pupa Ep. 1: What could’ve been…

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…had this anime been anything but a four minutes long short. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shortchange the anime. Four minutes and one second. But whatever, the blogging must continue.

Yeah, I was really looking forward to pupa because I had originally assumed it would be a normal length show. Hell, even something half-length’d like the horrible Diabolik Lovers would’ve given me something to work with. As it is, pupa is just painfully wasted potential. I mean, it’s called “pupa,” so the symbolism is obviously not even subtle, but had it been given twenty plus minutes of runtime per episode, the show would have a stood a small chance to pack in some interesting subtext. As it currently exists, however, the short has only the time to browbeat us with the obvious, and I can’t even blame it for doing so! Four minutes! You can’t do much with that! Four whole minutes… a significant chunk of which, I must add, is devoted to the OP and the ED. That’s really the cherry on top of the mountain called “Son, I’m Disappointed in You.” You give me only four minutes and you still felt the need to include two crappy songs. But fine, I might as well state the obvious since I’ve already said this much.

I’ll preface this by saying that I have not read the manga nor am I interested in doing so. My impressions of the anime is informed by nothing more than what I see in the four minutes I’ve been given. Before I talk about everything else, let’s get the bare bones plot of the short out of the way. We have two main characters at the moment: Yume and her brother Utsutsu. She wanted to walk home with her brother after school, but he sends her along first to wait for him at the park. Something strange happens to her there, causing Yume to transform into a hideous creature that appears to be part insectoid and part reptilian. She also violently attacks a bystander, I think, with Utsutsu, having since caught up to his sister, in shock at the events that has just transpired.

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A pupa is the stage where insects undergo a transformation. Yume is of that age where kids undergo a transformation from childhood to adulthood. The red butterfly motif accompanies this metaphor, the color red being a possible signifier for a few things. Most crudely, it may speak to menstruation, a process that — from a layman’s context, not a scientific one — marks a girl’s beginning transition to adulthood. Red can also speak to passionate love, which can be contrasted from just familial or platonic love, the two types of love that a child would likely only know until he or she undergoes puberty. Red can also stand for danger, serving as a warning which goes along with how the lady-in-black warns the girl to hurry home in order to avoid the red butterflies.

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What fits into the bigger picture is red representing anger and sin. From one of Utsutsu’s memories, it’s clear that Yume has been abused in her childhood. Throughout our brief first episode, we see many representations of corrupted youth or hatred masked by cuteness. Perhaps the first example appears within the lady-in-black’s arms: it looks to be an ordinary yet cute cat, but upon closer inspection, it looks as though the cat is stitched together like a doll. The cats’ eyes, however, move of its own accord, so we know that even if it is not an actual cat, there is something supernatural about it. Nevertheless, the stitches, in my opinion, implies a sinister nature to the feline creature. Deeper into the park, Yume comes across those red butterflies she had been warned about. It is then that she encounters a wounded, mangled puppy. Belying its vulnerable nature, however, is a considerable amount of anger or hatred as the puppy instantly growls at Yume. Suddenly, a malevolent mass of purple tentacles bursts forth from within the puppy and attacks Yume.

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It isn’t quite clear what happens to Yume. Has she been afflicted by something akin to the alien from the movie The Thing? In other words, some hideous creature was hiding within the puppy, then upon seeing Yume, chooses the young girl as its next host. Or was her transformation at the end of the episode something she has always been capable of, the Thing within the puppy only serving as a catalyst? Perhaps we can bridge the gap: there is a latent quality about her, and that is why the Thing, whatever it is, left the dog to infect Yume. Either way, right before she turns, we glimpse a brief dreamlike moment where we see the girl clutching a stuffed teddy bear. Like the puppy, it appears mangled with one of its eyes hanging nearly detached from the eye’s socket (if a teddy bear would have eye sockets). Yume remarks, “The insides are coming out…” to which the teddy bear suddenly comes to life, looks up at her with a sinister grin and replies, “Isn’t the same true of you?”

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We then cut to a horribly censored scene where copious amounts of blood — like gallons of blood — spews forth from, I would assume, Yume’s body. Again, menstruation, “[t]he insides are coming out,” etc. The other common motif, then, to accompany the transformative red butterflies is that of cute yet vulnerable-looking creatures, whether it’d be a cat, a dog, a teddy bear or even a little girl, and how it is all just a facade. The cuteness is a container to conceal the horrors we don’t want to confront: the loss of innocence once something has been mistreated (the dog) or neglected (the teddy bear). You can say that Yume has both been mistreated (by the man in Utsutsu’s flashback) and neglected (where are their parents?). Further more, you can’t just stitch a broken object back together and think this will restore it to how it used to be (the cat). Perhaps adding more to this imagery is the lady-in-black, whose appearance in the anime is similar to the grim spectre of Death itself. The lady-in-black appears shortly before the death of Yume’s innocence: as soon as Yume transforms, she sins by killing and eating another human being. Hence Yume’s name and how we see the following sentence at the beginning of the episode: “I wish it was all a dream.”

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The kanji for “dream” is also in red. Quite literally, Utsutsu wishes the events of the episode had never transpired, i.e. it was only a dream. On another level, however, he also wishes for Yume to conform to his yume, i.e. dream, as his cute but vulnerable imouto. But this is something she is not. You can say that her shoujo self and her monster self are merely two sides of the same coin, sure, but at the end of the day, her monster self is now a crucial, undeniable part of her identity, and attempting to deny that is nothing more than, well, a dream. Perhaps the word “dream” on the blackboard should be capitalized by us so that we reread the sentence as “I wish it was all Yume,” i.e. denying a part of what Yume is to become. This also serves to compartmentalize her existence into two: the shoujo self as Yume and the monster self as distinctly separate from Yume. From this point, we stand to see whether or not Utsutsu will accept what Yume has become, and how long this’ll take. What I know from the synopsis is that the story will involve him struggling to restore her to “normalcy.” In other words, he is fighting, perhaps selfishly, to restore his dreams. Is this show an allegory against puberty and the loss of childhood innocence that accompanies this natural coming-of-age process?

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Anyway, this is all obvious not-so-subtle stuff, I’m afraid. I don’t know if I’ll dedicate an entire post to pupa every week seeing as how it’s just a short. We’ll see.

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14 thoughts on “pupa Ep. 1: What could’ve been…”

  1. I was quite baffled to see the censoring. If I remember correctly, Pupa was made as a ~4 minute anime because there weren’t any channels that wanted to pick up a show as gory as this, so they settled on it being a short. But when it basically relies on the grotesque, it doesn’t have any impact with the censoring. Not to mention how rushed the events feel.

    1. Not sure why they couldn’t have just opted for OVAs. Well, maybe they’re just cheap, which is something another commenter implied.

  2. Disappointing season, Pupa was one of its few attractions and they just had to go and make it a short, smh.
    The only show that I look forward to is Noragami, as I’ve already read the manga.

  3. A tip of my hat on the analysis. Even if you claim it as painfully obvious stuff, it’s always nice to see that kind of thing discussed. A bit disappointed that these turned out to be (heavily censored) shorts, but I can’t say I’m surprised. After all, this is Studio “Effort is Hard” DEEN, who’ve realized ever since Hetalia that they’d rather eke out 5 minutes of tolerable animation over 22 minutes of atrocity.
    …And yet, I’m so hooked by the concept I know I’ll wind up sticking around.

    1. …And yet, I’m so hooked by the concept I know I’ll wind up sticking around.

      I’ll especially have to since I refuse to read the manga. The anime’s all I’ve got and I wanna see what happens.

  4. Breaks my heart to see my most anticipated show turn into a horribly censored, rushed 4min short. I suppose it could be seen as a trailer for the manga, really, but what’s the point?
    I remember Fist of the North Star having dudes literally blow up from the inside every episode. What changed with the gore in anime that now it needs to be heavily censored like this with a crappy big black foggy bar? Maybe if it was nudity, fine, but this is Japanese anime. It’s the medium that’s produced some of the most hardcore bloody action I’ve ever seen.

    Blatant symbolism isn’t so bad as long as it’s not spelled out, so though I am disappointment in the lack of nuance, I can appreciate the attempt at it despite the time frame given to the show. Nice analysis, mate, and I was looking forward to seeing what word was emphasized in red on the blackboard.
    Still, despite all of the technical faults with “Pupa” already (heavy censorship, rushed, 4min time limit with intro/outro) it’s managed to have more themeing and interest than any other show in recent months.

    I don’t mind if you continue posts for this series, but then again I’d gather that maybe it’d be best to simply wait for the show to end, watch the whole 2hr season and just make a post for that. Up to you. I’m always down for reading either way, mate.

    1. Maybe if it was nudity, fine, but this is Japanese anime. It’s the medium that’s produced some of the most hardcore bloody action I’ve ever seen.

      I could only guess. Maybe its the source of the violence that matters. Buncha tough, muscled dudes duking it out? Maybe that’s expected. Cute girl exploding into a demonlike being that feasts upon others? Now that’s a little edgy. But again, this is just conjecture.

      watch the whole 2hr season and just make a post for that.

      2 hours? If only!

  5. E Minor I applaud your astounding ability to draw up a comprehensive analysis of Pupa’s first episode. I myself was left staring at the screen at the four minute dot– oh excuse me, four minutes and one second dot (we mustn’t cut credit) before flipping a table and sulking and then laughing hysterically.
    Uh… what was I saying– yeah, great read. I’d actually be okay with you maybe just analysing it the same way you did Nobunaga the Fool. I remember that it was a truly ground breaking study and I had to go back to rewatch certain parts of the episode to keep up with what you were saying.
    But who knows, maybe Pupa will actually be gold. (I’m betting not)

    1. Well, the thing with Nobunaga the Fool was I honestly didn’t pay much attention to it. I mean, it was all over the place… I’ll check out the second episode to see where it’s headed in the near future, but yeah, that anime is a mess.

    1. As amusing as that would be, I have no clue how other bloggers are reacting to pupa nor do I intend to correct this “deficiency.”

  6. What is with anime being so censored lately I mean it feels like just yesterday I was watching people get blown to gory bits in the Guyver remake and Gantz and now anime is almost as censored as a P.G. 13 movie. Can some one tell me whats going on was there like a strike against bloody anime or something ?

    1. Nice analysis. To me though, a lot of this is not obvious at all. Especially since you’d need to know things like what a pupa actually is and the japanese word for “dream”, neither of which I knew.

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