I recently had the pleasure of finishing the masterpiece known as Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist. As of now, it ranks among the highly esteemed list that is “Crispy’s All-Time Favorite Anime”—a very exclusive list, I assure you. Of course, there are many reasons why I think so highly of it. One of those reasons…I just love dirty jokes, and I would do anything to live in a world where it is okay to indulge in them. My second reason for loving this show, however, is what spawned this post—because never, in all my history of anime-watching, have I seen an anime handle politics so perfectly.
Anime’s usual takes on politics are pretty straightforward: Suits gather around a table in the war room to discuss some major incident in the story. The president gets briefed on the situation and we as an audience have to listen to exposition, despite already knowing everything they’re discussing—because we were there when it happened. There’s always one angry person in the room, be it the president or the general. Nothing happens, we just needed to know that the government knows, and only then we can get back to the show. The incident is also covered by the press, meaning there will be a painfully mundane television broadcast addressing the major issue—as if the story’s pace couldn’t be further grinded to a halt.
We see this all too often in shows like My Hero Academia, taking us far away from the action for multiple episodes at a time. It’s such a slog when characters we love put on suits and run through meaningless formalities, all for the purpose of giving a slight touch of “realism” to a show where a man punches the air so hard that he causes it to rain. There’s also GATE, which handles politics a little better in a courtroom setting—by having two fantasy girls confront the Japanese government about their lack of appreciation for their troops. It is a good representation of political agents asking leading questions and using language to warp the narrative in their favor—but this nonetheless feels a bit childish considering the content of the narrative was so easy to refute.
And that’s my main complaint about politics in anime—it always feels like a childish attempt at portraying significance. It comes off as a mechanism for which we rely on the acknowledgement of the “adults in charge” in order to fully realize that what is happening IS important. But that’s silly, because of course what we’re watching is important—the fact that we’re watching it in the first place means its importance is self-evident. However, being unnecessary in a story structure isn’t the only thing that makes this attempt “childish”. It’s more of a “know-it-when-you-hear-it” type deal, because the dialogue is often dumbed down to reach an intended audience of young people, yet needlessly drawn out to still give off that droning-adult feel. The content of these discussions, as I mentioned earlier with the GATE example, tends to be extremely one-dimensional issues with answers that should be obvious to any decently put-together human being.
Though you could say that “childish” is the perfect way to go about portraying politics in anime, as mainstream politics often appears to be nothing but infantile—and I’d probably agree with the underlying sentiment. That being said, fiction offers the opportunity for nuance, and more often than not I appreciate seeing that opportunity taken. Politics can actually be interesting if you truly care about delving into complex issues, instead of just having everything boiled down to simple conclusions of “right” and “wrong”. What I love about Shimoneta is that it deals with the gray area in-between two extremes, and focuses on key politic issues delivered through clever allegorical writing rather than using unwelcomed tonal shifts to express seriousness in the face of important issues.
The first big issue Shimoneta addresses is of course the battle between freedom of speech and indoctrination. It couldn’t be any more obvious, in a world where every citizen is forced to where a collar and bracelets to ensure no lewd actions can take place, that Shimoneta is deeply concerned with the dangers of totalitarianism. When the government has complete control over the public and private spheres, individuality (and humanity) ceases to exist. The government in the show has this unthinkable control, and we primarily see it exercised in the place it would do the most damage: The school. Replacing education for indoctrination, the students are left ignorant in everything related to sexuality, so far so that they don’t even understand their own biology. Anything that could lead one astray from the government’s ideal of purity is forbidden. Even speaking about these topics or criticizing the system that forbade them is an offense worthy of arrest and rehabilitation. Of course, this all begs the question: What is “thought” if you cannot express it to anyone but yourself? In a similar vein, does a tree falling down in the woods make a sound if no one is around to hear it?
Reality only exist if we are able to perceive it, and so if your ability to express yourself is effectively constrained, that would be a part of you that isn’t allowed to exist—in the eyes of everyone else. This is why freedom of speech is crucial, and why it needs to be fought for when under assault by an oppressive regime. But when can the fight be taken too far? Well, that’s the second major political topic Shimoneta dwells on: activism vs terrorism. Political activism is necessary when a government oversteps its reach, and tends to work best in the form of peaceful yet vigorous protesting. At its worst, political activism devolves into violence and terrorism, almost always as a detriment to its own cause. To resort to brash, dangerous, and downright cowardly actions is to effectively give up the argument. No one has ever been persuaded to change their beliefs by a brute show of force, just merely bullied into submission if that force happened to be overwhelming enough. Most of what will come from despicable actions will be the public rightfully agreeing to the enemies framing of it as indeed, despicable. Activists want people to think. Terrorist want people to be afraid. In Shimoneta, this is the difference between S.O.X and Gathered Fabric.
S.O.X. refuses to use weapons, whereas Gathered Fabric goes so far as to hold hostages up by gunpoint during the climax. Blue Snow, leader of S.O.X., stands by her principles and works tirelessly to uphold them against the forces of tyranny. White Peak, leader of Gathered Fabric, turns out to have no principles and only works to feed his desire of collecting used, white underwear. One strives to provide necessary chaos to a world dominated by order, the other wreaks havoc for the mere sake of it. As if this outline wasn’t enough, Shimoneta also introduces a character seduced by the destructive ways of Gathered Fabric, seeing S.O.X.’s restraint as a weakness, when in fact, it’s actually their greatest strength.
When we look even more closely at individual characters, we can find two particular politics-corrupting archetypes: the politician and the ideologue. The worst kind of politicians (and some might say most politicians) care more about control than the people they’re supposed to serve. They barely connect with commoners at all, outside of obligatory conferences where they stand at their podium, above the crowds and addressing them one-sidedly. Their tendency to play dirty seeps through in their actions (which are often the opposite of their words), and they’ll go so far as to leverage acts of terrorism to psychologically propagate their own agenda. More than anything, they want an uninformed populous, as knowledge and free thought make individuals and society harder to control. We see all these as characteristics of Sophia, Anna’s mother, who is barely seen publicly throughout the season, pushes for mandatory chastity belts that monitor arousal, and lets innocent people wait to be rescued in hopes that by prolonging the terrorism of Gathered Fabric, she can in turn make all the ero-terrorist groups look dangerous and destructive.
Then there’s Anna herself, who is by all accounts, an ideologue. She blindly follows her mother’s doctrine, filling herself with notions of purity and righteousness, and leaves her mind open for little else. All of her self-repression eventually bursts out in the form of lust for Okuma, but she’s deluded herself so far that she couldn’t possibly see the irony. Ideologues always double down on their beliefs, no matter what evidence is brought forth to them—after all, they wouldn’t be ideologues if they could change their minds. We see that as they go on, they begin to contradict themselves, eventually becoming everything they’re supposed to despise. While Anna constantly trying to share her “love nectar” with Okuma is played off as a running gag, her obsessive hypocrisy is more than a just simple joke. It’s a brilliant portrayal of the political extremes, and sadly, it’s not as over-the-top as one might think. If you’re on social media, you’re probably seeing these types of people every day—and that isn’t to say they’re everywhere, or anywhere near a majority. They’re simply the loudest, and stick out like a splinter in your skin: annoying enough to gain your attention, and you want to pluck them out of your skin as soon as possible…your skin being a symbol for rational, political discourse.
Perhaps these are political issues that are just important to me, and that’s why I think so highly of Shimoneta. I suspect, if not hope, that most people agree with the sentiment that the freedom to express oneself, the freedom to think, is and should always be an immutable right to humankind. That being said, the reason I began studying film in the first place is because I care as much, if not sometimes more, about the execution of things rather than the meaning behind it. While I do believe in the message of Shimoneta, the quality of its delivery is what truly impresses me: a hilarious, clever, and endearing package that will hopefully be received for many years to come. Thanks for reading.