Monday, August 31, 2009

Episode 74: Anime and Politics

I don’t know if many people who know me know about this, but I am a huge anime fan. One anime in particular, Rurouni Kenshin is my top five favorite anime shows. I just finished watching the entire series for a second time through. The first run is usually just plain exciting, but in the second time, since I know when all the action is coming, I look for the deeper meaning. In doing so, I found so many parallels between the struggles in that show and the current political landscape, it was staggering!

The story of Kenshin is fictitious, but based on real Japanese history. Kenshin was a samurai considered to be a legendary manslayer, which is basically an assassin. He was an imperialist trying to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate in what became a very bloody revolution. The Tokugawa Period may be described as similar to the Western middle ages – it was a monarchy ruled by a shogun, there was a class system (samurais would be like European Nobility), legalized prostitution, etc. After 10 years of bloody war and lots of lost lives (especially at the hands of Kenshin). The Shogunate was overthrown, and the Meiji government took its place (which is around the time of the American Civil War). The Meiji government is the beginning of the transformation (maybe integration) from Japanese to a more Western styled culture which employs a democratic system. This is where the anime starts; Kenshin, after succeeding in his mission to help bring about the Meiji government becomes a wanderer, swearing to never kill another human being again, and atones for his sins by using his sword to protect others. In doing so, he winds up on a grand adventure.

Throughout the series, Kenshin faces a series of enemies who are “shadows of the revolution” (let’s call this group the republicans). They hate the new Meiji government (let’s call them the democrats) because it is full of corrupt politicians who manipulate money, the times, and people for their own personal gain. Kenshin battles these foes throughout the series, but has the handicap of sticking to his vow to not kill. Of course he is victorious, but in each battle he is able to convince his opponent that the times have changed and they need to stop living in the past. All of his opponents to some extent buy that argument and make changes in their lives to adapt.

The interesting correlation between the anime and today’s political landscape is how resistant people are to change. I think it has to be human nature that our first instinct is to destroy things we don’t understand or don’t like, and our second instinct is maintain a status quo. In the anime, people went through incredible lengths to try and bring down the Meiji government, all of which included forming a massive amount of funds to start a new revolution and creating a new army of the people to violently overthrow the new system. The interesting thing is not one enemy in the show ever suggested anything to improve the system, they just wanted to destroy it outright. The irony, is many people from the Tokugawa era wound up becoming Meiji government officials, so the people the enemies hate are the same people of the old system. Also, ironic, is the number of bad apples in the system is far less than the number of people doing the right thing. The anime starts in the 10th year of the Meiji (the Tokugawa period lasted for 265 years) so before any change could really be made, the bad guys want the Meiji to crumble.

In today’s politics, We have a new president with new ideas, and he couldn’t even get into the get before people wanted to shut him down. We have bad guys like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney who use their influence to cut down the president with every shot they get. All the while, the opponents never seem to mention any of their faults: big business is just as corrupt as government, the wars we’re fighting are mistakes, water boarding is torture, and we’re too oil dependent, among others. So they would bring Obama down, only to put back in power the people who created the problems in the first place. There is, and has never been, any discussion of working together; in fact the republicans made a resolution on the very day Obama was inaugurated to say “NO” to the bailout without even hearing the ideas on the table from an official authority! (keep in mind Obama was technically powerless for two months). The republicans seem hell bent on ignoring (or worse, not believing) the problems many Americans face. Take healthcare for example. I’ve continually argued that maybe we’re not in position to provide 100% universal coverage. Maybe the government doesn’t have to participate in the program. I outlined a bill that has very minimal government involvement. But rather than provide ideas, the republicans are more concerned with tearing Obama down to build their image (which consequently and ironically makes them look worse). Take green cars. Hybrids and electric cars would significantly lower are carbon footprint, save money, and lessen our dependence on oil. There is even a hummer coming out that is alleged to get 100 miles per gallon! But the conservatives squabble over the $1,300 more for a car. First off, for buying a car, $1,300 really isn’t that much, and second as the technology is perfected the price comes down. But rather than argue about different ways we could achieve the same goal, maybe more investment in battery technology rather than hydrogen technology for example, they argue about price? How about that war you dragged us into for an introductory price of $8 billion?

The Japanese and American cultures are so different but the battle between liberal and conservative ideology is the same no matter where you go. It seems to be more than a coincidence that when liberals want to build, conservatives want to destroy. Then they put people back in power that necessitated liberal ideology in the first place. When conservatives are in power however, they never seem to make good use of their time. As it was depicted in the anime, so it is done in modern American politics.
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2 comments: on "Episode 74: Anime and Politics"

conservative generation said...

"We have a new president with new ideas, and he couldn’t even get into the get before people wanted to shut him down. "

...talking about elected officials and public figures?

For one, I'm not sure many of his new ideas are all that new in philosophy. Centralized government is quite old. Technically, he's departing from the new.

I actually do not disagree with everything he has or is doing. However, so far, I fundamentally disagree with his major policies. The stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. I haven't had time to laud anything I think has been a move in the right direction.

The Law said...

"For one, I'm not sure many of his new ideas are all that new in philosophy."

Maybe the ideas of shared public responsibility, civic duty, and keeping the earth clean are not new concepts - I'll give ya that. But no president in recent times has tried so hard (and already has scratched the surface) of changing how Americans think about ourselves and our place in the world (IMO, Bill Clintion negotiated his way around these issues, not fight them head on). When we look at our freefalling test scores, lack of production, and slowing innovation, while other countries around the world continue to pass America in all the important statistics, we ask ourselves how is this happening? The answer is simple - we haven't gotten our minds out of the 1980s culture. We do everything against the grain because "WE'RE AMERICANS! GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH." And those who feel that way try to restore the their world back to the old days which is incompatible with modern times.

And that's kind of the point of this piece. I find the parallels between the shift in ideology from the Tokugawa period to the Meiji era eerily similar to the current political landscape. And this happened 140 years ago in a different country with a completely differnt culture. I'm beginning to think this fight is no longer about poltics, but a battle of wills and human nature.

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