...Or, "The Travels of Darkness, Hat and Book"
Sometime a few hours after midnight on October 2nd, 2003, a thirteen episode anime series by the name of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito (hereafter referred to by "Yamibou") aired its first episode in Japan.
It premiered at such a late hour because it heavily features the aesthetics of the female body, clothed in seifuku (schoolgirl sailor uniforms) or less (although there is no nudity). Further, this anime's tentacle-like roots are loosely grounded in a hentai game of the same name. The major plot arc consists of a sexy teenager following her extreme sexual and emotional urgings to reunite and have mad, passionate sex with her older sister.
Despite this show's premise rotating around scantily-clad high school lesbians, despite that it seems to be little more than a twisted appeal to an obvious male audience, despite that it was based off an H-game... I think that Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito is successful art.
With what I've explained about the show so far, this is a curious and bizarre opinion to hold. However, looking the beyond the raunchy basis of the show reveals a tender, crafted love story that conveys deep emotion, delicate artistry and provocative meaning.
The story begins with Hatsuki, the purple-haired protagonist, narrating how she is deeply, madly in love with her blonde haired older sister, who is confusingly named Hatsumi. (Both names are possibly punning on the English word "hat," as hats are very important magical things in the show. More on this later.) She has some obvious reservations about confessing her homoerotic love to her sister and feels incredible angst as a result. Things get quite confusing from there.
Hatsumi is actually somewhat of a supreme deity that travels through different dimensions and universes that are kept in books in a great library. She basically does this for fun. In each of the different worlds she appears in mysterious circumstances as an infant, grows up as a mute, profoundly affects the world in a positive way, and then is whisked off to another dimension on her sixteenth birthday without saying a word.
Hatsuki becomes quite distressed when the object of her love and lust disappears in a flashy transdimensional portal right in front of her. Fortunately, the obligatory cute anime animal, a fat yellow bird by the name of Ken-chan, helps her so she can try follow her love through the other dimensions. And so, wielding a letter-opener-turned-enchanted-sword, Hatsuki sets off in on this curious quest.
Almost immediately, Hatsuki is joined by Hatsumi's real sister Lilith, another sexy teenage lesbian. Lilith is also blonde, but she wears a conical black witch hat that has not only a big blue eye, but also god-like powers of interdimensional travel and immortality and lightning beams and cool stuff.
Hatsuki, Hatsumi and Lilith constitute the three main characters. The relationships between these three are complex, but necessary to understand why this show transcends the realm of ecchi eye-candy.
Hatsuki's love for Hatsumi is the zenith of the emotions running between these characters. Hatsuki doesn't feel comfortable around Hatsumi because of the incestous and homosexual implications of her true feelings.
Hatsumi loves everyone in a hippie kind of friendly way. Lilith serves as a foil (like all good sidekicks) by flirting and making cheap passes at Hatsuki. Hatsumi and Lilith have familial love as sisters.
Since that was an incredibly inadequete attempt to describe the love triangle between these confusingly named characters, here's a quick chart that instead condenses their intricate relationships. I've used the Greek words for love for better precision here: Eros refers to deep physical desire, agape refers to unwavering dedication and admiration, and philos refers to familiar, friendly love.
Hatsuki has / \ Hatsuki has
Eros, Agape / \ indifference for
for Hatsumi / \ Lilith
Hatsumi has / \ Lilith has
Philos for / \ superficial Eros
Hatsuki / \ for Hatsuki
Hatsumi ----------------- Lilith
(Goddess) Hatsumi and Lilith have (sidekick)
Philos for each other
And so... My point in describing all this is that real literary value can be found in this show. It's making a statement about the nature of love through its portrayal of Hatsuki and Hatsumi's relationship.
The angst and pain that Hatsuki suffers doesn't come off as shallow in any way. Her love for Hatsumi and her resulting sadness at never being able to express it blasts home a strongly argued point. In the same vein as Revolutionary Girl Utena, the point is that true, unconditional love between two females is not only possible but can also be a good, healthy thing for all parties involved.
Along the Hatsuki's journeys through the universes, she encounters a cat girl in feudal Japan, a tribalistic neanderthal society, a space colony full of children, and many stupid men.
The last point is especially worth noticing. With this show's portrayal of both Hatsuki as the woman in control of her own destiny and men being dumbasses in general, it could probably be taken as feminist work. Yes, only could an anime be so complex to have serious feminist undertones while advertising itself through well endowed teenage girls in bathing suits.
The most inept of all the males is also the lead villian, a peculiar man by the name of Gargantua. He's always plotting behind the scenes, but he never does much except unintentionally make a fool of himself. His henchmen consist of three terribly inept goblins that are a reflection of himself... And that isn't just applying literary interpretation. Gargantua's dark castle was created out of a reflection his inner nature, all Platonic style, according to Lilith in one of the later episodes. Gargantua and his goblin partners do find redemption and happiness at the end, so not to completely villianize all males all the time.
There's one more character and two more hats worth mentioning: Kogechibi.
Kogechibi is difficult to understand without a visual picture. She's a mischievous infant... with the body of a hat. But just being a hat isn't bizarre enough NAY! for she has a scythe-for-a-hat as well. Two giant blue eyes and strands of blonde hair peep out of tiny face hole in her hat... err, hat-suit... garment. She makes syllabic meeping noises and likes to engage in minor events of destruction, such as tearing out pages in books that represent entire physical realities and shooting off firecrackers at people. Whoever thought of the absurd concept that is Kogechibi is, quite simply, a fucking genius.
Well, let's recap some important points.
- is NOT a hentai BUT is an ecchi anime based off a hentai game
- does NOT have any nudity BUT does consist of sticky fan service borderline animed pr0n
- seems to be a low class sexist consumer-driven appeal to the lowest common denominator BUT could actually be interpretted as a powerful statement in favor of feminism while making interesting remarks about the nature of love, gender roles and cool looking hats
Of course, you don't have to take my interpretation on Yamibou. These are some fairly subjective definitions and lines I've drawn in defense of the show. Go watch the series yourself; you might find it to be the sickest, most patriachal display of misogyny in a cartoon this side of Naruto or Johnny Bravo... but I doubt it. If nothing else, you might enjoy the stellar music (it has a crazy good opening song!) and top notch animation.
Like its thematic predecessor, Revolution Girl Utena, Yamibou makes it very clear that it has a message. And in true anime style, that message says if a sexy teenage lesbian wants to slice a path through samurais, Russian spies, dinosaurs or whatever else is preventing her from the receiving the love of another sexy teenage lesbian who happens to be the supreme ruler of the universe, then we should just sit back without moral condemnations... and not have any qualms about simultaneously enjoying the spectacle.
Hatsuki - Noto Mamiko
Lilith - Kobayashi Sanae
Hatsumi - Shimizu Ai
Ken-chan - Takagi Reiko
Gargantua - Miki Shin'ichirou
Kogechibi - Shimizu Ai
Original Story - Orbit
Director - Yamaguchi Yuuji
Character Design - Nishida Asako
Music - Tada Akifumi
Animation Production - Studio Deen