Almost took the bait: Hana is not your pathetic soap opera martyr

The void left by Macross Frontier in my anime viewing is being inexorably filled by so many new shows. Yesterday I read Coburn’s post as well as Impz’s on Michiko to Hatchin and was intrigued. I’m a big fan of both Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo so this latest offering by Manglobe is very interesting. After watching the first episode, I’m definitely looking forward to more. The thing is, I almost never made it past the grueling and painful bit where Hana was subjected to the abuses of her adoptive family.

Michiko looks Badass

Michiko looks Badass

Watching Hana’s tribulations with her adoptive family was grueling and painful. I almost gave up on it (not because of the pathos per se). Let me explain:

Here in the Philippines, the dominant characterization of the female lead is a long-suffering martyr. Usually in the daily soap operas (or telenovelas) you have this girl who really is of high birth (at least equal to her tormentors) but is poor at the onset of the narrative. In addition she is tormented and at sometimes forced into servitude by a foster family or some similar arrangement. The usual cast: the rival sister, the perv brother, the indifferent/hypocritical father and the wicked mother. The girl gets saved by the lead male, and then her past is revealed in all its glory.

If you look at it, it’s the dashing prince who gets the prize.

In shows like these the characterizations are flatter than paper – the villains’ actresses are measured by how much they are villified IRL by the show’s fans, and in the happy endings they meet gruesome, violent deaths. Respect for formula aside, I can’t stand watching shows like this. This tradition is prevalent in former Spanish colonies like the Philippines and Mexico. I don’t see much of it in Japanese, Korean, or Taiwanese soaps (though I’m sure they exist).

THIS IS WHY HANA’S ASSAULT ON THE MEAN SISTER WAS PRICELESS.

This is who I am. Remember it!

This is who I am. Remember it!

I’m sure there are extensive reasearch papers devoted to the subject of martyrdom in the dramatic traditions of former Spanish (and perhaps Portuguese) colonies. In my opinion this is due to the elements of Christian doctrine itself, and how particular these are manifested in female behavioral norms. I’m no expert on Nietzche or Philosophy, but here are some of his ideas that I find both interesting and entertaining:

Master-slave morality is a central theme of Friedrich Nietzsche‘s works, in particular the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morality. Nietzsche argued that there were two fundamental types of morality: ‘Master morality’ and ‘slave morality’. Master morality weighs actions on a scale of good or bad consequences unlike slave morality which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions. What Nietzsche meant by ‘morality’ deviates from common understanding of this term. For Nietzsche, a particular morality is inseparable from the formation of a particular culture. This means that its language, codes and practices, narratives, and institutions are informed by the struggle between these two types of moral valuation. For Nietzsche, master-slave morality provides the basis of all exegesis of Western thought. With the Death of God, morality became historical: it was created by mankind, not by a transcendent deity. The strong-willed man created morality by valuation.

From the Wikipedia article. What is interesting is slave morality:

Unlike master morality which is sentiment, slave morality is literally re-sentiment (ressentiment)–revaluing that which the master values. This strays from the valuation of actions based on consequences to the valuation of actions based on “intention”.[5] As master morality originates in the strong, slave morality originates in the weak. Because slave morality is a reaction to oppression, it villainizes its oppressors. Slave morality is the inverse of master morality. As such, it is characterized by pessimism and skepticism. Slave morality is created in opposition to what master morality values as ‘good’. Slave morality does not aim at exerting one’s will by strength but by careful subversion. It does not seek to transcend the masters, but to make them slaves as well. The essence of slave morality is utility[6]: the good is what is most useful for the whole community, not the strong. Nietzsche saw this as a contradiction, “And how could there exist a ‘common good’! The expression is a self-contradiction: what can be common has ever been but little value. In the end it must be as it has always been: great things are for the great, abysses for the profound, shudders and delicacies, for the refined, and, in sum, all rare things for the rare.”[7] Since the powerful are few in number compared to the masses of the weak, the weak gain power by corrupting the strong into believing that the causes of slavery (viz., the will to power) are ‘evil’, and the qualities they originally could not choose because of their weakness. By saying humility is voluntary, slave morality avoids admitting that their humility was in the beginning forced upon them by a master. Biblical principles of turning the other cheek, humility, charity, and pity are the result of universalizing the plight of the slave onto all mankind, and thus enslaving the masters as well. “The democratic movement inherits the Christian.”[8]–the political manifestation of slave morality because of its obsession with freedom and equality.

“…the Jews achieved that miracle of inversion of values thanks to which life on earth has for a couple millennia acquired a new and dangerous fascination–their prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, ‘sensual’ into one and were the first to coin the word ‘world’ as a term of infamy. It is this inversion of values (with which is involved the employment of the word for ‘poor’ as a synonym for ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) that the significance of the Jewish people resides: with them there begins the slave revolt in morals.”[9]

In Beyond Good and Evil,  Nietzche spoke about slave moralists who hid behind teachings of pacifism and contentment, which led to inactivity. However in this inactivity there is a lot of whining and villification of the “masters” or the source of oppression. My reading of this is that the slave moralists fail to take responsibility of circumstance and shift the burden of guilt towards their perceived enemies. The best example of such teachings are in Mattew (5:3-10), particularly the Beatitudes:

Textual criticism available here. In Nietzche’s view, there is no real reason to bless the poor, the hungry, and those who are persecuted. The poor and persecuted “for justice’s sake” accept these “blessings” and feel a little better for themselves and contribute to the inertia that prevents them from changing their circumstance. They are reassured, that in the end, they will be saved one way or another. Certainly in the telenovela/teleserye traditions, they are always saved.

Hana was saved, or at least the possibility is opened by the end of the episode. However, this occured not before she took powerful action to establish herself as a person. She was being indoctrinated to not only accept her vile circumstances and the hypocrisy that permeates it, but also to accept it happily and beatifically.

I was so happy that she got to the core of herself and said NO. Hers won’t be a silent revolt while inwardly hating her adoptive family. She would put it out in the open, and give them the decency of accepting her new terms. This scene more than made up for the arduous parts that reminded me of all the cookie-cutter soaps that were and in ways still are the staple of Philippine television. It’s not that this tradition is bad, nor the morality it espouses. It isn’t my intention to make value judgments about them. I just don’t like consuming that kind of culture, and the subversion done in this pilot moves me.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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9 Responses to Almost took the bait: Hana is not your pathetic soap opera martyr

  1. coburn says:

    Nice post, very good angle you have here. A lot of the appeal of these hopelessness stories is in the way it places the weak morally. I didn’t find the initial replaying of the victim trope so unappealing as you did, but I agree that the show then subverted it.

    This episode had the advantage of showing the family conspiring against one another – like with the mother and the cat. Not just defining the master as evil, but showing them as weak people unable to transcend their system. (The director also paused quite pronouncedly on the anguished/confused face of the little girl taking a beating.)

    What I found wonderful in this episode was the movement from the assertion of selfhood into the hopelessness of finding no escape on the open road, followed by the arrival of Michiko. The heroine is better than a neurotic victim, but in the end circumstances were still too strong. But just because she’s totally trapped, doesn’t mean her mind is defined by her perspective – a slave can have individual morality.

    And then the amoral überfrau comes to call – someone who defies everything and is free in more than mind. A heroine should be tough like Hana, but she might need to be as crazy and gorgeous as Michiko if she’s going to make it alone.

  2. ghostlightning says:

    Oh I totally missed the part how the family conspires against each other! Very good observation. You also nailed it calling futility on Hana’s self-assertion when she faced the emptiness of the desert. I would call this a cop-out, but this is not just Hana’s story, if she was victorious this soon then there would be less story to tell.

    The futility allows for the dramatic entrance of her messiah, but now I see a future wherein Hana will save Michiko from herself.

    Now it’s clearer to me that I want to see how this anime plays out. It’s already won me over with its attention to detail, and how Hana was eating her words by looking for the cat to buy her way back. But the cat is not a boon to that family, just a nuisance that has less value than Hana.

  3. TheBigN says:

    “But just because she’s totally trapped, doesn’t mean her mind is defined by her perspective – a slave can have individual morality.”

    Indeed. And it depends on if you decide to act on that individual morality or not, as she chose to do. We’ll see what happens as we go along, but it gives us an indication that at least Hana can act if she feels it’s necessary.

  4. usagijen says:

    rawr yes! Totally agreed. I’ve grown tired of shows (especially those crappy soap operas in local TV) who portray the “heroine” as a damsel in distress, watching her suffer and toil and whatsoever, when in fact her sufferings could be ended had she followed the footsteps of Hana (among other kickass females).

    Had “The Little Princess Sarah” (especially the anime series) turned out the same way Michiko to Hatchin’s 1st ep, that anime could’ve been reduced to only 5 or so episodes, geez.

    P.S. You are awesome (or your writing’s awesome, whatever). And no I’m not just saying that because you’re my kabayan. Also, you might want to check out Skip Beat for more dose of KICKASS FEMALES. I’m interested to see your take on it *__*

  5. My friend recommended Skip Beat to me… I thought I was already watching too many shows, but one more can’t hurt now that you’ve made me curious…

    Strong female characters are very interesting in anime, and it seems that there are few cases when their strength is undermined by male co-leads. No danger of that happening here because there are no male leads.

    A phenomenon of this is the tsundere trope, that is so popular now (Haruhi, Sheryl, Taiga to name a few). I’ll look into Skip Beat. Thanks for dropping by. Btw, bumisita ako sa Scrumptious. Astig naman ng blog… It’s a shame I haven’t paid notice until now.

  6. usagijen says:

    aw, thank you for dropping by too. Our blog is too random to be really awesome, but thank you for the compliment! I shall return the favor and add you to our blogroll :3

    You might find Skip Beat a little over-the-top, with its craziness and all… but once you are able to enjoy that, well, just prepare for more awesomeness in the whole Skip Beat ride.

  7. ghostlightning says:

    Saw two episodes with the waifu, we were entertained – as she’s a fan of shows like Special A, Ouran Host Club, and Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge (especially the manga which I love as well). I’ll see if I can post my impressions on Skip Beat today.

  8. Pingback: Revenge at the core of love: Skip Beat impressions « We Remember Love

  9. Pingback: We End Up Watching More Anime, Here’s How « We Remember Love

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