The small stratus of anime fans who appreciate Seven Arcs productions may have looked forward to the Dog Days project, if perhaps only cheekily anticipating it. Well, I doubt there were ever that many, but I was personally excited. All things said and done, I was satisfied, at the very least. I won’t give a review of the show (but if anyone cares, I gave it 8/10) and in fact what I’m going to talk about has absolutely nothing to do about why I enjoyed the show either. Excellent!
So, I don’t have any firm statistic on this impression I have, but presumably more than a few people were irked by Dog Days‘s relaxed, sterile depiction of “war”. This is one of its best claims to being unique, but perhaps it is too different. People are loathe to have their expectations betrayed. Reality is, it is very difficult to live outside cultural memory.
I’ll keep the history lesson short on the parts you probably all know, but we live in a world that has public education and has seen the passing of two World Wars and various conflicts of the nature of Vietnam. Modern Warfare, the staging ground for Europe and the West’s premier Total Wars, is something inexplicably tied with the negative. While WWII may have done some to rehabilitate the image of war in the public eye, we are essentially defined by the experience of WWI and Vietnam. Even the heroism of WWII, we are well aware of the often unglamourous, poor conditions forced upon combatants. Furthermore, all are tarnished with the image of being brutal, costly, fruitless, barbaric. Whether neccessary or not, war is anything but good. We revel in the images of infantry torn up by machine guns at the gates of barbed wire, populations bombed into the dust from the air, and civilians savaged by occupying soldiers. Of course, it is not like war was ever without savagery, but these total wars, which drew in both record in media and was experienced by the state’s population at large, are the ones that informs our Modernism and its children.
So banish such mindsets away temporarily, and instead engage with the age most contextually linked with fantasy: Medieval Europe. A land ruled by the knights, here exists are most viceral examples of what is codified in what we understand in abstract as chivalry. Now, when people say chivalry is dead, they’re mistaken, as it was never truly alive, as the chevauchee (a common strategy of terrorizing civilians to force opposing armies to leave the safety of their castles to fight in the field: read John A. Lynn’s Chivalry and Chevauchee for a detailed treatment) demonstrates amply. Instead, chivalry is a falsehood or ideal, desseminated by the aristocratic class to justify their right of rule, which is in truth maintained by force and the monopoly of cavalry (knights).
The feudal society of that age, born from the chaos of the collapse of the Roman Empire, is essentially a system protection rackets. Men in armor, riding horses, offer protection to peasants in exchange for their land, labour, and harvests. Yet stronger groups of knights add those into their protection network, until you meet at a top where there is the King, the first amongst equal, feudal lords. Being men who are established through might, Europe was plagued by the constant fighting between these martial men, much to the consternation of the Church, who did not see why you would spill Christian blood when heathens ran amok all about, threatening the survival of Christianity.
However, as men established by martial prowess, advancement would also be judged by martial prowess. If the church would deny them war amongst themselves, and between the massive rallies for the Crusades, knights would only have one forum left to prove their mettle and honor: the Tournament. Thanks to the aristocrats embellishing chivalry and the tournament, our cultural memory of them is very idealized: polite affairs of the joust and sportsmanly duels. In truth, reality rarely reflects that ideal, with the origins of the tournament being little better than a scrum, a mini-war waged between a few, where two knights would try to demount one another and lowly goons would pile on and beat with clubs a downed knight, before ransoming the loser off. And for whatever reason, the damsels just dug whoever was best at having another knight beaten up by thugs of low pedigree armed with clubs.
Even more purified versions of the tournament were not so clean, where at the refined stage you would have the more iconic joust. Of course, what we don’t depict is that these jousts were incredibly fatal, considering you’re having a long metal shaft with a hard metal point thrusted at you powered by two horses charging at one another. The issue at stake remains though, the centerpiece of might makes right, the need for a forum to prove martial prowess, for both social standing, treasure, and women.
And here’s where Dog Days comes in: a god presiding over the land, more able to act than the Roman Catholic Church would ever gain the political clout to do, erased the issue of death from the land. Death is replaced with but the slight shaming of becoming a feline or canine blob (or the destruction of clothing w). You will find that the age old, medieval system for tournaments finds quite a home with this reality, at a much bigger scale. The tournament was created in reaction to the inability of knights to engage in combat due to Catholic opposition to open war between Christian people, which did break out once in a while regardless. They opposed this because it led to the death of Christians at the hands of Christians, when heathens would be a better target. Such a concern is now completely solved. But these competing protection rackets must nonetheless compete, no? With death out of the way, these rackets may now safely and productively enjoy war, as if in a tournament, en masse.
This is the culmination of Dog Days‘s security environment, a place where death has been banished and monarchs rule through bonds of fealty (maybe even Nationalism, it’s tough to say), not the power of absolute rule. The men of arms simulate massive contests of martial prowess to prove their mettle and honour, and by winning obtain a substantial reward despite the non-war nature of the conflict. A strange state of existence that completely defies our conception of war as savage, fruitless, and undesireable. War in Dog Days is a recreational activity that gives access to all the glories and heroics that militarist texts would claim war provides. War simply couldn’t happen any other way, given their likely military doctrine and reality of existence. Which, very well, is quite unlike the war we know. You may even call it false. But, take death out of the equation, or even try to as in the case of the Tournaments, and you inevitably end up with something pretty different.
Bonus Round: Dog Days is actually pretty tough to pin down. The setting seems to actually enjoy a fairly prosperous middle class, but it’s very unclear if the monarchs actually wield absolute power, since they seem to act much more the role of figurehead and celebrity. With Milhoire in particular, her selection of advisors (?) is quite large. There’s also the other issues, such as magic becoming a cheeky way of stuffing modern mass media into the picture, events being somehow magic-televised and interstate affairs being treated often like a game show, the society is fairly convoluted. This is ignoring the pseudo-welfare, pseudo-meritocratic system of redistribution of wealth according to performance in the “wars”. The very large number of infantry too, is something of an issue when you want to fit a particular epoch on things, but they can be hardly called a professional force like the Roman Legion, with most soldiers in the fight being something akin to a levy, except they volunteered because fighting a war is just recreation. It’s a fairly eclectic mix, but at the heart of it I think its depiction of “war” is fairly clever, especially in the context of our idealized vision of chivalry in war, which really only could exist were war as harmless as it is in Dog Days.