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Greetings, fellow wanderer!

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing “

— Plato(The Apology)

While I can’t claim to be as much of a know-nothing as Socrates , these are indeed the ramblings of a wannabe student of the social sciences. Some of this is original others derivative ; a few academic and most of them criticism. The only commonality between these often disparate works will be that they are the outcomes of my wandering mind. Just as Peter Augustine Lawler argued that we wonder as we wander our separate paths : I invite my fellow-travellers to share their wonder along with me in this journey.

When Innuendo is Funny:Ixion Saga DT (2013)

Ixion Saga Dimension Transfer is one of those trope subverting isekai anime which I think have come to characterise the genre. As usual our protagonist is the rather pathetic Kon Hakaze who figures that he’s found the love of his life in another ostensibly attractive female MMORPG  player. But as is the wont of any sex-starved hikikomori he gets what he never bargained for; a duty to save the world of Mira from a world-consuming war.

Mira is the very picture of a world hastily done with magical swords and firearms sharing the same screen with ease. The plot is pretty well done for a hilarious traipse across this absurd world guarding the bratty Princess Escarlate in the company of the knight Sainglain, her maid Mariandale and their appropriately named bestial companion Pet. While the princess does fit the archetype of a precocious girl to a T, Sainglain and Marian subvert the tough guy and bombshell routine pretty well. Who would figure that the muscle-bound Sainglain is a first class architect and that Marian is a cross-dressing transwoman ?

Not to bested by our heroes, we have a quirky squad of knights named Incognito (though they are anything but discrete) led by Erecpyle Dukakis (ED) in service of the Ulga Soriority; a Christianity-like religion. Each of the knights have their own fetishes; Leon with his masochism, Gustav with his thing for hostess bars, young Variation with his eyes on ED’s beautiful fiance Emilia and KT with her romantic obsession with Erec. While the plot could have done better with a bit more tying off loose ends the hilarity of the narrative does make up for the under-utilisation of side characters.

What sets Ixion Saga DT apart from the other ecchi anime like Konosuba is its use of sex as a narrative device ; something that both the opening and ending themes clearly point especially with reference to the phallus. In fact the two letter names use throughout the plot are pretty obviously references to sex; ED is Erectile Dysfunction while DT (as Erec calls Kon to his chargrin is a contraction of doutei the Japanese word for male virgin. Similarly, KT seems to be kintama or testicles.

If you want to see a show where a pair of testicles and innunendo drive the plot, Ixion Saga DT is the show for ya.

No Game No Life

What if life was a game with rules you could bluff yourself through ? The No Game No Life anime takes this premise to its seemingly absurd conclusion. The hikki siblings Shiro and Sora are offered an opportunity to enter such a world by the god Tat.

In a world with magic where humans are incapable of using spells,it is inevitable that politics among the various races (called Exceed) has reduced them to a single city. Our fabulous duo end up taking over the city defeating the wily Kuremi, set on expanding their realm and finally challenging Tet. Aided by a rather dumb princess Stephanie Dola (whose cleavage seems to be the butt of the show’s humour and the attractive but psychotic Jibrael they set out to conquer the world

The,interesting premise and storytelling make up for a lax plot; though the movie is the goods in terms of quality. It’s sad that the author had to stop writing, considering how the series ended

91 Days (2016)

Set in the fictional town of Lawless near Chicago this dark revenge thriller seems to do a pretty good job for mafia anime. After witnessing the killing of his family by the Vanetti family as a boy, he returns to ravage the Vanettis by ingratiating himself with the don’s son Nero. Set in the backdrop of beautiful cinematography and haunting music, I feel that there’s a touch of both The Godfather and Scarface in the series. The dubbing also seems to have captured the Italian accent very well, setting up a masterful atmosphere.

The plot is as engrossing as it is unpredictable with hard turns and seemingly random actions contributing to the culmination of tragedy. But the highlight of this anime happens to be the protagonist Angelo and Nero whose personalities and mutual relationship are at the center of the narrative. Thematically speaking , one could argue that the series depicts how an over-arching meaning for life ends up shriveling human lives; Angelo’s reason for living being revenge destroying his essence as an autonomous being . It is indeed better to live for living’s sake rather than become what you once fought. Or as Nietzsche put it:

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.

And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

Beyond Good and Evil

Home and The World:Fafner in the Azure Exodus (S1 and S2)

The hopefully penultimate entry in the Fafner saga seems to actualize what has been a characteristic feature ; poor execution screwing up what could have been a beautiful tragedy into a farce. Still the visuals , the OST and some characters make watching this show worth it.

Set around 4 years after the original series, Exodus deals with the appearance of a new Mir that promises an end to the Human-Festum. But as the narrator put it , it is often the hope of something more than what is given us which gives rise to despair and not timidity. The people of D island are caught in a death spiral along with General Narain of the Neo-UN, starting with the destruction of the Srinagar Mir in India

While the plot is a let down with so many gaps in the lore as well as in the logic of the story (such as the finale of S2 which has made the whole dynamic somewhat pedophilic in my opinion), the narrative is mostly well done.There are more than ten or so sequences where the pathos gets you right where you would want it to. The cast’s mostly been devloped properly with the exception of our protagonists  Kazuki and Soushi who seem to be alternating from being in competition for Maya to homoeroticism and then back again especially at the end.

Canon and Maya have become a lot more mature while Kenji and Sakura seems to have a Yumiko-Michio thing going (hope they don’t end up dead LOL). The second generation and third geneatio have some interesting characters such like Akira, Rina and Sui(I think Rina x Sui is the highlight for me)  as well as the paring between Orihime and Seri (who looks very grown-up, in a good way, I reckon)

The Sunderbans, I presume

The soundtrack and cinematography is downright gorgeous ; especially the intro shot of D-Island as well as the journey through the plains of the Brahmaputra. Interestingly,the transformation of the island’s isolationism into interventionism in the search of hope as opposed to the peace of conflict avoidance should stir up some thought in the viewers. Another interesting observation about   this society is that the performance of ritual in its explicit (like the Bone Festival) as well as its implicit( in continuing high school when there is always going to be a threat of invasion)forms. In fact, it is in acting that the are at peace that they are at peace.

Fafner in the Azure: Heaven and Earth

Picking up from where I left off in the last post, I’ll be dealing with the feature Heaven and Earth from the Fafner saga.Set around 2 years after the events of the original series, the film focuses on the arrival of an abandoned warship carrying a boy called Misao Kurusu to the island setting off a series of events.

The bromance is still strong with them

The homoeroticism is still pretty strong with Soshi and Kazuki, with Kurusu acting as a weird third wheel. While breathtaking visuals and music are complimented by beautiful graphics, the plot and writing still  leaves plenty to be desired with the main characters put through alot of hoops both physically and metaphorically.

That being said I liked the fact that the director chose to give the second generation that is Seri, Hiroto , Akira and Rina a bit more screentime along with Canon who’s been developed a bit better. But as I have come to expect from Fafner the excellent starting gave away to a screwed up conclusion. This is by far the worst of this franchise I have seen

A Memory of Death: Fafner in the Azure- Right of Left (2005)

Considering my rather lukewarm reception of the first Fafner of the Azure series, I felt that this special episode prequel to the series deserved a separate review of its own considering the massive difference in quality between them.

Promo Material for the special

Right of Left seems to benefit from the better writing of Habara who happens to be the director of the Fafner saga. Set around a year before the events of  the first series, it potrays the tragedy visited upon the island by the L Plan.

Rather than clarifying the origins of the Festum or untangling the various Norse terminologies which lie at the core of the Arcadian project,the director opts for a touching story that does little to improve our understanding of this world, but definitely enhances our sympathy with the characters

In many ways the special makes up for the shortcomings of the series by avoiding long digressions on peace, existence and death and focusing on a beautifully pictured romance between Ryu and Yumi in the face of seemingly never-ending tragedy. The pathos of their struggle strikes us all the more harder because of the humanity of their interactions as opposed to the mostly paper-thin cast of the series. The beautiful cinematography and backgroumd scores mesmerize the audience as I have come to expect from this saga

Faced by the possibility of premature attack on D Island by the Festum, Alvis decides to eject a portion of the island termed L-islands with the first set of Fafners to buy the island . This team of Fafners include a rather pathetic Ryu Masaoko and a motivated Yumi Ikoma. But the Festum prove to be more capable than Commander Minashiro thinks , resulting in a last stand lasting months with pilots either being killed or assimilated by the Festum in droves

Sometimes, it is better to tell a seemingly ordinary tale extraordinarily rather than have elaborate plot twists. In doing so, this special stands head and shoulders above the other episodes of Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor

The Transformative Power of Writing: Fafner in the Azure

This is my first review of an anime I’ve put up here ; Fafner in the Azure (2003)roduced by Xebec. I’ve decided to organise this review into the following parts; visuals and sounds, narrative, plot and themes. Themes could contain spoilers, so be advised .

Visuals and Sound

Fafner starts off with a beautiful sequence where the wind appears to be adamant on introducing us to all of the member’s of main cast setting the ton for the rest of the series where the cinematography sweeps you off your feet. The background score also has an endearing aspect to it, with haunting Peace of Mind by angela topping of the experience

Plot

The anime portrays the life and times of the island of Tatsumiya , the last bastion of the Japanese race following the destruction of Japan by an alien race called Festum. Struck by the untimely death of their mecha pilot, they are forced to recruit our hero Kazuki Makabe for flying a Fafner. However as Milton Friedman put everything has a cost; here it is the possibility of assimilation by the Festum whose essence powers the Fafners. He is joined by an ensemble cast composed of the demure Kenji, the tomboyish Sakura, the delicate Shoko, the weak Koyo the dense Mamoru and the vivacious Maya. They are commanded by the sharp yet slightly socially awkward Soshi Minashiro. Even while they are to fight a endless war against aliens,but also the Neo-UN who seem to be hell-bent on eradicating the Festum at all costs. But this suffers from a lack of clarity about the intentions of the parties to the conflict as well as the a mind-boggling number of Nordic names which pass for various technologies (such as Nibelung and Siegfried)

Narrative

Any discussion of how the plot was done would have to separate the series between it’s two writers ; Yasou Yamabe and Tow Ubukata. While the first half is characterized by a series of battles and casualities, it is complemented by paper-thin characters who are unrelatable. It is only in the second half that the travails of our heroes mean something,what with two bittersweet romances blossoming as the scythe of the Reaper draws ever closer.

The relationship between Soshi and Kazuki seems to alternate between homo eroticism and mutual affection for Maya. It is fitting that the characterisation of the supporting cast such as Kazuki’s father Commander Makabe and his drinking buddy Mizuguchi as opposed to the our all-suffering cast.

Themes

For somebody who started watching anime with Valvrave the Liberator, it feels as if there appears to be a lot of repetiton of thematic content in Valavrave from Fafner. There’s a small island Tatsumiya(Module 77) involving mechas which feed off the essence of the pilot. While they ostensibly deal with the standard motif of trying to create peace in a world torn asunder by war, I find the whole concept of being and nothingness quite interesting. While the Festum are the representation of the ever-expanding void, the island represents existence in all its glories and follies. Since the very purpose of the island is to preserve the traditions of Japan in a world were that nation seizes to exist, Tatsumiyajima represents a community that is still bound by an ethos. This ethos is protected by the isolationism of a state that seeks to escape the reality of an endless war by defending the naivete of its children. There is also the problem of the dependence of human identity on mortality which I am frankly not qualified to comment upon. But I feel that our existence is conditioned by our inability to transcend your place in the world; a place one must cherish and not the abstraction of the cosmos

In conclusion, I feel that Fafner reflects the limitations of writing without attention to characterisation as well as the beauty of characters done right. The tragedy of the matter is that with general sombre tone Fafner could have been so much more than this, though what it is now seems to owe alot to Ubukata. One does not need themes (such as FMA), plot (Death Note) or even interesting characters (such as in D’Gray Man) , but what you need is to tell a good story; something Fafner could have done better

Njan Prakashan: Or Of Coming into Terms With Oneself

The progeny of the famous Sathyan Anthikkad-Sreenivasan combo , Njan Prakashan starring Fahadh Fasil as the eponymous protagonist may tumble as it spans genres, but it does provide for an enjoyable experience. A beautiful score combined with a set of melodious songs augments a movie held aloft by a riveting performance from Fahadh. While the movie could have been streamlined a bit better especially with the whole Germany arc taking up longer than it should, it definitely deserves a 8/10

A Note to the Readers

So I was thinking of making use of the unexpected lock-down to work on making my blog a tad bit more readable, so I’ll be soon be adding a couple of pages which will help people navigate through this quagmire of long sentences. I’ll add a short description for each page here .

Articles : These are pieces I have written and published in either and online or offline source. If it’s online, I’ll be putting up a link, while if it was offline it I’ll be putting it up as a post here.

Essays: These essays are either written assignments for classes or stuff I think I can never try getting published anytime soon inclusive of book, film and anime reviews.

Strategos: I’m no military leader, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pass up an opportunity to brag of my skills in leading virtual armies to victory. There will be an element of role-play in the posts, so I’d appreciate it if people took it as it is supposed to be taken.

Critical Analysis of “The Threat to the Idea of A Public University” by Avijit Pathak

This is a critique of Avijit Pathak’s article in the Hindu in the background of the continuing JNU protests. You may want to read the article before reading this essay. Comments are appreciated

1.Introduction

“The threat to the idea of a public university” is an article written by Avijit Pathak in the Comment section of The Hindu newspaper on November 20th, 2019. Written in the background of the JNU fee hike protests (Bhanj, 2019), this column reads as both a defense of public education as well as a critique of commodified education. Pathak argues that public education throughout India with ethico-political sensibilities has been replaced by techno-managerial private education, culminating in an unlikely marriage between right-wing nationalism and technocratic rationalism which crushes dissenting views.

2. Analysis

This essay will attempt at analyzing this text by fits examining the personal and ideological context of this article before examining the twin nemeses that the author has set out to slay; neo-liberalism and instrumentalisation in the context of education. Finally, it will examine other tentative solutions to the problems articulated.

2.1 Ideological Context

If historiography is to be considered the art of writing history as well as the history of all such writings and understanding the historian should entail understanding his/her standpoint rooted in their social context (Carr, p.34), then one must contextualize the writer as well to understand their work. This opinion piece is published in The Hindu which is known to have a left of centre lean (Zandt, 2016), and the author is a social scientist from JNU which is again fairly predictive of liberal lean, (Langbert, Quain, & Klein, 2016). This hypothesis is validated through the author’s choice of certain words such as neoliberalism, and hegemony which are either used by leftist critics or derived from Marxist literature.

2.2 Neoliberalism and Instrumentalisation of Knowledge

While neoliberalism first emerged as a descriptor for the attempts of political theorists such as Hayek to refashion the more interventionist liberalism to a more free-market approach, it is Harvey (2005) whose definition of neoliberalism is most apt for understanding this concept.

“Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.”

A Brief History of Neoliberalism-Harvey

Pathak argues that this emphasis on free markets has commodified knowledge by emphasizing learning outcomes and putting instrumental rationality on a pedestal. He argues that this techno-managerial education (as opposed to epistemological diversity) corrodes the egalitarian basis of democracy provided by public universities in the Nehruvian past. This argument is problematic on both philosophical and historical grounds. Even if one were to construe neo-liberalism as having a singular fountainhead, disregarding the chasm between Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism and Hayek’s limited government, the argument about epistemological tyranny cannot be leveled against Hayek whose Nobel Prize Banquet Lecture (1974) explicitly rejects this

“The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society. “

F. A. Hayek

The charge of viewing thought as instrumental to action may indeed be raised against Marxist historians such as Carr, who argued that it was the historian who could create insights for public policy who was objective, a glorification of instrumentality.

There is also the disconnect between the ideal of a deliberative democracy and the actuality of India’s years which is submerged in this nostalgia. The mythos of the Indian nation is as inclusive of the desire for technological progress as it is of the egalitarian democracy the author cites. If India was indeed a nation accommodative of contemplation, why were dams (mere products of the techno-managerial soon to be churned out by the IITs and the IIMs) the temples of modern India as opposed to the halls of thinking that are universities?

2.3 Public Education

Pathak also characterizes the public university as a democratic space that can resist the homogenizing tendency of the market and the forces of Hindutva which control state apparatuses. He argues that a public education in the model of JNU would inherently be opposed to marketised education which “is non-democratic, conservative and status quoist” Aside from reflecting the ideology of the author, it makes the mistake of assuming that public higher education liberalizes which is negated by the fact that most of the contemporary theorists of the radical right had at least a higher education degree from a public university (See Appendix)

Another illuminating statement on the limitations of this ideal of a public university (as manifested in JNU) is very evident in this extract from Pathak

“It embraced all: a tribal girl from Manipur, a Dalit boy from Maharashtra, a young leftist from Kerala, a radical feminist from Delhi, an Ambedkarite from the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh, and a young wanderer from Germany or Sri Lanka.”

Diversity in this lexicon is reduced to differences of social origin, as opposed to the diversity of thought which the author was championing but a few paragraphs ago. Whither do non-leftists find a refuge in this kingdom with many houses but rather prohibitive rental agreements?  

This definition of diversity lends credence to the analysis of liberalism as tending towards dismissing its discontents as the sub-political (Dugin,2012). Or as Ward (2019) put it succinctly

“You can be any sexuality, gender, race, etc. that you want to be but if you challenge the idea of ‘tolerance’ you are cast out. In other words, aesthetic participation has replaced political participation”

Daniel Ward

3. Conclusion

According to Lawler (2016) approaching the same question of techno-managerial education (or techno-vocationalism in his understanding) was the product of a middle-class democracy that would balk against any genuinely countercultural thought. Perhaps the greatest defense of public universities that can be mounted is its potency to be counter-cultural is what unites the postmodern conservative Lawler and the progressive Pathak.

Or maybe it is the recognition of what actual progress ought to be:

“The progress toward wisdom and virtue over a particular life: the life of a being born to know, love, and die, a personal being who has more than a merely biological destiny shared with the other mammals.”

Peter Augustine Lawler

Appendix : Education of Radical Right Thinkers

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