Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Anime: The Book of Bantorra

Last night my husband and I finished watching the anime The Book of Bantorra. It was good. Really good. The first anime we've tried in a while that made me want to stay up way longer than I should to keep watching. It also made me question some things about my story preferences that I thought were true.

First, let me give you a quick summary of the show's premise. In Bantorra's universe when people die their bodies slowly turn into books (which look like vaguely book sized slabs of rock) which other people can touch to read and learn the deceased's life story. Bantorra Library is home of the Armed Librarians (how cool is that?) whose job is to collect, organize and protect the books. The Armed Librarians are in conflict with the Church of Drowning in God's Grace (also called the Shindeki Church) who believe that being human means that you have the right to seek happiness at all costs. The top ranks of the Church are the True Men, who use others to gain happiness and thus create the most beautiful books of their lives that they can. Then there are the Mock Men who serve the True Men. Lowest of all are the Meats who the True Men have brainwashed to forget their humanity. Meats are used as cannon fodder and guinea pigs in various experiments the Church carries out.

To say more would be to give away too much. The anime is full of intrigue, of world-changing secrets and interesting plot twists. It's well worth the watch. So what assumptions did it call into question?

1. I thought I hated character death.

Of course I don't mean ALL character death. Sometimes it's appropriate or even necessary to the story. But I have firmly hated and condemned the kind of character death that G.R.R. Martin engages in: where characters seem to die right and left and the only purpose of it seems to be either a glorification of violence or "Ha! You thought you could root for him? You never know whose going to die or when in this book! Don't get too comfortable, reader. Muahahahahaha!" OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but I think you know what I mean.

Many characters die in Bantorra and only some of them are bad guys. The first episode introduces a group of Armed Librarians. As typical in anime they are all given a unique look and unique abilities and unique personalities. They are presented as whole characters. Only a few of them will survive to the end. And while it hurt each time one of them died, somehow it fit into the mood and theme and direction of the story perfectly. And perhaps this is the key to why it worked for me: (semi spoiler) the climax involves a two layered fight involving the still surviving characters and all the characters that had died thus far all working together in their respective realms to win the conflict. It was awesome.

Three of these characters die.

 So while many of the deaths seem pointless at the time, ultimately they have meaning.

2. I thought I hated unsympathetic, morally questionable main characters.

In truth, there's not really one main character in The Book of Bantorra. But Hamyuts Meseta, the acting director of Bantorra Library, is certainly one of the most important characters. (She's the one in the image above with the ridiculous cleavage.) She's also a terrible, terrible person.

In the very first episode she uses her power to blow up a ship despite all of the people that are still on it including her own Armed Librarians. The rest of the series establishes that she is ruthless, bloodthirsty and extremely deadly. She is clearly keeping some ominous secrets and no one really knows who she is or what her goals are. And at first I didn't like her. But then...

One of the things I love about anime is how EVERY SINGLE character is far deeper and more complex than they appear in the beginning. But animes tend to take their time about revealing the full picture of their characters. Each new storyline will deepen your knowledge of the characters. It's like each character is a puzzle. In the beginning of the series the frame of the puzzle is intact and slowly new pieces are added with each arc the character goes through until you can finally see the whole picture. It's fantastic. Hamyuts is no exception.

One of the other characters, Minth, has an ability called Sacred Eyes which allows him to look into people's souls. He once used it on Hamyuts. He expected, he says, to see nothing but evil and villainy in her soul, but was surprised. He finds that her main trait is self-loathing, her thoughts are void, and she wishes for love.

By the end of the series I could believe that, even though in the beginning she had seemed a villain. Slowly, gradually, so that you barely notice it consciously, she is deepened. And in the end it is possible to sympathize with her and even root for her to win. It is expertly done.

3. I thought I wanted romances to have a happy ending.

Tragic romances are all well and good when you are young. But being a wife and a mother has made me prefer seeing a good happy ending for lovers. It's gotten to the point where I'm likely to shun a story if I think it's going to be too heartbreaking. And yet...

There are several romantic or semi-romantic couples in The Book of Bantorra. The only couple that has something like a happy ending are never at any point physically together (they live hundreds of years apart). Three couples are separated by death. Two of those three never consummated their relationship. It was always on the brink of something more. All four of these relationships were beautiful, each in different ways. And they were heartbreaking and I loved them.

I would totally ship Noloty and Enlike. 

So what's the moral here? I think it's that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to story telling. Anything can work. It just depends on how well you implement it. But you can't know how well you might or might not be able to carry out a particular technique or trope until you try it. At that point, you should let the readers decide whether it's good or bad.


  1. Netflix doesn't have that, so I probably won't watch it. The idea of turning into a book when you die is pretty cool.

    Cowboy Bebop is still one of my favorite animes.

    1. I think Cowboy Bebop is on my "to watch" list. There's just so much anime and so little time!

  2. Not on Netflix! Dang. Where did you find it, Sarah? We would enjoy this movie.

    1. Ah, I have to admit that I watched it on one of the many websites that hosts anime dubs for free. *blush*

  3. I love anime, this one looks really good! I'll have to put it on my to-watch list :)

  4. I'm gonna have to look this up. It seems to break down some cliches and explore fantasy in a new and interesting way.

    1. My experience with anime is that it generally does. :)


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