On interpreting anime and Japanese video games in general

There are two things to keep in mind:

  1. The Japanese have an intensely visual culture in the same way that Anglophone culture is intensely verbal.
  2. Japanese writers are on a mission to reverse engineer, retrofit, and communicate Western philosophy to their audience in order to recreate the West’s successes.

English is an extremely idiomatic language, and the greater portion of our accumulated wisdom is encapsulated in these idioms. Before we had a concept for “the time value of money”, we had the saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Our memes, historically, were verbal. You can track the referential progression of our various sayings and slang like etymology. Japanese memes, in contrast, are primarily visual. They have the same quality where the artists reference each other (similar to the reference-laden memes of today’s image boards on the internet), but it’s less a matter of citations and more like how a portrait painter will start out painting everyone to look like himself. So rather than converging on simple verbal encapsulations of hard-earned wisdom (as in English), Japanese accomplishments tend to be nuanced visual encapsulations of archetypes taken from the collective unconscious.

(Betelgeuse notes: In MBTI/Socionics we’d say Japanese culture is iN->eS versus the Anglophone culture of eN->iS.)

In contrast to their complex visual culture, Japanese writers tend to be philosophically unsophisticated and content to borrow from the Western canon. This contentedness is probably due to a genuine humility that comes from the security of a relatively strong ethnocentrist cultural mandate. Since they want people to be able to play “guess the philosopher” successfully, they leave giant clues around that make it pretty clear which book they’re plagiarizing. For example, in Final Fantasy 3/6, they named the Kafka-esque nihilist character “Kefka”. It’s not much of a jump to interpret that one. They wanted the audience to get it.

So when interpreting anime and video games, it’s important to remember that the literary references are going to be pretty hamhanded most of the time, and usually on purpose, but the visuals will often be insightful and quite ingenious. An example of the latter is Kafka’s Light of Judgment, which was created decades before we had notions of SJW attack mobs. I’d go out on a limb and say that the visual aspect of Japanese culture has a prophetic element. The visuals they create are often very good metaphors for systemic changes and pressures that haven’t quite happened yet.

I’m thinking about this right now because Final Fantasy 10 has been on my mind lately, and this duality is on full display in the Leviathan character. On the one hand, they made it a literal Leviathan named Sin so that we’d know the correct interpretive lens is that Hobbes book. But the visuals are genuinely impressive, connecting the notion of the State as a moral institution to the notion of the collective unconscious as a genocide-inducing, behelit-bestowing, Kali Yuga-parasitizing, parasympathetic pressure valve for the systemic negative externalities produced by individual people on average being afraid to look directly at our own shitty behavior. It’s related to a concept I’m trying to formulate right now called “motivated incompetence” (analogous to Haidt’s “motivated reasoning”) to answer the common question about one’s enemies: “At what level are they aware of what they’re doing to me?” For example:

Often it is the additional stress of an illness or period of intense emotional stress that triggers the CFIDS state. This model explains the extraordinary attitudes to CFIDS in certain sectors of the medical community. In the UK there are many who flatly refuse to accept the data, agressively denying that there is any such disease. Sufferers should be managed by obtaining court orders, kidnapping them from their homes in dawn raids, and confining them on locked wards. There the children are “jollied along” (sic) with constant abuse, and forced to perform vigourous exercise. When their condition worstens they are issued with granny frames and continue to be marched up and down. Eventually they end up in bed, being fed by drip since they are too weak to eat, and subject to continued abuse about how much they have “cost” the taxpayer. This kind of behaviour by trained professionals is beyond understanding – perhaps beyond credibility. Yet within the closed and highly ritualised groups of certain healthcare and local government workers, the behaviour has reached the stage where the BBC TV flagship programme “Panorama” recently devoted a whole edition to it. Several after-the-fact court cases against local authorities are currently pending. However, as an unconsciously motivated group aversion behaviour directed at the group of natural immunes as a whole – unconsidered and emotional “lesson teaching” – it is more understandable.


This sort of thing is very difficult to understand except by examining the strange connection between Leviathan-level systemic pressure-to-evil (compare: will-to-power) and motivated incompetence on the individual level. People who experience such things can be forgiven a bit of dissociation because it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should happen in the same real-life world where the sun is shining, birds are singing, the world is turning, and people around you are complaining about fifty-cent changes in gas prices as if that were important.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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5 Responses to On interpreting anime and Japanese video games in general

  1. LOADED says:

    I have done much thinking and evaluating of my past and I have come to the conclusion that I am a very hardcore r-strategist. My parents were r-strategists as immigrants, their families were very hardcore r-strategists coming from India and Pakistan with high degrees of success relative to the people around them (my maternal grandmother was very educated despite being from a family that was almost entirely illiterate).

  2. dexter1728 says:

    I’ve noted this too. When watching Detective Conan, I was surprised how much the case’s solution depended on spatial/spatiotemporal reasoning. Anglo detective series heavily psychological and verbal-type reasoning.

  3. what says:

    Guess what this is meant to symbolize. Horribly executed anime, nearly ruins the themes it tries to explore.

    Good post.

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