- ART BLENDING
Let me teach you the secret of how to jump from critic to artist. Never go into anything with the mindset of ‘is this good or bad’ but always go into the mindset of thinking ‘how can I use this’. As a work of art I can assure you that Mayoiga absolutely does not cut the grade, but as a tool for learning the trade – it’s amazing.
Mayoiga has a very special kind of atmosphere that only seems to appear in Japanese works, at least from what I’ve seen so far, and – in rare cases – some Western works. This is the sacred boundary I call the “zero-distinction between tragedy and comedy”. If you can wield this weapon like a master you will conquer the seven lands and seven seas. Mayoiga tried to wield this mystical device, but failed miserably at being cohesive. Yet, it’s precisely this failure that helps to pave the road to success.
Into Neuroaesthetics, there’s this concept known as the ‘blend’. Neuroaesthetics claims that the power of art comes from its ability to create emergent and new emotions from a human’s ability to model multiple things together. For example, Picasso will frequently draw a face that can also be seen as two faces kissing each other, and he’ll use a different color from each side. Now we perceive this face in two ways, and then we blend it in our heads as one. That’s the secret of Picasso’s genius. Because he understood the human body so well from his early realist forays, he could very easily create a blend by twisting the human body into shapes so that the form barely escapes our modeling sense. We hold a model of the face in our head, but also a model of the kiss – which is linked together in Picasso’s art. This then opens a new vista of meaning – Picasso could be commenting on the two-facedness of people’s character, or the unity of separate emotions in a single person. Yet, this is just an intellectual interpretation – the most important thing is Picasso lets us feel this intuitively through the blend.
The blend also occurs for feelings. One of the examples they list is Nostalgia – an emotion that stems from happiness, yet blends into sadness. It comes from the rumination of a happy memory that becomes painful in our current circumstances. You can foresee that if our mental ability gets larger, we may be able to achieve higher blends – and as a result we’ll see stranger and stranger and more sublime kinds of emotions. That’s one of the things I predict will happen if we get Ghost in the Shell style external memory drives.
Anyway the point is that a great work of Art will be able to blend freely whenever it wants, and yet maintain an atmosphere of cohesiveness. Woody Allen can achieve the perfect balance of drama and comedy in some of his films, which makes him the sacred bearer of the weapon. Mayoiga tried to do this, but failed, and thus the blend is inconsistent – which dives over into more comedy than the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. Yet there are some moments within Mayoiga where you feel that the blend just barely touches cohesiveness, and it is these moments that should be analyzed in the Anime.
The only writer I’ve really seen so far who can do that free-blending and still be cohesive is probably Romeo Tanaka. This happens in one of the most amazingly poignant moment with Nanaka in Cross Channel, when Taichi is joking around with her. Suddenly the joking transforms into a grave outburst of feelings, and then something amazing happens – which creates a blend so powerful it goes into this weird mixture of nostalgia, and sentimentality, and relief, and yet, also happiness, and also sadness etc… I won’t spoil the moment for you. It’s especially interesting that Tanaka actually repeats this moment in a later scene, but then completely undermines it by turning it into a full on joke. That shows how perfectly conscious he is of the mood he’s pulling off with that scene, that he can even make an ironic joke about it later.
Without further ado, let’s look at the blends of Mayoiga.
- NO CONSEQUENCE
The most interesting thing is that Mayoiga is a horror series that has zero consequence. That is, nobody dies, and by the end the villains and heroes are all just a part of the same bunch. In a sense – by the end you’ve felt like you’ve just watched a slice of life Anime about a bunch of losers shacking up at some village resort. This is actually a great blend if you can use it well, because it’s completely subversive of the idea of villainy.
Interestingly, Mari Okada has used this before in Zetsuen no Tempest – when the heroes and villains get together at the end of the first arc in order to solve a greater problem. I’ve also seen this done with Peridot in Steven Universe. But to have a series where the Big Bad Final Villains and Heroes eventually get along without consequence is something that I’ve yet to see cohesively.
In fact it’s such an interesting concept if done well because it could potentially outline how all schisms in opinion are merely a twist of perspective. I came up with an idea like this once. I wondered what would happen if a person wrote a Dystopian novel where the protagonist started out as one of the oppressed and joined an anarchist group in order to defeat the government – but then lost. Rather than brainwash him 1984 style though, they decided he was smart enough to join their ranks, and so they sent him to an elite school for Inner Party members. At this point the genre will abruptly change into a Slice of Life comedy, with heavy political debates interweaved as the protagonist argues with other students about whether the dystopian government is benevolent and necessary, or not. Eventually he’ll decide that it is, and he’ll enter into the inner ranks. This, I thought, would be able to outline that fact that there’s no easy answer to things, much less the blatant moralizing of a work like Orwell’s book.
The best part of Mayoiga’s last episode comes when the main villain, Koharu, basically decides to change solely because of a whimsical argument with her father. Also the fact that the two most psychotic characters have suddenly been shell-shocked into sanity, probably by the appearance of the giant bad CGI monster. I love the fact that Mayoiga never takes their psychosis seriously – which is a breath of fresh air from works that create this air of heavy swirling pity and sympathy for characters with those issues. This black comedy aspect is a way to escape the drowning self-seriousness of one of those depressive books like The Bell Jar.
Mayoiga also ends in admittance of the fact that not everyone will change. Some losers will stay losers, and it’s up to them to live up to that. Which is really what happens to quite a number of people anyway – to get banalized to life. The fact that Mayoiga sets up all these caricatures with social issues, and then basically takes none of these issues seriously (or, rather, takes them too seriously to the point of unreality) is one of its strongest points. That’s why I view Mayoiga as secretly a Buddhist work – secretly imparting the lesson that ‘everything is a transient dream’.
I want to see more works that explore this aspect of demolishing self-seriousness, yet without falling plainly into sharp satire of something like A Clockwork Orange. I think understanding why Mayoiga fails here is important. You don’t want it to turn into a full comedy, but there is probably this sweet balance somewhere where you can use the style that Mayoiga tried to pull but still create this sense of calm. I wonder what would happen if Mayoiga was created with an atmosphere like Aria or Bartender? It would probably be a closer to fit what was intended. If there was a greater sparseness and less howling – and less weight given to flashbacks. You could create this mood like a bunch of losers exploring their past lives and failures, with the horror and mystery as background noise. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
I suddenly realized that Chekhov does this all the time. In fact he’s probably the closest analogue to getting that style perfectly right. Maybe Dostoyevsky too, especially in how The Brothers Karamazov ends – with a funeral that is somehow happy.
In my joke review of Mayoiga on MAL, I noted how the flashbacks in episode 4 or 5 were actually well crafted – if you look at it from the point of view that these are psychotic losers trying to tell the past failures to others. They’ll try to take the most sympathetic and gut-wrenching parts of their life and put it up on show. That’s why when you juxtapose cat-soldier’s flashback with JSDF soldier’s flashback (I don’t remember their names), you realize exactly how overblown cat-soldier’s one is, precisely because JSDF dude’s is equally overblown but his is plainly exaggerated.
I wrote that as a joke, but the more I think about it, I think that actually fits very well with the ending. It brings to the forefront exactly how abusive and manipulative the trope is. It’s also interesting how most of these flashbacks don’t actually contribute anything to the character’s eventual change. It’s like they’ve just forgotten them by the end – except for the main protagonists of course, since that was the most important flashback. After going through Lovepon’s long tortuous history – she simply returns back to some kind of stability.
If you think about it – isn’t that how things really happen in life? I want there to be a work with a full long horrible flashback – but then the protagonist meets up with the people who caused him all the pain and torment, and he realizes that they don’t care, and neither does he. Thanks to that episode of Mayoiga, I actually discovered a way to use a flashback in a powerful manner.
Flashbacks always represent stuff like the ‘chains of the past’ as seen in something like KimiUso, where the protagonist flashbacks about his abusive mom, and then later gets over it in an amazing musical moment. But that’s really really unrealistic. Proust would treat it as a moment of poetic reverie – or an unleashing of the internal life. One path would be to be like Proust and have flashbacks of the least important moments in life, but make these simple moments which provide poetic backing to larger things. Another path would be, like what I just said, make it huge and overbearing, but ultimately unimportant. In fact have the narrator narrate over the flashback, and make him quip about his own stupidity and mental smallness at the time.
A writer that does this is probably Tim Rogers. He’ll draw up various moments that don’t exactly have a clear connection, and then jump from one memory to another memory and refer back to the first memory. At least, from the essays I’ve read of his so far. He’ll lead it all up to a poetic moment that seems to integrate these memories into something grander. He usually starts with simple building blocks, then weave in stuff like romantic failure or eventful moments, before disappearing back into the haze of a reverie.
- UNLIKEABLE CHARACTERS
One of the notable things is unlikeable characters. The sad fact is that in the early episodes it seemed as if Mayoiga was really going to make a complete fool out of its protagonist, but then decided that they had to resolve his dramatic arc. So, for no reason, he suddenly grows enough balls to face the situation – like when Masaki is about to get lynched and all that.
Some people said that it would be better if, like Dogville, all the unlikeable people died. I think the ‘losers will be losers, and lets all disappear into the magical hippo bus’ ending is amazingly graceful. It subverts both tropes. The unlikeable people don’t change, and neither do they die. Woody Allen ends quite a number of films this way, such as the amazing Crimes and Misdemeanors – which actually fully acknowledges the fact that a hyper-realistic killer would not feel any guilt about his crime. Eventually, he’d get over it. In Hannah and Her Sisters, the adulterer doesn’t really change either. Neither does Isaac really change in Manhattan.
The difference between Mayoiga and Woody Allen is that Woody Allen places the counterpoint within the films themselves. He’ll show these characters in a part of a self-destructive pattern, and then make fun of it or jab at it through various means. That way, even when the movie ends, you know that these characters are never going to escape from their purgatory, or they’ll merely become normalized. If you’re open to the themes of the movie, you’ll realize something about human self-deception, and you’ll become a better person.
Mayoiga does this a bit, with the flashbacks and all that as I said above, but it doesn’t do it with all characters. It still has a fair share of irritatingly sincere and just plain sentimental moments. If all of their problems were resolved as whimperingly as Koharu’s, then that’d be a sight to see. Arguably many of them do, but it’s not enough – because we still had to sit through that stupid Freudian excuse thing with Speedstar.
I also like how the credits roll abruptly when the detective says “Alright Let’s Go Home” in this amazingly non-chalant way. It reminds me of some of the episode ending cuts that Evangelion pulled off to deepen the meaning of the utterances. That’s why I believe that Mayoiga has one of the most perfect endings of any Anime, even though it has a very bad middle section.
- THE FIRST EPISODE
After speaking of last episodes, let’s talk about the first episode. I am inclined to believe that the first episode of Mayoiga is one of the most perfectly paced episodes in all of Anime. There is simply a ridiculous thing happening at every moment without pause. Furthermore, they lay all their cards on the table, turning into a musical, black comedy (laughing at people’s suicide notes), the crazy all character introduction, the random surreal horror interlude that happens halfway etc…
I will be the first person to state that Mayoiga Episode 1 is better paced than Cowboy Bebop’s famous Episode 5. In the middle of that episode there’s a bit of excess when Spike talks to some random lady. Whereas in Mayoiga Episode 1 there is absolutely no excess at all. The director achieves a non-stop beat of insanity that sets the tone for the rest of the show.
Regarding pacing. Have you noticed how machine-gun like some of the conversations of Mayoiga are in the earlier episodes, before they start throwing out all the long and painfully drawn out melodrama? Early Mayoiga is merely one step behind Bakemonogatari and The Tatami Galaxy in terms of conversation density. There’s just so much stuff coming at you from every single character. It’s intense, and it’s insane to see Mari Okada dialogue fly at you at hyperspeed.
I don’t understand why more Anime abuse the possibility of dialogue speed though. In movies you still have to track the lips, but in a medium like Anime you have a greater suspension of disbelief. You can do a lot of things faster in Anime than in movies, and that’s also why a director like Wes Anderson does such a cartoony style, which also fits with the sharp-paced ironic dialogue of his movies.
- AND THEN?
Now that we’ve taken all that into consideration – you can clearly see that Mayoiga is a work that opens up so many possible avenues into future art – only if you’re able to be on the level to see the different connections and pathways that open up from it. To deem Mayoiga as a failure is correct, but it is also absurd – because it is a useless value judgment that prevents you from seeing the possible uses.
When you really grasp what the director-writer team was aiming to do with this series (something like a cringe-comedy slice of life with a horror veneer, yet also trying to make it a dramatic and emotional work) you must simply applaud them. They tried to reach the sacred boundary and harness the sacred weaponry of the artist gods. They tried to achieve the blend that comes from juxtaposing so many incongruent elements together – something that only the most delicate of artists can pull off with amazing gusto. They’ve also created some of the fairest treatments of certain characters that has rarely been done before in the medium – neither choosing to do the cheap way and kill them all, nor trying to do the unrealistic way (well, most of them) and getting them to change. Beyond the core protagonists, it’s surprising how little of the characters actually change, which is a step up from all the Shounen-blooded works out there.
Thus I hope that artists learn from Mayoiga. There’s quite a lot to learn from it, if only they bothered to open their heads.