When You Stare Into the Abyss… (October OWLS Post)

As you can see, things are finally set up in the realm of OWLS.

Welcome to any newcomers. I’m Aria – not to be confused with Fujinsei’s Arria (note the spelling is slightly different), but you can call me “MagicConan14” too – and I run this place known as the Animanga Spellbook. So, uh…this is it. After waiting 5 months, here’s my OWLS debut.

What’s OWLS? The Otaku Warriors of Liberty and Self-respect, who promote acceptance of individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. This month’s theme is “grotesque”:

In honour of Halloween, we will explore what we find vile and ugly in pop culture. For this month’s topic, OWLS bloggers will be exploring characters or aspects of the grotesque in a piece of media and how it is a metaphor or allegory for society, human nature, or some other philosophical or humane idea.

When it comes to Halloween, normally you’d think of vampires, ghosts and other classic creatures, so after dwelling on whether to use the body horror-filled manga Jigokuraku or even Angolmois, I’m going to go with Phantom in the Twilight this month. Since it ended not too long ago (and you probably don’t know about the fact I mention spoilers whenever I want here), I’m going to delve into spoiler territory, so make sure you’re prepared before you continue…

Don’t be fooled by the occasional cafe setting and bevy of guys – this show is much more than that. (Source: Phantom in the Twilight OP)

Phantom in the Twilight doesn’t seem like it offers much in the themes department, but any work can be read into enough if you look at it the right way. For instance, the way it tries to explain its creatures, Umbra, makes them a metaphor for minorities, whether that be by race, gender or some other aspect of a person.

Just think about it: the bad guys are trying to oppress the Umbra and the good guys are trying to coexist with the Umbra, which is a general enough basis for the state of most minorities in the present, if not historically. Heck, the human good guys – Shinyao and Ton, that is – even gain Umbra traits as they work on their powers, so instead of being born with the trait that puts them into the minority, they are the ones who find that trait and then wear that on their sleeves. This seems to be an odd message for anime, often noted to be a media that’s used to praising groupthink and “hammering down the nail that sticks out”, but the rules are different in this case: it’s a Chinese coproduction, so the idea of groupwork and embracing diversity is there in the framework.

Just to make the metaphor unsubtle (and more appropriate for this topic), Umbra are born out of human fear, which brings up the idea of who the real monsters are both in this show and real life – humans, or human imaginations. Never mind the unknown which you can see when you stare into the abyss (as said by Nietzsche), human knowledge and the ways in which we go about getting rid of things we don’t like or want is scarier…just ask Van Helsing and Backup, who ended up dead for their troubles.

Interestingly, magic is in itself commonly used to explain away the unknown, so it makes sense that the ones in control of it in Phantom of the Twilight are generally individuals who are sure of themselves. Not entirely to the point of cockiness, but they know what they’re capable of and what their boundaries are…except maybe Ton, because she keeps pushing herself to her limits, and Shinyao, who gets dragged along on the adventure via an extended bout of kidnapping.

However, there is an allegory about power buried in there too, because the one who’s the most sure about his magical potential is Haysin, who uses his life force and (according to himself) ate other magic users in his quest to gain enough power to oppose Ton and co. Even Ton, often noted to be the most powerful of the Twilights closer to the end of the series, suffers amnesia for an episode after power overuse.

Ton’s hair changes colour after she uses her powers, which aside from being a visual barometer for her power, also shows how far she is from becoming an Umbra. (Source: Phantom in the Twilight ep 8)

Basically, Phantom in the Twilight isn’t just a show about finding oneself in an unfamiliar place in the weirdest circumstances possible, or a show about hot dudes + Ton fighting bad guys (although it is both of those things as well). If you bother to read between the lines, you’ll find messages of empowerment, tackling problems in a proactive manner and the fact we need to embrace the globalising, diverse nature of the world, not be afraid of it.

Welp, that’s it from me this month. I’m bowing out for November but hopefully I’ll stick around OWLS well into the future.

The next post is by Takuto, so look forward to it. We previously had Matt who discussed the grotesque in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Furthermore, you can see the OWLS schedule for this tour here.


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