High School DxD vs RIN
Andrew Osmond says if you liked that, you might like this…
One of the most memorable comments on sexy anime came from a body which has a professional duty to watch it: the British Board of Film Classification. A BBFC examiner, Emily Fussell, reflected in a podcast on how anime perplexed her. “Sometimes you are thrown complete curveballs. So you will think that you are watching a series about a bunch of schoolchildren fighting aliens… and then one of them will stick their finger up another one’s bum, or they’ll show their boobs… Sometimes it’s just not what you think it is.”
While it’s easy to think of anime which fit the ‘boobs’ description – High School DxD for one! – we invite readers to suggest which anime inspired the ‘finger’ comment. The BBFC podcast can be heard here (the comments on anime start at 17-40), while it’s also summarised here.
Part of the confusion, of course, is that anime, like adult literature and live-action cinema, can have sexual elements and ambitious stories. It’s nothing new; we’ve looked previously at the erotic-arty Tragedy of Belladonna, made by the Mushi studio back in 1973. The most infamous case is the openly pornographic Legend of the Overfiend (1987), which put a horny teen boy at the centre of a dimension-spanning apocalypse. More recently, we’ve had a spate of far more softcore, often comedic imports, which were often made for late-night Japanese TV. Examples include Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, Cat Planet Cuties, Master of Martial Hearts, Samurai Girls and Strike Witches.
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High School DxD, which we’ve profiled on this blog already, is interesting because of its mix-and-matching. On the one side, it’s a ludicrous farce, especially in the hilarious English dub which embraces all the boob fixations and has characters yell ‘bazongas!’ at the top of their lungs. Like most of the titles in the previous paragraph, it’s an action show, but it sets up an especially big battle between demons and fallen angels, which Issei, the boy protagonist, slowly comes to comprehend when he’s not peeking down blouses or into girls’ locker rooms. It’s a hero story, so Issei learns how to channel his testosterone to beat powerful enemies, without any fatal side effects. If you want to see what those side effects could have been, watch Overfiend, where the boy’s rise (in all senses) to manhood rips himself, luckless women and the universe to shreds.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne, sometimes referred to as just Mnemosyne, takes another tack. Warning; this is not a fluffy comedy like High School DxD. Some of its images of violence and torture make the Saw films look restrained, and they’re often meted out against the heroine. (The first episode has the toughest material, so if you can get through that…) However, Rin’s not a helpless victim – instead, she’s presented as an ultra-masochist who doesn’t need a safeword. She’s also, pointedly, an adult woman rather than a child or teenager, whose resourcefulness and wiles brings Rin closer to Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine than to Overfiend. True, Rin’s companion is a girlish-looking minx, who ends up in some sexual situations too, but they’re far less graphic than Rin’s own pain-fixes.
Rin is a rather remarkable, oft-overlooked series. Released in Japan in 2008, it was made by the Xebec studio, a subsidiary of Production I.G. It’s a six-part video series, but each part runs twice the length of a standard anime TV episode, making Mnemosyne equivalent to a twelve-part TV series. (It’s the same format as the robot series Broken Blade, also made by Xebec). It’s visually very classy, especially the background art depicting Tokyo of the present and near-past, which is not far off a lavish Production I.G show like Eden of the East.
The show also has two lead actresses to grab fan attention. Rin, the titular heroine, is voiced by Mamiko Noto, who’s Mavis in Fairy Tail, Kotomi in Clannad, Jiji-sama in Princess Jellyfish and Yuri in Penguindrum, among many other roles. (In the dub version, Rin is excellently voiced by Colleen Clinkenbeard, now Luffy in One Piece.) Rin’s girly companion Mimi is voiced by Rie Kugimiya, best-known as Al in all the anime of Fullmetal Alchemist; she’s also Happy in Fairy Tail, the demon boy Usamaro in the Blue Exorcist film, and the Japanese voice of Britain’s Peppa Pig. As we noted in connection with Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, the presence of such ‘big’ names may be deliberate marketing, proof this isn’t just a cheap sex video.
Initially, Rin and Mimi seem to be private investigators-cum-detectives. As in many series, the lead Rin has on-the-ground infiltration and fighting skills, while Mimi is a super-hacker. It becomes graphically clear in the opening episode, however, that Rin is pretty much impossible to kill, whatever hideous damage is done to her body. Indeed, both Rin and Mimi appear to be immortal. Scarily, Rin sees getting shot in the head or agonisingly mutilated as a daily hazard. It’s suggested such things keep her centuries-old spirit sharp, and frankly, there’s a part of her which gets off on it. As for sexual orientation, Rin is seen going with both men and women, though her hetero feelings are centred on one particular man, who interestingly has little screen time, and is certainly not a conventional male-viewer surrogate. Oh, and there are male monsters, specifically cannibal angels (and let’s repeat that, cannibal angels) who arouse ‘immortal’ women primally and almost uncontrollably, regardless of their normal orientation
Mnemosyne overlaps with Britain’s Torchwood, the sexier, swearier BBC spinoff from Doctor Who, which was running when Mnemosyne was released in Japan. Rin’s fantastic healing powers, near-invincibility, longevity and upfront sexuality all echo Captain Jack’s in Torchwood – although admittedly Torchwood’s Cardiff base feels far from Rin’s high-rise backdrop of Shinjuku, Tokyo! Later Rin episodes move to Kyoto and to a fantastical giant castle; the latter has shades of the Scottish edifice in King of Thorn, though this one’s more Bluebeard than Sleeping Beauty, guarded by an army of gimp-suited angels. But while Torchwood had flashbacks showing the ageless Jack in past decades, Rin takes the immortality device much further.
Rin’s best idea is to have successive episodes skipping forward through the decades, starting in the recent past (the 1990s) and moving several decades into the future, with the last episodes set in the 2050s. Naturally this means we see some characters age and die, while the immortals are still around to care for their kids. (In one scene, Rin has to ‘explain’ to an elderly woman that she’s the surprisingly-similar looking daughter of the Rin the woman knew.) It’s a device used in print fiction, and Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix manga, but it’s far rarer on screen. The few anime cases include Production I.G’s Otogi Zoshi, which used reincarnation to bridge the centuries, and Madhouse’s horror-fantasy Doomed Megalopolis, which spanned the early twentieth century.
Obviously this device makes Rin far more flexible and twisty than most shows, as well as adding interest when you watch it now, six years after it was made. For example, the third part takes place in the ‘near future’ of 2011, with no reference to the terrible Tohoku earthquake which happened in March that year. Disconcertingly, though, the fourth episode is set in 2025, and it does have script references to an earthquake which ruined Japan’s economy. The fourth part also features a VR cute girl character which has become massively popular in the public domain; Rin, take note, was released months after the Japanese debut of Hatsune Miku. But let’s just say the virtual girl in Rin hasn’t become famous by singing.
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The last two episodes, set in the 2050s, introduce Mishio, a teen-girl investigator who’s a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes – good to see the sleuth lives on three decade from now! Actually, Mishio’s one of the most likable characters in the series, despite wearing outrageous future outfits which would make Major Kusanagi blink. Mishio’s played by another well-known Japanese actress, Kaori Nazuka, who voiced the cute Nunnally in Code Geass and Eureka in the Eureka Seven franchise, including Eureka Seven AO.
The junior sleuth, alternating with the exponentially older, seen-it-all-before Rin, both give the show a good humour that’s not grounded in titillation, though there’s a sweet, typically anime gag about a male supporting character; the poor chap seems to have a chance with Rin every few decades, yet never quite makes it. Despite the scenes of characters gripped by uncontrollable carnal desires, much of the show is about affectionate friendships, perhaps influenced by a series which studio Xebec helped animate: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex. Rin’s sex scenes can be almost as bestial as Overfiend, but unlike that franchise, love is not damned and its consummation doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Bolstered by pleasing permutations of fantasy and reality – including a mythical world-tree which looms unnoticed over Tokyo, and an encounter between the sexes in the Shinjuku Gyoen park which is far more violent than the one in Shinkai’s Garden of Words – Rin holds up six years on. It stretches anime past its comfort zones, using top-drawer talents and assets, even if the lack of obvious follow-ups suggest it went too far for its market. It certainly feels like a title that anime staff wanted to make, rather than one driven by otaku fashions. And it must have caused lively discussions at the BBFC, which awarded it an ‘18.’ As Emily Fussell would have put it, at first you think you’re watching a crime show about two female private investigators, but then….
Highschool DxD and Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne are both available on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
High School DxD Complete Series Collection Trailer
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