October 13, 2016

Ghostbusting in Japan (2)

Following up on my previous post about ghostbusting Japan, here is an abbreviated list of some more recent anime releases that epitomize the genre. I'm limiting myself to titles that fit primarily into a Buddhist or Shinto framework.

There is considerable overlap in the magical girl genre. The "Divine Tree" in Yuki Yuna is a Hero has a Shinto vibe to it, though as with Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, the causes behind the effects are "scientific" (alien science up to no good) rather than theological.

An eclectic crossover is Ghost Hunt, written by Twelve Kingdoms author Fuyumi Ono. The ghostbusting team includes a Buddhist monk, a shrine maiden, a Catholic priest, a spirit medium, a paranormal researcher, and, of course, a couple of high school students. They've got all the bases covered.

Noragami does an excellent job with all of the core elements: the purification of fallen souls, a teenager with second sight, the (Shinto) God of Calamity, getting into a literal shootout (firearms are involved) with Bishamon, the (Buddhist) God of War, and the divine working for a living.

Noragami was one of last year's big hits, a nicely balanced mix of action, comedy, theology, and some pretty intense dramatic scenes stressing the wages of sin and the trials of atonement (as I pointed out before, by no means does monotheism have a monopoly on hellfire and damnation).

Kamichu! takes a purely Shinto approach. One day, Yurie, an ordinary schoolgirl, becomes a Shinto god and gets put in charge of the gods and youkai in her neck of the woods. The aesthetics of the Shinto cosmology in Kamichu! is similar to that in Spirited Away.

Makoto in Gingitsune is a shrine maiden (not a kami) but she can communicate with the shrine's kami. The final episodes nicely depict a community purification ceremony. There is a whole shrine maiden genre, perhaps the most popular series being Rumiko Takahashi's Inuyasha.

Beyond the Boundary, Myriad Colors Phantom World, and Kekkaishi stick to the teen supernatural superhero formula and hue closely to Shinto eschatology.

Beyond the Boundary features freelancers that cooperate—and sometimes compete—with the powerful clan that runs the local cartel on youma hunting.

Your mileage may vary, but the comic relief works for me (the entirety of episode six is a standalone comedy), and as a teen romance it is certainly unique. Mirai Kuriyama kills Akihito Kanbara the first time they meet, and then a dozen times after that. Otherwise, they get along fine.

But Akihito is an immortal half-youma so getting killed isn't a big inconvenience (at first). Despite the occasionally goofy material, it is an intense and compelling drama with several great character arcs (be sure to watch the credits in the very last episode all the way to the end).

Ghostbusting is a school club activity in the parallel universe of Myriad Colors Phantom World. It's an episodic series with a conventional harem setup. Thankfully isn't a harem show. The artwork is nice and it succeeds at being fun and informative.

Episodes are introduced with little tutorials about theology and applied psychology that take the subjects seriously as they relates to the ghostbusting business. Episode four, for example, revolves around omagatoki, which also figures into Serpent of Time.

Kekkaishi is the lower-budget version of Myriad Colors. The -shi in Kekkaishi and Mushi-shi means "master of." A "Kekkaishi" is a master of a spiritual barrier, a common tool in the genre. They're also used in Beyond the Boundary.

Being a Kekkaishi is the "family business," and two families in town compete with each other, generally to comedic ends. There are some shared similaries with Noragami about how youma go bad.

The live-action film of Mushi-shi was released in the U.S. as Bugmaster, which makes it sound like a 1950s B-movie. Mushi-shi is infinitely more subtle than that. It's about a roving demon-fighter who deals with problems caused by insect youkai.

Think Twilight Zone or a solo Supernatural with a period setting.

These last three titles are closer to the conventional horror category, with creepier characters (both antagonists and protagonists) and plenty of blood & guts action and gore.

Ghost Talker's Daydream is basically Ghost Whisperer, except that the heroine works in an BDSM club (because ghosts don't hang out in BDSM clubs) and dead people mightily annoy her. She really doesn't care what happens to the dearly departed as long as they leave.

In Corpse Princess, Makina is the shinigami ("god of death") of a murdered girl. She now works for a Buddhist order as a ruthless assassin of malevolent shinigami who've gone bad.

Tokyo Majin leans more more toward the wuxia genre. The teen demon fighters are martial artists and possess Buddhist superpowers. One of the MacGuffins is something called the "Bodhisattva Eye." But they spent most of their time battling fairly conventional zombies.

Related links

Ghostbusting in Japan (1)
Japanese genre horror

Beyond the Boundary
Corpse Princess
Ghost Talker's Daydream (Amazon). Only a few anime episodes were made and I recommend avoiding them. The manga is better (explicit material).
Gingitsune. Gingitsune and Kamichu! can also be classified as "family-friendly" slice-of-life series.
Myriad Colors Phantom World

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