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Blood, Soil, And Anime: Studio Gainax And German Occultism

Some weeks ago, our friends at Myth of the Twentieth Century did a rather marvellous job examining the activities of the Aum Shinrikyo organisation, particularly the infamous Tokyo Subway attack of 1995. The episode as a whole is excellent, and deserves a complete listen-through (perhaps even before continuing here), but it was an off-hand remark by Adam Smith that spawned the journey we are about to take down the rabbit hole of Anime productions which your author believes to have been deeply influenced, if not altogether shaped, by the distant world of German racial occultism from the turn of the 20th century. For some of us, this will be a visit to darker days of our past when Japanese cartoons played a major role in shaping our encounters with popular culture. For a few (only a few, hopefully) it will be currently relevant to the popular culture they consume regularly. For your author, at least, it has proven to be a fascinating historical and ethnographic study of the alliance between Anime and the so-called “far right” in the West long before the days of 4chan and recent efforts of /pol/ in particular to meme the two together.

The fascination with Nazi German aesthetics is nothing new to Asia; Nazi party symbolism features prominently in Japanese high school cultural festivals and there is even a fashion subculture known as “Nazi chic”. In Anime, Nazis feature prominently, both an sich, as in Hellsing (quite prominently), Black Lagoon (wherein the biracial orphan mercenary kills a whole boatload), and arguably Jin-Roh, as well as through Ersatz characters and groups like the Wandenreich in Bleach, the (ironically named) Zeon faction of Mobile Suit Gundam, and, of course, the government in Full Metal Alchemist. This is ignoring the - * ahem * - liberal garnishing of other series, especially slice-of-life Anime that focus on student council activities, with Nazi references and jokes. Nor are the Japanese restricted to Nazi Germany—landmark series like the Space Opera Legend of Galactic Heroes feature a highly sympathetic Prussian-inspired faction, and more recently we have the (less engaging) Youjo Senki giving us World War I (with magic!) along with a psychopathic 9-year-old girl certain to appeal to the types that are upset about Net Neutrality going the way of the dodo, and, of course, the (more) deeply disturbing moe expression of the trend in Girls und Panzer (no explanation needed).

It also goes without saying that Japan’s remorse for their heinous crimes of challenging liberal world hegemony in World War II has been notoriously insufficient, but this and the above notwithstanding, the actual influence of European totalitarianism and racial politics on Japanese society and culture is quite scarce. Perhaps the Jew does fear the Samurai, but the Yamato race has paid the threat of Weltjudentum very little mind indeed. Part of this has to do with the absence of Jews in Japan, certainly, but there’s also a distinctly Japanese species of selective interaction with the rest of Eurasia that has permitted them to get by with very little cosmopolitanism in general (prior to 1946, at least) and has therefore created a tendency to interpret the gaijin in quite idiosyncratic ways. One need look no further than the expressions of kirisuto-kyo prevalent in Japanese popular culture to see this. Our lonely otaku readers clutching their body pillows and MGTOW manifestos close to them will immediately think of the portrayal of nuns in Anime (apparently no different than Shinto miko in terms of their relationship with the world – social and political power, conditional virginity, active liturgical roles), but other readers may perhaps look at the way Christian crosses and Crusading themes appear throughout Japanese media without a shred of relation to their native context. This reality frames our entire discussion going forward.

It is important to note that none of the series under discussion hereafter feature any Nazis, actual or ersatz, nor do they feature any explicit Prussian fetishism or German militaria—so this is not an article about Nazi chic. Neither, however, do they evidence any kind of secret Aryan racial conspiracy among the mangaka responsible for them. Rather, the intriguing thing is that they should have stumbled upon such obscure themes and influences at all, and, having found them, made them such central elements of their art and stories. Since our kyodai at Nijisseikinoshinwa mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion, that seems to be a good starting point—and thence through another, far more interesting parallel from Studio Gainax, Tegen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and, for support in the thesis that the parallels are deliberate, a discussion of Studio Trigger (an off-shoot of Gainax founded by the creators of Gurren Lagann) and the inspiration for their inaugural series Kill la Kill.

Angels & Eugenics in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Anno Hideaki is an incredibly well-known writer among shinicchi circles; perhaps not on level with the fame of Miyamotu Shigeru or media darling Miyazaki Hayao, but frequently mentioned in the same breath with Murakami Haruki and Mishima Yukio (though your author considers Mishima to belong to a higher order of literati than either of the other two—perhaps there is another essay lurking in that statement). He compares with Murakami most readily, being an admirer and bearing clear influence of his postmodern style and taste for Kafkaesque surrealism. Indeed, Shinkai Makoto has named the two as the chief inspirations for his acclaimed Your Name (2016), popular among narrative makers in America less for its subtle reference to Grigor Samsa’s predicament than for the political implications of its gender-swap plot device and utility as a weapon in the Kulturkampf.

Murakami and Anno also share a fascination with the Kafkaesque qualities of the Aum Shinrikyo cult; Murakami, in particular, wrote on the movement and the 1995 attack in his work Underground, (available in English but unfortunately only in abridged format). Anno himself was so heavily influenced by Aum that he had to rewrite significant portions of Evangelion following the gas attack because of how closely SEELE, the doomsday cult in the anime, resembled Aum. However, the finished result in Evangelion has broader cross-overs than Aum. Certainly, the (serially annoying) depressive character of Ikari Shinji can represent a sort of everyman: the Japanese who, in the midst of Japan’s economic golden age, felt lost, despondent, and unwanted—precisely the sort who would be drawn to Aum Shinrikyo (or any cult, for that matter). One (particularly pedestrian) review notes that a defining trait of Shinji’s life is that he receives no praise or support for his accomplishments—his own father regards him in purely utilitarian terms. However, the bulk of the storyline draws more heavily on (Gnostic) Christian than Buddhist themes.

For those who have never watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, much of the theme is contained in the title: “the New Gospel of Genesis”. In spite of its fame, perhaps a spoiler alert is in order here. It’s a mecha anime, which means it focuses on giant robots (“Evangelions” or “Evas”—the latter nickname is significant); in this context, they are fighting giant aliens (the “Angels”) to save humanity from the Apocalypse. In this case, the term Apocalypse is particularly appropriate, since the awakening of the Angels accords with prophecies in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The main protagonists—who turn out to be also antagonists—NERV, are responsible for defending humanity against the Angels, but themselves are controlled by a doomsday cult, SEELE, whose actual goal is something called the Human Instrumentality Project, essentially a forced evolution of humanity using the power of the demon/first human Lilith, the soul of which they have implanted in a clone of Shinji’s mother, Ayanami Rei (the origin of the kuudere personality type in all subsequent Anime). The sequel End of Evangelion, which was deliberately confusing, leaves the fate of the Earth and humanity ambiguous.

There are two significant parallels to German occultism in the plot itself: the first one more banal and widely known, the latter more exotic and obscure. The Second Impact event, which has caused global flooding and the extermination of the greater part of humanity, resulted from experimentation on Adam, an alien being who begat the human race, at the South Pole—drawing on general lore surrounding secret experiments and bases on the South Pole, a favourite in Western science fiction starting with Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym and Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”. Subsequently, Nazi conspiracy lore imagines a massive Nazi base on Antarctica where secret alien technology was discovered and contact established with an ancient subterranean alien race who had since abandoned Earth. The SS and Thule Society, which make appearances in several other mainstream anime (the latter features prominently in Full Metal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa, whose title may have been inspired by Aum Shinrikyo rhetoric, but whose substance is all Nazi occultism), are at the centre of the project. Supposedly, the Nazi base is still there—although according to some versions of the legend, it’s been transferred to the moon. The goal of SEELE (which is not an acronym, but rather the German word for “soul” – significant because they are working on bio-engineering a new humanity) is to use a Third Impact to unite all of humanity into a new Being of higher consciousness, a Being which can challenge the God who originated the Angels.

This is the second parallel: SEELE itself, the principle antagonist, seeks a forced evolution of mankind through a bio-spiritual gathering of humanity into a single Being. This is a sort of advanced eugenics programme, but it skips over the slower process of breeding a higher race and seeks to actually manufacture that race (the Evas themselves are biomechanical and capable of independent thought). Rei is the key to this, having been implanted with Lilith’s soul and biologically engineered to bring about the new beginning. Language throughout the series focuses on a corrupted humanity—and the Angels themselves are strongly hinted to be Kabbalistic Watchers whose task is the destruction of a degenerate and corrupted humankind. The fundamental goal of the Angels and of SEELE is the same: the eradication of humanity as it presently exists, but each is trying to seize control of the process from the other. Who is actually on the side of “good” is left purposely ambiguous.

Assuming SEELE are the “good guys”, though, they bear a strong resemblance to a pseudo-Christian occult movement in early-20th century Central Europe known as The New Templars, founded in 1909 by one Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. Liebenfels, born Adolf Lanz to a bourgeois Viennese family (he later dreamt up a more fanciful origin that involved a Sicilian contessa) was a former Cistercian monk who reimagined the Bible as a cryptic account of the conflict between an Aryan cult of “true-men” doing battle with an equally ancient cult that had bred all the dark, non-Aryan races of the world. In his version of Theosophical Christianity, the ancient Hebrews were the original Aryans, and the greatest Aryan was Jesus of Nazareth, an “Electrical Being” whose purity of race united him to the transcendent spirit of the Godhead. After his attempted rape by the “Sodomitic beast-men”, he emerges fully transformed into the all-conscious Electrical Being (Gotteselektron). Liebenfels’ claim was that Jews today are the leaders and organizers of the worldwide beast-cult.

Lilith also plays a big role in the origin of humanity for Liebenfels—Eve’s eating the fruit was, he claimed, a euphemism for carnal relations with the serpent, and was therefore rendered unfit for Adam. Most of his doctrine (called “Ariosophy”) is expounded in a book called Theozoologie, which has been rendered into passable English by a devotee. To combat the Affenmenschen, or “ape-men” (more often “sodomitic ape-men”), a programme of extreme eugenics was necessary, involving extermination of genetically corrupted persons and a system of breeding houses where monogamy would be abolished and Aryan “brood-mothers” would be supplied to men of pure Aryan stock to breed an army to crush the beast-men and bring about the final unification of humanity with the God of pure race.

Stripped of its idiosyncratic strain of anti-Semitism and weird sexual obsession (Liebenfels grew up in Vienna at the same time as Freud), Liebenfels’ mythology sees some pretty clear parallels with the plot of Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially considering plot elements in the sequels and game (which is canon). The role of the Lance of Longinus as a weapon especially for use against the Angels, which has gone missing (and features prominently in the mythology of both Liebenfels and his immediate successors) confirms the influence further. Of course, these parallels could be explained by similar sources—Liebenfels drew both on Theosophy, with its strong ties to Buddhism, and Kabbala as well as Gnostic texts to form his worldview, and there’s no shortage of mythology grown up around the so-called Spear of Destiny, so these could also be direct influences on Anno, but your author considers this doubtful.

Beast-men and Spirals in Gurren Lagann

Much of the reason for this dubiety is rooted in the legacy Anno left behind at Studio Gainax following Evangelion. One of the lead animators on Evangelion, Imaishi Hiroyuki, would go on to write and direct what is perhaps Gainax’s best-known contribution next to Anno’s opus, namely Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The parallels between the storyline of Gurren Lagann and Liebenfels, as well as another German occultist, Friedrich Bernhard Marby (who is interesting for his invention of “Runic Yoga”—another Aum Shinrikyo parallel) are uncanny. Combining this with the clear implication that Gurren Lagann was meant to be a spiritual successor to Evangelion (both are mecha Anime, both battle an alien race trying to exterminate humanity, both feature an annoyingly beta main protagonist—though at least Simon has the messianic Kamina to keep him from going Full Shinji) and there is a great deal to suggest that somewhere at Gainax (and now Studio Trigger), someone has got shelves well-stocked with pre-war and interwar German occult literature.

It is worth noting here that Liebenfels was close friends with another major Germanic occultist, Guido von List, and both would go on to more or less shape the entire world of what Nicholas Goodricke-Clark has called “the Germanic Occult Revival” movement that dovetailed into the early Nazi Party. This is part of the reason for the overlap in themes among later occultists (Marby was active mostly in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, while List was active in the 1870s-1890s, and Liebenfels did most of his writing between 1905 and 1925—and all three were influential on Karl Maria Wiligut, Heinrich Himmler’s ersatz Aleister Crowley and instigator of the Wewelsburg project). Themes of racial apocalypse and channeling the power of a long-dead race of superhumans permeate their writings, giving shape to the National Socialist articulation of the Nordic-Aryan race. Drawing on existing scientific and psychological literature, themes of collective consciousness, genetic manipulation, and electrical and atomic structures, they developed a mythological vision of the global past that always saw two races of beings, each originating in a different way from alien or, more often, supernatural beings. Marby, List, and Liebenfels tend to stand out because of the originality and exhaustiveness of their writings—as well as their erudition. Liebenfels, in particular, is a gifted biblical scholar, fluent in several Near Eastern languages and well-versed in Babylonian, Greek, and early Christian literature, which he combines to draw his conclusions. Marby, on the other hand, has a fanciful but exhaustive understanding of the natural world that explains his runic magic and exercises that are empirically demonstrable.

Friedrich Bernhard Marby wrote extensively on yoga and the use of physical exercises mimicking the Armanic runes (invented by Guido von List) to channel electrical energy in the body and perfect the racial energies to unite the soul with a sort of Theosophic world-soul. Marby almost certainly got these ideas from Liebenfels’ magazine Ostara, which published several of List’s articles on Armanic runelore: the role of electricity as a supernatural force directly mimics Liebenfels, and as an expert in Armanic runes, Marby would have had connexions with both various Guido-von-List-Verein, all of which were closely tied to Liebenfels’ Ordo Novi Templi. Perhaps the most interesting claims in Marby’s writings, however, are his scientific claims about the origin of the universe, which he claims is the result of “spiral energy” which interacts with anti-spirals to form atomic matter (fans of Gurren Lagann should already be connecting the dots here).

The challenge here is truly where to begin with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: the characters, the plot, and the world are all subject to direct connexions with the authors mentioned above. Practically the only central elements common to the Germanic Occult Revival the series is missing are runes and open anti-Semitism. First of all, let us consider the chief antagonist himself: Lordgenome. The muscle-bound chief of the Beastmen looks like a cross between the shirtless pilot in Raiders of the Lost Ark and an Arab Sheik (in his calmer, less Gainaxy scenes he vaguely reminds your author of Bob Bingham’s Caiaphas in the only Easter Special that can be played in synagogues, Jesus Christ Superstar). The clear racial difference between him and the antagonists—Kamina, Simon, and Yoko are all light-skinned, as, ironically, is Lordgenome’s disowned daughter, Nia—is augmented by his ruling style, one which one might be tempted to call Asiatic if this weren’t a cartoon produced in Japan. At any rate, he has come to master the Spiral Power that animates the dimension in which Earth exists, and he is the breeder of the race of Beastmen who rule the surface of the Earth (all full-blooded humans are forced to live in underground villages). These Beastmen have the appearance of humans, but with notable divergences—the Four Generals are all types of the Four Symbols in Chinese myth. However, one of the most prominent recurring beastmen—Viral (an anagram of “rival”)—pilots Gunmen (the mecha) called Enki and Enkidu. The latter is from the Epic of Gilgamesh and is directly referenced in Liebenfels’ Theozoologie as an example of the udumi, a “Wildman” who is created by the demon Aruru to challenge corrupted Aryan king Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh tames Enkidu with the use of a temple prostitute—a common practice in Liebenfels’ bestiality cult—and uses his pet to fight his battles. Lordgenome, in addition to breeding the Beastmen, is also the creator of their Gunmen. We have not yet even commented on the significance of his name: the human genome he corrupted to create the beastmen who cruelly rule over the timid and unawakened human race.

What indeed would such an unawakened master race be without a hypermasculine (another Liebenfels element - he regarded women as inherently weak and corrupt) Messiah figure with a flair for rhetoric? The Kamina-is-Jesus meme has already manifested in the Gurren Lagann fandom: his catchphrase “Ore wo dare da to omotte yagaru!!”, rendered in English as “who the hell do you think I am?!” has been compared to the passage in Matthew xvi, 15 – “Whom say ye that I am?”, usually memed with Christ wearing Kamina’s trademark sunglasses. (Actually, this is the unsurprising result of poor Biblical scholarship, since it is Simon, and not Kamina, who is meant to be mankind’s Saviour—meaning Kamina’s catchphrase is better compared to Acts xiii, 25 when John the Baptist says “Whom think ye that I am? I am not he”). Other catchphrases can all find Biblical equivalents, by the way: “Yours is the drill that will pierce the heavens!” (a direct reference to Simon’s role as the link between human and Divine), “Don’t believe in yourself, believe in me! Believe in the Kamina who believes in you!” (“to them gave he power to become the sons of God even unto those who believe on His name” John i, 12), “Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb!” (“the foolishness of God is wiser than men; the weakness of God is stronger than men” I Cor. i, 25).

Even a misunderstood Kirisuto-kyo does not lose the essential trappings of Christianity—but this Christ-figure goes further, for he does not die and rise again, but is subjected to temptation by the daughter of Lordgenome (similar to the attempted rape of the Electric Christ in Liebenfels’ version of the crucifixion) and triumphs, defeating Lordgenome and liberating humanity from the reign of the Beastmen. Here, a difference with Liebenfels: rather than exterminate the enemies of humanity, a new archnemesis arises, The Anti-Spiral (goodbye Liebenfels, hello Marby), whose goal is the eradication of all Spiral Beings (of which humans are the chief exemplars prior to the creation of the Beastmen). Beastmen are incorporated into Simon’s new world, battling the new common enemy. Spiral Energy is revealed by the Anti-Spiral to be the source of all life in the universe, but the Anti-Spiral race, an ancient alien race hinted to be the creators of this universe, sought to contain access to its power for fear of the Spiral Nemesis, the Apocalypse brought on by excessive use of Spiral Power. In addition to representing the ambiguous feelings of the Japanese in regard to nuclear power, this mirror’s the apocalyptic themes of Evangelion fairly closely. These parallels are far too great and numerous to wave away—Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is directly influenced by a blend of Germanic Occultism, explicit Christian rhetoric, and early 20th century conceptions of atomic genesis.

Fashy Fashion, Nudism, and Kill la Kill

The final link in the chain, though, is the explicit admission by Imaishi, who would co-found Gainax successor Studio Trigger that he is fascinated with Fascism and its implications and social manifestations. Thus, Trigger’s inaugural Anime, Kill la Kill. Kill la Kill is the brainchild of two Gainax veterans and creative leaders of Gurren Lagann, Imaishi himself and Nakashima Kazuki. Imaishi clearly shares Anno and Murakami’s postmodern fascination with words—he credits the entire plot of the series to the similarities between the Japanese words for fascio (“fassho”) and fashion (“fasshon”), the observation that kiru, the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “kill” is also the Japanese for both “cut” and “wear” and that the Japanese word seifuku means both “school uniform” and “conquest”.

Certainly, the most degenerate series under consideration here, Kill la Kill inherits and amplifies Gainax’s reputation for fanservice and sexual humour, making much of what would in other series amount to crude jokes essential to the plot. On the surface, it’s fairly standard libertine fare: reject puritanical totalitarianism for true liberation from generic oppression represented by uniformity. Since “oppression” in this case is represented by clothing, we might be safe to assume Studio Trigger has their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. This doesn’t absolve the Anime from its moral faults, but it does create some complexity in considering the creative process that resulted in the series. Here, too, fin-de-siècle German Europe makes an appearance, though perhaps more as a coincidence than direct influence.

The usual themes appear in Kill la Kill: an alien race (Life Fibers) seeking the conquest and destruction of mankind being exploited by human cultists (the Kiryuin Conglomerate) seeking to fundamentally change and “evolve” the human species—just like the forced evolution of the Human Instrumentality Project, or the altering of the human genome in the creation of the Beastmen. They are less obvious, but they remain derivative of Anno’s essential plot devices. Added to Kill la Kill, however, is the somewhat facetious theme of nudism as a liberation from the social controls that allow for a truly pure humanity. Far from the libertinism suggested by the constant sex jokes, the stated goal of the protagonists (“Nudisuto Bichi” – Nudist Beach) is the purification of humanity from the stain of needless shame and anxiety caused by the sexualisation of the body. Their principal objections to the Life Fibers that control humanity through clothing is that they are dishonest and full of needless adornment. This is all fairly standard ideological nudism, but as our own font of curmudgeonly erudition recently pointed out, there are deep ties between modern nudism, sexual libertinism, and Blut-und-Boden racialism. The Lebensreform movement, dedicated to mastering racial energies by returning to the primitive state of Aryan man that celebrated open-air nudity and yogic practices (there’s overlap here with Marby’s Runengymnastik)—an indirect but nevertheless significant influence on Imaishi’s first independent contribution.

Interspersed with all of the imagery borrowed from the German occultists is a seemingly leftist distrust of government and corporate power—a reflection of the general disquiet the authors and directors seem to have with contemporary democratic-capitalist Japan. This tendency among mangaka to blend modern sensibilities with a sort of innately Japanese obsession with national custom and virtues: it is very confusing to Western observers and, honestly, probably equally so to the Japanese who cannot resolve this contradiction created by the regime of National Consumerism installed by the American Occupation Government. The simultaneous attachment to the West and recognition that gaijin and their foreign values are destroying the Japanese soul permeates Japanese culture. It is so ubiquitous, in fact, that it even makes an appearance in Richard Marcinko’s jingoistic action-thriller Rogue Warrior series (book six, specifically – there’s an exchange between Marcinko’s fictional alter ego and a friend in the Japanese police in which the latter is lamenting the decay of Japanese honour and decency). It is a defining quality in the life and art of Mishima Yukio, whose anti-Western nationalist fanaticism was only equalled by his enthusiasm to have his works translated into Western languages.

The mangaka is trapped between his place in a highly self-conscious Japanese culture that clings to the deep national past and his influences of Western liberalism in a National Consumerist society – thus the sexual degeneracy and shallowness of the vast majority of anime are starkly contrasted with seeming depth and tributes to traditional values and reverence for history. By way of an example, consider Takahashi Rumiko, the mangaka responsible for the tremendously popular series Inuyasha set in the Sengoku Jidei - when asked why she did not give any historical exposition in her series, she responded that because the Sengoku era is so central to Japanese identity, no Japanese person should be so ignorant of it as to require a comic book to explain it. Inuyasha, though, is hardly a manifesto of Japanese conservatism—from a lecherous Buddhist monk to physically and emotionally dominant female protagonists, the series features plenty of flouting of Japanese piety and traditional hierarchies. Indeed, Inuyasha himself is a half-demon ostracised by both human and demon society because of his parentage, and this theme of the cruelty of ostracising half-breeds recurs throughout the series, making it a pro-miscegenation fable critical of the same Japanese national exclusivism that reached its zenith at the end of the Sengoku Jidei.

It is perhaps for this reason that Japanese pop-culture is so shot-through with references to Western totalitarian and (nominally) traditionalist politics: an attempt to resolve the contradictory relationship National Consumerist Japan has with the West by seeking expressions of Western identity and culture more consistent with native Japanese values. Whatever the cause, for Westerners, lacking our own ability to resolve the conflicts these totalitarian and occult movements represented, Japanese fascination with such things will continue to bemuse us and guarantee that Japan will be fixed in the peripheral vision of the dissident right.

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