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Belief is a mirror

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 9, 2023

Last week I had the fortune of stumbling across Netflix's latest animated series, Blue Eye Samurai. I didn't expect much, but I was so bowled over by the sheer excellence of this show that I ended up binging the entire first season overnight. Like all shows, it's got its flaws, but they're so few and so easily dismissible it doesn't matter. What I love about it the most, the gorgeous settings and the awesome soundtrack aside, is the character design and character building for each of the cast.

And this is where my inspiration for this post comes- from the show's main villain and boogey man, Abijah Fowler (whose name is basically a messing up of the letters that spell ‘flower’ btw). He is one of the sole four white people that made it to Japan to trade before the country went into its isolationism phase during the 1600s Edo period. I won't go into why that's significant to the main character because it's beyond the point of the article today. But what I will say is that Fowler is easily one of Japan's most ruthless, cruel, twisted men (there's reason for that, too). He's also filthy rich, confined to a castle to spare the Shogun the embarrassment of having allowed a white man to exist in Japan, and has a plan to plant his own puppet Shogun instead.

And here comes the point of today's article, summed up in the still I got from one of the most revealing scenes about the character: the scene where Fowler talks to God, prior to launching his plan to overthrow the Shogun.

Fowler is an Irishman, so he's a Catholic. Not a practicing Catholic, but from what we garner, he does have some belief that God exists. And in this one moment where everything is about to launch and, like anyone would, he has the jitters about how successful his plan will be, he goes to talk to God. The way he talks to God is astounding. Not in what he says (he offers a trade of souls in return for success of his plan) but in what that reveals about him.

Fowler is a trader, a political puppeteer, and someone who has no qualms about here he stands in terms of alignment with God's tennets. But he makes an offer to God like a tradesman. He speaks to God like he's approaching another trader, trying to find what common ground there can be, and then uses that to make his ‘pitch’ about soliciting God's help in the fruition of his plan.

We learn a lot about Fowler and how he thinks from just a 2 minute scene. Because belief and how we behave within belief is basically a mirror.

No matter what religion you ascribe to, no matter if you ascribe to no religion, if you're atheist or agnostic, or anything in between, you have a set of beliefs. How you interpret and apply these beliefs in your daily life tells everything about you (and next to nothing about your dogma).

Let's take the Ten Commandments, just because I assume people are familiar with them. There's one that goes “thou shall not kill”. But it never has stopped people from killing each other while ascribing to the Commandments. The belief is there (we shouldn't kill each other) but how it is applied is what reveals our true self:

“We shouldn't kill each other, but you're not part of us, so I can kill you.”
“We shouldn't kill each other, unless you're not good enough, then I can kill you.”
“We shouldn't kill each other, and thus I can't kill you because you're one of us.”
“We shouldn't kill each other, but because I don't like you, you're not one of us, and I can.”
“We shouldn't kill each other, but I have God's authority to do it, so I can.”
“We shouldn't kill each other, so killing is off the table no matter what.”

The above examples are pretty broadbrushing. Tons of nuance can come out of how a character acts/reacts according to their belief, letting the audience know the core of their personality and stance. And because a belief system doesn't need to be religious, it can work whether your character is faithful to anything or not.

The most dangerous thing about belief is that it isn't the fence or net holding people back or shaping their behavior that it's made out to be. Rather than a fence keeping people from doing certain things, it is a prism. Intent for certain things goes in, and through the prism it morphs into different behaviors that serve that wish, no matter how clashing to the creed/belief system that wish may be.

This holds true for those who are “true” believers (as in, they make sure they have some rationalization about why what they do is acceptable within their belief system) and those who aren't. We live in a society, and society has a belief system that makes certain things acceptable and others unacceptable. It's how people grapple with both categories that reveals their true nature, personality, and range.

And so exploring how a character reacts to their own faith/belief system is a great way to show, rather than tell, what that character is all about! Just like what we learn about Abijah Fowler.

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PaulEberhardt at 12:55PM, Dec. 10, 2023

I believe I should try Netflix at some point, even if thou shalt not subscribe to anything on a monthly basis... Interesting angle of character analysis here, and it totally makes sense. There's hardly a better way to glimpse in anyone's soul. This also counts for everyday, unvoiced beliefs, like "dark alleys are always dangerous" or "when a girl sheds tears she is setting a trap" - note that's not what I believe, but I think the latter idea is a great example for a subliminal belief that would speak volumes about the character and his backstory. You would never have this guy actually saying so, but you could convey it through body language, snarky remarks and much more.

davidxolukoga at 11:20PM, Dec. 9, 2023

Animated shows right now are way too incredible. Who's on the "INVINCIBLE" train??

Banes at 8:41PM, Dec. 9, 2023

Wow, great recommendation and a powerful article. What a way to cut to the core of a character, to see how they interact with God, and the nuances and contradictions that can manifest there. Though provoking indeed!

fallopiancrusader at 2:43PM, Dec. 9, 2023

Blue eye samurai was great! I thought episode 5 was a masterpiece of storytelling

Jason Moon at 9:48AM, Dec. 9, 2023

I will have to check it out! Have you seen "My Daemon" on netflix, Tantz? I love the background art and the story pulls on your heart strings because you constantly worry for the main little boy and his little pet.

UnderTheBlackHat at 7:51AM, Dec. 9, 2023

Yes, we watched it when it first came out, all of us lounging about the room with the big screen TV and absorbed it! It's good story telling without politicking or trying to force a belief system down your throat. Something just about everyone these days has forgotten how to do. It's as much an accurate portrayal of the world it's set in as has been done in a long, long time, while allowing for a reasonable suspension of disbelief when it comes to some of the action. (which is all done live with actors and then animated over). As for the biblical reference... The original phrase (before too many edits and translations) was: Thou Shall Not Commit Murder. So there is a very important difference, which is one way people for centuries have been able to easily justify whatever terrible things they are doing to each other. The fact that Fowler still ascribes to some beliefs tells us more about him than a ton of monologuing could ever do. You are quite correct, we need more of this!

JohnCelestri at 6:20AM, Dec. 9, 2023

I don't have Netflix, but I intend to resub soon. Blue Eye Samurai sounds like the type of series I'm interested in. Thank you for pointing out the maturity of its premise; it's the type of project I would liked to have animated on during my career.

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