Kamisama Dolls Ep. 7: Lazy storytelling

I know Aki’s backstory is supposed to be tragic, but I feel like “Kamisama Dolls” is taking the easy way out. Some storytellers, when they need to cast a strong, empowered female, usually heap abuse and trauma on a female character. Usually, this involves a sexual assault of some kind. Eventually, the female gets over her attack and seizes control of her life and destiny. As readers, we are supposed to be inspired by her strength and steely resolution. Sure, that seems plausible.

You keep reading stories, however, and you can’t help but notice that a lot of female empowerment stories tend to start with degradation and abuse. You start to wonder, then, if there’s some mindset out there that women can only empower themselves by first facing sexual abuse. Well, of course not. Women can empower themselves in a multitude of ways, and I’m willing to bet most authors know this; many authors are just lazy. It’s just so much easier to get readers to sympathize with someone who has been a victim of rape.

So what am I trying to get at? When I watch Aki’s backstory unfold, I’m not moved to sympathy; I just feel manipulated. Aki is a brutal murderer and mentally deranged so how do we get the audience to sympathize or even empathize with his character? By, of course, having him be the target of bullies and ostracization. By, of course, killing Aki’s pet, a cute dog; after all, the audience is always sad when an innocent animal dies. Last, but certainly not least, you can tug at the audience’s heart strings by stealing Aki’s woman. What’s that term they have in the anime/manga subculture — netorare? Yes, that; Senou is only in the story so the anime can rape and steal her away from Aki. I just find this emotionally manipulative and lazy.

Broad strokes
The story’s laziness seeps into other areas of the story as well. Yes, I understand that the backstory must fit within the confines of a single episode, but in order to accomplish this, and still get the audience on Aki’s side, “Kamisama Dolls” paints its antagonists in very broad strokes. Atsushi, the bully and rapist, is rendered a caricature of an entitled brat. He just abuses Aki and rapes Senou because he can. The school principal is only included to be heartless to Senou-sensei’s plight. Even Atsushi’s cronies are a joke. When Atsushi accidentally kills Senou, his underlings whine, “You never said anything about murder!” Wait, what? So you were cool with the animal abuse, kidnapping, and rape (possibly gang rape), but we draw the line at murder?

Even Senou’s story is so ridiculously and hastily developed, I couldn’t help but laugh. But this is supposed to be tragic, right? I shouldn’t be laughing, right? Here’s what happened: a kid walked in on his father sleeping with Senou, his teacher. He completely freaked out at this sight and ran out of his home where a car hit him. Really? It wasn’t enough that Senou slept with a student’s father even though this alone would have been sufficient in explaining why she had to take a crappy job in the country. The author felt that this simply wasn’t tragic enough. To remedy this, the author piles on the drama: as punishment for having sex — with an unmarried man, by the way –, Senou-sensei is literally responsible for a kid being run over. This is a joke, right?

Lack of male role models in the village
Kyouhei’s a decent guy, but he’s also a bit of an outsider; he’s part city boy now, after all. Aki’s murderous and deranged, as we’ve discussed previously. We only see Kyouhei’s father in his office and he seems symbolically impotent. Whenever Kyouhei needs his father’s help, his father just stonewalls him. Kirio seems just as potentially deranged as Aki — oh those crazy evil twins! Then there was that old man beating the tar out of Kirio two episodes ago — you know he’s evil just from his eyes. Oh, let’s not forget the horrible men in this week’s episode. Are there any good guys whatsoever in the village? Maybe Koushiro, who seems to genuinely care for Kirio’s well-being, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good guy just yet. So what’s going on, guys? What’s with all the males in the village being dicks? Is there a sex-linked gene affecting everyone in the village?

Poor animation
It just seems weird to drop the ball on the animation for such an important episode.

Then again, they dropped the ball on the storytelling too so why wouldn’t they be lazy about everything else?

25 thoughts on “Kamisama Dolls Ep. 7: Lazy storytelling

  1. suffixmax

    I don’t watch this show, but I wanted to say that I agree on the commonly used trope of “empowering” a female character through abuse, usually sexual abuse. It’s as if the only way a woman can find strength is by beating her down to the lowest possible level.

    Reply
  2. Kyra

    Amen to that, ALL of that. It’s nice that you acknowledge all the crap and laziness of anime story plots these days. As a girl, I am thoroughly disappointed in female name character portrayal as well. -__-

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, I’m told girls get raped all the time so apparently it’s okay to insert paperthin female characters into the story only to add dimension to the male characters.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Have to say I disagree with everything in this post. This is a fantastic episode, easily one of the best episodes of the season too. However, I’ve already expressed my feelings about this ep somewhere else and am too lazy to repeat it here, so I’ll just leave it at that.

    Reply
  4. SailorSonic

    I’m all for female empowerment, but not when it is contrived through something horrible like sexual or phyiscal abuse. Like suffixmax said, it’s as if the only way a woman can find strength is by beating her down to the lowest possible level.

    Also, I didn’t realy like how all the men in the village are crazy and evil compared to the girls. Usually I’m for feminism, but this is just ludirious (sp?). Maybe some crazy chavinistic feminists wrote the script for this anime?

    Reply
  5. Knowitall

    I couldn’t seem to wipe the sneer off my face while watching this episode. As you said, the tragedy was completely over-the-top and blatantly manipulative. The characters’ actions come off as being forced and, often, lacking in motive.

    I was also frustrated by the conflict that exists in Senou’s identity. On the one hand, she’s exceedingly sexual and deviantly so, but on the other hand she’s portrayed as being maternal and virtuous. If the writers had acknowledged this aspect of her and had built upon it, it could have become a compelling piece of characterization. But of course, they never did so and the viewer is simply left with a fragmented and two-dimensional image of her character.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think they tried to push too much material into a single episode. The narrative seemed almost disjointed as a result. One minute Senou stops bullies from hurting Aki, then they’re screwing just ~15min later. Eh. I don’t buy it.

      Reply
  6. thearbee

    I have yet to see an anime character with one of those Post-Stress Traumatic Disorders after an abuse with experience. XD And nom nothing that leads to Yandere/Tsundere bull. D:

    Reply
  7. Hogart

    Yeah, this type of hyperdramatic manipulation is right up there with abusing children purely for dramatic effect. It’s the height of laziness to use such events as blunt instruments. All too often they’re left as trivial character motivations or plot devices. All that remains is to see whether Kamisama tries to use this material for something insightful or meaningful, or just try to go even more over-the-top with some time travel or something.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It’s why I’m not as big a fan of some of the more depressing anime out there. It feels like they’re just piling on the sadness to play with the viewers’ feelings, but what does this sadness say about the story, the world, the viewers, etc? Or is it just saying “killing dogs is sad,” something we’ve always known?

      Reply
  8. Shinmaru

    Yeah, I agree with this. I think the backstory tried too hard to push a theme of Aki and Kyohei being forced to become adults and make adult decisions but not yet being ready for it. It might have worked decently if the set-up weren’t so cliche and ham-fisted. The weak woman to protect, the obviously evil antagonists, the contrived final showdown, etc.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think Hibino’s single tear drop at the end was the cherry on top of the hamfisted sandwich — like damn, this is so sad, right guys?!

      Reply
  9. John

    I still don’t get why Kyohei is angry/mad/ doesn’t want to associate with Aki. He himself states that he finds out that Aki didn’t kill the teacher, then why does he still not want to associate with Aki?

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Kamisama Dolls 07 – Wasted Potential | Hachimitsu – An Anime Blog

  11. Amandria

    This blog post, while not incorrect in its observations, also makes me realize that nobody is taking this episode in context with the story.

    In real life, believe it or not, women are treated like shit all the time in places that would be considered insular as far as society goes. And I’m not even referring to simply small-town mentality either: go take a look at how women are treated on a daily basis in places like India and Iran.

    This episode wasn’t trying to manipulate you into feeling a sense of tragic loss for the death of the teacher. Rather, I think its supposed to get you into Aki’s head a little bit and shed some light as to why he hated the village so much to begin with. It was implied after all that Aki may have been treated like shit every since he was a child because he’s a bastard that was taken in by the Kuga family.

    I’m not saying this episode wasn’t flawed by any means, but I also think some of you missed the point completely while you were watching it because you don’t really understand the point it was trying to make.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      This episode wasn’t trying to manipulate you

      How do you know?

      I also think some of you missed the point… because you don’t really understand the point

      Okay.

      Reply
  12. Michelle

    I totally agree with you, Amandria. I saw this episode as expanding on Aki’s character too- there’s nothing I hate more than a one dimensional villain. While I wouldn’t say I sympathize with Aki, I at least can begin to understand where he has come from and why he is the way he is.

    @John: I was asking the same question too. Maybe it’s because he associates Aki with the village and his past that he’s trying to leave behind him.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I saw this episode as expanding on Aki’s character too-

      I think everyone saw that. The point is whether or not his backstory was expanded well.

      Reply
  13. Pingback: Kamisama Dolls/Steins;Gate Dual Review: When Villain Characterization Works and When it Doesn’t « Shinde Iie Anime Blog

  14. inushinde

    I’m fine with a show trying to make a villain sympathetic, this just failed horribly in doing anything but making a heavy handed point that Aki’s been wronged. It kind of loses all impact when that happens.

    Reply
  15. Teo Xi (@sherathan)

    “I know Aki’s backstory is supposed to be tragic, but I feel like “Kamisama Dolls” is taking the easy way out. Some storytellers, when they need to cast a strong, empowered female, usually heap abuse and trauma on a female character. Usually, this involves a sexual assault of some kind. Eventually, the female gets over her attack and seizes control of her life and destiny. As readers, we are supposed to be inspired by her strength and steely resolution. Sure, that seems plausible.”

    I concur.

    I also noticed the “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome of this episode too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators

    Reply
  16. Cholisose

    My feeling with Kamisama Dolls at the moment is that while it has done well to paint the characters in shades of gray, it hasn’t done as well at making them three-dimensional or multifaceted. They all kind of have one or two personality quirks that’s generally just been repeated in these seven episodes so far.
    It’s also seemed to me that all the robot controllers are messed up to varying degrees–even Kyohei and Utao have gotten rather unstable at times. This is definitely a show where most of the characters are neither wholly good or evil, save perhaps for the scheming village leaders, who are still a bit shrouded in mystery at this point.
    But yes, have to agree this flashback episode didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would. Perhaps if it had a bit more time to flesh out the characters a bit more, there would have been a greater impact?

    Reply

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