As much as I dislike tumblr, I am also addicted to it. There is something about this raw consumption of images; they are barely filtered, editorialized, and commented on. Often they are regurgitated by bloggers many times over, each one adding negligible value to the end recipient beyond the sharing itself.
And yet, there is something so beautifully simple about it. Here is an image, it probably means something to me; what will it mean for you?
The image blog that does this for me to an inspiring degree is Fuck Yeah The Universe. The blog title says pretty much everything: here are images of the universe (fuck yeah!). When I choose to really look at the images I get from it every day, I truly am in awe (fuck yeah!). But what is behind that awe? It is incredibly interwoven with my love for anime.
This song. This song. This song. Robots. Super Robots. There is so much power in the very idea of it, a numinous power in the idea akin to that which is felt in the presence of heroic architecture, or even great natural vistas (and of course, the universe). I actually get why Basara Nekki kept trying to move a mountain by making it listen to his song. There is this thing, that is naïve, innocent, arrogant, foolish, hopeful, and all too human about it:
The desire and belief that a human will can make the impossible, possible.
And the funny thing is that there is really no reason that substantiates such naked, joyful delusion. When we indulge in it, we “kick reason to the curb.”
From the engrish outro of Skill (JAM Project)
We’re going to a place over our future
We’re looking for a place under a shining star
We’ll try to see the soul you are
What is going on here? The context of the song is clear in the above AMV. That video achieves a particular kind of perfection: a pastiche of references and copies of copies that somehow mean very specific things to some people, things that actually affect their real lives (at least my own). It is a fan-made video (using the original music BUT with the fans singing along!) from scenes of a video game that takes ‘canonical’ events, characters, and stories from robot anime shows and mashes them all together to form a singular continuity that a user ‘plays’ through.
The song itself is (at least to me, a non-Japanese speaker) not intelligible. I really, really do a yeoman’s job making meaning from it. I do so by drawing from a specific section of the ‘otaku database’ that has to do with super robots and the themes and feelings they evoke:
The ability to protectThe above list is contextualized by:
From the engrish lyrics of Skill: I’LL NEVER DIE. I’ll say that again:
I’LL NEVER DIE.
This is meant in a non-figurative way. It really means: “There’s no way I can lose,” or “There’s no way I’ll let you down.” Ultimately in a super robot narrative, the hero proves to be invincible indeed, but the thing is, it has to be proven. There is no heroism if the hero is invincible. Why not? The enemy never has a chance against him! Thus, there is no factual claim to the statement. It is a creative act; as if, the legend of invincibility begins now, as the song is sung. The song is sung as a battle cry, a means to inspire, and the absurdly unreasonable, the more I reflect on it, is some of the most inspiring things ever.
Anime is inescapably thought-provoking for me precisely due to the means by which I consume it: in original Japanese language using fan-made subtitles. There is already a gulf of meaning that I have to fill, and at the same time a strong river of interpretation that I have to travel downstream on (the translation). What meaning I create is drawn from a deepening reservoir of data: tropes, symbols, themes, visual markers that I bring to the experience of the work. I can be lazy about this or I can fully apply myself. This more than anything, determines the meaning I create from the experience.
So, not knowing what the meaning of the Japanese words in the song Skill, I actually consciously fill in the blanks. I never bothered to look for a translation of the song, it is meaningful by my own powers. These notions, phrases, themes and ideas are drawn from every robot show ever – the way the game franchise of Super Robot Wars does:
When we listen to this… WE TOO… CAN BE HEROIC
How can we fail?
Our souls are joined by courage
Invincible chains of brotherhood
Bonded by the blood of fallen heroes
Forged by the fires of strife
Lit by the evil of our foes
LET US BREAK THEM:
One by one, our foes
Despite their number multiplying those of the stars themselves
THEY ARE NOTHINGS
In the face of our power
ARE YOU READY?
WE CAN DO IT!
[Insert CALLED OUT FINAL ATTACK]
This is really heady stuff for me [NOTE: the above passage is actually an early draft of what eventually became something I wrote for my SRWJ character/robot Raigardius — I had written this post a lot earlier than what I linked to]. Every song I hear from JAM Project or any super robot show will mean something like the above passage from my imagination. And yet, they’re powerful in ways that they seem like a new thing. How many times can having a Buster Machine inside my heart play out in anime? How many times can I be exhorted to pierce the heavens with my drill? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a function of my being a fan of this kind of thing. Maybe it’s a function of the music.
In any case, it all becomes both an escape from reality, and a powerful inspiration to face reality. We want our fantasies to break into our real lives, and our real lives to become a little more like our fantasies.
This plays out again in robot anime tradition.
The 1970s were dominated by super robot shows, which were known to be half-hour toy commercials, that were also known to be giant mechanical ‘pro-wrestling’ matches: the battles are basically duels between two robots using grappling, throwing, and striking. Tomino Yoshiyuki created Mobile Suit Gundam as an attempt to depart from this tradition, by infusing a show with more militarized, realistic, and dramatic science fiction.
In 1988, Mobile Patrol Patlabor came out and was recognized by fans as one of the most realistic of robot shows (helped by its more commonplace setting, among other things). The final confrontation in the OVA involved two Labors (the robots) teaming up to perform a set of spectacular pro-wrestling moves to defeat the opponent (an Irish-whip into a clothesline).
So What Does This All Mean?
I often think of Super Robot shows in particular, more than robot shows in general, as a fanservice delivery engine. They exist to fulfill a desire of us fans. This however, fails to capture an awesome complexity to it. As much as these super robot shows are fulfillments of desire, they are by themselves expressions of it.
The experience of the shows and related media makes me desire more, not just for more robots, more anime, more songs, but for an actual experience of breaking through in life. I think of bigger things: like writing (and putting up online) my own poems instead primarily writing on the work of others. In the whole scheme of things this is miniscule, but in the universe of my life and the narrative of my own creative voyage, I’ve traversed galaxies of insecurity and faced mid-bosses of unproductivity.
Even someone like me, can and will be skilled.