pupa Ep. 2: Violence begets violence

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We start things off with domestic violence being carried out by teddy bears. This definitely makes last week’s appearance of the teddy bear in Yume’s arms all the more obvious in its symbolism. We learn that the kids’ dad used to abuse his wife, then once he was tired of that, he turned his attention to the kids. I talked about how the recurring motifs in last week’s episode hinted at both neglect and abuse, especially through the angry puppy and the raggedy-looking teddy bear. These themes are now reinforced by this week’s back story. The abuse is apparent through their father’s actions, and then neglect comes from the abandonment they suffered at the hands of their mother’s decisions. It is implied that she ran away with a younger lover, but anything could’ve happened to her. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mother was already dead. We’ll use this back story as a framework to understanding the events that occur later in this week’s episode.

As the title of the post would imply, the main message this week appears to be that “Violence begets violence.” But before I get into what I mean by this, let’s take it from the very beginning, just shortly after the flashback. The lady-in-black shows up out of nowhere to bemoan, “Dear me, what a messy eater. This won’t be easy to clean up.” Nevertheless, she sounds rather blase about the entire thing. We learn that her name is Maria, and she claims to be a researcher despite her strange fashion sense and scarred face. We then see men in lab coats recover the dead bodies and remove them from the scene. This all somehow makes me think of Child Protection Services and their relationships with the people they try to help.

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I mentioned before that Maria reminds me of Death. Continuing with this particular reading, perhaps she represents Death to families, even broken ones. There’s certainly a public sentiment that no matter what happens within a household, family members almost never want to break up. People are almost always reluctant to run away from the abuse they know and face daily and into the arms of a government agency instead. There’s this latent distrust of strangers that seemingly overrides the horrors of the familiar home. This comes across in how insincere Maria sounds when she tells Utsutsu that she sympathizes with him. This juxtaposes with how abuse victims tend to rationalize away their abusers’ horrific crimes. There’s an inclination to claim that our abusers truly have our best interests at heart despite their actions. Meanwhile, the faceless government always seems to be hiding a sinister motive despite its outward appearance.

Continuing on, Maria refers to Yume as a monster, and warns Utsutsu to stay away. When Utsutsu, as family members are wont to do, claims that Yume is important to him, Maria seemingly goads him: Is she [important to you]? Then why don’t you try to convince her? Will she even recognize you? Will her big brother’s voice even reach her?” Perhaps from a rational point of view, Maria and her squad of faceless men-in-lab-coats are better equipped to help Yume in her current state, but Yume is all Utsutsu has left. With his father and mother long gone, he can no longer say that he belongs to a family if Yume is taken away as well. There is thus perhaps a bit of selfishness in clinging onto his sister. After all, what can a high schooler really do in a situation like this? If his only goal is to help Yume in the best way possible, might his actions in this week’s episode change at all? Something to ponder….

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The camera then appears to crawl through the bushes to find Yume in semi-hiding, feasting away at an indiscernible lump of flesh. She thinks to herself, “It’s delicious… so delicious… What do I do? If Onii-chan sees me like this….” The emphasis in the quoted lines are mine. I think it’s crucial in understanding the relationship dynamics currently in play between Yume and her brother. From this, I want to ask, is Yume consuming flesh because she is now a monster, or did she become a monster because she has always wanted to consume flesh? The latter sounds ridiculous, until we look at it from the abstract. Like the title suggests, “violence begets violence.” Is Yume now part of the cycle of abuse that gets passed down from generation to generation? Is that why she fears Utsutsu’s judgment of her actions? Is she now a monster just because she now resembles their father? The thought isn’t as outlandish as you might think.

With their parents out of the picture, both kids have had to grow up a lot sooner than they were prepared to do. Let’s use a simpler example to illustrate. Sometimes in a household, when the father dies, the eldest son often has to step up and act as a surrogate husband and father of the household. No, I don’t mean that he’s engaging in an incestuous sexual affair with his mother, but rather that he now holds the symbolic position as the patriarch of the family. Not only do the rest of the kids tend to look up to the eldest son now as a father figure, the mother now relies upon him for support in a way that she wouldn’t have done so before. We should imagine then what happens when both parents are missing. Clearly, Utsutsu has had to take care of his younger sister like perhaps a father would, but what role did she play for him? Did she nurture him in a way that the mother of a household should? Or was she not ready? At the moment, we can’t answer these questions — and perhaps we never will — but using this as a springboard, I am suggesting that the roles are slowly being reversed. At the very least, the boundaries are blurring.

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You can sort of see the parallels. The father was violent and abusive; Yume, having senselessly committed violence and even enjoying it, is afraid of being seen as a monster in Utsutsu’s eyes. The fact that she’s enjoying the act is important, I think. Essentially, she is relishing in the flesh. Similarly, their father took pleasure out of hurting their bodies, inflicting pain upon the flesh. Shifting gears a bit, the mother selfishly abandoned the children after the divorce and perhaps even before the divorce as well; Utsutsu is afraid to abandon Yume the same way his mother had abandoned them. In a sense, Utsutsu is in denial just like how a lot of abuse victims are in denial. Yume warns him to stay away because she can personally feel that her transgressions aren’t enough. Her hunger, whether it’d be for flesh or to simply lash out in violence against the world around her, has yet to be satiated. Nevertheless, Utsutsu attempts to reassure Yume that “It’s all right.” No matter what happens, he tells her that she’s still his “precious little sister.” To go even further, that “[n]o matter what you look like, you’re still Yume.” Ergo, even if she looks like a monster — even if she acts like a monster — he still sees her as family. He still enables her.

Continuing on with the line of thinking that the roles have now been reversed, it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to think that Utsutsu has long been Yume’s primary caretaker after their parents disappeared from their lives. But what should happen to this arrangement as Yume begins to grow up, begins to go through puberty, and begins to see herself as a young independent woman rather than merely Utsutsu’s imouto? Last week, I talked about how the red butterflies most likely symbolized a coming-of-age for Yume. This week, we see the same butterfly fluttering by a clock, hinting at the inevitable passing of time. Will Utsutsu remain in denial of his sister’s metamorphosis? Will he always try to see her as an imouto regardless of what she is to become? Let’s then go back to the idea of enabling our abusers. Was their mother guilty of this? Yes, we learned that she eventually divorced her husband, but not before the children had to suffer. According to Utsutsu, his mother did initially take the abuse in silence until she eventually left her husband. So I ask, then, did she take too long because, like Utsutsu with Yume, she held on too long to the blind hope that no matter what her husband looks like or does — no matter his transgressions — he’s still her husband?

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Shortly afterwards, Utsutsu tells Yume that they should just both go home despite the girl being in her current, monstrous state. Although she initially reacts with happiness on the inside, Yume suddenly lashes out and bites her brother in the shoulder. Of course, Yume internally cries out in concern as if her actions are not consistent with her true feelings. I think, however, this just speaks to her current state as a person undergoing puberty. She’s no longer a girl, but she’s not yet a woman either. She’s caught in this liminal state between two worlds, and like most teenagers — male or female — there’s an inherent contradiction between her feelings and her actions. But more importantly, as a victim of child abuse, she is no longer the purely innocent imouto that passively suffers abuse, that needs protection and constant vigilance from an authority figure. Like her father, she can turn against those she claims to love. And like his mother, how long will Utsutsu try to endure the abuse? How long will he try to cure her? How long until Utsutsu tries to run away?

* * * * *

Side notes:

• For whatever reason, we have the tendency to believe that victims of child abuse have a higher chance of become abusers themselves. Hence the phrase, “Violence begets violence.” Although I use it here to assist in my understanding of pupa‘s narrative, I don’t actually believe that the saying is true. Studies into this particular subject usually reveal that there’s only a small correlation in male victims of child abuse, and none whatsoever with female victims. But in any case, it’s not as if we can hold pupa to any sort of rigorous scientific standard.

• Apparently, child abuse is a growing problem in Japan.

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13 thoughts on “pupa Ep. 2: Violence begets violence”

  1. Yet again I feel a bit of relief that there’s a “show” DOING something other than just entertaining. I like random fun and action, sure. It’s great! But it’s been a long while since we had something like Pupa (though I’m sure there was a show I enjoyed last year you practically wrote essays about due to how well it conveyed its themes). As you’ve stated, Pupa’s imagery is obvious, but at least it has a purpose and goal. I think.
    What exactly that is, I don’t know for sure yet, but maybe it has something to do with the subject of that link you posted.

    Fiction has and always will be an amazing way to convey the complicated subjects society tries to avoid in a manner that lets people soak them in, sometimes unknowingly. Almost subliminally, maybe Pupa is meant to be a story that shows the long-term effects the cruelty of child abuse can inflict (though I agree with and appreciate what you said about the subject in the side note). There’s some guy or girl out there who maybe is into monster stuff, some really psychedelic mental and body horror stories, who is unconsciously (or consciously) taking in this message Pupa has to give. Knowingly or not, it effects how they think on the matter. Some time from now, this person, who could’ve been an abuser or victim of abuse, thinks back on the lesson they learned from the story and realizes before the damage could ever be done how to properly handle the situation (or, at least, how to perceive and avoid it).

    Then again, it could also just be flying over their heads and affecting no one and nothing. Who knows? Though maybe it’s my hopefulness and belief in the power of good allegory, but the fact that none of what you said is particularly hard to figure out does say something. It’s quiet enough to warrant your attention, but blatant enough for you to notice.
    The idea that this show’s purpose isn’t just to be a story, but to convey a message, isn’t too far fetched.

    Of course, all that only works out if Utsutsu either leaves or dies at Yume’s hands. If his “power of love” changes her it would accidentally set a bad example to the message of abuse. Just like how Bunny Drop (hopefully accidentally) carried the “it’s the best to be a parent, and only party-party adult-children don’t have kids!” message, this show would then carry the “Yeah, your loved one is an abuser and has abused you, but hey, just keep showing them love and they’ll change! Love is all that matters!”. Then think about what the aforementioned viewer would apply to their life. Talk about a catastrophe!
    _Though if Yume worked hard to control herself and eventually got back to normal…somehow…it might signify how someone like a dry drunk can change with effort and help, etc. Then that would give a different message which isn’t bad but-

    Know what? I’ll just hope for the best. What do you think?
    Oh, and good analysis as usual, E Minor, though I suppose the fact that I spent a several minutes thinking about and posting this would imply that already. haha

    1. There’s some guy or girl out there who maybe is into monster stuff, some really psychedelic mental and body horror stories, who is unconsciously (or consciously) taking in this message Pupa has to give. Knowingly or not, it effects how they think on the matter.

      Eh, maybe. But on the flip side, that’s like saying someone watching Seikon no Qwaser will randomly grab a tit in public and start trying to squeeze soma out of it. I mean, yeah, people should be smart enough to realize that Qwaser is stupid fun, but by that token, most viewers will also view everything else at face value. Let’s not even get into the practice of oppositional reading, i.e. nonexistent.

      Of course, all that only works out if Utsutsu either leaves or dies at Yume’s hands. If his “power of love” changes her it would accidentally set a bad example to the message of abuse.

      Well, we’ll see. I have no idea where the story will go so it might not even play out that way. At less than four minutes a week, it might not even play out at all. I just caught the end of BTOOOM recently — and I tend to expand on this in a post at a later date — but holy christ, that’s a show that got full length episodes for a whole season and it practically ended in the middle of nowhere. So what can I expect of pupa, whose source material is supposedly so taboo that no one was willing to touch it for a long time. Even now, its adaptation is nothing more than a 4 min. a week rush job.

      1. “Eh, maybe. But on the flip side, that’s like saying someone watching Seikon no Qwaser will randomly grab a tit in public and start trying to squeeze soma out of it.”
        Wait, you mean that’s a bad thing to do?
        No wonder I haven’t been getting super powers! Just arrest records.

        ” I just caught the end of BTOOOM recently — and I tend to expand on this in a post at a later date — but holy christ, that’s a show that got full length episodes for a whole season and it practically ended in the middle of nowhere. So what can I expect of pupa, whose source material is supposedly so taboo that no one was willing to touch it for a long time. Even now, its adaptation is nothing more than a 4 min. a week rush job.”
        Fair point, and I would like to see SOME closure with BTOOM!, if only via your post since that ending is just…ugh

        That said, I understand your points. I certainly got carried away. It’s just been awhile since I’ve seen a show that had such an issue and MAYBE (though the “extremely taboo source material” part is making me second guess this) has the intent of conveying something noteworthy and got excited.

  2. Excellent analysis. I agree that it’s refreshing to see an anime that makes you consider a serious subject matter. Domestic violence is a hidden problem in Japan. I know quite a few families who have been affected by it here. It’s good to see that an anime is dealing with it.

      1. I don’t know much about how much there is, just that a lot goes unreported. Japan is a group culture, and the primary group is the family. Japanese don’t really have a culture of discussing family outside the family sphere. I know guys that are extremely embarrassed to even talk about family vacations at work because it would be bringing up family in the workplace. It’s just not done. While certainly no one talks about DV at work, the fact that family matters are usually not discussed makes it even more difficult to reveal domestic violence than in other cultures that are not hesitant discuss family.

        1. Interesting. I didn’t know even talking about vacations was embarrassing. Has there been any gradual shift in attitudes though? Or are young people still gunshy about discussing personal matters like their parents?

        2. The younger crowd is gradually changing. My younger coworker mentions going on trips to me, but he never gives any details even when I ask. And he never talks about family.

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