Trust & Violence

OK, this is all very speculative but here goes.

Logical Premises

Premise One: While pictorial stories have been a part of Japanese popular culture since at least the Edo period the particular theme of sexualized violence against girls is of more recent vintage. According to Susan J. Napier and her sources, this theme has only become really noticeable in the last fifty years or so.

Premise Two: At the end of World War II the Japanese people, individually and collectively, went through a horrific experience of helplessness and violation when the Bomb was dropped.

Premise Three: A common response to the experience of helplessness and violation, in individuals, is rage. Admittedly, this premise is based mostly on Western psychological studies, but since every culture’s history seems to include uprisings-in-anger of previously oppressed classes somewhere I feel reasonably comfortable extrapolating this response to human cultures at large.

Premise Four: This is where it gets really shaky, because this one is explicitly based on Western psychology and I have no idea how broadly applicable it is. But it is also common for such rage to be self-directed.

Speculation: The schoolgirls who get victimized in manga/anime are representative of their whole culture. They represent everyone’s vulnerability and the violence expressed toward them is an inwardly-directed expression of rage at that vulnerability.

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Analysis

Now, what this means for Sailor Moon is that the show has a huge, thundering subtext involving healing. The girls, those representatives of helplessness, have now got power. They can defend themselves, though not perfectly. This is not, after all, a totally unreal wish-fulfillment; the girls get in trouble, are even defeated sometimes. Consider the SuperS series. The Amazon Trio’s actions are definitely set up as rape (in Episode 142 Chibiusa even calls it “trespassing and sexual assault”), and the girls can’t usually stop it. What they can do is save the victim’s life, which is a pretty decent start when you think about it.

This also adds some weight to the scarcity of men. After all, the rage noted above is generally represented through males (the aggressive self?). So, on the one hand the scarcity of them in Sailor Moon could express reasonable caution in dealing with a volatile tendency and on the other hand the fact that men are present at all could be a recuperative gesture. Mamoru gets to carry most of the weight of this analysis. Under normal circumstances his aggression is directed at the enemy, those who do violate the helpless. Every so often, he gets taken over by the enemy and then his aggression is directed back inward, toward the girls. At that point, the girls tend to lose a little strength themselves if only because they don’t want to hurt him; the end of the first season is a good example of this, though I would particularly point out the fact that Sailor Moon does attack overshadowed!Endymion in order to save herself before coming out with the statement that she refuses to fight him. I would also point out that her refusal to fight (after proving that she is capable of defending herself, note) seems to be what wins him back. In any case, they do get him back in the end. To me, this sounds like a matter of discerning who’s really the enemy. The enemy you destroy; friends who are temporarily overshadowed or confused you try to win back. So the show doesn’t condemn the men/self who backslide, but it makes very clear the fact that habitually violating vulnerability makes someone the enemy/not self.

The most fascinating aspect of this arrangement, for me, is the utter confidence Usagi (our strong heart) has in her own ability to heal. She never evinces any doubt that the power of her trust will win over temporarily alienated members of her circle (overshadowed!Endymion, Sailor Saturn, the Amazoness Quartet, even Neherenia and Galaxia). One of the more interesting examples of this is her fight with Uranus and Neptune at the end of Season Three. For once it isn’t a case of overshadowing, rather Haruka and Michiru seem determined to test Usagi. Faced with the choice of fighting her own side or getting pounded, she takes a third option and uses her latest power upgrade to simply slip aside–resulting in Haruka running into Michiru with horizontal effect. This is a loaded encounter, given that Haruka is unquestionably the best fighter of all the senshi and Usagi defeats her quite explicitly by not fighting. And that is sufficient to win Haruka and Michiru’s allegiance. Both Usagi’s determination to deal with the confrontation herself and her refusal to engage in me-versus-you violence to do so are typical of her, and are echoed powerfully at the end of Season Five when she confronts Chaos/Galaxia. Usagi (or Sailor Moon or Serenity or whatever she is at that point) steadfastly refuses to fight Galaxia, trying instead to reach the “small hope” hidden still in Galaxia’s heart; she succeeds. Usagi never doubts that, once united, they can save the world. And she’s always proven right. The impact of this statement, if as I speculate it is directed toward a sort of cultural survivor-consciousness, cannot be overstated. The hardest thing for any individual survivor is to become in any way open/vulnerable again. Usagi’s invincible trust definitely qualifies as open/vulnerable (which is probably why the rest of her circle protect her so vociferously; that, too, is realistic and positive). And here, in one package, we have awareness and assertion of power, stipulations for the behavior that can and can’t be trusted (let’s say, Mamoru versus Tigers Eye, who struck me as the most thoroughgoing bastard of the Trio; he’s the one who giggles disturbingly while invading people’s dream mirrors), and a blueprint of how to balance the recovered whole around the centerpoint of the trusting heart. It’s a beautiful and vital pattern.

And speaking of balance, and since the speculations above aren’t the total of what I think is going on, let’s bring this back to the main discussion.

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Last Modified: Aug 22, 08
Posted: Aug 22, 08