25 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: Gifts

Gifts, and gift giving, help us survive.

Maybe not as much now, but human societies and gift giving have always been important to each other: giving and receiving gifts helps with interdependence, the feeling of "If I take care of you, maybe you'll take care of me". Whether it's hosting a party or giving someone change, it also helps the giver with a rush of generosity and kindness.

But enough with the anthropological bit on gift-giving and interdependence. You want anime. So how does this tie in?

Let's use two examples from two of the most-talked-about series this year: Attack on Titan, and Kill la Kill. First up: Mikasa Ackerman's scarf.

We see Mikasa Ackerman's red scarf pretty much everywhere she is: she carries it into battle with her, and is rarely away from it. We do not know what it means: we only know that for some reason, she is very defensive and protective of Eren, the hotheaded boy who wants revenge on the strange Titans and who wants freedom - and will kick your arse.

To the point that even other characters are afraid of her coming after them; she's a great fighter, and this makes her excel as part of the Survey Corps, but she is of few words. She is a red-scarved specter.
And then we find out, in a flashback sequence, about the red scarf. Mikasa was deemed exotic, being as her mother was not a local; her family was attacked, with the idea that she and her mother would be sold into slavery. Her parents died; Eren knew of the family and had gotten himself involved, and with his help (and distraction) Mikasa survived. But at the end of it, Eren's father comes in to try and settle things; after all, what happened? Why are you holding a knife? Is the child Mikasa okay? It is freezing cold outside.
A younger Mikasa and Eren.
Eren gives a scarf to Mikasa, telling her things will be alright, that she's okay now. Someone is with her. Mikasa does not let it go. To her mind, the connection between them is fate and cemented in that red scarf: Eren helped her, so she will help Eren. There are no questions, just action about this; it is set in her mind. Mikasa survived; so must Eren. Somehow.

A less extreme example of gift-giving and the unspoken connections about them is in Kill la Kill; any scene in which Satsuki is drinking tea. Her butler used to serve the Kiryuin family, apparently, but became Satsuki's personal servant instead of serving the family in general; he occasionally says something, but most of his role seems to be serving tea and making sure Satsuki can sit down every once in a while and enjoy it.

Satsuki, in response, says about the tea: it was very bitter when she started drinking tea, but now, she enjoys it. Whether she's talking just about the tea, though, is a matter of interpretation (I think she clearly is NOT just talking about the tea) - you could easily say that after all that's happened to her as a child, she's grateful to have at least one person to make the time for her. Even if it's something as simple as making tea that she can allow herself to enjoy. In response, she has time to relax, compliments its making, and ruminates on the day. She might consider herself alone, but these small actions prove that she is not completely alone in her quest.

Satsuki in the midst of her apology.
Of course, the scene in which Satsuki tries to display the most gratitude ever, and the idea of interdependence and life in gift-giving, is reflected in the scene where she bows to Ryuko (and the Mankanshoku family nearby). She has no thing to give, no uniforms or armor or weapons. But what she can give is not a material thing - she can give acknowledgment, humility, and kindness. She can offer interdependence done properly, which turns into "Let's work together to defeat this mother of ours."

This holiday, we give gifts. Some of us don't have much to give, in terms of material things. But try and look for small things that might mean much to the giver, or to the giftee; in my case, being able to write this is such a gift. Do I have an impact on people? Maybe not, but as Charles just pointed out, Study of Anime would not be the same were I not here. And both of us would not be here doing these things were it not for readers, people listening to us at panels and getting inspired, and so on. This is the 200th post of Study of Anime, and without you it would not have been possible.

Think about your gifts, and what you might be able to give to others. Survive. Rely on others, even if it's just a few people. Give yourself the freedom and luxury to do so, if you need.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a great New Year's.

24 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: Christmas (Parasite) Eve

Watching the latest crop of video game commercials, one comes across a whole lot of “cinematics” being thrown around. Lush, lovely scenes in today’s games that serve to enhance the experience of playing with a television. And as each console generation passes, the line between game and interactive movie blurs even more. Seriously, look at games like Destiny or Wolfenstein- they’re shooters with cutscenes that play themselves off like films, building a world with characters that the player is part of. 

Some of these attempts succeed (Mass Effect, Skyrim...to an extent), and others fall short (Final Fantasy XIII), but the desire to make games more like movies has been part of a trend that stretches all the way back to the 90s. For my final post in Study of Anime’s 12 Days of Anime project, I wanted to focus on one of those old properties, which conveniently begins at Christmas, and proceeds almost to the New Year. 

Parasite Eve was released in 1998 by then-Squaresoft, part of its RPG “Renaissance” that spanned the entirety of the decade. Billed rather proudly on its back cover as “The Cinematic RPG,” Square attempted to move beyond the sword-and-sorcery epics it had made in the past, and focus on a game that blended RPG mechanics with a modern setting. Centered around NYPD Detective Aya Brea (also a “first” as the game had not just a female protagonist, but the sole playable character), who finds herself suddenly trapped on Christmas Eve at an opera debut at Carnegie Hall, when the audience quite literally burns up. What follows is an episodic tale strung together by Brea’s encounters with the mysterious opera singer Melissa Pearce, who is slowly mutating into something else-Mitochondrial Eve, the founder of a new race determined to wipe humanity off the face of the planet. 

At the time I had no idea that the game I was playing (and replaying) was based on a novel, or that it was intended to be a horror game on top of being a new type of JRPG. I was taken in by the cutscenes, the serial nature of the episodes, and the slow-burning buildup to a showdown with a monster on the last day of the year. Aya was an amazing character to play, her active battle system and use of “Parasite Powers” adding bits of strategy to an otherwise straightforward game. On top of that, I played the game right around Christmas, which tied in with the time frame of the story, and honestly made the holiday feel more like Halloween. Parasite Eve was something new, and I welcomed the experience. 

Despite sharing a name with famous novel be Hideaki Sena, Parasite Eve shares little else in terms of plot, characters, or setting. When I first picked up the novel, I was honestly expecting a literary version of the game I had played over and over between 1998 and 2000. But what I read was anything but. Instead of a science fiction horror story set in Manhattan as the world decays into a mass of sludge and mitochondrial terror, the book was for more subtle in its execution, using science and speculation to create an elaborate what-if scenario. What if a man driven mad by grief used science to upend the order of the world. What if his desire to create and sustain life resulted in the ending of it? Much like the seminal classic Frankenstein, Parasite Eve the NOVEL was more about fringe science and mental disarray. 

Parasite Eve the GAME was more cinematic, linear, and definitely focused on the “action” instead of the “consequences.” Its ties to the novel are established loosely, mostly through references to Aya’s mother being named Mariko, who was a teenage girl in the novel. Loss is still confronted, as Aya loses her mother and sister, and almost her sight, in a car accident as a young girl. Like the novel, a piece of her lost family is left behind- her sister Maya’s cornea, transplanted into the young Aya. This postmortem gift would prove to be advantageous to the girl, who gains a hint of the power that Maya’s other harvested organs bestows upon opera singer Melissa- just enough to harness in defense, without losing her sanity as Melissa does.

But the sense of frantic loss and the devouring need to impact the present is missing from Aya’s story. She confronted her loss as a young girl, and has grown up a bit distant, but still stable. Toshiyaki Nagishima, on the other hand, obsesses over his brain dead wife (influenced by Eve, but still playing out the role of the grieving husband). The sharp sense of recent loss causes him to fall prey to suggestion, which in turn perverts the genuine affection he had for his wife Kiyomi, and transforms it into something...else. Just like Eve is a transformation of mitochondrial cells into something...else. The beauty of both love and life are upended, stolen, and warped by the presence of a malicious force claiming to be the mother of the new world.

And now for some wild, completely ridiculous commentary. You have been forewarned. 

On December 24th, 1997, Eve arises in Manhattan, to replace mankind with something she describes as “superior.” “Ultimate.” Something that will sweep away the flawed parasite that is humanity and replace it with “purity” and power. Eve succeeds in bringing this new force to life, but mankind ultimately continues on its path of destruction, and kills the infant before it can implement change. Though some express regret and wonder about what could have been, and life goes on.

Definitely NOT Jesus...
Somewhere in the deep past, on December 24th, a young mother prepares to give birth to a child who will (hopefully) change humanity. We are broken and flawed, consumed by greed and sinful impulses. This child will force us to confront those flaws, and transform into something better, stronger, more powerful. Maybe more pure, but that has yet to be discovered. The child is born, lives a life of teaching, and is then killed by those same humans he was born to save. Though some express regret and wonder about what could have been, and life goes on. 

Now I’m definitely not going to say that Parasite Eve has anything to do with the birth of Jesus, aside from the fact its set during Christmas, and uses the birth of an “Ultimate (mitochondrial) Saviour” that will change the world as a central plot point. Many, many authors died just now as I made that statement. But given how the book twists something beautiful like birth, rebirth, and transcendence into something terrifying, allegory might still apply. 

Parasite Eve is a blend of philosophy and speculation, not just about human emotion, but also about the perversion of human emotion. Eve is supposedly looking out for her child’s best interest, but that child’s motivations are unclear. It is destroyed in both novel and game right after being born, showing in part "proof" that its aberrant form equates it with being a monster. But at the same time Aya’s final words in the game flat out decry humanity’s relationship with the planet, comparing us to the ultimate parasite, as opposed to the symbiosis between nucleus and mitochondria as espoused by Eve. Maybe the Ultimate Being would have been a savior for the world, but Aya still kills it. Humanity keeps on living, and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The saviour might promise a better world, but its up to mankind to make that decision for itself. And the latent fatalism of both book and novel claim that mankind is neither strong enough, nor determined enough to take that step. 

One more dead author...

I played Parasite Eve a total of 8 times on the Playstation. And 5 more times on the PSP. One of those times was last night, as I blasted through the game yet again (I can clear it in under 3 hours now, thank you EX mode) in preparation for this post. While the graphics are now clearly dated, and the mechanics clunky when compared to recently released the games, it’s the story that drew me in all those years ago, and it remains sharp to this day. The same voices that infused drama and emotion into the tale of Aya Brea still resonate, and still motivate people to experience the world they created. While I for one would adore an HD remake, at the same time there’s something timeless about a game that came out almost 15 years ago still retaining its relevance, and enjoyment. 

Merry Christmas, and bless of EVE-ry one. 

23 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: schoolgirls and Japanese history

The time has come. With three days left in this rundown of 2014 anime, it’s time to finally center a piece on the show that dominated my year, opened my eyes (and mind), and influenced me more than any other series I watched this year...or any year in recent memory. A wonderful blend of obscure references, flashy art, over-the-top characters and storytelling, and more fan-service than I am usually willing to indulge.

It’s time to write about Kill la Kill.

First off, I know for a fact that I’m not the only one writing about this show for this project. Kill la Kill is as synonymous with 2014 as Attack on Titan was last year, and Madoka Magica before that. It’s one of the most visible series to come out recently, and has creatively inspired countless cosplayers and artists. And anyone who has seen me at cons this year knows how big a deal this show is for me as well. I’ve practically (or literally) yelled about this show at some 19 conventions, podcasted about it, blogged about it (in one case, for an upcoming journal), and spent copious time putting my thoughts to paper for my first e-book. This show was lightning in a bottle for the flagging anime fan in me: it came around at the right time, and re-ignited my love for anime and all things Japanese. It literally was THE SHOW for me. 

But it all started with a single scene. 

By now, my story about watching Kill la Kill for the first time is old hat. Sitting in Starbucks, taking a breather from a massive tome on yokai and Japanese history, I decided to see what all the fuss was about with this new show. I’d read it was classic, evoking the same sense of wonder and enjoyment that brought a lot of my friends into anime in the first place. And of course, from that opening sequence with Gamagoori pounding on the No-Star, I was caught up in how much it reminded me of Gurren Lagann, and all those 90s shows that were my first experience with the medium. 

And then she appeared, the radiant goddess, most beautiful of all 2-D girls, standing there atop her citadel, and ready to enlighten her people to the “truths” of the world. She yelled at “me,” and I was forever hooked. Here was a modern, lovely, and compelling iteration of the Sun Goddess herself, and she demanded my adoration and respect. 

(And believe me, that doesn’t happen very often, especially with anime characters. You could say that at that point, Kiryuin Satsuki became my “waifu,” the strongest anime crush I’ve ever had, and one that persists even now.) 

A few posts back, I called attention to those moments this year when people have approached me and told me how my panels and lectures have influenced their lives and driven their own pursuits forward. How inspiration can be compelling, and can hit you like a truck when you least expect it. 

The idea for what would become Shuten Doji vs State Shinto happened in January, when I was mulling over Ryuko’s role in the series, and how it could fit into the State Shinto cosmology I had been assembling piecemeal for the Shitenno and their Radiant Sun Goddess. Somewhere along the way it got into my head that she looked, and acted, like an oni. The horns, the blood, the violent resistance to fascist order- it fit in with some lore I had read last year. But it hit me HARD. In a moment of clarity that could only have been made better by shouting “Eureka” at the top of my lungs, I grabbed my copy of Noriko Rieder’s excellent “Japanese Demo Lore,” began scribbling down ideas on a post-it note, and running home from the bookstore. Kit might still even have the text message. That was where it began.

Rieder’s book got me interested in the otogi-zoshi, Japanese Muromachi period folk tales. Research into those tales and their traits drove me to research both Buddhist concepts of emptiness, and the history of Inari in Japan (and particularly how Inari is approached and worshipped). A desire to know more about the Japanese “identity crisis,” hinted at in books I’d read years ago, led me deep into the Postwar period, a time I had only superficial knowledge of. That led me to Embracing Defeat and Japan Unbound, which clued me in to more books on Hiroshima and its fallout, motivated me to finally devour Showa-Shi, and spend real time speaking with Japanese friends about their own family experiences. 

As my knowledge of Japanese history increased, as points of information were challenged and changed, as my body of knowledge grew, so too did my relationship with the series that had inspired me. And in turn, so did the panel that had started at a way to focus and commit to text my ideas, so i could share them with my fellow fans. While all my panels evolve as I learn new things, with Kill la Kill that evolution happened rapidly, was spurred on by my ravenous consumption of new ideas, and transformed me just as much as it transformed my material. It’s been a year-long process, with those moments of clarity happening more and more as my reading list became longer and longer. 

One of the best things to come out of this entire project wasn’t the panels, or the books, or the long discussions I’ve had with people- it was how Kill la Kill motivated me to read more about Japan than I ever had previously. I watched fewer anime this year, read fewer manga, played fewer games, than in the past five at least. But at the same time I discovered more about Meiji, Postwar, and contemporary Japan than I’ve ever known.

And honestly, it’s been one of the most validating years I’ve ever had. Prior to discovering Kill la Kill, my interest had been in yet another slump, as burnout slapped me silly and kept me trapped in a little bubble of ennui and old video games. All it took was one moment to motivate me, and subsequently turn my year around. Half the fun has been the lectures and the book writing, but the other half has been the welcome craziness of discovery and strengthening my knowledge of Japan. That same sense of seeing things in a new light that attendees have told me my panels brought them, brought to me by skimp clothing and a massive crush on an anime girl. 

On the tenth day of anime...I found my inspiration, dressed in a sexy school uniform. 

As an aside / addendum:

We've talked about this before, but the idea that Satsuki represents perfection and Ryuko doesn't partly explains why they appeal to me so much. They contain both harm and well-being individually, but it takes both of them working together to balance each other out. 

Bear with me here.

Satsuki is the ideal of the person I want to be: she is a survivor, but skilled against manipulation and mental/emotional tactics. That's not to say that Ryuko isn't a survivor either: but where Satsuki excels in the mental and emotional sides of things, the "skyscraper in your mind" technique, Ryuko excels in being more physical. She is more stubborn and manages to keep standing despite everything that's (quite literally) thrown at her. She's blunt, and wears her emotions on her sleeves - if anything, she's too passionate, to the point of Senketsu pointing out that she's going to run herself into the ground if she's not careful. When Ryuko despairs, it takes physical things like food and shelter and clothing to soothe her: when Satsuki despairs, it's not so much the physical chains as the metaphorical ties that bind.

And yet, when they work together, they find balance. Satsuki realizes she needs to take more full-frontal action, while Ryuko starts understanding the more emotional sides of things - that Satsuki was expressing her own sincerity and desires just in her own quiet way. 

I'd presented with Charles before on panels, but the Kill la Kill panel was really the first one we'd built from scratch with both of us in mind. And even though it can use some polishing even now, it is balanced. Not too passionate, but not too subdued. Accessible, and yet awesome.

It even helped me remember my Japanese, and to be more confident - things I'd thought I had lost.

So thank you, Studio Trigger, and Aniplex, and everyone. I found balance and  harmony in a story about two sisters who needed each other all along. - Kit

22 December 2014

12 Day of Anime: Yokai Can Feel the Christmas Spirit

Christmas is often called the season of giving. We all hear the old adage “tis better to give than to receive,” and the airwaves are full of stories and images of excited recipients of unexpected “Christmas surprises,” of which the giver occasionally remains anonymous. Right there alongside the excitement of opening presents, we are consistently reminded of practicing charity, compassion, and mercy- all values that are universal, but particularly emphasized this time of year. 

Earlier, I wrote a long essay on the film A Letter to Momo, focusing on how the power of love can extend beyond death, and the impact the departed have on their surviving loved ones. But right alongside that message was another, hidden behind the hijinks of crafty yokai Iwa and Kawa, and revisited repeatedly as the film reached its climax. Altruism, selflessness, can be just as powerful as love. Particularly since altruism often transcends family ties. 

Iwa, Kawa, and Mame have been sent down to earth to watch over 11 year old Momo by her deceased father while he undergoes the spiritual transformation from human to family kami. Momo’s father’s love is selfless an unconditional, even after the fight that was their last communication, and he sent down three “imps” to watch over her and her mother. Since he cannot be there, he makes arrangements for their safety, and hurries on to what comes next. 

But Iwa and Kawa, an open-mouthed giant and his kappa-like sidekick, have other plans while on Earth. Rather than spend time ensuring Momo’s wellbeing, they play pranks on her, eat all the food in her house (and the village), and tell wild lies about who they are and why they are there, also at poor Momo’s expense. Much of these pranks are played for laughs, benefitting the obviously bored yokai, who get a rise out of seeing Momo lose her temper and snap at them. They get her into trouble for the benefit of their own amusement, and put Momo’s safety in jeopardy on more than one occasion. Despite being sent to protect the girl, their rampant selfishness has the opposite effect most of the time, and their responses are little more than shrugs and snickers. 

Then Iwa makes a critical mistake: using Momo’s most prized possession- a letter her father started to write, but never got past her name- to send a report back to their celestial handlers. His half-assed attempt to follow the bare minimum of his duties practically destroys poor Momo. The girl, already having a rough time coming to grips with her father’s death, and feeling equally guilty about causing excessive stress to her mother during this trying time (itself a bit of selfishness the girl needs to confront later), finally snaps, and in that moment, Iwa realizes the depth of his failure.  

Now if Iwa were a typical yokai, he might have laughed at the girl and went on his way, but that was definitely not the case. Iwa (along with Kawa, and Mame) was in fact being punished by forces up above, cursed with an unending hunger and a compulsion to work off karmic debt through serving as guardians for those below recently bereaved. Even so, he still lived a life full of resentment, self-pity, ennui, greed, and selfishness. And what was worse, he didn’t care, apathy being expounded by his constant hunger. His associate Kawa, in the same boat, eggs him on to keep shirking the duty for the sake of their own comfort, but seeing Momo’s tears gives Iwa pause, regret, and finally empathy for the girl. He has to make it up to her, by any means necessary. Even violating his divine oaths, breaking the rules of being a guardian, and knowing full well he is sacrificing any chance at forgiveness by doing this one good thing for Momo.  

People think of Christmas as a time of family, a celebration of love, or a reminder of how much consumer culture rules our nation. But we can’t forget that part of the Christmas spirit (or, if you want to really be theological, ALL OF IT) is embodied within the birth of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether you view him as the son of God, a rabbi or holyman, or some kind of Western Buddha, the story of Jesus is one filled with selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion. For the son of a carpenter and “teen mom,” Jesus was one of the most loving, thoughtful, merciful, and compassionate humans ever to walk the face of the earth. His recorded life was full of selfless deeds, and his death was a moment of sacrifice meant to save the world from sinful urges and selfish thoughts. Even if you don’t subscribe to the divinity angle, even if you think the entire story is one huge chunk of propaganda, you can’t forget that the original message message behind Jesus is one that screams LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. Even if thy neighbor is selfish, or conceited, or a downright ass, loving them is more important that letting hate make decisions. 

Now Iwa has been the biggest ass of all time to poor Momo. He’s allowed his own laziness to cause her more trauma, which in turn will lead to a stern lashing back in heaven. So rather than try to weasel out of it, first he protects Momo as she runs out into a storm (which ends up being Momo’s big, selfless sacrifice during the film), then he use whatever influence he can muster with the powers that be to give Momo the one thing she needs. Not her letter, but what her letter represents to the young girl. 

As the movie draws to a close, Momo and her mother stand on a beach, watching as lanterns released by the entire town fly higher into the sky. But before they can leave, one returns to land, bearing a single sheet of paper, with Momo’s name across the top. As the girl unfolds the paper, words being to appear- a message from her departed father. Overcome with emotion, Momo cries tears as her father’s final missive is completed there in her hands, saying the words she had imagined since his death, giving her the closure she desperately craved. It is Iwa’s gift to her, collapsing the boundary between life and death, and giving a little girl one last chance to hear from her father. Before arriving on earth, the imp was self-centered and chafed under his duties, but after that one encounter with the scared, lost girl, he discovers that sometimes doing for others is more comforting than doing for yourself. 

It’s cliche to say that somewhere over the course of the movie that Iwa “discovered the spirit of Christmas,” but when you take a step back, isn’t Iwa demonstrating the same altruism that supposedly fuels that spirit of the holidays? It IS a holy day for Momo’s new home, one full of celebration, lights, and life. The yokai just decided to piggyback on that and give Momo the closure she needs. He grants her the “christmas miracle” there on the beach, and helps a little girl believe again. 

On the 9th day of Anime...I almost cried, because even monsters can sometimes be human. 

21 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: Gunslinger Girl, gifts, and humanity

This guest post brought to you by a friend of Kit's, James Hinton.


A few years ago I was a deployed solider in Afghanistan desperate for entertainment. Anime DVDs had become the primary source of such entertainment. They were easily purchased, easily shipped, and easily packed away in the very limited kit I could port from FOB to base to who knows where.

One of the series that I got into at the time was Gunslinger Girl. This grim series fitted my mood of the time. Young girls, turned into cyborgs and used as living weapons, drugged into remorselessness? Daaaaaark. It suited.

So why am I talking about such a grimdark series that I was introduced to years ago as part of this year’s 12 Days of Anime? Because the English translation of the manga released the final volume this year (thanks to Seven Seas). Throughout the series the sheer inhumanity of turning young girls, often the victims of horrific crimes themselves, into unquestioning killing machines humanity prevails, and it is at Christmas that this comes out clearest.

One of the focal “fratellos” (partnerships, from the Italian for "sibling") of the series is that of Hillshire and Triela. Hillshire is a former Europol investigator. He is cold, calculating, and haunted by his past. Triela, his cyborg, was nearly murdered in a snuff film. She’s acerbic, sharp witted, and very aware of who and what she is. It is very clear that Hillshire views Triela as his weapon, and that Triela chafes under this.

But it is at Christmas that we begin to see under that abrasive shell. The initial impression, as is often the case, isn’t the fill story, or even the majority of it. The relationship within their fratello goes far deeper, and is far more caring than that of a tool and the one using it.

As Christmas approaches for the first time in the series we find Triela and one of the other cyborg girls, Henrietta, discussing Triela’s collection of teddy bears. Hillshire, it seems, has been buying them for her as rewards for good work. Henrietta express a little bit of light-hearted envy, but Triella, it seems, isn’t so fond of Hillshire’s rewards.

The fratello receive an assignment that has them out and about for Christmas. Throughout the chapter we get to see the continued friction. After capturing a mobster who knew Hillshire from the past, Triela gets into a conversation with the man about Hillshire. The mobster asks if she is getting along with him. Triela admits to their struggling. “Siblings don’t necessarily get along.”
After Triela is injured during an escape attempt by the mobster, things change though. We get a look at the human side of the fratello, particularly the almost robot-like Hillshire. He confesses that he isn’t really sure what he is supposed to do for Triela, and then shows an interest in trying to learn her interests.
In that moment, the relationship has a subtle, but fundamental shift. It hadn’t been the teddy bears that annoyed Triela. It had been the uncertainty in the relationship. She wasn’t sure what Hillshire really thought of her, and was certain that the friction was because he didn't care about her or what she thought. His confession helped her to realize that he was just as confused as she, and through that a small bit of understanding, of humanity creeps through.

Certainly the next Christmas that comes is not one where all of the problems are gone. If anything, things are even more intense, and full of even more conflict. I won’t talk about it because of the spoilers involved, but the humanity of both Hillshire and Triela comes to a boiling point as each is filled with regret and sorrow for the harm they think they have done to one another. But it is these points, these Christmas tales where we truly get a feel not just for the horror and tragedy of the series of Gunslinger Girl, but the triumph and basic goodness that can come even inside of darkness.

Thinking back on that first introduction: in Afghanistan, where I was in a kill or be killed environment, it strikes me that a series that seemed to touch my own dark mood was, in its own way, the one that helped prove to me that humanity is always there. Even in an ugly world of violence and a need to shut off one’s humanity to get the mission done it is still there, still making us vulnerable, still making us weak. Yet it still gives us the strength to put one foot ahead of the other, relying on the other people around us. We are Hillshire. We are Triela. And together, no matter how tough it can get, we’ll make it.

You can also watch the animation of Gunslinger Girl through Hulu or Funimation.