Souten Kouro and GAR Rhetoric: Them Fighting Words


[Insignificant spoilers for episode ONE, I wouldn’t worry about it].

In a recent post I discussed the spectacle of GAR, using Sengoku Basara as the example. Had I seen Souten Kouro then, I would’ve certainly included it in the discussion. One thing that’s beginning to mark this season for me, with the two shows mentioned along with Shin Mazinger Z Hen, Spring 2009 is a banquet of brofistilicious manliness and GAR.

I won’t cover the same ground as in the previous post; rather I’ll explore here an idea born from the comments section of the aformentioned post: the idea of Poetic GAR, or as I’ve revised it: GAR Rhetoric.

I identify two modes. In the first one, the rhetoric is delivered in moments of reflection, contemplation, as a sermon|lecture, or in swearing|promising|oath-taking. There is a particular power or force behind the delivery even though the moment has very little potential for violence or excitement. In the second mode, the rhetoric is delivered at an opponent or group of opponents.


Example of the first mode:

In Sengoku Basara episode 3, Lord Takeda Shingen was delivering one of his lessons to his protegé, Sanada Yukimura. As with the previous episodes, these lectures were characterized by violent fisticuffs to punctuate the points made. While the violent fisticuffs are superflous in this example, it does characterize the first mode quite well. 

Takeda Shingen: “To not know fear is the height of foolishness! To know fear is necessary. It is essential… Yukimura, Why do you wield your spear in this war-torn land? Why do you fight?”

Yukimura: “To serve you, my lord, with all my soul! And to give my lord these lands, the land of the rising sun, to control!”

Takeda Shingen: “And if that haeppens, what will you do?”

Yukimura: “I would stay by my lord for all of my life, until…”

Takeda Shingen: “One day, you will understand.”

Takeda Shingen accepted that Sanada Yukimura was perhaps not ready to receive the lesson, and he backed off in the end — noting that his fists are just as impotent as his words to bridge the gap in reaching Sanada Yukimura’s youth and naivié. It is also important to note that Takeda Shingen talks about fear and how necessary it is. Despite this acknowledgment of fear, his powerful delivery still provides a GAR experience for me.

Example of the second mode:

In Souten Kouro the 5 sworn brothers: Cao Cao, Cao Ren, Cao Hong, Xiahou Dun, and Xiahou Yuan were in a struggle against the Blast Gang, led by Li Lie who has placed bounties on all their heads. Li Lie claims to be the true Shi Huangdi and incites people by declaring he will reform society. the brothers think that he is without substnce, merely spewing complex-sounding ideas as if he’s important, and acts satisfied because call him ‘Minister.’ Furthermore, he entices brigands and hooligans by plying them with money and spoils.

Cao Cao decides that the way to defeat the fake Shi Huangdi is through rhetoric, unraveling Li Lie’s logic and exposing him in front of his minions. Here is their confrontation in full, with my commentary in [].

Cao Cao: “For what reason does the Minister aim to emulate Shi Huangdi?”

Li Lie: “Lowly child! I have no words to trade with the likes of you people, but I will answer. It is because our Shi Huangdi is at once a man of virtue and a child of Heaven.”

[Good response! He puts the challengers in their place before adding substance to his response.]

Cao Cao: “Shi Huangdi a man of virtue? I have never heard this before. I wish to inquire about the thinking on which this idea is based.”

[Cao Cao takes the high road and claims the virtue Li Lie painted himself with. Very good.]

Li Lie: “‘Destroy the six violences, ‘Make the world one house, Armies will arise no more.'” Shi Huangdi destroyed with a mighty army all those who opposed him… and united the realm to subdue the chaos of war. This is the mark of a truly virtuous man!”

[This ellicits cheers from Li Lie’s troops. He quoted scripture-like statements for effect, focusing on military might for intimidation with peace as the end goal to soften the aggression; underscoring his point at the end.]

Cao Cao: “‘An army is an uncertain instrument,’ and not the tool of a virtuous man.’ To a virtuous man, a weapon is something ominous and unwieldy. If the Minister venerates Shi Huangdi because he was skilled at war, he is a fool who does not understand Shi Huangdi!”

[Cao Cao replies with proverb-type rhetoric, attacking Li Lie’s focus on military might. He calls him out as a fool and wastes no time exploiting this opening.]

Li Lie: “‘A ruler’s ailment lies in trusting others.Trust others, be controlled by others.’ Shi Huangdi, who trusted no one and relied on his own wisdom to rule the land, is a true child of Heaven! Do you deny even that?!”

[FAIL. A complete non-sequitur, that produces only a question to validate a point that leads nowhere.]

Cao Cao: ” ‘He who rules the land through knowledge is a traitor.’ It is he who relies on knowledge to rule the land that brings harm and disaster. The Minister has completely misinterpreted Shi Huangdi’s true nature!”

[Cao Cao deftly avoids denying Li Lie’s claims about Shi Huangdi’s virtue, and yet completly denies Li Lie’s legitimacy as Shi Huangdi’s follower.]

Li Lie: “‘Shi Huangdi, rectifies laws, makes peace, and records all things.’ Following in no one’s footsteps, all things that now exist in the world were created anew by Shi Huangdi! This is Shi Huangdi’s great evolution!”

[FAIL MOAR. Further non-sequitur. Even if this statement is correct, it does not address Cao Cao’s attack on Li Lie’s legitimacy in the interpretation of Shi Huangdi.]

Cao Cao: “Li Lie, defeated in speaking! Imitating no one was indeed the reason Shi Huangdi was the First Emperor. Li Lie, master of the Blast Gang, one such as you, whose every action is a mindless copy of Shi Huangdi’s, is not qualified to speak of him. Heaven shall not permit the existence of the Blast Gang!”

[STFU copypasta fag. Troll Harder. No U, etc. I win! Cao Cao gives the signal to attack.]  It is important to note that this exchange transpires in a faceoff on a battlefield, when the Blast Gang met the 5 Sworn Brothers. Oratory and theatrical delivery is perhaps paramount, contributing to a GAR experience.

Actually, I posit that there are two particular GAR experiences: one within the narrative, and the one that I the viewer experiences. Within the narrative, Li Lie’s control over the Blast Gang is arguably entirely due to his rhetoric. The military prowess content in his speech(es), in addition to his personal imposing presence allows for the Blast Gang brigands to experience GAR and hold Li Lie as their leader and protector. I would probably experience Li Lie as GAR more if he wasn’t vanquished handily by Cao Cao. Nonetheless, the GAR effect is explicit.

Perhaps the best example of GAR Rhetoric in the second mode is in the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann finale, firstly in Lord Genome’s confrontation with the Anti-Spirals, and ultimately in Simon’s battle with them — where his hot-blooded speech characterized the battle arguably as much as the galactic proportions it reaches.

I want other examples in different anime. Give them to me!


Related Reading

The Animanachronism, via ani-tations (屮゜Д゜)屮, extensive discussion and analysis of GAR (lelangir 2008/12/22).

A review of Souten Kouro noting the strong impression of GAR (moritheil 2009/04/11).

A table of the various Japanese depictions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms characters in various media (Hashi 2009/04/05).

Non-sequitur in formal logic, is a fallacy (Latin for ‘it does not follow’).

More bad arguments presented in an entertaining style can be read from The Duck that Won the Lottery (Julian Baggini 2008).

Sengoku Basara and GAR as spectacle [->].

Poetic GAR as a germ of an idea discussed by lelangir and myself [->].

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.
This entry was posted in analysis, comparative, first impressions and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Souten Kouro and GAR Rhetoric: Them Fighting Words

  1. schneider says:

    In SRW MX, Rom Stoll frequently arrives as a deus ex machina (in one case he blows up a MP Eva to save Asuka in the End of Evangelion stages). After that, he makes an epic speech declaiming justice from the heavens (complete with lens flare). The dumbstruck foes ask “Who the hell are you?”

    Rom Stoll would always reply “You don’t deserve to know my name!”

    In the final battle with his nemesis, he does reveal his name.

    I don’t know about the actual Machine Robo: The Revenge of Chronos though, because it is impossible to find anywhere.

    • ghostlightning says:

      All you’re doing is making me feel bad for not playing SRW. LOL

      Let me know if there are idiot-proof versions I can play over the PC (I think I like the alpha series).

  2. animekritik says:

    Of course, the issue (or downright problem if you’re into realism) is that the second mode tends to become a copy of the first. I.e. people’s battle-cries turn into elaborate speeches!!

    Cao Cao’s notion is sweet: a perfect copy of a perfect being is well, not even close to being a perfect thing…

    • ghostlightning says:

      Well, characters who stand tall are portrayed in tall tales. Realism has a place in these, but it’s a dusty corner rather than the privileged position.

  3. Pontifus says:

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of gar rhetoric, particularly since I’m enjoying Souten Kouro despite not thinking of it as an especially good show. It’s clear to me that the battles of words contribute to my not dropping the show, but I wonder how functionally different rhetorical prowess is from physical prowess. Despite the two having different trappings, they seem to serve much the same purpose (the purpose of gar, I suppose we could say), and something in me always resists the idea of things with different trappings serving the same purpose. Perhaps it’s practicality, my mind asking why two things are necessary where one would suffice.

    I suppose I should frame the question like this: is the inclusion of verbal sparring necessary to fully represent gar’s origins in the human condition? It’s characterization — those generals, or at least some of them, were renowned for their minds as well as their battlefield utility — but if we’re going to call it characterization, I wonder about its role in the whole gar process. Would a character who couldn’t back words with action still be gar, if his words exhibited the right gar rhetoric markers? It’s certainly possible, depending on how we define gar, but questionable if we think of a gar character as superior or admirable in an evolutionary, biological sense. Perhaps verbal gar and physical gar should be thought of as separate but related entities.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I would put it this way.

      Li Lie was experienced as GAR by his men, up until Cao Cao showed him up. GAR is a process as you said, involving subjective experience (as IKnight said) — so it’s logical to have a finite experience of GAR for a character.

      If Kamina ended up being the ‘alternate reality’ version which was the wimpy one who wanted Simon to bow his head — then yes, Kamina would cease to be GAR, despite accomplishing what he had up until his death.

      I’m actually exploring the subjective relationship further:

      It makes sense to say that “Kamina is GAR for me”, but isn’t it more logical to say, “I’m GAR for Kamina?”

      Much the same way that “I’m moe for Ranka” is a logical statement, and it’s (at least contextually) correct to say “Ranka is moe, for me.”

      • Pontifus says:

        It makes sense to say that “Kamina is GAR for me”, but isn’t it more logical to say, “I’m GAR for Kamina?”

        As Dr. Lolikit noted, the latter is closer to the term’s roots, but both amount to the same thing, as far as I’m concerned. Either way, something like gar comes from the reader’s reaction (so I suppose we could even say that “gar for x” represents the reading process better than “x is gar”).

        In any case, your comment has dispersed my mental fog a little. When we place characters on a gar-moe spectrum, we can discuss them in relation to us, and in relation to one another. In the latter case, what we’re talking about is characters’ relation to one another in terms of admirability, authority, and ability to protect; any action, including rhetoric, that places one character above others in those terms (according to the actions of all characters involved, it being subjective/local) can be said to be gar. What’s important is the immediate result of the action in the context of the story. Amidoinitrite?

        • ghostlightning says:

          I think you put it quite well. In my previous post I pondered how GAR expressions can go the way of cliché, and our work here in discussing GAR rhetoric presents creators as having more tools to work with.

          I think it’s exciting to think about what expressions will come about in texts that elicit GAR reactions in the future, given that GAR as an experience from a character is a factor that contributes to the popularity of the show and related merchandise.

    • moritheil says:

      Strength of mind and strength of arm are different, yet they are each a form of strength. Should we say that they serve the same purpose? Hardly. Rather they are each facets of the thing we call strength.

      • ghostlightning says:

        Yes, though at least in Souten Kouro strength of mind — expressed through speech had to be backed up by literal strenght: whether from within one’s own physicality, or externally (cohorts of supporters, armies).

        • moritheil says:

          Certainly. A phrase comes to mind: “Womanly words, manly deeds.” For most cultures the ultimate expression of manliness is still physical strength.

          Incidentally, I have been thinking of the conflation of strength and virtue and I have to note that while strength of arm is no longer considered morally virtuous, strength of mind – of will – is still considered to have moral overtones in many cultures.

          • ghostlightning says:

            strength of arm is no longer considered morally virtuous

            Perhaps in highly intellectual/spiritual circles yes. However in society at large at least here in the third world people would rather be strong of arm while paying lip service to virtue.

            This, despite/because the slave morality that comes with widespread Christianity, where the weak are blessed (beatitudes/platitudes) — perhaps by the strong to keep them weak.

  4. lolikitsune says:

    It makes sense to say that “Kamina is GAR for me”, but isn’t it more logical to say, “I’m GAR for Kamina?”

    Do you not know the etymology of “gar” ?

    Not only is it more logical to say that you are gar for someone/thing, it’s also more correct.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yes and I agree, only that since this is more my exploration/speculation, I try not to define it (definition being declarations of what a term is not possible of being)… yet.

      That said, it’s good that you mention this as I find it more and more people who treat GAR as if it were a character attribute than a viewer/witness experience.

  5. lolikitsune says:

    Oh oops I’m still boycotting threaded replies.

  6. lolikitsune says:

    I know you try to block me from your thoughts, thinking that if you don’t think of me you won’t feel the pain. Every so often, I reinsert myself into you, and watch as you squirm.

  7. moritheil says:

    I see this exchange as a parallel to the Buddhist assertion that being able to parrot enlightened speech and actually grasping enlightenment (or enlightened thinking) are very different things. Li Lie continually parrots Shi Huangdi, which Cao Cao acknowledges, but returns that he is missing the point.

    I find it intriguing that you assert this intellectual discourse is itself within the scope of GAR. Souten Kouro has already received my stamp of approval as among the finest of GAR works. I wonder, though, if this exchange – if GAR in general – is more about the construct of manhood.

    • ghostlightning says:

      I’m sympathetic with your high esteem of Souten Kouro. The ‘trigger’ for GAR feelings is the delivery and intellectual ‘weight’ of the dialougue.

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