The End (Ikki Tousen Style)

The September cover for Comic Gum sports Ryomoh Shimei from Ikki Tousen in this striking composition [click on it for a much larger size]:

The Cover

The Cover

I find this sort of thing very suggestive.  There is a double heresy in this picture: a Western-Christian heresy superimposed on the core Eastern-Chinese heresy involved in transforming the heroic general Lü Meng into a voluptuous eye-patched submission expert.

Last time I talked about crosses in anime was when Haruhi-chan crucified Mikuru.  Remember that?  I saw a couple of instances on forums where people who pointed the religious imagery out were rebutted with: “Well, Jesus’ was not the only instance of crosses and crucifixion, why do you have to assume that the creators were thinking of Christianity when they did this??”

I guess that’s a somewhat valid point, although the image of the cross (even in Japanese eyes ) has been so identified with Christianity that even if the creator came to it by another route he is bound to think of IT and his or her work will resonate with IT in the eyes of spectators.

But to make it clear for you that the cross behind Ryomoh is not simply a fashion statement, let me point out the words to her left:

あなたを赦します

Transliterated, this reads: Anata o yurushimasu.

“Yurushimasu” means to forgive, and it’s usually written like this: 許します with a different starting kanji.  Truth be told, I’d  never run across 赦します and I had to look it up.  Both are read “yurushimasu”, and evidently what the Japanese have done here (as they’ve done so often elsewhere) is take advantage of the wealth of Chinese characters out there to split an original Japanese word into different nuances.

So “yurushimasu” means to forgive, but 赦します is deeper and stronger than your usual 許します.  Guess what’s the main (or one of the main AFAIK) uses of 赦します..?  Yup, it’s used in the translation of the Catholic words “Ego te absolvo”.  The full Japanese phrase is あなたの罪を赦します (=I forgive your sins, I absolve you of your sins) but あなたを赦します is perfectly acceptable (=I forgive/absolve you).

According to a Christian blogger who’s address I forgot to jot down [oops!), the difference is that to forgive someone with 許しますis to forgive them with and despite their faults whereas the forgiveness of  赦します actually atones for the faults or sins involved.  Therefore the only one who can perform this second, far more powerful forgiveness is God (perhaps through one of His ministers).

Therefore in this cover Ryomoh, dressed up appropriately in priestly black, is telling us “Ego te absolvo” before a silver cross, an unmistakable association with Western religion Q.E.D.

So?  Well, if you asked this question then know that it (the question itself) is the point: we’re reaching the end of boundaries, limits, meaning, religion, etc.  That this is drawn and put it out there today is striking to me…

I also happen to think that it’s an excellent psychological portrait of Ryomoh, because it shows the ambivalence of strength and weakness that characterizes her.  Being a submission expert, Ryomoh is all about taking control.  She’s great at striking a pose, and yet we often see in her a tendency to lose control and be overwhelmed.  The collar on her neck betrays submissiveness in the submission master.  It’s not even clear whether she has handcuffed the cross or whether she is handcuffed to it.

~ by Haloed Bane on August 24, 2009.

10 Responses to “The End (Ikki Tousen Style)”

  1. The fact that not everyone is a Christian, or holds Christian beliefs to be “sacrosanct,” is surprising to you somehow?

  2. Not that. See, it used to be the case that public representations of foreign religions were of either of two types:

    a) respectful – in this case, even if you don’t believe in the religion you do respect it as an aspiration of peoples, as “holy” in some sense.

    b) hateful – For example, the Abrahamic religions usually were very abusive to each other because they saw each other as rivals for the Truth, as heretics etc.

    What this cover shows us is the quickly gaining third approach:

    c) playful – here there’s absolutely no respect, not even the respect of an enemy. The symbols are employed just as any other set of symbols. The Japanese are very good at this, and they do it to Shinto in Anime as well.

    I’m not saying this is positive or negative, just surprising. But you’re right, not surprising in a “oh WTF” way, because I understand the trend and see it everywhere…It’s a “gut-feeling” surprising, where although my mind sees it and goes “whatever, yeah” my heart still goes: “Whoa!”. As a History major maybe my consciousness is a century too old too!

  3. I 赦します you for not posting as often.

    Ryoumou is my favorite. Just 赦します me for not adhering to your Romanization method! Shimasen!

  4. That’s an interesting finding🙂 I like your proof and another language lesson🙂 Hmm… If Lu Meng executed his friend for sealing a hat from a villager, I wonder if this priestly incarnation will be so forgiving😛

  5. Good stuff!

    The cross itself looks strikingly ornamental to me (I suppose its flimsiness, shininess and decoratedness ring Reformed alarm bells in the back of my head). It doesn’t look suited to being anything but a symbol.

    If you want something really tenuous (or at least, likely accidental), how about connecting Ryomoh’s handcuffs to the power of the keys, as it’s expressed in ‘ego te absolvo’? Though as you say it’s not clear who needs to be loosed.

    The cheerful Christian adoption of pre-existing things, as in Bede’s etymology taking ‘easter’ from the name of a pagan goddess, sounds like your idea of ‘playful’ engagement. But maybe that’s more colonial than playful.

  6. Like you pointed out, the Japanese seem to be very good at portraying religious symbols with a very high degree of accuracy – yet without any sort of “value-judgement” (which is a butchered, hashed together neologism, but the best I can think of).
    Rather than communicate a value judgement about the worth of the symbols, the symbols simply signify (in this case perhaps, also titillate).

    I would have to agree with Iknight here as well; that cross is decidedly a Catholic one, or maybe a really, really flowery Anglican one. In fact, it seems most Christian trappings that make their way into anime seem more outright Catholic, but I suppose that’s because Catholics are fairly numerous and in general they use a lot more symbols.

    What’s always fascinating is how widespread Christianity is in spite of it’s “pagan” status. No doubt the transmission of American culture during the 50s certainly brought a lot of that into Japan, and perhaps Christianity is seen and appreciated perhaps through an exoticized lens (perhaps in the same way the West has taken to Buddhism as “fashionable”), but still, one wonders how it keeps creeping in…

  7. @ghost

    Fair enough. But make sure you use “Ryomou” then, because the “ryo” there isn’t long but short..

    BTW, last night I dreamt I was a (or in a) white mecha called Mirage. When I woke up I immediately thought it must be a Transformer, but looking it up on wikipedia the “mirage”-named Transformer (a Formula 1) didn’t look at all like the mecha in my dream. Then about noon I started reading Fine Star Stories, which I’ve had on the backburner since you wrote about it, and voila’, there’s a white with red mecha called Mirage that fits the profile perfectly!! Did I just have an amazingly prophetic FSS dream???

    @kitsune

    This Ryomoh is quite benign, actually. As long as you don’t touch her loved ones.

    @Animanachronism

    Definitely colonial IMO. The idea there is to overlay a Christian grid over the entire world. Here it’s just play.

    The cross IS beautiful, isn’t it. Maybe it’s an iron cross.

    On the keys, I guess one could argue that Ryomoh, essentially a trained killer, can send you to heaven or hell (if you’re unconfessed) with one grip.

    @vendredi

    Well, look, I was once told by a musician from Japan: “classical musicians in Japan are pros at emulating technique, but in their performances they lack fire.”

    In a sense, this play of symbols might be just that. Except that the “lack of fire”, or an absolute heart, might actually be a trendy (or Zen??) advantage rather than the drawback that my friend meant it to be…

    Walk down Tokyo and you’ll see many people wearing crosses, as fashion statements. It is very pervasive.

  8. So, yet another evidence that suggests Ikki Tousen to be more than boobs attached to transgendered generals of RoTK. Still not ready to give manga/anime a go but creative poster nonetheless, haha.

    So that character was Lu Meng? I always thought she was based on Xiahou Dun (eye patch). I wonder if that forgiveness thingy also has to do with what he did to Guan Yu. Granted, he doesn’t really have anything to beg forgiveness from him (he didn’t really betray him, just won the war as enemies ‘fair and square’?).

  9. YES. The Mirage Knights of the AKD have the LED Mirage mortar headds. A fine, nay, gorgeous machine and one of the most powerful in FSS. I like your dreams. I need more dreams with gorgeous mecha and gorgeous fatima fates (fah-tehz).

  10. @gaguri

    The one thing you must realize about Ryomoh is that she hasn’t lost an eye at all, she wears a patch to cover her secret demon eye!!

    Xiahou Dun is Kakohton in Ikki Tousen. He’s lost his eyes, yup. So far though he hasn’t messed with “Guan Yu” that I can remember. We’re still circa 208 AD here..

    @ghost

    Neat. Do these things fly? I was flying over some ocean at night in my dream…

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