Kakegurui’s Similarities to Moby Dick

Call me Ryōta.

As I watched Kakegurui, it struck me how similar it felt to Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick. Let me summarize each and then we’ll jump into how an anime about a compulsive gambler feels similar to a story about a man obsessed with a white whale.

Kakegurui follows Yumeko as she gambles through the Hyakkaou Private Academy. The academy uses gambling to determine the social standing, and ultimately fate, of its students. In typical anime fashion, the student council rules with supreme power over the school. I suspect anime does this because this type of council is far from reality. In any case, Yumeko transfers to the school and proceeds to gamble increasingly high-stakes games just for the thrill of it.

Moby Dick follows Captain Ahab in his effort to kill a mythical white whale that bit his leg off. Various whaling adventures happen on his search, along with discussions about whaling that bores the reader to death.

Kakeugurui and Moby Dick use the same story-telling structure. We don’t get to see directly into the minds of Yumeko or Captain Ahab. Instead, an outside character tells us the story. Ryota tells us Yumeko’s story. Ishmael tells us about Ahab. Because of this, we don’t get to see the inner workers of Yumeko or Ahab. This doesn’t stop us from coming to understand them, but the distance allows us to avoid the problems of the unreliable narrator.

Patrick Stewart played a great Captain Ahab.

The madness of Yumeko and Ahab depends on us not being able to fully understand it. Their level of obsession would become repetitive if we saw the story from their eyes. Ryota and Ishmael provide a filter that blunts this problem, and they provide some tension. Ryota’s perspective, in particular, ratchets the tension because he isn’t privy to Yumeko’s planning. If we watched the story from her view, we wouldn’t see tension. Gambling excites her, and she has most situations well planned. Ahab also doesn’t feel tension. He cares little for his life, so that pretty much kills the reader’s tension if the story was from his viewpoint.

Ryota and Ishmael’s filter allows us to understand what’s going on. Perhaps too much so. Ishmael spends an inordinate amount of time discussing whaling techniques. Ryota switches between explaining the nuances of a gambling game to having it explained to him. I’m not a gambler or a whaler, so both characters helped me understand the environment a bit better. Of course, both go too far in their explanations and become distracting. Ryota’s information overload distracts us from seeing the trick Yumeko does in each of the gambles. His distractions serve a purpose at least.

Yumeko and Ahab share obsessive tendencies. Ahab chases the white whale while Yumeko chases the euphoria risk gives her. Ahab pushes to the point of endangering others. Yumeko does this too, but she still has some concern, albeit little, for those she regards as friends. Some of her antics are kind, at least from her viewpoint. She seeks to share her euphoria with those closest to her. Unlike Ahab and Ishmael, Yumeko and Ryota grow rather close. This allows us to see Yumeko a bit clearer than Ishmael does Ahab. We get to understand what drives her and her more human elements from a closer perspective.

Both stories look at the darker side of the human psyche. Kakeugurui falls into the psychotic and the sexual. For example, Midari, a member of the student council, enjoys playing Russian Roulette and the thrill of gambling drives her to masturbate to climax in the girl’s restroom. Yumeko’s gambling excitement crosses into the realm of climax in various scenes too. You won’t see any characters doing this in Moby-Dick. That story is a more straightforward literary tale with its symbolism of futility (the white whale) and the classic struggle of man (which they are all male characters) against nature.

Yumeko doesn’t really struggle against anything in her story. The student council attempts to manipulate her, but she lacks a true goal other than gambling’s thrill. Student councils stand in for governments so you have the idea of the individualist vying against conformity. Only Yumeko doesn’t really vie as Ahab does against nature. She remains relatively neutral to the council outside of what thrills they provide her. She doesn’t want to take the council down as in many weird-school anime. She provides a warning about how pursuing an obsession isn’t healthy, but this theme is blunted by the fact she wins even when she loses (the thrill factor). If anything, the story portrays her gambling compulsion as exciting and even an expression of her individualism. Whereas with Ahab, his compulsion kills people.

Kakeugurui doesn’t set out to teach a moral lessons as Moby Dick does. It doesn’t show compulsion as a negative. In fact, it revels in it. The way it shows gambling’s thrill as consuming provides some moral warning. By showing gambling as a positive or a thrill for psychotic characters, you can show how such compulsions are immoral and dangerous. It equates the act with the psychotic state of mind. However, this isn’t as clear-cut as Moby Dick’s lesson. Linking the thrill of gambling with masturbation and sexual climaxes shows how intense the characters feel when they gamble, but it also muddies literary lessons. It can link those actions with the negative of compulsive gambling or perhaps the other way around, depending on the viewer.

Of course, the author of Kakeugurui may not seek the teach a literary message or make any observations of human nature. Anime, after all, seeks escapism and  to make money. While it’s easy to over-think anime, Kakeugurui shares a fairly similar structure to Moby Dick as we’ve seen. The role of an outside observer allows Ishmael and Ryota filter characters readers may find difficult and even unlikable. Compulsive behavior hurts people, causing issues like hoarding, cutting, gambling, extreme collecting, extreme hand washing, and other life-inhibiting habits. Despite the muddied messages and associations, I found the show interesting. Yumeko and Ahab fascinate with their drives. Both stories are flawed enough that many people will find them unlikable. But they both explore interesting aspects of human psychology that will continue to appear in stories.

Citrus: Lesbianism at All-Girls Schools

Citrus is the first yuri anime I’ve watched from start to finish. The story follows the fraught romance between two step-sisters Yuzu and Mei. As you can expect from anime, they share little in common. Yuzu is a fun-loving city girl while Mei is cold and by-the-books. Yuzu feels conflicted about her feelings. After all, she’s never felt attraction toward a girl, and her attraction toward her younger sister Mei troubles her. She feels the need to be a good elder sister but her love goes beyond sibling love. The pair takes steps forward in their relationship only to back off again. This is a common theme in other relationship-focused anime I’ve seen. It can annoy some viewers, but it is pretty realistic.

As I watched the show, I pondered the relationship of lesbian attraction and all-girls schools. In Citrus, it seemed such romances were common but still ridiculed. I wanted to know how much of this was fantasy and how much was based on reality.

Same-Sex Schooling and Lesbianism – Past Views

In the past, people in the West debated about the line between true homosexuality and situational-forced homosexuality. Girls who don’t define themselves as lesbian may have emotional and physical relationships while attending all-girls schools. But once they leave, they fall into heterosexual relationships and show no signs of wanting lesbian relationships (Steet, 1998).

In a 1962 study “Homosexual Behavior in a Correctional Institution for Adolescent Girls,” 69% of girls ages 12-18 had been involved in homosexual behavior or “girl stuff” as the girls called any “sexually tinged relationship between two girls.” However, when they leave the institution many also left the girl stuff behind. The behavior, at least according to these past studies, doesn’t link with identity. However, women’s schools have a long literary tradition of female homosexual identity in the West. The first story traces to 1762 with “A Description of Millennium Hall.”

Lillian Faderman, a social historian, argued the modern lesbian identity dates to the Scotch Verdict Trial of 1811 where two teachers in an all-girls school—Miss Woods and Miss Pirie—were accused of engaging in “improper” displays of affection in front of their charges and corrupting morals. The teachers were acquitted because the judges didn’t want to admit to the reality of female-female sex (Blackmer, 1995).

Many girls feel like their peers assume they are lesbians just because they attend an all-girls school (Bloom, 2009). Much of this is because of how closely lesbian identity in the West associates with all-girls school literature and the Scotch Verdict.  Yet, all-girls schools are strictly heteronormative.

All-Girls Schools and Forced Heterosexuality

Catholic schools dominate American single-sex schools, so the teaching of the church shapes most single-sex schools (Love & Tolsolt, 2013):

Single-sex Catholic schools align fundamentally with Catholic doctrine in that students are seen either as male or female. Furthermore, single-sex Catholic schools are institutions that perpetuate socially constructed gender differences, normalize heterosexism, and through formal and informal school curriculum, ignore students who identify as queer.

According to the Catholic Church, acting on homosexual desire is a sin. Being a homosexual is a disorder, but as long you don’t act upon the feelings, you don’t sin. The church recognizes people are born queer, but it also expects them not to act upon this nature (Love & Tolsolt, 2013). Interestingly, we see a little of this in Citrus with Yuzu. In a few scenes, she feels wrong to feel and especially act on her attraction for Mei. Although she doesn’t conceptualize this as a sin, the act of kissing Mei weighs on her.

At these schools, dances can only happen with males and females, and even then contact is regulated. The church affirms homosexual identity and denounces discriminating against it even as it condemns acting upon that identity as a sin (Love & Tolsolt, 2013).  Now this may seem contradictory, but the concept of original sin clarifies this. According to the idea, everyone inherits Adam and Eve’s sinful nature. Homosexuality comes from that nature according to the doctrine. Acting on such nature creates sin in this view. For example, you may have the love for gambling in your nature, but as long as you don’t act upon it, you don’t commit the sin. The doctrine defines how Catholic all-girl schools function.

The very reason behind same-gender schools is heteronormative. Same-sex education “rests on the premise that boys and girls will work better separately because they’ll ogle each other too much if they’re together.” Acknowledging desires outside of the heterosexual undermines one of the main reasons behind same-sex education (Savino, 2003). Some people worry that students will resort to homosexual experimentation without a heterosexual outlet, as if the heterosexual identity is the default. Savino (2003) continues: “In this model, the same-sex education system can admit lesbian behavior exists while simultaneously dismissing it as sublimated heterosexual desire!”

Studies on the effectiveness of same-sex schools appear mixed. They appear to help minorities. The schools appear to remove distractions caused by the opposite gender, allowing students to be more open with each other and with their teachers, but trusting teacher-student relationships matter more (Hubbard, Datnow, 2005).

Bullying

In Citrus, Yuzu worried about bullying in a few scenes. The same-sex school environment changes the nature of bullying. Girls show more relational-aggression than boys. Boys show more physical aggression. But because these are normal patterns, victimization happens when the opposite happens (Velaquez, 2010):

Among boys, victimization was associated with relational aggression but not physical aggression; conversely, among girls victimization was associated with physical aggression and not relational aggression.

Velaquez (2010) found girls in same-sex schools associate physical aggression as more negative than relationship bullying more than girls from mixed-sex schools. These schools seem to normalize the perception of physical aggression for both genders. This is likely because its seen more often with guys around than when there are all girls around. Although I have to admit that anecdotally I’ve seen more pushing and physical aggression from girls than from guys. Any behavior that deviates from the norms of peers attracts bullying, which explains Yuzu’s worry.

Conclusion

I’ve focused on the US. This is partially because it’s the information I have and partially because anime is an international medium. A good portion of Japan’s school system was modeled after the West’s systems. Because of this, looking at US research can give us some insight as to the reality behind the same-sex school in Citrus.  Japan has a long unacknowledged history of lesbianism. Such encounters appear in various shunga and hinted-upon in Heian period literature. Yuri stories descend from these.

It looks as if the all-girls school in Citrus has some basis in reality. Same-sex schools are mostly heterosexual as an environment, but they can encourage limited homosexual relationships and experimentation. Many of these students aren’t lesbians. They could be considered bisexual, perhaps, or just situational-seeking relationships as some used to believe. So some of the side hints to this in the anime can be considered realistic.

Really, all of this just depends on the individual. When I was researching, some lesbian students found all-girl’s schools oppressive. Other interviews found them a welcome place to be themselves. Heterosexual girls felt the stigma of the literature surrounding all-girls schools. This combined with the fact they had few encounters with boy to make it difficult for them to relate to boys. The schools benefit some, and it hurts others.

As for Citrus, I found the anime interesting. Yuzu’s conflict backpedaled enough to feel realistic. Relationships don’t advance in a linear way, and the story does a good job showing that. Because it’s the first yuri I’ve watched to the end, I can’t comment how it compares. The fan-service remains standard fare for anime. You’ll see the usual accidental walk-ins during showers. Citrus shows topics like female masturbation as normal and common with how briskly it passes over them. If anything, the series felt too fast. Many conflicts and problems resolved too quickly. I was glad to see no one was an airhead. Even Yuzu had a sharp mind when she applied herself. She just didn’t have the interest to do so until she met Mei. Even the side characters felt intelligent.

The story isn’t the best (it’s uncomfortable at times), but anime lately have learned toward mediocre stories and unlikable or flat characters. The characters in Citrus suggested they have more depth than many characters in Spring’s anime line-up.

Reference

Blackmer, C. E. (1995). The finishing touch and the tradition of homoerotic girl’s school fictions. Review Of Contemporary Fiction, 1532.

Bloom, Adi (2009) Tart or Lesbian? How pupils at all-girls primaries live in fear of labels that stick. The Times Educational Supplement. No. 4841. 12.

Coren, Sidney & Luthar, Suniya. (2014) Pursuing perfection: distress and interpersonal functioning among adolescent boys in single-sex and co-educational independent schools. Psychology in the Schools 5 (9).

Hubbard, Lea & Datnow, Amanda (2005) Do Single-Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students? An Investigation of California’s Public Single-Gender Academics. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 36 (2) 115-131.

Love, Bettina & Tolsolt, Brandelyn (2013) Go Underground or in Your Face: Queer Students’ Negotiation of All-Girls Catholic Schools. Journal of LGBT Youth. 10. 186-207.

Savino, Kathleen (2003) Thighs Are Not Attractive, Ladies! Homophobia and Same-Sex Education. Off Our Backs. 33 (11/12) 25-28.

Steet, L. (1998). Girl Stuff: Same-Sex Relations in Girls’ Public Reform Schools and the Institutional Response. Educational Studies: A Journal In The Foundations Of Education, 29(4), 341-58.

Velaquez, Ana Maria & others (2010) Context-Dependent Victimization and Aggression: Differences Between All-Girl and Mixed-Sex Schools. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 56 (3) 283-302.

I am a Christian. Can I Watch Anime?

I don’t normally discuss my religious views here. I usually write as a librarian and a researcher. However, by doing this, I can’t address some questions people ask me. My Christian background shapes the core of who I am and my approach to research and thinking. But I also practice Zen meditation. It compliments my beliefs. I come from a legalistic branch of Christianity–one that believes instrumental music in worship can condemn you to hell and one that is against dancing or anything that causes lustful thinking. Yes, anime would fall into this category. However, I no longer consider such hard-lined view as scriptural. That’s the issue with religious questions–everyone has a different background, and many believe that background to be the truth. Of course, that means all others are wrong.

I tell you this to lead into the question: can a Christian rightly watch anime? My religious perspective will shape my answer, so I wanted to briefly sketch where I am coming from. Behind the question lies a discomfort with different aspects of anime, namely anime’s sexuality. For various reasons, violence is more readily accepted in Christianity than sexuality. For most of Christianity’s history, sexuality has been a source of discomfort. Augustine of Hippo wrote extensively about it as did many others. The Catholic Church attempted to eliminate sexuality from its clergy by enforcing celibacy. Some Christian groups have gone as far as forbidding sex altogether from its members–even for having children. Of course, these groups mostly died out.

Aside from sexuality, the Shinto and Buddhist components behind anime prompts the question. Shinto and Buddhism weave deep in Japanese culture and into anime. For some Christian groups, this can be a problem. Associating with what are seen as pagan religions caused many issues in the early church and is found throughout Scripture (Exodus 20:1-26; Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and many others).

Final aspect of the question is otaku culture itself. Some Christians I’ve encountered worry about getting involved with a subculture like otaku culture. It can been seen as a substitute for the church family.

Because violence is mostly acceptable in media today (which deserves being addressed by itself at some point), I’ll focus on these three facets to our question. Let’s return to the sexual component of anime first.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:28

Scripture condemns illicit sexuality, which is why some Christians question their ability to watch anime. Lustful thoughts are equated with illicit action–that is, any sexual act outside of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Anime often features scenes that could encourage lust. But does it matter if the character is fictional? Well, the problem lies in how such thinking shapes your view. Lust isn’t simple sexual arousal. Lust is a mindset, a habit. Lusting for a fictional character encourages a mindset that goes against what Christianity attempts to foster: a mind of compassion and love that’s other-centered. Lust is a selfish mindset, concerned without one’s own pleasure. Of course, as I’ve suggested in my article about waifuism, an attraction toward a fictional character can help you develop compassion and a love that’s other-centered. It can help you step outside yourself, but Christianity and even Zen argue this should still be done to benefit other people. A waifu cannot benefit.

So a Christian can’t watch anime? Well, if you watch stories that encourage a lustful mindset within you, you shouldn’t be watching. However, if you are like me and fan-service doesn’t titillate (it irritates me if it does anything at all) then yes, you can watch those stories with a caveat. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul speaks about a similar situation with early Christians, namely is it okay to eat meat offered to idols? Paul said yes as long as it doesn’t bother your conscience or challenge the faith of those around you. If watching a fan-service laden anime will confuse or encourage those who struggle with lust to watch, then you shouldn’t be watching those stories.

Anime can have excellent Christian-compatible messages.

The question of Shinto and Buddhist elements returns what Paul said of meat offered to idols. I don’t judge the matter. It is up to God to decide if Shinto and Buddhism is correct, not us. In Romans 2, Paul states how the law is written on people’s hearts, and only God can determine how a person stands.

Finally, we come to otaku culture itself. I view the culture as mostly harmless. At least, it’s no more harmless than, say, football culture. But as with anything, it can become an idol. No one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24). Otaku culture and anime is fine as a hobby, but when it becomes consuming–dominating your thoughts and the majority of your time, it becomes a god. Sports teams, work, video games, and just about anything can do this.

So as a Christian, is it okay to watch anime? It depends on you. Only you know your relationship with God and what triggers you have. You have to answer that question for yourself. Of course, I’m just focusing on anime and not hentai, which hentai certainly encourages lust. This post is different from what I usually do here on JP. I try to retain my librarian neutrality for the most part. Religion is a thorny topic. With my mix of Zen and a historical approach to Christianity, my view isn’t always mainstream. Would you like to see me periodically examine questions of anime from a more overt Christian perspective?

If you are a Christian and an anime fan, check out Beneath the Tangles, an anime blog that focuses on anime from a Christian perspective.