Cruel anime

December 10, 2008

So what is "cruel anime" and what does Honey and Clover has to do with it?

So what exactly is a "cruel anime" and what does Honey and Clover has to do with it?

Some time ago, Wabi Sabi wrote a fascinating article on the seductively cruel aesthetics of Zankoku Bi (beauty of cruelty). The element of cruelty I want to talk about today is more concerned with Artaud‘s Theatre of Cruelty. There are plenty of food for thoughts here that I fully intend to explore in future posts, but for now the definition we shall be looking at is this:

“Artaud spoke of cruelty not in the sense of being violent, but the cruelty it takes for actors to completely strip away their masks and show an audience a truth that they do not want to see.”

concept sketch by Lebbeus Woods

left: ruined apartments of Sarajevo, right: concept sketch by Lebbeus Woods

This concept is perhaps better understood by first looking at Lebbeus Woods‘ re-development sketches for apartments ruined by war. Whenever the restoration of war-devastated urban fabric occurrs in the form of replacing what has been lost, the tragic feelings (or affects) are softened, trivialised and internalised into new and clean modernist box-like apartment as if the problems were solved. To Woods, “healing is not an illusory, cosmetic process, but something that-by articulating differences-both divides and joins together”. His sketches are thus of scabs and abrasions in a gesture of stiching the scars inflicted by war, thrusting these social and political conflicts outwards to confront the people to feel pain and other piercing emotions that rings more true inside our heart than internalised feelings. To accept the scars is to accept existence.

Her voice that undoubtedly wanted to ask, "Will it get better?" broke off, as if it was crushed

Her voice that undoubtedly wanted to ask, "Will it get better?" broke off, as if it was crushed

This cruel act of externalisation works similarly in Honey and Clover (second season in particular), as real life conflicts aren’t trivialised and neatly resolved like hollywood flicks in a happily-ever-after fashion. Characters run in vain, find their insigfnicant existence shrouded by those more talented and cry hopelessly at the prospect of losing one thing they cling to in life. There is no power of efforts, no power of love to save the day. It’s cruel and painful but you are affected by something more primal, raw and true, almost as if your heart is being torn off. I don’t think I’m doing good job at describing but if you have watched Honey and Clover II or other anime of similar cruelty, I hope you can identify the kind of emotions provoked by cruel anime.

I’ve been wondering all this time whether there’s any meaning to a failed love. Is something that will disappear the same as something that never existed? Now I know. There is meaning. There was meaning, right here.

I’ve been wondering all this time whether there’s any meaning to a failed love. Is something that will disappear the same as something that never existed? Now I know. There is meaning. There was meaning, right here.

So for the very few of you reading this article for some reasons ^^, what other “cruel” anime shows can you think of?

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23 Responses to “Cruel anime”

  1. gaguri Says:

    Testing, testing, first comment.

  2. Admin Says:

    You did well to find such a sterling example of Artaud’s wisdom, especially in a medium known more for its feel-good escapism and gratifying fan-service, than its sobering look into the nature of human suffering.

    Personally though, when reading your article, the first anime to surface in my mind was [i]Grave of the Fireflies[/i]. Its harsh depiction of the realities of war is a stark contrast to the glamorized perspective we normally get from Hollywood. There isn’t much heroism or acts of grandeur here…just a cold, cruel inspection of the daily trials endured by war’s true victims. The portrayal of their struggle to hold onto normalcy in the grip of chaos is raw and unapologetic, and the uncomfortable feeling remains with us from start to finish. But like Artaud may have implied, there’s certain beauty in wearing those scars when it’s apparent the human spirit beneath continues to strive on and flourish through the wounds.


  3. Whoops, sorry about the username fail from my previous comment.


  4. …damnit, and the italics fail too. T_T

  5. gaguri Says:

    Ha, this comment box is a mess! That’s ok, it’s better than empty ^^. GotF is a wonderful example of cruel anime and you make a good point about the “beauty in wearing those scars”. I used to think that bad things happening to characters made us sad, in order to heighten the beauty of good things happening to them later/before (which is also true I guess). But in this context, I think there is something more powerful at work than what one would call “beauty” in such an act of cruelty.

    P.S. to write in italics for wordpress, try using the word “em” between “<“s, and “strong” for bold ^^

  6. Kim Says:

    Congrats on your blog 🙂

    As for cruel anime besides GOTF which is a good example I guess another one that pops into my mind is Now and Then Here and There. There are very few moments in that series where the protagonist actually succeeds and while there is some “success” at the end it doesn’t come without a lot of cruel costs. But I guess you can say that even in the world of NTHT and there was hope, mainly in the character of Shuu and what he represents.

  7. gaguri Says:

    Thanks ^_^

    Now and Then Here and There certainly externalises tons of things that we do not want to see. I didn’t mention NTHT (and few other excellent examples that came to my mind) because I wanted to talk about it in relation to another idea, but maybe it would’ve been better to list several examples in a form of short description and screenshot. O well…

  8. Shadowmage Says:

    Once upon a time, I was thirteen; DBZ and Gundam Wing were still in my top 10 anime list, and my l33t speak made my English teacher cringe. During the time, I binged on several Gundam anime which were about 14-16 year old kids changing the tides of war. Somewhere down the line, I started watching Gundam 0080 expecting more of the same, but this one pretty much shattered my expectations of the franchise and the entire medium.

    Gundam 0080 is the only incarnation of the franchise that stars a young boy who watches his hometown get destroyed and throughout the 6 episodes, never fights. The show is less about angst and more about simple, dumbfounded confusion. How does a child who lives in a society that glorifies war react when he is dragged into the conflict? There is a truly tragic irony between Al’s perspective of war (a game) and the realities of it.

  9. gaguri Says:

    I haven’t watched Gundam 0080 but it sure fits the bill by the sounds of it. You also mentioned something really interesting about what you expected from Gundam 0080. I think you might like my third (…or maybe fourth) article and find it relevant ㅋㅋ

    edit: god, typeface used for Korean letters in this comment box is horrendous -__-

  10. ghostlightning Says:

    Ack, beaten to the punch re 0080. Cruel anime is cruel.

    I’ll also propose that Cowboy Bebop is cruel, particularly to two of its characters: Faye Valentine and Jet Black. I’ve written about Faye already, but I’d like to expound on Jet here.

    It’s not so much that his past betrays him, but rather the utter lack of possibility there is in his continued life. He was, after all, the only serious ‘cowboy’ in the show. Everyone else was merely there as temps, barely making enough to feed themselves.

    The Bebop crew do not have a lot to show for their bounty hunting careers, and as the rest of the characters move on (well, Ed does), Jet is left captain of a hollow ship. He doesn’t even get to say much in the end.

    You’re led on that this is a story of bounty hunters. This is a story about nothing. The kind of nothing that passes for life in the colonized solar sytem after the earth is broken.

  11. gaguri Says:

    Hey ghostlightning, did you happen to stumble across here via Bateszi’s blog? 😀

    I see your point on Jet but I’m not sure if I feel the same way (and I personally wouldn’t go as far as to call Cowboy Bebop a cruel anime). But then again, maybe there is no such thing as cruel anime; only varying degrees of cruel elements that we each have different affinities to. Cowboy Bebop certainly projects complex issues externally on occasions instead of containing them.

  12. TheBigN Says:

    Black Lagoon comes to mind for me, though in that case, the cruelty that we see under your definition is commonplace, and not something that you can hide away from, or actually begin to heal from in most cases. That just because of how the world works there.

  13. gaguri Says:

    My memories of Black Lagoon is bit hazy but yes, it had such moments, although I don’t think I liked its execution.


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  21. Wheed Says:

    I just recently finished Honey and Clover II and i must agree that this show is the best representation of cruelty that we humans face in this world. I throughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on this anime…. I now understand what Honey and Clover meant by enjoying a bitter sweet memory. If I could recommend an anime that represents cruelty, it would be 5 Centimeters Per Second.

  22. gaguri Says:

    Well thank you very much for dropping such kind words! Always make me so happy to see that my older posts are doing more than collecting digital dusts =D

    And you’re right, 5cm/sec also belongs in this category.


  23. […] complex feelings of unknowing which envelops the cast . In Ha Neul Seom’s  first article, one of my greatest inspirations, Gaguri, wrote that Honey and Clover is a cruel anime: the […]


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