「無敵の私たち」 (Muteki no Watashitachi)
“We Are Unstoppable”
This wasn’t a bad finale. For one, it had a lot of that things that make for a good one. Action. Emotion. A giant, awe-inspiring, world-shaking super-being. Even in anime it’s not often you have to wrangle a god and I was suitably impressed. But while the spectacle was on point, the drama didn’t quite hit the mark for me. On a technical level, everything was quite well done, the series was wrapped up, and we got our happy ending. But I couldn’t really get myself invested in the outcome. To perhaps explain why that may be, let’s jump right to the final impressions because I need to talk about some broader ideas that underpin a show like Hisone to Masotan.
I used to think that writing fantasy was relatively easy. After all, you don’t have to do any research. You can make up anything you want. Sounds like a doozy. I suspect that there are others who presumed so too. As children we’ve all told tall tales in vain attempts to wriggle out of trouble, and the idea of not having to be confined by reality at all can seem appealing. But my initial opinion was naive. Kids who actually do manage to lie their way out of trouble know that the trick to a convincing lie is not to get too creative. Convincing lies should fit neatly into the target’s preconceived world-view. Convincing lies are boring, and don’t ask much examination. That is the opposite of fantasy. Fantasy exposes the audience to unfamiliar ideas and is intended to inspire wonder and curiosity. Which is great and all, but it makes the lie — all fiction are sets of well-crafted lies — harder to pull off. Not only do you have to invite the audience to willingly step into a world that is not their own, you also have to make sure that world is consistent and believable at all times, or else risk losing that all important suspension of disbelief. That is a lot of work and a lot of words; work and words that may not necessarily be interesting to the audience, but has to be done anyway. Most fiction already has to work to sell the characters and the plot and all that familiar jazz, but fantasy has to go one further, and also sell the fantasy.
Hisone to Masotan is a fantasy. I think the giant dragon-whale-island-god made that clear. But it didn’t spend as much time selling its fantasy as I would have liked. It sells many other things very well; the visuals are great, the characters are amusing, and dragon jets are just plain cool. But they all have to exist within the context of this fantasy setting, and if that has holes in it then the entire narrative can fall apart. Especially here, at the final episode, what should be the emotional climax of the entire you do not want your audience to still be asking question about your world. I mean, I want to be engaged in this big sacrifice, but I’m still wondering why it has to be done, why nobody has even tried an alternative, why anybody even know what being the kusabine is like when they all invariably died, why they sacrifice young people and not old people, and so on and so forth. There may be perfectly reasonable answers to these questions if I thought about them but I don’t want to be thinking during the climax. I want to be swept away by the narrative. But I’ve been thrown out of it already and at that point it only leads to other nitpicky tangents that undermine my own enjoyment of the story, like wondering why everybody trusts Hisone so much all of a sudden and whether she has really earned such unwavering faith. I feel that if more time was spent laying the groundwork earlier and really setting out the rules that govern the fantasy, instead of springing something new on us with each step of the way, the overall experience would have been much tighter.
Maybe the point is that we’re supposed to question, to challenge the establishment we see in HisoMaso, to fundamentally disagree with what they’re doing like Hisone does, to ask why these women are always being funnelled into these roles and asked to sacrifice for god and country. That’s fine. I can understand the message, and I can understand wanting to have one. Didactic is good. But perhaps the hand is too heavy here. The fantasy becomes less an attraction of the story and just a blatant tool to push the message. And that doesn’t sell. The ideal is to make the message an implication of the setting and the way characters either take part in or struggle against it, but in HisoMaso it felt too obvious that the setting was built around the message. That’s the kind of thing that takes the audience out of your narrative and ironically makes them less receptive to the message you worked so hard to push. It’s a fine line, perhaps, and rather subjective, but again this is something that could have been solved with growing the setting organically rather than have it be an obvious lever that the author is using to push characters into doing one thing or another. For example, consider just one small change: what if the need for a sacrifice was something that is widely known and accepted? What if that was an established part of the setting, as a part of their society, instead of a twist of the plot?
Overall, I would say that, on the balance, HisoMaso was a good show, and I got my share of entertainment out of it. But it could have been improved — invest in that setting, use a subtler brush. The key is that the story should always come first. Everything will naturally follow from that.