This is an OWLS post. What is OWLS?
OWLS stands for Otaku Writers for Liberty and Self Respect. We are a group of otaku bloggers who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.
This month’s topic is “fail” and all that word implies.
“You’ve failed, Your Highness.”
And so goes one of the greatest epic fails in all of science fantasy.
It isn’t often you see movies or anime or read fiction where the protagonist fails. It is usually the villain who fails. The Emperor, the Wicked
Witch of the West, Professor Moriarty, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Sauron, Lord Voldemort, Acnologia. The evil ones have all their ducks lined up. Horror upon horror is being visited upon the innocent, victory is at hand, and then the plucky hero shows up and ruins everything.
If you are convinced that you are a failure either from experience or from other people telling you, then you have internalized it as part of your self-definition. You carry that failure around with you and success can’t happen when it should, even to the point of snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory.
“Zero to hero” anime often involves the hero evolving from a failure in life to finding a reason to fight. Once the reason is found, a means to fight can always be devised.
You haven’t truly failed at your quest until every option is exhausted. Failure only
happens as a consequence of giving up, for whatever reason. Your opponent may simply have succeeded and there is nothing to be gained by further conflict. It could be the buzzer as time ran out. You may be physically damaged beyond the ability to continue your quest. Or dead. Or psychologically incapable of further action. Or confined such that you can no longer act.
There’s a different type of fail, one that comes from the inside. You may fail because you are defeated by an opponent who is stronger or smarter than you. However, if you don’t at least try you’ve failed to do the right thing. Which do you think is the greater failure?
You can fail at the impossible and still succeed in your heart.
Nobody thinks you should risk your life for some trivial affair but in real life most of the time the risks we run to do the right thing are just inconvenience or embarrassment. Your “failure” is not living up to your own self-image.
Allowing others an effective heckler’s veto is also a fail.
You have also failed if your despair prevents you from seeing a possible way to continue the quest. Or you think you simply cannot do something that maybe just might be possible. That was Master Yoda’s lesson. Luke really didn’t believe he could lift the fighter out of the swamp. He went into the test from a position of doubt. That doubt prevented him from doing it.
Failure to do what? For there to be a failure there must be something you were trying to succeed at. A quest, a goal or at least an intent to accomplish something. If one never has anything in their life worth fighting for, have they succeeded in having an easier life? Or have they failed in having a meaningful life?
I have often thought that if one has nothing in life worth fighting for, then neither does one have anything worth living for.
Conquering the world or prevent someone from conquering the world. Victory at war or victory over the self. Facing your own inner demons. Winning the favor of a love interest. Or something less demanding, say, passing geometry. Or you could just be some nutty old geezer chasing after windmills and dreaming impossible dreams. Not every quest involves a literal opponent. Your opposition could be internal strife. It could be a struggle against bad genes or disease. It could be the clock. Or the die roll of fate.
To quest or not to quest can be a difficult call.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
My advice? Do not worship success. Rather, do not fear failure. Most people will experience a lot of it. Treat it as a learning experience and move on. You may bite off more than you can honestly chew and fail. You may fail at things you might have achieved but wrongly decided were beyond you. Everyone does a lot of both. Strive for wisdom and do your own risk to benefit analysis.
Remember that as long as you haven’t killed or hurt anyone, failure is no sin. Other people may judge you for your failure. Tell them to sod off and go your own way.
Every conflict based anime has failure. Along the path, there are many smaller failures but the fighting spirit of the contenders continues on to the ultimate climax. It is usually the villain’s fate to fail. But sometimes the hero fails. And sometimes everyone wins when an unforeseen solution to a problem is discovered.
It is a rare anime in which everyone fails. Every significant character is destroyed. Nobody meets their goals. Nobody can carry on. Pretty bleak, eh? Who would want to watch such a thing?
Massive spoilers alert!
Netflix bet some large money on Devilman Crybaby. I think they succeeded and turned a nice profit on it.
This is an incredibly dark story. Not for anyone sensitive to explicit sexual behavior including sexual violence. If you are easily triggered, please look elsewhere.
We see the Earth, suspended in space, a blue ball of life. Objects of light, generated by what looks like stylized angels, start to rain down upon it from above. They impact until the planet explodes. What is left is the glowing red carcass of a world surrounded by a belt of debris. Slowly it starts to cool.
In a voice-over, the character Ryo indicates he used to think that love didn’t exist and that therefore sadness didn’t either. The past tense is important here. He’s looking back at these events from a distance. And then there’s another beautiful blue planet earth.
Cut to the future. Now we see a dark-haired boy, Akira. A nonentity really. As a child, he meets Ryo, a boy his own age, who just mysteriously shows up. Akira has dark hair but holds great empathy and love in his heart. Ryo is blonde and beautiful but hard-bitten and dark inside. Together they find a sick and mangy kitten in the rain. Ryo would euthanize it with an Exacto knife. Akira intervenes, putting it in a box with an umbrella to keep the rain off.
It dies, regardless.
Akira has a sensitive nature and cries for the loss. Ryo states that it is the law of nature for the weak to die and the strong to win, even as he holds an umbrella for the “weak” Akira… Akira refuses to accept this and says that Ryo cried for the kitten too.
And in a way that’s true. A person without a heart would not have wanted to euthanize the kitten. They would not have done anything at all.
Every one disliked Ryo as a child. Probably because of his brutal honesty and judgmental nature. Except for Akira. He saw the good in Ryo.
Fast-forward ten years. Akira is in high school. He is still overly sensitive, crying upon hearing of the murder of another student.
He is weak, easily being beaten by the girls on the track team. But still, he has eyes for Mika, the track superstar and professional model. She looks on him as she would an annoying younger sibling. He follows her around, like a puppy dog.
Akira represents complete, unmoderated innocence. There is not a harsh note about him. He may be dark-haired but he is boyish and physically undeveloped. His desire for Miki is sweet enough to cause tooth decay. It is his exaggerated goodness that makes him unsuitable as a romantic partner. Pure innocence befits a puppy but doesn’t work for a nearly grown human being. All that is about to change.
One definition of innocence is that of ignorance. So we hide the facts of life from our children in the hope that remaining ignorant of something will lead to not wanting to do that something.
Another is inexperience. You know intellectually that the world is a wild and wooly place, you know about sin but you didn’t, can’t, and won’t and will avoid temptation as much as possible. You’ll stay in your own moral cocoon/echo chamber.
Miki is an example of what I call worldly-wise innocence. She’s a bikini model. Her photographer is a lecherous creep. She knows the world contains hedonistic and problematic behavior and people. But she isn’t seduced by it nor is she intimidated by it. Instead, she shrugs it off. Even though she is a fish and that is part of her ocean, her adherence to her faith and her moral code is solid. It isn’t the hairy thunderer God but rather the loving and forgiving God.
We see this in action when she matter-of-factly tells Akira he should clear his history when he watches porn on her family computer. Not as an accusation of sinful behavior but rather as a matter of his best self-interest. (Daddy/Mommy might not be so forgiving.) It isn’t “perverse” and doesn’t affect her feelings about this boy since it is a perfectly natural and harmless thing for a young boy to do. She’s a good girl who is comfortable in the real world.
Strange things are happening. Insane drug parties. Unexpected extreme violence. Sudden development of astonishing athletic abilities. Brutal murders. And a track coach seemingly asleep in his wheelchair but catches flies with his tongue when nobody is looking.
We have Miki skipping out of a dinner date with her lecherous photographer. He wants
to bed her. She wants to be alone. She ends up on a remote dock. Three boys show up, the leader does some kind of rap routine. We see her nonjudgmental nature again. They are standing in her way but in the absence of aggressive behavior, she doesn’t get angry or fearful.
Akira shows up in a small boat. The other boys ridicule him for being ineffectual and throw wooden boxes down on him. She is angry with him for following her around. Another fail for Akira who was hoping to play the White Knight card. She’s just not interested. To have the object of your romantic dreams consider you to be an annoying little idiot brother is quite a fail. But he persists.
But there is someone who is interested in Akira. Ryo shows up, having been searching for him. The boy doesn’t even have a cell phone. But, knowing the boy’s infatuation, he used Miki’s cell phone pings to track her – and therefor him.
His arrival is dramatic, firing a machine gun into the dock to discourage the boys from harassing Akira and then leaving. Now Miki finally shows an interest by telling Akira he shouldn’t go off with a boy like that.
Akira has weakness written all over him. Yet when he greets Ryo, despite his violence, it is clear the two are still the best of friends. Ryo of the fast sports car and the machine gun. What do they see in one another? Perhaps each sees in the other what they are missing. Akira sees strength, control, rationality and acceptance. Ryo sees empathy and compassion, the only person in the world to extend his hand.
Ryo is not all he seems. He’s even driving in Japan with a US drivers licence! (This blogger rolls his eyes.)
He whisks Akira off to a party. Not just any party but a psychedelic rave orgy on steroids. He says they are going to a “Sabbath party”, a Satanic party to see a real devil. Maybe Miki was right.
The party-goers are mostly all naked and indulging in their wildest sexual fantasies while high on drugs and listening to blasted techno music. Thongs and artful cropping prevent it from wandering into hard-core hentai territory and off Netflix’ programming list.
A cute blonde girl grabs Akira and kisses him, passing a pill from her mouth to his which she makes him swallow. From here, the event becomes even more hentai, mostly focusing on ladies experiencing orgasmic pleasure.
Ryo indicates this isn’t enough to call forth a real devil. To do that, there must be blood. He breaks a bottle of booze and rushes about cutting the party-goers. (I suppose in a more traditional anime Akira would simply gush enough blood from his nose to do the trick.) At first, the angry crowd subdues him. But then something genuinely terrible happens. The psychedelic drug wasn’t just there to loosen inhibitions. It renders them
vulnerable to demonic possession. The devils are here now and taking over human bodies, making them into some very disturbing creatures.
One by one their bodies are ripped apart as spikes and fangs and monstrous forms emerge from within. Vaginas turn into jaws which bite guys in half in mid intercourse. Other people are beheaded, sliced and diced, shredded. I don’t think you can get much more sex and gore on screen and still have Netflix carry it.
One of these new monsters pursues Akira but as he is about to be devoured, he too converts to a devil. Akira’s new form is still basically humanoid with wings, horns and a tail and looks more like the traditional image of a devil. In his rage, he destroys all the demons around him except for Ryo.
Ryo indicates in voice-over that Akira is now possessed by Amanojaku, the mightiest and most ruthless devil there is. It was his real plan all along. That much of his plan succeeded.
Oh wait… it was actually Amon? Sorry. Wrong anime.
Akira now has a devil’s powers. But… once he gets used to the creature inside him, he begins to control it. To dominate it. Akira remains Akira with human empathy, love and morality, only now he has superhuman powers and boldness in his repertoire. That’s not what Ryo wanted. Epic fail that sets up the entire rest of the story.
Completely irrelevant and tangential discussion of the religious concept of “Satan” follows. Skip if not interested.
It may be interesting to note which actual historical concepts show up in the anime.
In the Old Testament version of the Devil, Lucifer is a creature of great beauty. Lucy is the morning star, the bringer of light and knowledge – and in some interpretations the human King of Babylon.
In Islam, the Devil has a personal name and that is Iblis, possibly derived from Greek diabolos. He comes in the form of shayṭān to tempt us from good and as ʿadūw Allāh or enemy of God. He and his friends commited the sin of pride for refusing to bow down before God’s latest creation, Adam. He got kicked out of heaven but is not now in hell. He’s allowed to hang around and tempt all but true believers to evil but will get his comeuppance, come the judgment day.
Jews don’t typically think of Satan as being the evil one. “The Satan” is like an official position, the subordinate of God who offers you a choice between good and evil and will prosecute those who fail the test. It is your job to choose wisely. Note the casual back and forth banter between them in the story of Job. They are like old friends making a bet on a ball game.
Satan as an implacable opponent to God – who rules in Hell and plans to overthrow God in Heaven – is more of a Christianity thing. This Devil doesn’t just offer you a choice and wait to see what happens. The Christian Devil is always there, menacing you, tricking you, and lying to you about his intentions. The rebellion of Lucifer and a third of all angels against God and being cast into the pit for their efforts. But… “I’ll be back!”
Also Sprach Zarathustra (English -Thus Spoke Zarathrustra)
It is possible the oppositional view is derived from Zoroastrianism, a monotheist religion founded in the 6th century BCE. It was founded by Zoroaster, a Persian (aka Zarathrustra). that held the universe was created by a wise and good all-powerful god Ahura Mazda who is battling the forces of evil characterized by Angra Mainu (aka Ahriman or “destructive spirit”). The war is very evenly balanced so it is important that everyone embrace good and fight evil. It also foresees a penultimate battle where good will be triumphant.
The Greek version of Eden’s serpent was Prometheus. He’s considered a good guy for helping man to be less dependent on the Gods by giving him knowledge. Somewhat different point of view than Christianity and Islam who consider the gift of knowledge to be the result of original sin and therefore suspect. Some Jews take the Garden of Eden literally but many modern Jews consider it an allegory of the price one pays when one grows up – or more generally – when a species evolves into a thinking creature.
In anime terms, you could think of it as the results of the Law of Equivalent Exchange.
Hercules, son of the Greek king of gods Zeus, eventually frees Prometheus from his version of Hell. Jesus, the Christian Son of God, has a different position regarding Satan.
The name “Satan” was possibly a variation of the Egyptian god of death, Set. Being slaves there, Set would naturally have a bad reputation among Jews. His official title was Set-hen and was often symbolized by a snake. That explains a lot of the Garden of Eden symbolism.
OTOH the Greeks didn’t necessarily condemn snakes and considered them symbols of healing. It is why they are still on the medical Caduceus today, Another differing point of view, possibly derived from not having to deal with lethal cobras and asps on a daily basis.
Pan was a popular Roman god of hedonism and to Christian leaders of the late Roman era, it seemed a good idea to make Pan the face of evil. So the pretty “Lucifer” version was deemphasized and Satan was revised from angelic in appearance to a goat. Then Revelations described him as a dragon, so later iterations added bat wings, leathery skin, and a pointy tail The pitchfork was borrowed from the Greek god Hades. The red tights were a medieval addition.
About a third of the time the word “Satan” is used in the Old Testament, it does not refer to Lucifer. It may refer to other supernatural beings, pagan peoples or even to really nasty individuals. The literal definition of “Satan” in Hebrew is “obstacle or adversary”.
An early version of the Devil can be seen in a 6th-century mosaic where he is a luminous being of blue light. Milton described the Devil as a being of great beauty. Illustrations of the work show this too. Compare this figure of Satan from “Paradise Lost” with Ryo of Devilman Crybaby.
Oh yeah… one more thing. Lucifer doesn’t have a fixed gender. No angel does. Nor does God. It is whatever gender it wants to be at the moment. All genders at once. Or no gender at all. Lucy just happens to be displaying as a “he” right now. It is just the tradition of the “Peoples of the Book” to refer to God and the Devil as males.
Back to our previously scheduled programming…
Ryo is up to no good. He doesn’t realize it yet but he is being unconsciously driven to destroy humanity. We are rotten and weak and do not deserve to live. The drug and the parties are a way to bring his minions into this world. And because he liked Akira, the epitome of purest good, having Amon – the greatest of his subordinate devils – take him over was a way to keep his friend around while all the humans died. Lucy’s helper demons don’t understand why he wanted to protect this wuss of a human but the Devil’s word is law.
At first things are looking up for Akira. Suddenly he’s taller, muscular and has devilish good looks. His athletic prowess is amazing. Girls love him, guys want to be him and Miki is looking at him as boyfriend material. He starts to view himself as a superhero, The Devilman of a manga he once read.
Did I mention this show was saturated with sexuality?
Well… there are the wet dreams about Miki. Now he has to clean the ceiling. It doesn’t help that he can see through her clothing now. And from the sounds he’s making in the room above her, she has to know something is up. But he’s still a good boy, better than most. Despite his growing desire for her he treats her with respect and courtesy.
The boy needs to learn that masturbation is okay. As many times as it takes. Just keep a towel over it for the sake of the room. Or maybe several towels.
In the meantime, both Akira’s parents are possessed by a demon. He is forced to kill it and the trauma of it leaves him in tears. The grief doesn’t seem to last very long. Maybe that comes with being a devil-man.
Ryo has a charade going. Akira still thinks Ryo is looking for devils to identify and eliminate. That Ryo is on humanity’s side.
Ryo – who he still thinks is his friend – ships him off to a hooker to resolve his newfound sex drive. The woman he hooks up with is another devil, Silene. It’s just a plot to get him to lose control and let Amon take over. It doesn’t work. Akira doesn’t turn into Amon but rather takes on his Devilman persona to fight Silene and her partner Kaim. The battle starts out as sexual violence and becomes a dark blood bath. Then Kaim allows Silene to graft onto his body after he decapitates himself for her. Devilman is just barely strong enough to survive but only after being ripped to shreds. He’d be much more powerful if he would just surrender to Amon.
And we also learn that demons can know love.
Ryo is confused about his own motivations. He doesn’t remember his origin. Why is he doing this? He heads back to the Amazon where he first encountered demons to find out more about himself. It seems he is Lucifer and is unknowingly acting with Lucifer’s motives while he thinks he’s doing the opposite. Fallen angels can be killed but their souls then float around in limbo until they find a suitable vessel and then reincarnate. Lucy wants to wipe out humanity and then go to war against God. Already tried it once and failed – but if at first you don’t succeed… Ryo is cool with the idea.
There are other devil-people in the world and their numbers are increasing. People who attended a rave, got drugged, were possessed by a devil but maintained control. (And joined the high school track team.) For the most part they maintain their moral compasses. There are other demons hiding in human form. It gets to be a very mixed up place.
This can’t last long. It comes out that there are demons among us. Ryo drugs a devil-man and during a track where meet he transforms and eats most of his competition. It comes out that there are devils among us. The devils declare open war on humanity. Devils and devil-people get lumped together as enemies. Akira learns the truth about Ryo and instead of joining, he opposes. The world begins to unravel. Akira would form an army of devil-people to fight alongside humanity against the devils.
Some people see the humanity of the devil-people. Miki even goes on talk television to defend them. It doesn’t work. We begin to devour our own allies and then ourselves through fear and hatred. (Yup. that’s how a witch hunt usually goes.) Miki’s family dies horribly. Miki dies horribly. Akira realizes that humans can be as bad as the devils who would destroy them.
The world launches nuclear strikes on the cities the devils manage to control. However the devils manage to achieve their goal. Humans are obliterated. In a final battle Akira receives the power of the surviving devil-people and confronts Lucifer directly. Lucifer cuts him in half.
When he realizes what he has done to his best friend, he loses control and collapses with emotion. The angels of God descend and destroy the Earth again.
Devilman fails to protect humanity, his friends, his family and his great love Miki. He fails to defeat Lucifer. All the devil-people die. His only claim to victory is that he stayed true to himself. It is true of anyone who goes down fighting. (Akira wasn’t out to save God another big angel vs devil battle. Not part of his self declared victory conditions.)
Miki fails to convince the world not to hate the devil-people among them. Her belief in love and goodness fails to protect or save anyone. She even fails to survive an angry mob of fellow humans. But, just as Akira, she did manage to stay true to herself. That’s a small victory of sorts.
Lucifer fails to win Akira to his cause. It fails to get Amon to take over. It manages to kill off humanity but to no avail. All its demons are dead. And with Akira dead, it no longer has any will to pursue the matter with God. It folds completely.
Humanity fails miserably. Beyond miserably. When confronted with true evil, it disintegrated and caused as much damage to itself as the devils it was fighting. Had it remained cohesive and formed a common front with the devil-people, obliteration might have been averted. (Or not.) Perhaps Lucifer was correct in its estimation.
God failed again. Their creation proved incapable of sustaining itself. Earth had to be blown up to start over from scratch. But God will try again. As long as you can keep trying your failure is just a temporary setback.
That’s my contribution for the Fail theme of OWLS this month. On the 8th we had BeckNaja with Tsurune, Dylan on Youtube with Failure and Big Windup and on the 12th we have Hikari talking about Black Clover