June 05, 2007
Shamus is playing through Prey and finds that he has to fight against zombie children, or ghost children, and thinks that's offensive. I agree with him, for the most part.
But it got me to thinking about cases in anime of kids who are involved in violence. For instance, part of the formula in Dragonball Z is that there's always a kid fighting alongside the good guys. In the Frieza story arc it's Gohan. Over the course of that a lot of people get killed (most of whom get wished back to life) but Gohan survives it. Gohan also survives the fight against Garlic Junior.
Mirai no Trunks comes back in a time machine to warn them all of the androids, and describes how the battle will go if they don't do anything: everyone will die except Gohan. Later, when Gohan is adult and Trunks himself is 13, Gohan dies -- but Trunks lives.
In the Maajin Buu story arc, the kids are Goten and chibi-Trunks. They do die eventually, when kid Buu blows up the Earth, but we don't see it happen. And anyway, they get wished back to life by Dende using Namek's dragonballs.
So DBZ does it right. As Shamus says, the kid(s) live(s).
But I'm thinking of a couple of other examples from anime, which I myself haven't watched and probably won't watch, mostly because they are more disturbing in precisely the way that Shamus objects to. One is Rozen Maiden. The characters in that case aren't really children, but they look like children. And they are very disturbing children; one might say that at least some of them are viciously insane part of the time. Or so I have heard -- and I don't want to know more.
The other, even worse case is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. There's a town which contains murderous lolis. One frame grab from it I saw showed a cute, happy little girl, smiling as she said, "I like to kill them slowly, with poison."
As Shamus says, I think (some) authors do this because it keys into something deep. I remember reading an interview one time with Stephen King where he said that there was a list of something like 12 basic fears everyone has, and his books are all based on exploiting one or more of those fears. Danger to children/danger from children is a very basic drive in us, but for the reasons Shamus talks about it's really different than the others King talked about, and it has to be handled properly.
Another interview, this time with Hitchcock, who talked about how to make a scene suspenseful. Put two people in a room talking about unimportant things, and you don't have suspense. Ah, but let the audience see you put a briefcase with a timebomb in that room, and then have the characters have exactly the same conversation, and the audience will be on the edge of their seats.
But if you do that, said the master, you better not actually let that bomb go off!
And that's the problem. Threatening kids or risking them keys into deep drives in us -- but letting the bomb go off, actually killing them, is something else. That's over the line. I think it's a mistake. It's the sign of a hack. A true master knows when to jerk us around, but also knows which lines not to cross.
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