Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on What Went Wrong in Star Wars The Phantom Menace!
Written by: Joshua Corin
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Violence & Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Devilman Crybaby – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared again and today we’re looking at the show that dares to ask the question: how much body horror can we realistically animate in twenty-two minutes? I’m talking, about Netflix’s devilishly good anime offering, Devilman Crybaby. While you may know it by its reputation as ‘that show with lots of incredibly violent humping, ‘cartoon boobies, ‘and incredibly violent cartoon boobies,’ Devilman Crybaby has some deep things to say about metaphysics, the media, and even international relations.
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of Devilman Crybaby. As always, spoilers ahead. And we literally never know if you want dubs or subs, so we flipped a coin, and it landed on dubs, so be happy. Before we get into the recap though, I just want you all to know we’re working hard trying to put together an anime podcast. It’s very early stages, but a lot of our best video ideas start from podcast discussions, so subscribe to our channel Wisecasts to get a closer look in to our creative process. Anyway, on to the recap. Akira, a teenage boy known for crying over almost anything, is living with the Makimura family while his parents travel the world providing free medical care. When he tries to save his crush/housemate Miki Makimura from what looks like a gang, Akira is interrupted by his trigger-happy adoptive brother and childhood friend Ryo, recently back in Japan after a research project in South America.
Ryo tells Akira what he learned abroad; namely that devils are real, and that they are possessing human beings. Trying to collect proof of his theories, Ryo takes Akira to a drug-fueled sex party called ‘Sabbath,’ where his bloody rampage actually succeeds in summoning a group of demons, one of whom tries to possess Akira.. That demon, Amon, fails to take over Akira completely. Akiras gains the strength and power of a devil, “You’re a man who possess both the body of a devil as well as the heart of a human. Devilman.” While Ryo and Akira initially plan to use his powers to fight the devils,
the show gradually reveals that there’s more to Ryo’s plan.
When the demon threat is revealed to the public, Ryo gains immense influence with world leaders; turns on Akira and promotes policies which promotes the murder of not only devils, but millions of human beings. This all comes to a head in the big reveal: “You see, I’m Satan.” Yep. Followed by a massive human-devil-Devilman battle culminating in the end of the world. So how did we get from a bad night at the club to the apocalypse? The answer has to do with two distinct but related concepts: “moral panics” and “threat construction.” Sociologist Stanley Cohen argues that mass media constructs a “moral panic” directed at certain groups of people by portraying their behavior as deviant. Society labels these people a threat, which justifies excessive social control and policing over the “demonized” population. As he put it, “[The media] informs us about right and wrong, about the boundaries beyond which one should not venture and about the shapes that the devil can assume” (Cohen, Folk devils and moral panics 7-8).
Devilman Crybaby references a few well-known moral panics. For instance, local news falsely identifies the young rappers as members of a gang. The mistake – and their resemblance to the constructed stereotype of violent youth nearly gets them shot by police, even as they try to cooperate with the officers. The show also references the archetypal moral panic: witch-hunts. For her almost supernatural speed, Miki is known to the media as ‘the witch of track and field.’ As a result, the mob, calls her a witch before killing her, “There’s that witch! She’s an outsider!” and burning her body.
More to the point, though, is Ryo’s use of mass media to create a moral panic over devils. After triggering Koda’s transformation at the track meet and causing a massacre, Ryo uses his livestream to sow fear and mistrust among the general population: “Demons exist…There could be one right next to you.” Taking advantage of his academic title, Ryo claims to be merely a reporter of the “facts;” in fact, he uses multiple media outlets, including social media and traditional broadcasting, “In this battle against the demons, I’m sure that we will win once again,” to promote as much fear, paranoia, and violence as possible.
As the end of the world draws closer, Satan/Ryo encourages more and more violence by expanding the definition of ‘devils’ to include anyone deviating from the social norm he falsely implies that deviant behavior is a proven indicator of the potential to turn into a devil. “So you’re saying anyone dissatisfied with society can potentially turn into a demon?” “That is correct.” “So in order for us to defeat the demons …” “We must eradicate them before they become demons.”
He pulls off the same feat at the international level through a process scholars call “threat construction.” Certain camps of foreign policy theorists argue that many international threats posited by national leaders are largely ‘constructed’ — that is, issues become threats when people in positions of power define them as such. Like creating a moral panic, threat construction involves identifying some ‘other,’ whether that be another country, an organization, etc., and defining its otherness as a danger. . The other is portrayed as not merely a physical threat, but a threat to the very identity of the domestic state. Political scientist David Campbell explains that, in the process of threat construction, “[The other becomes] the barbarian who stands in opposition to the ‘civilized’ self” (Campbell Writing Evil 99-101).
Following this model, Ryo manipulates inherent weaknesses in US foreign policy to start WWIII, beginning a nuclear conflict which wipes human life from existence. Ryo takes part in a high-level government discussion about how to handle the threat posed by the devils. By this point, world leaders have bought into Ryo’s logic completely, and have become distrustful of one another: “We must be wary of the movements of neighboring countries. There’s information that they’ve already been taken over by the demons.”
In response to the situation, the US government reflexively identifies Russia as a ‘geography of evil’ (a term coined by Campbell) and declares that devil possessions are the product of a Russian bioweapon: “The US department of national defense closed its borders in response to the possibility of demons being Russia’s biological weapon.” In Devilman Crybaby, the US and Russia respond to the devils much as real-world governments respond to terrorism. Because the threat is ‘barbaric’ and a threat to civilization, no measure is too extreme to stop them, including nuclear war: “Annihilate this demon incursion that threatens our capital!”
The show explores the dangers of throwing up artificial boundaries between groups. The bloodshed and heartbreak that fill up the last few episodes are a direct result of the public’s willingness to buy into Ryo’s ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This preoccupation with boundaries is also reflected in the show’s exploration of what’s called ’Dualist metaphysics”. So what does that mean? Dualism posits that reality is binary or oppositional in nature, composed of two eternally clashing, irreconcilable forces, such as good and evil. One of the classic examples of dualistic philosophy is the ancient religion of Manichaeism.
As religious scholar Todd Calder explains, “According to Manichaean dualism, the universe is the product of an ongoing battle between […] good and evil substances which are in a constant battle for supremacy” (Calder, “The Concept of Evil”) At first glance, the show appears full of binary oppositions which will never be resolved. For instance, Ryo is distinguished from Akira by his inability to shed tears, which serves as a visual cue for the ability to feel emotion. The show also sets up a sharp divide between fear-based violence and the Makimuras’ Christian pacifism: “One of the people who was following Jesus pulled out his sword attacked the soldier and cut off his ear, so then Jesus said to him, put away your sword and return it to the sheath.”
Ryo is a dualist to the core. He describes devils as fundamentally lacking in the human capacity to feel: “Devils have existed on earth since long before humans. They are ferocious, extremely savage, and have no emotions.” What’s more, the show takes that Manichean idea of a battle between “good and evil substances” very literally. Ryo first discovers existence devils when the corpse of his formerly-possessed professor, Fikira, is revealed to weigh twice as much as it did when he was alive. “As Fikira burned his body became twice the size it was when he was alive.”
Fikira’s possession, in other words, was not only spiritual, but physical a case of two bodies, one ‘good’ and the other ‘evil,’ fighting for the same space. The show emphasizes the material dimensions of this battle between good and evil whenever a devil successfully takes over a human host, often ripping apart their body in the process: Over time, however, Devilman Crybaby winds up turning this dualistic model completely on its head. The show reveals the socially constructed nature of the dichotomies many of its characters take for granted, and argues that reality is far too complex to be put in terms of black and white. As panic over the devils’ threat reaches its tipping point, the show blurs the lines between good and evil. One of the more obvious examples is Akira, who by his very nature challenges Ryo’s dualistic model of the world: in one person he combines devil and human, good and evil. We see this when Akira, in his Devilman form, stands between an angry lynch mob and its targets and offers up his life for theirs, “Why kill each other? If you’re going to kill somebody, kill me instead!” defying the angry and fearful humans’ expectations.
By contrast, we see an example of supposedly ‘good’ humans resorting to evil when the mob dismembers and burns Miki Makimura for her public support of Akira, and other ‘Devilmen’ Devilman Crybaby also loves to play around with dichotomies surrounding gender and sex. The show regularly hints at an ambiguously queer relationship between Akira and Ryo: Akira remains invested in his ability to openly display emotion, even after being mocked for it as a child: “What the heck? He’s crying even though he’s a boy!”
And in his final form, Satan embodies both male and female sex characteristics: But perhaps most interesting is the way the show blurs the lines between devils stand-ins for the outcasts and scapegoats of society and the humans they are supposed to be so different from. Mr. Makimura eventually finds his wife and their son, Taro, in a refugee camp. Unfortunately for him, it isn’t the reunion he’d hoped for. Taro, now possessed by a devil, can’t control his own hunger any longer. His father arrives to find him in his demonic form, eating his own mother. Mr. Makimura tries to fall back on the socially constructed dichotomy between devils and humans to reduce Taro to an evil creature and make some sense of the horror confronting him: “Taro, you are no longer my sweet son. This for your own good.” But in the end, he can’t help but see his human son in the devil’s crying eyes: “Please don’t shoot; that’s my son in there.”
The show also provides plenty of evidence to exhibit that, contrary to Ryo’s claim that devils are incapable of emotion, they are actually quite capable of feeling love for each other, and in some cases for humans. In the episode “Beautiful Silene,” Akira gets into what can only be described as a deadly sex battle with Silene, the former lover of Akira’s devil, Amon. In the first round of their fight, Akira nearly kills Silene. But as she lies bleeding out, her partner Kaim comes to her aid, offering to give up his life so that she can merge with his body and live long enough to kill Devilman. “But why?” “Silene…even bloodied, you are beautiful.”
Kaim’s sacrifice even causes Silene to cry. Most impressive of all is the change that comes over Satan himself as a result of his experiences with Akira. Having revealed his true form to Akira, Satan admits that he made the merging between him and Amon possible so that Akira would be able to survive the apocalypse and live with him forever. “Oh Akira, let’s live in the new world together. I made you merge with the champion Amon for that very reason. Come! Akira!” What’s more, when Satan kills Akira during their battle, he, king of the devils, experiences grief for the first time , and cries over Akira’s body. “Right now I’m feeling something! What is this?”
By pointing out fluidity where we would expect to find hard boundaries, Devilman Crybaby asks us to think hard about the labels we apply to others, and the potential consequences of black and white thinking. The show puts forward some tough questions: who benefits from media scapegoating, and to what ends? To what extent does rhetoric play a role in the identification of ‘threats,’ and what are the dangers of being too ready to draw lines between ‘self’ and ‘other’? And, in a world where categories as basic as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are the product of manipulation and deliberate construction, what is the right thing to do? As Miko, in her blended human/Devilman form puts it: “What does it mean to be a human? What does it mean to be good?” And as always, thanks for watching, guys. Peace.