, I'd have to go with the media demand-and-supply osmosis approach for an explanation.

last edited at Nov 21, 2020 8:29AM

joined Jul 15, 2016

TV Tropes notes that the Corrupt Church trope is particularly prevalent in JRPGs, and since I'm not that knowledgeable with Japanese print media (outside of yuri genre), I went through the video game examples and discovered that there are almost no major examples of this trope listed prior to 1994 (when Breath of Fire II, EarthBound, and Lunar: Eternal Blue were released). The only earlier example I've spotted was Shin Megami Tensei in 1992, which may be the ur one in gaming... though I readily admit that there may be a strong selection bias in play here (again, I am less-than-informed about early console gaming, but I've always had the impression that the SNES era was the first time that Japanese home consoles had the storage capacity for majorly story-driven games).

While researching the topic, I've also come across a paper that links negative portrayal of centralized religions in Japanese media to the Aum Shinrikyo attacks of 1995. While the timeline clearly indicates that this was not the origin of the trope, I suspect that Aum's negative image did bleed into every form of organized religion in Japanese popular consciousness.

last edited at Nov 21, 2020 9:23AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

TV Tropes notes that the Corrupt Church trope is particularly prevalent in JRPGs, and since I'm not that knowledgeable with Japanese print media (outside of yuri genre), I went through the video game examples and discovered that there are almost no major examples of this trope listed prior to 1994 (when Breath of Fire II, EarthBound, and Lunar: Eternal Blue were released). The only earlier example I've spotted was Shin Megami Tensei in 1992, which may be the ur one in gaming... though I readily admit that there may be a strong selection bias in play here (again, I am less-than-informed about early console gaming, but I've always had the impression that the SNES era was the first time that Japanese home consoles had the storage capacity for majorly story-driven games).

While researching the topic, I've also come across a paper that links negative portrayal of centralized religions in Japanese media to the Aum Shinrikyo attacks of 1995. While the timeline clearly indicates that this was not the origin of the trope, I suspect that Aum's negative image did bleed into every form of organized religion in Japanese popular consciousness.

Wikipedia's list of fictional theocracies also offers some insight into the timeline, though it doesn't exactly focus on Japan.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fictional_theocracies

Also of interest is a list of anti-Catholic polemics I found, in which people unironically accuse the Church of staging a grand global conspiracy:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism_in_literature_and_media

I was surprised by how far back some of these stories dated, but now that I think about it, stories about World Churches might be expressions of anxiety about dogmatism and blind faith in the same way that Orwell's 1984 might be an expression of worry about rising totalitarianism across Europe. Exaggerating or extrapolating a present threat to create dystopian societies is one of the oldest conventions in literature- H.P. Lovecraft's entire Cthulu Mythos derived from his anxiety about immigrants destroying European society and history. So the World Church trope could have its roots in a modernist/postmodernist cynicism towards faith in general, and the quintessential fear of our realities being manipulated by the state. The idea of a Church carrying this out is important, because it drives in the fact that the ruling power dominates not by legal measures, but through inspiring a literal dogmatic, fanatic faith in the masses and branding protestors as threats to reality itself. Hence, everything from a fear of cults like you mentioned to a cynicism about G-men showing up at your doorstep could be subsumed into a World Church narrative (incidentally, Urasekai Picnic deals brilliantly with how our paranoia towards political oppression and social deviance feeds into a wider sense of fear by tying the American urban legend of the Men in Black as inspired by the CIA to the Japanese fear of strange elderly people showing up at your doorstep with sinister requests that you can't refuse because of social obligations).

It's fascinating how one topic leads into another really- I'm glad we had this discussion. It made me a think about the implications behind a lot of stuff I just accepted as wacky Japanese videogame writing.

joined Jul 15, 2016

Thank you, too, for you have just inspired me to do a Marxist reading of about half of the '90s JRPGs. :D

joined Sep 6, 2018

Y’all, this is such a cool site. This is such a cool forum rn. Bless you all.

There is a spin-off story in Touhou where a Buddhist priest, a Taoist sage and an ancient Japanese god argue about the dynamics of human-yokai relations, each of them citing everything from Confucius to Zhuangzhi to principles of liberal market economy and eco-friendly policies, while also debating how yokai biology might inadvertently intersect with ancient Buddhist scripture to constitute alternative forms of Nirvana.

This is relevant to my interests, yes. That sounds fucking cool. God damn it, I’ve spent so much time trying to understand the Nasuverse, now I’ve got another massive fictional world blob to go through. Hmph. But yeah, I have noticed the doujins involve “soft lesbians in the countryside w/no capitalism” vibes, so how am I gonna turn that down? Into the rabbit hole we go.

Regarding predictions for the manga, I’m feeling something more Souls-esque, where perhaps the Church creates vampires for a purpose or they arise from some corruption of the world, and then the church changes gears to addressing things. But of course, we don’t have enough info at this stage to make accurate predictions.

Regarding discussion of tropes—I think another thing the “evil church” trope offers is a place for the subversion of a purity-based value system. I think as people develop new understandings and ways of being in the world that are less tied to ordering, controlling, hegemonic institutions, and more based on humanity and kindness, we feel a need to track and express that motion, and that can show up in church-works even in countries that didn’t have a history of Christian moral domination.

As a biologist I’m really fascinated by ideas of religions as systems of self-replicating information (much like DNA) which secure their continued existence through their interactions with the basic beliefs and mental landscapes of humans, and for the sake of their stability and the stability of social systems they create, it makes sense that they would strip down and repress parts of our humanity which might be dangerous to the continued existence of that system. In a lot of “evil church” works I think you see people reclaiming “that which lies in darkness,” or the messy and discarded aspects of humanity that have been stripped away by ordered society—and I think this work here is certainly engaged in that. Yes, Dorothy is fucked up, but she’s also beautiful and messy and fascinating and powerful, and I think we’re called to revel in that, and to at least sample the feeling of indulging in that kind of decadent headspace as a way of restoring connection with that part of ourselves.

Basipally, I think we’re not giving enough attention to the “let the gays be GAY” part of this system of tropes.

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

Basically, I think we’re not giving enough attention to the “let the gays be GAY” part of this system of tropes.

It's interesting that you mention that, because Catholic schools in Japan are strongly associated with homosexuality (although the wider trope of Catholic schools being filled with lesbians is known worldwide, partly because it makes for an entertaining subversion and partly, based on a conversation I had with a girl who attended a Catholic school, because this trope is true). The rise of 'proper' Catholic schools for high-class, rich ladies in the second half of the 20th century led to a lot of Japanese girls being placed in all-female environments during a formative period of their lives. Close, platonic relationships between women were actively encouraged, because the authorities figured that the girls would 'train' each other for heterosexual marriage (an older, more experienced girl would traditionally play the assertive, 'male' role, while a younger one would be submissive). Obviously, this led to a lot of burgeoning lesbians exploring their sexualities, making it a hilarious failure on the part of the conservatives who wanted to protect the 'purity' of girls from men by placing them in an all-female environment. Sadly, this also led to a lot of lovers' suicides, because many of these girls who'd fallen in love realized that they'd have to break up with their partners and enter into a heterosexual, often-arranged marriage for the rest of their lives, and were desperate enough to kill themselves rather than spending their lives in pain.

That longing, yearning, mixture of wanting to fall in love and questioning whether it's alright, of seeing relationships with women as pure and perfect and amazing while also struggling with a constant influx of patriarchal, heteronormative scripture, of living in a place that's simultaneously yuritopia and a prison camp that beats you into conformity- it's a pretty potent, angsty, combination, and one that's fuelled a lot of Class S stories. Historically, these stories were also a way for lesbian authors to sidestep moral guidelines- on the surface, these were heartwarming stories about female friendships that never got sexual, but to lesbian readers, they were also the only way they could find any sort of connections with popular media. As angsty as they might be, Class S stories are some of my favourites, particularly more modern ones that aren't bound to comply with 'Gay Till Graduation' tropes and can go all in on exploring their themes (a story that does this to great effect is the Flowers VN series, which actually has a supportive lesbian nun who has taken a vow of chastity, and constantly wonders if she's made the right choice while also pining for another one of the nuns at their school).

Yes, Dorothy is fucked up, but she’s also beautiful and messy and fascinating and powerful, and I think we’re called to revel in that, and to at least sample the feeling of indulging in that kind of decadent headspace as a way of restoring connection with that part of ourselves.

Great point. That's one of the reasons I'm hyped about where this series might go- I figured that Dorothy might be a Jesus figure, since she's the offspring of the Pope of the world church, who might just be an angel, and a human woman. And in case the Pope or her mom actually happen to be ancient vampires, then I guess she'd be the Antichrist. Either way, she's primed to nuke the status quo, and she's definitely gonna do it with style. Remember, kids- no matter who Dorothy defeats, the lesbians shall always win.

joined Sep 6, 2018

I figured that Dorothy might be a Jesus figure, since she's the offspring of the Pope of the world church, who might just be an angel, and a human woman. And in case the Pope or her mom actually happen to be ancient vampires, then I guess she'd be the Antichrist. Either way, she's primed to nuke the status quo, and she's definitely gonna do it with style. Remember, kids- no matter who Dorothy defeats, the lesbians shall always win.

Lmao I think she’s less Jesus and more Sessyoin Kiara but your point is well-taken. Actually, she feels like a fusion between Kiara and Bayonetta—and a lot of the action shots feel very BAYONETTA-inspired. And with a pedigree like that (both in the manga and extra-narratively) I agree that she feels like someone who will really fuck shit up and maybe destroy the foundation of this society.

I think part of what draws me to the archetype of the “sexual-charismatic woman that ensnares people’s lives and imaginations while pursuing her own agenda” (Kiara, Dorothy) is how these characters serve as like an opening of the floodgates or channeling of femme sexuality—which normative (patriarchal) society fears and suppresses—as power. I wrote this following section about Kiara but I think much of it applies to Dorothy as well, and what makes her so apocalyptic and compelling;

Part of what’s so great about Kiara to queer ppl and women is that lots of us spend so much having to manage other peoples’ reactions and understanding of us in order to be safe physically and emotionally, like we’re beholden to our environment and have to take responsibility for other people as well as ourselves in our interactions with them. Especially sexually, people fear our power so we have to be so careful about it, put it in a box and hide it and just take it out when we know it’s safe.

Kiara is the opposite of that. Her presence invokes a response from other people: she is unshakable, and they all respond to her. No matter how other people react to her or treat her it will just bring her pleasure; you can’t control her with violence, rejection, praise, manipulation—all those things will just put you in the palm of her hand. You can’t keep or destroy her, change her, assert superiority. She is like the ultimate example of “I don’t shape my life to fit you, you shape yourself to fit me,” and she does that without the kingly, social authority and dominance position of characters like Gilgamesh or Iskandar: it’s just from her, and how she is. Her sexuality is enthusiastic, indulgent, and it oozes from her; she is the realization of the fears of a world that suppresses any non-cishet male desire, of the promise of destruction by which they justify locking us up. She’s not a seductress, that manipulates her power within a cishet patriarchal system; she is a flood from the dam of what that society holds back, and she washes it away. She’s not just a queer-coded character; she is coded to the concept of queerness, and its danger to the frameworks of a society that rejects it.

Looping back to our discussion of churchy stuff—I’m not sure if the cultural context exists in this work to support a direct connection, but I feel that this all is connected to the idea of witches, as a manifestation of society’s fear of the subversive power of women. I don’t know enough about Japan to say for sure, but I would bet there’s some
sort of analogue upon which this sort of emerging archetype is being built.

But whatever’s up, I do know that it maeks me gay

last edited at Nov 21, 2020 7:15PM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

Looping back to our discussion of churchy stuff—I’m not sure if the cultural context exists in this work to support a direct connection, but I feel that this all is connected to the idea of witches, as a manifestation of society’s fear of the subversive power of women. I don’t know enough about Japan to say for sure, but I would bet there’s some sort of analogue upon which this sort of emerging archetype is being built.

Characters that control their own sexuality have always had a subversive appeal, especially since restraining and controlling the sexual freedom of people through direct and indirect means has been one of the main ways in which patriarchy perpetuates itself. That's the funny thing about a lot of moralistic narratives- they present us with temptresses and 'slut'-coded characters to warn us about the perils of their sexuality, but these characters take on a charisma that far eclipses anyone else in their narratives- try reading Carmilla in 2020 without falling madly in love with the evil vampire that the book uses to condemn the perils of lesbianism. Heck, this strerches back all the way to Paradise Lost- John Milton was trying to create a pro-God narrative by presenting Satan as puny and human and fallible, but he almost singlehandedly ended up founding the 'cool, badass rebel Satan' trope instead.

Coming to Japan, I'd argue that it has a culture that simultaneously idealizes and infantilizes women- on the one hand, they're presented as perfect and beautiful and adorable, but on the other, they're only allowed to express that beauty in certain hyper-constrained, moe ways. This ties into idol culture as well, what with the obsession for making real women act out anime archetypes and being obsessed with protecting their purity. At the same time, there's a counter-current that's considerably hornier, chafing against the conservatism and prusdishness of society, looking simultaneously for rebellion and gratification, and there's where you get the trope of the sexy, dangerous femme, as you so eloquently put it. Morrigan Aensland, Lust from FMA, Revy, Jill Valentine, Ivy Valentine, Juri Han, Motoko Kusanagi, the entire cast of Bubblegum Crisis, Michiko Malandro, and the queen of them all, Fujiko Mine- the examples are endless (and also weirdly specific to fighting games).

In reference to Ghost in The Shell (1996), the famous film critic Roger Ebert wrote, "The movie uses the film noir visuals that are common in anime, and it hares that peculiar tendency of all adult animation to give us women who are(a) strong protagonists at the center of the story, and (b) nevertheless almost continuously nude. An article about anime in a recent issue of Film Quarterly suggests that to be a “salary man'' in modern Japan is so exhausting and dehumanizing that many men (who form the largest part of the animation audience) project both freedom and power onto women, and identify with them as fictional characters."

And I think that's at the core of this Sex-Charged Rebel trope in Japanese media- a desire to project as well as a desire to, well, desire the object of that projection. We want to be these badass, hedonistic women, to have the courage to kick society in the teeth and blaze our own trails, and in that sense, they become shining representations of everything we're too afraid to say or do, lent both freedom and popularity in fictional worlds. They're the opposites of Samus Aran, far likelier to flaunt birthday suits than to sit within mysterious armor, and fans simultaneously want to embody and to be resucued by them.

Thus, Japan's fundamental tendency to sexualize powerful women in order to prevent them from seeming too traditionally masculine ironically enough ends up making these characters even more rebellious. They know they're eye candy, but they're also so much more, and rather than the convenient, cloistered sexuality of a traditional boy-meets-girl romance, they're closer to Shamat from The Epic of Gilgamesh- using sex as a means of enlightenment and liberation rather than hiding it behind social institutions and norms. And that's why a lot of people claim to empathize with and admire such characters far more than Hollywood's feminist characters, which are often coded as pseudo-men in unisex uniforms that strive to eliminate all traces of traditional femininity in order to not be seen as 'women' (a prominent fallacy in Second-Wave Feminism, known on TV Tropes as Real Women Don't Wear Dresses).

Your comment about witches is also very pertinent- Eiichi Yamamoto's Belladonna of Sadness from 1973 is a movie that literally reinterprets the Jeanne D'Arc story by making Jeanne a Satanist witch who rebels against the oppressive Catholic church in feudal Europe. She's raped by the priests and the nobles, despised by her husband for being 'sullied', and ultimately finds solace in the devil, who actually claims to be a part of her, representing her id. As a witch, she's beautiful and intelligent, actively cures a plague, improves society and helps people find love, using her natural, inherent femininity to channel a mother goddess archetype instead of the Church's distant patriarchy. She also orchestrates an entire queer orgy, if the subtext wasn't clear enough. In the end, she's burned at the stake, but every man and women who watches remembers her, and her spirit inspires the French Revolution. It's an incredibly feminist film, and the funny thing is that it started off as a hentai production that inverted the regressive tropes of the genre and made the protagonist's sexuality a strength instead of a weakenss. It's now conisdered a masterpiece that actually influenced Kunihiko Ikuhara to create Revolutionary Girl Utena, so you should check it out if you haven't already, because it embodies the very heart and origin of the 'subversive, powerful witch' archetype in Japan.

At any rate, we've speculated enough about Dorothy at this point to write a new scripture for whenever she becomes the God-Empress of the Lesbians.

joined Jul 15, 2016

^ Reading the above made me think of Edelgard from FE3H, even though Edelgard is pretty much the opposite of Dorothy in her relationship to organized religion. Maybe it's because she is also the kind of person who makes others bend around her instead of adapting to them? In both cases, it's due to a combination of overwhelming charisma, belief in one's own right, and force of will.

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 1:14AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

^ Reading the above made me think of Edelgard from FE3H, even though Edelgard is pretty much the opposite of Dorothy in her relationship to organized religion. Maybe it's because she is also the kind of person who makes others bend around her instead of adapting to them? In both cases, it's due to a combination of overwhelming charisma, belief in one's own right, and force of will.

FE3H provides an entire academic study's worth of content when you analyse the way it deals with religion, but one of the things that struck me the most was how the Church of Seiros is perfect example of how Japanese stories appropriate Catholic imagery while chucking the mythos into the bin (Crystal Dragon Jesus indeed). It's a World Church that encourages a feudal structure of society over an entire continent, restricting the flow of information, altering history and maintaining a vast army with the medieval equivalents of WMDs for those that don't comply with orders. And yet Rhea isn't a warmonger- if anything, she perfectly represents one of the tropes that Linterdiction talked about above, being a woman who embodies the 'traditional feminine' traits of patience, kindness and diplomacy, elegantly weaving a matrix of deceptions and wiles amidst a heteronormative, patriarchal society. And make no mistake, Fódlan is patriarchal and heteronormative- sure, the game gives us queer romance options, but do we ever see any queer couples in the game proper that don't involve our self-insert? Most of the royal and noble families also seem to retain the name of the male party in political marriages, and lineage is thus, as far as I remember, decidedly patrilineal. It's been a while since I've engaged with the game, so there might be exceptions that I've forgotten, but FE3H is a prime example of story-and-gameplay segregation- sure, women can fight every bit as well as men on the battlefields, but most major, non-student political figures seem almost universally male, while women are primarily deployed as dumb-muscle-generals (based on a peek through the franchises' TV tropes page, Cornelia is the sole exception). Heck, women can't even play as the Hero class in the game, so maybe it's not even gameplay-specific.

Anyhow, Edelgard is the Satan to Rhea's mother goddess- if God represents the ideal patriarchal masculine traits of wisdom, judgment, honesty and direct, assertive, power, then Satan represents rebellion, arrogant masculinity and wiliness. Similarly, Edelgard's two guises, the first as a masked, gender-neutral Crimson Emperor and the second as a clearly female, but still not 'feminine' Emperor, represent a clear repudiation of Rhea's controlled, sinuous, manipulative femininity. She's closer to Saber in that sense, preferring to operate agender rather than flaunting ostensible traits of either side, though FE3H's plot does considerably more with her than Fate ever did with poor, underutilized, eternally-jobbing, 'has Shiro mentioned I am a woman today?' Seiba. The Satan parallels with Edelgard are immense- she was initially privileged and 'pure', but fell from grace (and even lost her 'natural' hair as a result of it), and now bitterly wants to overthrow the organized religion that has failed, manipulated and oppressed her. Heck, I'd even say that Byleth, being literally shaped into Seiros' image midway through the plot, is an Adam/Eve archetype, who must choose between maintaining a cozy status quo in Rhea's ideal, information-obscuring society, or to make a choice and seek agency and reveal dark secrets after giving in to Edelgard's temptations (these temptations being, "I think feudalism is wack, help me stop it"). In non Crimson Flower routes (and large sections of the fanbase), Edie is definitely portrayed as a Satanic, Hitler-esque tyrant who literally turns into a grotesque monster on the verge of defeat, but in her route, the same happens to Rhea, right down to Ms. Paragon of Traditional Femininity growing slowly more deranged and brutal, before becoming an ugly-ass dragon in the final battle.

That's one of the reasons I love Edelgard's route, and Edie as a character in general- she's basically a Satan archetype that's humanized, well-written and has justifiable grievances as well as a vision for a better society. She's a classic example of how traditionally-stigmatized character archetypes can be turned into brilliant, inspired figures if they're given the benefit of empathetic, sensitive writing, creating subversive showstoppers who also make us reflect upon the ideals and norms that have defined our societies for centuries. Also, she has a crown that is literally an actual goddamn pair of ram's horns, because she is a chunni idiot, and we love her for it.

Edit: Now appropriately spoiler-tagged.

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 2:27AM

joined Jul 15, 2016

^ As much as I appreciate your thoughts, you should probably cover up most of the above in spoiler tags... As it stands, I cannot even safely quote you to reply. :D

FE3H provides an entire academic study's worth of content when you analyse the way it deals with religion, but one of the things that struck me the most of how the Church of Seiros is perfect example of how Japanese stories appropriate Catholic imagery while chucking the mythos into the bin (Crystal Dragon Jesus indeed).

While that is true, I feel that the game presents a much more historical picture of the church than many other Japanese media we've discussed above, including this manga: specifically, in how the Church's primary role is depicted as justifying power structures, rather than being the dominant power structure itself. In GxS, we see a pure example of the World Church, where the church is simultaneously a religion and a state, while the church in FE3H, while having sovereignty over Garrech Mach and its own standing army, is primarily an arbitrating entity that is placed above the worldly states of Fodlan. This is most evident in the creation of the "Holy" Kingdom of Faerghus, where Loog may have rebelled against and defeated the Empire, but his rebellion only became a "kingdom" after the Church said so. Justification of royal rule via the divine right by self-presented agents of divine will was an essential part of European feudal system, and it is something very few Japanese media obsessed with the Catholic aesthetics ever get right. (Probably because Japan has been lucky enough to have never had to deal with dynastic change.)

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 2:29AM

(y)
joined Jan 9, 2017

So, just out of curiosity: Just how old is "Church is Evil" trope in Japanese media, and where exactly did it originate?

i dont know about Japanese Media But in the West we can look squarely on the Papal States

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

While that is true, I feel that the game presents a much more historical picture of the church than many other Japanese media we've discussed above, including this manga: specifically, in how the Church's primary role is depicted as justifying power structures, rather than being the dominant power structure itself. In GxS, we see a pure example of the World Church, where the church is simultaneously a religion and a state, while the church in FE3H, while having sovereignty over Garrech Mach and its own standing army, is primarily an arbitrating entity that is placed above the worldly states of Fodlan. This is most evident in the creation of the "Holy" Kingdom of Faerghus, where Loog may have rebelled against and defeated the Empire, but his rebellion only became a "kingdom" after the Church said so.

Agreed, FE3H's church operates as a good example of functional accuracy while taking creative liberties with form.

Justification of royal rule via the divine right by self-presented agents of divine will was an essential part of European feudal system, and it is something very few Japanese media obsessed with the Catholic aesthetics ever get right. (Probably because Japan has been lucky enough to have never had to deal with dynastic change.)

While the Yamato are Japan's central dynasty, they have little in the way of political power, and most of the ruling and administration was carried out by external families. These families, in order to secure their power, did practice some form of divine right assertion- the Soga clan, for instance, was the first non-Yamato family to dominate Japanese political affairs, and one of the ways in which their first leader, Soga no Iname, secured power was by marrying two of his daughters to the Yamato Emperor, who then produced offspring linked to the Iname line, effectively giving the Soga clan a direct link to the dynastic prestige of the Yamato. Future ruling families would often do the same, and often alter historical records to claim that their leaders were also descended from gods- the Fujiwara clan's patriarch, for instance, claimed to descended from Ame no Koyane no Mikoto, which tells us that asserting a connection to divinity in order to claim political power was quite prevalent in Japan, through both direct (historical assertion) and indirect (political marriage) means. So while their central dynasty didn't change the way that it did in England, they used their emperor as a figurehead for almost 1,500 years, giving us an odd combination of England's present token-royalty system and the rampant, marriage-based politicking that was more common in medieval Europe. In short, rather than the throne, they vied for a connection to the inert main dynasty, making the royal line into a symbolic object in the same way as a crown (though the Yamato heads did use their prestige and influence to assert influence and undermine or reinforce various political developments, such as when Empress Suiko actively advocated Buddhism after the defeat of the Mononobe clan, cementing its popularity among the Japanese masses- again, similar to the modern British royal family).

Interestingly, the Soga clan also promoted Buddhism as a more civilized, enlightened alternative to Japan's polytheistic, incredibly-diverse state religion of Shinto, since it was seen as more easy to centralize and organize than a religion based on the Eight Million Gods. However, the Yamato's authority stemmed from the fact that they claimed to be descended directly from Amaterasu (hence the title of Tenno, clearly establishing a connection to heaven). So oddly, the Soga sought to legitimize rule by claiming a divine right to the throne while also undermining the very religion from which that divine right was derived. Predictably, this led to lots of unrest, and the rival Nakatomi (later Fujiwara) and Mononobe clans actively strove to destroy Buddhism in Japan and claim that the Soga were anti-Shinto. While Buddhism survived and influenced Japan in the future, it grew corrupt enough to make the Vatican blush, and potential religious discord was cancelled out by the fact that the ruling figures of both religions were savvy enough to avoid each other, so in the future, you had a Shinto-based empire with leaders that often funded themselves with ill-begotten gains from Buddhist temples hoarding donations as part of an agreement to avoid discord and control the masses. Eat your heart out, pagan-fearing, heresy-declaring Popes- who says that you can't be ridiculously corrupt and have religious syncretism?

Point is, Japanese history is incredibly complex and considerably more brambly than the initial cohesiveness of the one Emperor, multiple clans system would suggest, being a lot more similar to medieval Europe than it initially seems. Touhou explores the whole Mononobe/Soga, Shinto/Buddhist conflict in more detail, and throws Taoism into the mix in a hilariously brilliant way that I won't spoil (God, do I love that series).

Personally, I feel that the central political ideology prevalent throughout FE3H's campaigns and wars as a whole is the Chinese Mandate of Heaven- it doesn't matter where the hell you come from or what you believe in- the only proof of a good ruler is good ruling, i.e. holding onto power and dissuading rebellion. There's no morality, no universal principles, no religious add-ons- the only justification of the rule of the mighty is their strength, and everyone has the right to rebellion. This fits in very well with FE3H's decision to place happy endings and perfect societies at the end of each route- the game basically says that no one is right, not Edelgard, not Claude, not Dmitri, not Rhea, and not Byleth. But as long they're strong enough to win, they're lent a right to power that supersedes Seiros herself, because if she really was a heavenly god, then she would've had the power to defend her regime. Some people say that this is a cop-out, since the game makes multiple characters, most prominently Edelgard herself, say that there are no peaceful alternatives beyond absolute uprising and reorganization, but I'd argue that that's the point- even if Dmitri or Claude benefit from the war that Edelgard started in order to establish the supremacy of Faerghus or Leicester, they can just position her as the villain after coming to power, rewrite history in the same way that Rhea did, and maintain power by whatever means they see fit. Heck, maybe even Edelgard will do the same thing one day, and there's no way to know, because history will always be written by the winners. It's terrifying in a very realistic way, and also fulfils the videogame parameters of making you feel validated for your decisions and effort while also making you wonder if all the idealism and talk of utopian futures is just an excuse to dress up all the war crimes. That, after all, is the privilege and burden of a war-tested emperor.

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 3:47AM

(y)
joined Jan 9, 2017

Every chapter makes me like Dolores less and less. At this point I'm hoping for more of a twist where she turns out to be the final villain, after the doctor is taken care of and Maria's sister is found.

This chapter should be a plus for her though. Sometimes you have to look at what She does and not listen to what She says (basicly whenever she is talking with church members)

Here she she repeats some nonesense she sayd in earlier chapters more or less verbatum But what She did was a favour for Mariah

joined Jul 15, 2016

So, just out of curiosity: Just how old is "Church is Evil" trope in Japanese media, and where exactly did it originate?

i dont know about Japanese Media But in the West we can look squarely on the Papal States

Would you please elaborate? I am not very familiar with the history of the Papal States, beyond the Investiture Controversy and the whole mess with Borgias and Medicis around 1500 CE.

Point is, Japanese history is incredibly complex and considerably more brambly than the initial cohesiveness of the one Emperor, multiple clans system would suggest, being a lot more similar to medieval Europe than it initially seems.

That is, indeed, true, but I feel there is also a major difference between the ways that "divine legitimization" worked in Japanese and European histories: As you described, Japanese divine right came from the (supposed) direct biological descent from the sun goddess (or at least by marriage to her descendants), whereas the European divine right was a more abstract thing, since Jesus (in the mainstream Christian canon) had no children, and came not from divine bloodline, but from divine approval -- as conveyed by the clergy, which, in term, was subject of a form of descent from the apostles. Of course, in practice, this often functioned akin to the Mandate of Heaven below, with the church retroactively backing the winners, but not always, particularly when Christian kings broke core tenets of the Catholic dogma (Henry VIII of England comes to mind, but there is a long list of excommunicated monarchs).

Personally, I feel that the central political ideology prevalent throughout FE3H's campaigns and wars as a whole is the Chinese Mandate of Heaven- it doesn't matter where the hell you come from or what you believe in- the only proof of a good ruler is good ruling, i.e. holding onto power and dissuading rebellion. [snip] It's terrifying in a very realistic way, and also fulfils the videogame parameters of making you feel validated for your decisions and effort while also making you wonder if all the idealism and talk of utopian futures is just an excuse to dress up all the war crimes. That, after all, is the privilege and burden of a war-tested emperor.

While this does appear to be the core message of the game's endings, I do not think the game as a whole is predicated on it. IMO it is more of an exploration of the conflict between moralist rule ("right makes might") and Realpolitik ("might makes right"), which happens to fall on the latter's side in the end.

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

While this does appear to be the core message of the game's endings, I do not think the game as a whole is predicated on it. IMO it is more of an exploration of the conflict between moralist rule ("right makes might") and Realpolitik ("might makes right"), which happens to fall on the latter's side in the end.

Agreed. Although it does beg the question of what came first, the might or the right. FE3H is kinda weird in that so much of the game's millennia-long lore is just flavor text to set up a background for the present-day conflict. We're just supposed to assume that Sothis and the Nabateans were good and the Agarthans were evil, and so both Sothis' victory in the beginning and Rhea's victory against Nemesis are pretty standard cases of the righteous side attaining victory (assuming they didn't alter history). Those that Slither in the Dark are also supposed to be very clearly evil, probably to offset the moral grayness of everything else and give players a common enemy (they even look like they've crawled out of toxic vats).

I feel like we could've gotten more of an insight into the relationship between the two civilizations instead of just having Sothis be an unironically saintly deity who's amnesiac for half the game and completely subservient to Byleth's decisions for the other, but I guess that's one of the issues you encounter when your game about the church has actual gods operating as characters while still needing to be value-neutral. The game's pretty good, but there's quite a bit of wasted potential and unanswered questions. That's something I've noticed across various JRPG franchises- they create fascinatingly detailed worlds with incredible scope for exploration of alternative societies and cultures, and then focus on hyper-specific events while cramming all the lore into the background. The next installment jumps to a new world, and the cycle repeats. Though, to be fair, even when they do get spin-offs, they aren't exactly paragons of narrative brilliance (cough Dirge of Cerebrus cough).

joined Jul 15, 2016

^ I skipped the spoilers in the above post because I haven't actually finished my VW playthrough yet, and didn't learn all that much about the true history of Fodlan from CF... However, I can reply to the following:

That's something I've noticed across various JRPG franchises- they create fascinatingly detailed worlds with incredible scope for exploration of alternative societies and cultures, and then focus on hyper-specific events while cramming all the lore into the background. The next installment jumps to a new world, and the cycle repeats. Though, to be fair, even when they do get spin-offs, they aren't exactly paragons of narrative brilliance (cough Dirge of Cerebrus cough).

I've noticed that a wide disregard of system-focused world-building in favor of laser focus on individuals' emotional journeys seems to be one of the major trends in Japanese popular fiction. Even if a setting does make sociological, geopolitical, and culture-historical sense (most don't), it is most commonly relegated to the background to whatever archetypal character arc the writers picked instead of deriving characters from the world they inhabit. This is especially noticeable in series that info-dump the entirety of their world-building in the first chapter (another pet peeve of mine) to get it out of the way so they can get back to the formula.

EDIT: Oh, and btw, I just discovered that the Japanese Wikipedia has a massive article on the history of relations between the church and the state(s) in Europe. My guess is that at least some Japanese speakers are as irked by the constant misrepresentation of the subject in their native media as we are. :D

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 6:10AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

I've noticed that a wide disregard of system-focused world-building in favor of laser focus on individuals' emotional journeys seems to be one of the major trends in Japanese popular fiction. Even if a setting does make sociological, geopolitical, and culture-historical sense (most don't), it is most commonly relegated to the background to whatever archetypal character arc the writers picked instead of deriving characters from the world they inhabit. This is especially noticeable in series that info-dump the entirety of their world-building in the first chapter (another pet peeve of mine) to get it out of the way so they can get back to the formula.

I guess it might be because of an approach to making videogames that treats them, in the words of Hideo Kojima, like museums. They're generally used as exhibitions of ideas that players can engage with via certain mechanics, but the central objective seems to be primarily to produce an effect rather than questioning the cause- case in point, there's so many Japanese video games that use obscure terminology for basic game mechanics like switching characters, casting spells or healing, but rarely ever explain how their magic systems originated or the ways in which they're used. Rather than creating an entirely unique system, the idea is to once again appropriate the aesthetics of a distinctive world while still watering everything down to very basic Mage-Warrior-Rogue archetypes. You might be using magitech or mako or soul essence or divine energy, but chances are that you'll still be chucking fireballs and icicles at people. As always, there's gameplay and story segregation, the desire to create something marketable in the shortest timeframe, because actually building a giant, complex world would be unsustainable in terms of both dev time and system capabilities, so creators just advertise freedom in trailers and create worlds that're as wide as an ocean and as deep as a puddle.

It's a bit harder to pin down why the shallow-world tendency persists in other forms of media, but I guess the simplest explanation is that it's fun to visualize a big, giant world with ages of history, but extremely hard to flesh it out- who's going to take the trouble to come up with unique languages and politics and a functional, fictional economy? At some point, either author or audience interests burn out, so rather than creating unfinished masterpieces, it's safer and easier to give stories a strong emotional core (in this case, via a cast of archetypical characters) and pursue a three-act structure. This honestly isn't a bad choice- every Bethesda RPG I've played has had a large, explorable world bursting to the seams with lore, but I've had so much trouble caring about any of the characters involved that I always ended up quitting them before getting even five hours in. Works that manage to build a massive world and make you truly care about every last aspect of them without dumbing things down or making the cosmos revolve around a small group of people are truly rare, and that's one of the reasons I've come to prefer shorter, more intimate stories that know exactly what they wish to achieve. Still, it's fun and terrifying to dive into stories that have 1000-page wikias and dozens of spinoffs, and one of the reasons I still try to engage with dense, large-scope Japanese franchises despite the high rate of disappointment is that when something clicks, I'm blessed with massive rabbit holes to dive into and explore for years on end.

joined Sep 6, 2018

Chinese Mandate of Heaven- it doesn't matter where the hell you come from or what you believe in- the only proof of a good ruler is good ruling, i.e. holding onto power and dissuading rebellion. There's no morality, no universal principles, no religious add-ons- the only justification of the rule of the mighty is their strength, and everyone has the right to rebellion.

I vibe with a lot of the stuff you're talking about, generally but I disagree with this account of the Mandate of Heaven. Certainly, the ability to easily explain dynastic change is one of its practical advantages, but it has always had a moral/spiritual dimension even back to its origin in the shamanic traditions of early China. It's also a concept that has thousands of years of history and practical use, and has had shifting emphases and roles as Chinese thought developed. As a concept it reflects the Chinese emphasis on (deeply intertwined) moral/spiritual quality in rulers as people able to resonate with the nature of the world and thus produce success and stability; in application, it was primarily used as a tool of new regimes to morally ground dynastic change (the old ruler was decadent, we have replaced him and the people will profit), but with a particular concern for the health of All-Under-Heaven,as issuing forth from the ruler and encompassing the lived reality of all people as well as the physical state of the world (including taxes, floods, famine, droughts, banditry, wars, etc.), and in this sense even as a political concept it has spiritual connections to Chinese frameworks of order, and the ruler being defined by what he does for China. As far as a "might makes right" scenario, the closest thing that came to that was the Qin dynasty, which clung solely to legalism; it did have a "ruling justifies rule" framework, but Qin was disastrous, collapsed in less than 14 years, and is widely disparaged by the many generations of Chines historians.

It also certainly did matter where people came from, as aristocratic society strongly rejected so-called "barbarian" rulers that couldn't claim Han roots (though of course these people did claim the Mandate--the point is, who was allowed to acceptably be called the Son of Heaven was a lot more complex and contentious than pure meritocracy.

I wouldn't normally write something like this just to clarify a point, but I think the concept of the Mandate of Heaven is often oversimplified in a way that does a disservice to how interesting and unique an idea it is, and how deeply grounded that idea is in the heart of Chinese political/religious culture.

As to the use of the Mandate as a framework to approach 3H--I think the game is more concerned with competing political ideologies, and the various moral implications, as well as the morality of revolution as a means to challenge a status quo; the Mandate of Heaven is not meant nor equipped to address these. Fundamentally I think the Mandate of Heaven is not necessarily pro-revolutionary in a modern sense: it is about dynastic change, the justification of changing who is the Son of Heaven, not about questioning how government should work. Claiming the Mandate of Heaven is not a way to say, "I think we should do something different" but rather "I can do better." 3H is heavily focused with the mental health/character of its rulers, and is in lots of ways about trying to do something better or claiming power from a corrupt system, but it is fundamentally about changing the structure of society, not about rectifying the existing system, and thus falls outside the scope of the Mandate of Heaven (or something analogous).

On a seperate note, I think the Agarthan/Nabatean dynamic is more complex than an ancient good/evil. The Nabateans committed an atrocity against the Agarthans and though TWSITD are clearly purely evil now, I think their roots connects them to the main themes of the Agarthans/Nabateans vs. modern Fódlan dynamic as a representation of generational trauma. Having an unapologetically evil culture/ethnic group in a work that otherwise strives for responsible realism is, shall we say, a bruh moment, but at least we can give them credit for pointing to trauma as the ultimate source of that evil.

last edited at Nov 22, 2020 10:49PM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

^ Thanks for the comment. From what I'd read, the Mandate came off as far more purely political than consistently philosophical, so this dimension didn't really strike me- I'd always figured that winning the war came first and justifying the spiritual/moral reasons for your victory came second, after you'd stabilized the regime enough to get people to listen, or at least to prevent dissent. The way you've presented it is quite interesting, though, so I'll have to read up more on it.

Regarding FE3H, while I do agree that it probably wasn't written to embody the Mandate of Heaven philosophy, my argument was that it inadvertently ends up falling into it thanks to its nature as a videogame that rewards the efforts and time that a player invests in a certain 'route'. Unlike, say, a political novel, it doesn't have a singular, linear canon progression of events, but gives the player choices and routes instead. Based on our choices, the scenarios change, and we justify those choices by attaining victories. As a reward for all the time you put into levelling your characters and the skill required to pull off victories, FE3H advances the campaign that you chose, and the house you back invariably ends up dominating the political landscape of Fódlan, invariably for the better.

In this case, the Mandate of Heaven is not an in-universe political philosophy that characters use to justify victory, but a metanarrative force that's inextricably linked to FE3H's identity as a videogame, based on the design philosophy that 'effort shall be rewarded with happy endings'. The people of Fódlan must be happier at the end of the war, regardless of which kingdom they come from, regardless of which monarch wins. There's also a fact that Byleth is quite literally a vessel for Sothis, making their decisions the literal choice of the gods, who in this case also embody the player, who operates as the 'god' with supreme insight that is literally able to see the future and act in the present to alter it with Divine Pulse. Simply put, we aren't allowed to be wrong, to make errors of judgment or bad decisions or moral mistakes, because as long as we're good enough to excel at the game's system of tactical, turn-based combat, we're given rewards. The closest you can get to 'failing' is by losing students, but unlike other FE games, which are notorious for featuring permadeath, FE3H either allows you to literally turn death off, or easily undo a bad decision and save whoever you might've condemned- not in terms of forcing a replay of the entire route, but quite literally in the middle of a campaign.

This is basic videogame design philosophy- might (in terms of excellence at gameplay) has to make right (in terms of offering players emotional dividends), or the player feels cheated. There are some games that have slapped the player in the face and undone their efforts to great effect (FF7 and Spec Ops being iconic examples), but FE3H isn't interested in that- you put in the hours, you get your happy ending. It doesn't matter if Edelgard abolishes the nobility, or if Dmitri annexes all of Fódlan under the Kingdom, or if Claude supports opening a war-torn, ailing continent to foreign relations with all the sinister implications of economic colonialism that it holds, or even if the Church that has deceived the masses for centuries becomes the center of a United Kingdom of Fódlan- as long as Byleth backs you, you're in the right. Therefore, our mandate is the de facto Mandate of Heaven for everyone involved in the story, and the way we justify this mandate is by winning battles on the game's hyper-simplified tactical chessboard.

To the characters in the story, Byleth is the Enlightened One, who understood the suffering of the people and guided the ruler who could bring about an improvement in society and help the people, but we, as players, are hardly Enlightened- heck, based on what I've seen in the FE3H fanbase, I'd argue that most of FE3H's players probably picked Dmitri because he was hot or Claude for the memes or Edelgard for the yuri, without putting much thought into whoever they were backing. The game literally locks you onto one route based on the hyper-subjective choice of who you would want to teach among three random people in primary colors, and all the stuff about politics and revolutions comes far later, once you've spent enough time in the medieval Hogwarts simulator to get attached to all the people in your house, leading to the sentimental fallacy of equating emotional attachment to a certain character with their moral virtue. You can recruit characters, but it won't change the events of the route- if anything, you'll get characters miraculously changing their ideals and beliefs to stick with Byleth, not because you actively convinced them to think about their decisions, but because you had tea with them around twenty times. In-universe, we're meant to assume that Byleth told them something incredibly profound that convinced them to turn on their kingdoms and readily massacre their populations five years down the line, but the game doesn't attempt to actually give us any of these arguments, because it knows that they'll be impossible to justify. In the end, it's all a system that you're not meant to think too deeply about- your efforts invariably produce positive results and create a better world.

Based on what I've read, the Mandate retroactively justifies revolution after a new regime has been established- this is what I got from the Wikipedia page: Since the winner is the one who determines who has obtained the Mandate of Heaven and who has lost it, some Chinese scholars consider it to be a sort of Victor's justice, best characterized in the popular Chinese saying "The winner becomes king, the loser becomes outlaw". Edelgard is a visionary at the end of her route and a demon at the end of anyone else's, Dmitri is an ideal king at the end of his route and a deranged fool in all others, Claude seems to piss off no matter what happens, but does so victoriously at the end of his route and pathetically in anyone else's. FE3H wants to be a game about morality and changing the structure of society, but its commitment to saying that every new form of society is legitimate undermines the value of that message, because we're left with no criteria to decide which ending is better.

The game tricks you into the semblance of righteousness through various means, like making Byleth a positive influence on whichever ruler they pick, but I'd argue that this is just a plot device to villainize all the others- of course you'd resent Edelgard if she was a raving tyrant instead of a revolutionary with legitimate grievances, of course you'd despise Dmitri if he was a wild animal instead of a traumatized king trying to do his best, of course you'd hate Claude if he was a sniveling weasel instead of Lelouch Vi Brittania, and of course you'd support Rhea if she was a tragic warrior-queen instead of a fascist dragon.

I appreciate your point about the mental health of the leaders and how it factors into the story, but it's ultimately just used to reify a system through an individual, to sidestep complex questions of policy-making and human rights and simply make your ruler into a hero and the enemy rulers into monsters. It's the same strategy used in hundreds of propaganda films during the Cold War- why talk about the potential pros and cons of a communist society when you just stereotype any Soviet leader as a madman? Why have any conversation about leftist politics when you can just compare any socialist leader to Stalin? It's a textbook conflation of leaders with systems, and seeing as this happens to every leader that you don't back, it becomes impossible to gauge who's got a point. Morality, already subjective at the best of times, is rendered completely subservient to your choices, and as I said before, Byleth isn't allowed to be wrong. They won't be condemned for committing war crimes or punished for being a hypocrite or stabbed in the back by ambitious, faceless courtiers- the game is, first and foremost, a product that caters to a consumers' expectations of fun, and therefore it organizes the complex, messy world of politics under the easy effort-reward structure of a videogame.

We don't really get a scenario where the winning kingdom ends up collapsing into chaos because it cannot properly implement the structural changes required to reform an entire continent, or a future wherein corrupt successors undo the positive changes wrought by our visionary current generation- regardless of the means, a golden age is assured. All the systems that emerge from the end of the game are better than the societal structure in the beginning, but seeing as these structures actively contradict each other, this shouldn't be possible. Heck, Dmitri and Claude condemn Edelgard for starting a revolutionary war, but their ideal societies can only be born from this war, because it weakens the Church enough for Faerghus or Leicester to take wider control, to say nothing of what happens to Adrestia. The decisive factor that decides which of these utopias takes form isn't any success in diplomacy or negotiation- it's Byleth, who picked a primary color five years ago and must be rewarded with continental peace. The game deals with politics like a dating sim, right down to the fact that all endings are canon and none of the endings is better or worse than any other.

If you're not spoiled on the plot of the game, your only criteria for picking any of the house leaders would be the same as what a player picking a waifu/husbando in a dating sim would operate on- pure aesthetic appeal. The only real choice you get is between Crimson Flowers and Silver Snow, and even that choice is something of a joke, because you know almost nothing about the history of Fódlan or the Church at that point in the game, and so your decision is based solely on whether your gut trusts Edie more than Rhea. Make no mistake, this is a design choice- if you learned everything in one route, there'd be no justification to play any of the others. FE3H's writers came up with three routes worth of content and needed players to play each of them to provide value for money, and I'd bet most players who finished a route and Googled the game wouldn't want to waste time playing another route that has a bad ending (case in point, how many people try to get every bad ending in a VN once they're done with the story?).

Hence, every route needs to offer the player validation and joy, because that's where FE3H's ambitions as a work of art are undercut by its necessity to be a product- namely, a videogame that offers players 'choices' and 'options' and makes each one worth your while instead of going, "Psych, you boob! You supported Dmitri and now all you've done is become the new Archbishop and maintain the status quo. Great job annexing Fódlan under Faerghus approximately five seconds after you heard Dmitri chew Edelgard out for doing the same thing. Now watch as Dmitri grows old and dies while his and your successors, by virtue of not being perfect, end up creating the same flawed, oppressive feudal system that Rhea did, because you chose to defend a system that operates on bloodlines and faith instead of the will of the people." This, incidentally, is one of the reasons people who've played the Blue Lions route first shit on Edelgard so much- Dmitri's route explicitly features an ideal king gradually reforming a decadent nobility with support from the church, making Edelgard's insistence on instantly abolishing the Church and the nobility seem monumentally brutal and stupid by comparison (putting aside the fact that Dmitri only managed this because Edie started the damn war, which is a whole 'nother can of worms).

The point of this whole, super-long post that took me like three hours to write is that while FE3H wasn't meant to be a justification or exploration of the Mandate of Heaven, it becomes one thanks to its refusal to commit to a single course. With no absolute standards of morality and no clear illustration of the 'right' or the 'wrong' outcome, the only criterion for justifying the legitimacy of a social change is might and the success of a new regime, which is always ensured as long as you can, y'know, finish the missions in the game. It's not a one-to-one equivalent to the Mandate of Heaven, because it was never meant to be, but I think the game's overall position on morality across all the routes ends up being- "If you complete the objectives, you get a happy ending." In a linear progression of time, you would assert your right to rule after your victory, but the inherent structure and medium of FE3H as a videogame inherently equates victory to righteousness anyway, because the achievement of an ideal society isn't an objective so much as a reward for winning the in-game war. There's no post-war recession, no coup d'états against new leaders, no invasions from opportunistic foreign powers- the campaign is done, so the game says, "Good job! You ended fascism! Now onto the next route, where you can end fascism in a different way. This time, try cooperating with the fascist and getting an S support with her." (Yes, I know Rhea isn't strictly a fascist in the historical sense, but I'm too tired to look up the correct term, so just swap it out with totalitarian or dictator or whatever).

I'll admit that it's a nebulous, complicated argument, but there's also something fascinating about analyzing FE3H as a game about politics, and how its identity as a product, a social simulator and an engine of choice ends up simultaneously reinforcing and undermining its attempts to explore a revolution in a feudal society. It does things that Game of Thrones couldn't dream of, but also fails to pack anywhere near the same narrative weight thanks to its lack of permanence and commitment, and drives us to debate not in terms of what-ifs or upon the details of a singular history, but upon multiple timelines united around a (shaky) thematic core.

To clarify, I'm not disputing your argument so much as taking the chance to refine and develop my own- much of this post was me navigating through my feelings and impressions, which is why it's so damned long. There's probably a better, more nuanced term than 'Mandate of Heaven' to describe FE3H's overall stance on political morality, but not one that I can currently think of, or perhaps not one that even exists- it's quite difficult to utilize a historical term to summarize a scenario that is both fictional and fundamentally different in its utilization of choice and time than a forward-flowing, unchangeable present.

last edited at Nov 23, 2020 2:14AM

joined Jul 15, 2016

It's a bit harder to pin down why the shallow-world tendency persists in other forms of media, but I guess the simplest explanation is that it's fun to visualize a big, giant world with ages of history, but extremely hard to flesh it out- who's going to take the trouble to come up with unique languages and politics and a functional, fictional economy? At some point, either author or audience interests burn out, so rather than creating unfinished masterpieces, it's safer and easier to give stories a strong emotional core (in this case, via a cast of archetypical characters) and pursue a three-act structure.

I've thought about your answer for some time and concluded that the main issue seems to be that good narratives simply sell better than good world-building. Furthermore, I am under the impression that in the Anglophone space, there is a sizeable market for quality world-building -- i.e. genre geeks who will buy your books/games for their setting and lore, rather than for the stories they tell or characters they portray. It probably isn't the biggest market, but it's large enough for world-building to recoup the investment. Can it be that the Japanese space lacks such a critical mass of readers? It would be strange to me, since Japan has a massive geek/otaku culture... but then again, Japanese otakus stereotypically seem to be focused on technology and/or waifus, rather than sociology and economics, so maybe not that surprising?

I vibe with a lot of the stuff you're talking about, generally but I disagree with this account of the Mandate of Heaven. Certainly, the ability to easily explain dynastic change is one of its practical advantages, but it has always had a moral/spiritual dimension even back to its origin in the shamanic traditions of early China. It's also a concept that has thousands of years of history and practical use, and has had shifting emphases and roles as Chinese thought developed.

I agree that this is how MoH functions in theory, but I have also read the argument that in practice, the Mandate of Heaven was a tool used by the Confucian scholarly elite to legitimize their own continued privileged position by selectively highlighting the current monarchical elite's "moral" accomplishments and downplaying the previous regimes -- thus securing the lenience of the former despite changing regimes. Since the same scholars were the ones compiling the official histories (and hence, ultimately telling everyone who held the Mandate and, more importantly, on which grounds), but, unlike the Catholic church, had been fully integrated into the state since the Han dynasty, one could be forgiven for casting some doubts on the reality of this particular cultural narrative.

last edited at Nov 23, 2020 5:39AM

Tragedian%202
joined Oct 1, 2020

I've thought about your answer for some time and concluded that the main issue seems to be that good narratives simply sell better than good world-building. Furthermore, I am under the impression that in the Anglophone space, there is a sizeable market for quality world-building -- i.e. genre geeks who will buy your books/games for their setting and lore, rather than for the stories they tell or characters they portray. It probably isn't the biggest market, but it's large enough for world-building to recoup the investment. Can it be that the Japanese space lacks such a critical mass of readers? It would be strange to me, since Japan has a massive geek/otaku culture... but then again, Japanese otakus stereotypically seem to be focused on technology and/or waifus, rather than sociology and economics, so maybe not that surprising?

For one, Japan is just smaller in general, so for a constant value of money, the average revenue that you'd get from a smaller audience might not justify putting the same amount of effort into worldbuilding. Secondly, Japan has historically followed it's own compass and is notoriously unreceptive to some of the West's biggest successes- the MCU, for instance, never garnered anywhere near as much of an obsessive following in Japan as it did... well, pretty much everywhere else (though the rising popularity of OPM and MHA in the same period could indicate that this was less because of a general disinterest in superhero narratives and more because of a preference for locally-grounded varaints that could be read regularly as manga rather than demanding trips to the theater, where they'd have to watch a film in a foreign language or make do with dubs).

With that being said, Japan is also home to many, many franchises with ridiculous amounts of instalments and necessarily large worlds, complete with alternative continuities. But as you mentioned, they tend to engage less with them on the basis of criteria like society, economics, culture and so forth, and more on the basis of waifus/husbandos/action and so forth. Simply put, every Spice and Wolf must have a Holo. You can also see an example of this in practice if you scroll through the 'new' page on Mangadex- there's tons and tons of isekai and fantasy series that focus on economics or cooking or political schemes and so forth (Heterogenous Linguistics is one of my favourites), but the draw here is not the esoteric topic or the world itself, but the novelty of the idea, which must necessarily be couched in the relative familiarity of a medieval-Europe analoguous society filled with attractive moe archetypes.

Worldbuilding in this regard tends two ways- if a Japanese author wishes to focus on the esoteric and obscure aspects of a world, then there must be a proportional amount of familiarity and popular, 'safe' factors, whereas if they're willing to write a standard, fast-paced, Shonen Jump- esque action story, then they've got a lot more freedom to define the world and the power systems. Getting an editor to allow you to pursue stories about, say, the change in currency value in a surrealist, allegorical version of Assyria populated entirely by snake-human hybrids would be pretty tough. The two main genres of fantasy in Japan these days tend to be either action-packed, self-insert isekai stories with bog-standard story elements and wish-fulfilment characters, or 'villainess' isekai stories that copy otome games, which give us... bog-standard story elements and wish-fulfillment characters.

Your average Japanese reader seems to seek comfort in familiarity and the appeal of individual characters and plot elements rather than the richness of a world, and is manifestly willing to invest in a large collection of products that scratch this itch with minimal attempts to individualize themselves from each other. Remember my point about the MCU? Ironically enough, it's the same basic appeal- capitalized entertainment industries create super 'safe' products with copy-pasted elements under a veneer of originality (standard isekai, but this time, the hero's a fencer/gunslinger/dog), and audiences, moved in equal part by the satisfaction of old media and the interest in new stories, endlessly consume these generic narratives, which offer considerably more 'bang' for your buck in terms of harem shennanigans and wish-fulfillment than tomes upon tomes of dusty worldbuilding.

This applies to pretty much every major modern Japanese franchise that I know of- the Nasuverse, for instance, was always reasonably popular, but only became 'Japan's MCU' after the release of FGO, a game that throws out most of the narrative depth and intricate worldbuilding of the original VN to instead produce an endless amount of historical-themed waifus for an audience of majorly-straight male otaku. It's rather hilarious to go through the concepts introduced in each spinoff on the Fate wikia and see the originally coherent lore doing frantic backflips in order to justify the existence of 'swimsuit servants' and female king Arthur in a bunny costume (though even the original Fate VN, whose popularity stemmed in large part from Saber, famously flipped her gender despite Nasu wanting a male Arthur, because the game's lead artist realized that a million-word VN filled with dense lore required some kind of enduring waifu appeal to convince people to sit through Nasu's purple prose. This, combined with the fact that VNs, despite being one of the most worldbuilding-heavy mediums in Japan, also feature by far the greatest amount of pandering, waifubait and H-scenes to motivate players, drives in the fact that deep storytelling in Japanese media must always be packed with shallower appeal).

The broader tendency to focus on surface aspects of a work over the deeper themes and realities in Japan may be traced all the way back to Gundam, a series that is famously anti-war and features the eponymous Gundams as engines of death and destruction, but has also made a billion-dollar fortune from the sale of Gundam merchandise powered solely by the coolness and appeal of these very robots, without whom the series would not have gained any popularity. The same goes for Evangelion, though with the added aspect of Eva's famous 'waifu wars', where ardent fans purchased body pillows and swimsuit art of traumatized fourteen year old girls and argued which ones they'd want to marry, while completely missing the fact that the show was a critique of otaku culture as a whole. (Anno used his fortune to remake his magnum opus, but seeing as the new version is even more fanservicey and the man himself has admitted to not having a clear idea of what he was doing while creating the original series, I'm not sure if he'll end up putting all those nasty otaku in their place). Heck, even Touhou, a series that's not affiliated with any corporations and is not even a franchise so much as a long-running indie game project, gets much of it's buzz and popularity from cute fanart and moe misrepresentions of ZUN's characters, who are in reality largely selfish, rude, immortal assholes attired in frilly dresses.

The explanation for why this occurs is possibly that media in Japan reached its carbon copy franchise fanservice phase long before the US did, arriving upon it somewhere around the 70s rather than the 2000s. Even in the West, based on what I've seen, the prominence of major fantasy novels and long-running sci-fi TV shows has majorly declined, and the rise of 'cinematic universes' and bingeable, entertaining webseries has promoted media trends that favor instant gratification, actor appeal and emotional drama over concerted intellectual effort and the memorization of complex details. The last major show of the 'dense fantasy' kind to find success was Game of Thrones, and that was also because it included liberal amounts of brutality, numerous sex scenes and shocking plot-twists rather than any deep, solid worldbuilding (indeed, GRRM has gotten flack for focusing on grisly murders and court intrigue, even as the economy of his world is woefully underdeveloped and the vast majority of the people on his continent speak the same language, making GoT an instance of 'wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle' worldbuildng, especially as fans now realize just how many details in the plot had no relevance to the long-term story, but were mere padding).

To find mainstream success and long-term viability today, a hypothetical detail-heavy story with dense worldbuilding would have to make economics, linguistics and anthropology every bit as fun to engage with as tsundere catgirls and screaming shonen heroes firing energy beams, and that, as I'm sure you'll agree, is not an easy mountain to scale. I just hope that the stories that appeal to niches and make humbler revenues don't die out as well.

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