Genki Leads: Part One: Empty Minds and Moral Action

As Last Exile -Ginkyoku no Fam- winds up for its last chunk of episodes, climax and everything, I’ve noticed that Fam has gotten more and more on people‘s patience. That’s nothing I can blame them for, as the tension between her and the show can be often intense, so I won’t attempt a defense of her.

But, isn’t it fascinating? Fam is hardly the first character who is reckless or acts without thinking. Examples of these upbeat, stubborn, reckless, can’t-shut-up heroes litter the landscape of Japanese media. You could even say they’re everywhere in East Asian stories.

Why this obsession with simpletons? All they’re good for is being the mouthpiece of some tired cliche, right? Do we really need to hear another protagonist in another Japanese RPG talk about how the villains’ goals may be right, but his methods are wrong?  Do we really need another lead in another shounen manga that yells and gets stronger because he never gave up and his POWER OF FRIENDSHIP made him stronger? I’m sure most of us have gotten tired of hearing Ash/Satoshi talk about how treating Pokemon as tools is wrong and you must be their friends.

Yet, it is these characters that continue to dominate. They’re very well loved. From the “lowest”, profit-oriented productions like Strike Witches to the East Asian, literary treasure  Legend of the Condor Heroes, the protagonists insist on being unflappable idealists, people who do and say The Right Thing first and consider the consequences later. We love our gold-hearted morons.

Where Christendom is born with the Original Sin and the premise of forgiveness by a Greater Being, Confucian and Daoist Asia begins with the premise that people are inherently good. People at their core already know the moral course for an action without even being told, without needing guidance. Why, then, is evil done?


With intellect, a person can simply reason a justification for an immoral deed. It was neccessary; it was the best compromise; it will lead to a better tomorrow. Your being may be shake to its core with pangs of guilt telling you that you are doing wrong, but you persist nonetheless because your mind convinces you that you must. In the process of learning and becoming adults, people grow out of touch with their inner core of goodness and gain the tools to ignore it.

So in all concerns of ethics and morality, since man is inherently at a state that aligns with what is right (the Dao or The Way), the intuition–the heart–always takes precedence whenever it and the mind come into conflict.

Hence, the tale of the Hero who does not compromise, even against overwhelming odds, is iconic, in both fiction, mythos, and oral history. Unfailing virtue is said to gander support, and thus ultimately put power in the hands of those who persist in being so. It is how Camille is able to have all those girls headbutt Mr. Evil Jupiter with him. It is how a simpleton like Guo Jing can win over so many people, many much more intelligent, crafty, or even powerful, to become his allies. It is why King Wu was able to defeat the last Despot of Shang despite being outnumbered, simply because the people would not defend a tyrant against such a virtuous individual of clean conscience.

Reason isn’t a means of taming the evils of nasty, brutish man; it’s the means of subverting the good in man.

And the only kind of people reason cannot prevail on? The only ones the flawed, misguided villain who has admirable intentions cannot tempt with a wrongly attained ideal?

Children and morons.

Usually someone who’s both.

Tune in next time in Part 2, where I’ll give another, more Japan-specific reason why things are this way, embedded in history rather than philosophy. I hope some will stay for Part 3, even, where I’ll share some thoughts on why Fam doesn’t work for some people, even if they’re willing to accept the other genki characters.

About ToastCrust

Any/佢. 90's HK Cultural Refugee, 1st Gen Immigrant, Resentfully Acculturated, Intersectionality & Anti-Imperialism
This entry was posted in 2011 Fall, Anime, Watched serial and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Genki Leads: Part One: Empty Minds and Moral Action

  1. Scamp says:

    So the religion teaches people not to trust smart people and only trust those who blindly ignore knowledge? Man, that’s kinda depressing. Also insert a bajillion jokes about American Christianity here

    • ToastCrust says:

      It teaches you that smart people aren’t the source for the right course of action. Because those are the guys who most easily break down and proceed to make compromises, whether it’s of the kind like kill 100 to save 1000. That is, logical reasoning and pragmaticism isn’t the route to achieving moral correctness. A method being effective doesn’t mean it’s right, after all.

      In Confucianism’s case, it stresses that you must simultaneously heed her raw conscience and examples of history when considering problems. The famed Examinations of China to that is both harsh and complex, that was used to qualify the country’s bureaucrats, focused completely on rote memorization of the teachings of Confucius and supplementary works: not any sort of practical knowledge.

      So the big focus is on neither creative problem solving skills or anything: your route to being a top official was drawn in the archived past and in your supposed mastery of the ethical teachings of a secular philosopher.

      But in terms of popular culture, even these people were often the greatest source of misery for the common people, because frankly, most of the bureacracy was corrupt on some level. Mean Scholar-Officials who exploit the poor peasantry from the top, and the reviled merchants who create wealth while “doing nothing”, like parasites, which was the orthodox view for them, anyways. Who wouldn’t appreciate the idea of a down-to-earth, quaint, and honest person being a great hero whose great claim to fame is a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, but some sort of book smart doo-doo?

      It isn’t to say all intellectuals are mistrusted, since in Confucianism at the very least, there’s a great focus on sages. But the moron with an unfailing moral compass enjoys a very strong monopoly on the hearts of people.

  2. Karry says:

    Well, if you go there – then there might be a marked difference between Christianity and the rest, but if you look at it closely – god of the Jews is basically an idiot who never thinks anything through, and fails all the time because of it. Jesus also gives all sorts of advice that any reasonable human being can see the dire consequenses of, and can safely ignore it as total bullshit. Thats not to mention that as far as i can recall – Abrahamic religions are the only ones that actively propose specifically blind, unquestionable faith, that asking questions is in itself a sin, and so on. So i would claim that the submitted “anti-intellectualism” of the far East is not the case at all, and actually the complete opposite, if you look at how it is in practice.

    • ToastCrust says:

      Well, see, the difference is, Abrahamic religions demand a blind faith in the moral guidance passed down from above, whether from a clergy, papacy, or specific reading of the holy book. Whereas in say, Confucianism, while there’s still a strong sense that there is only “one way” to align with The Way, it’s never “revealed” as truth in any sort of holy book. Sure, there are the Analects of Confucius or the work of his disciples, but they’re just the foremost of all mortal sages and scholars. But the end thought is, when you seek guidance, either look to your conscience or to the past: history. While there are social norms the state ultimately insists on, these principles are generally only very large ones and nonspecific, and you can only claim a particular interpretation on scholarly authority, not religious authority.

  3. Anonomyous says:

    I’m taking you’re using Daoism as Taoism without the gods stuff, in which case, it just points about being in harmony. It doesn’t posituate about everyone being good at birth, thats from Confusican teachings. If i remember correctly, Daoism accepts that man is both good and evil and the evil man still has a bit of good in him (such as being nice to his elderly mother while butchering everyone else) and the good man still has evil in him. Hence the taoist yin yang symbol with black in the white and white in the black.

    I would even venture to say that if you reject that you have a evil side of you, you would instead be out of harmony which would lead to bad effects particularly warped thinking such as everyone who does not agree with you is evil. No man is inherently in harmony and most tend towards one side, being 55% yang and 45% yin for example. The trick is to accept you have an evil side but not be a slave to it. The “doing nothing” means more of leting nature take its course, which actually requires a quite a bit of thinking to actually understand why. Rather i would say to become “simple”, one must first understand both complexity and simplicity.

    I would say that the continual success of the “simple” main character is because it allows people to identify with the character and see the character succeed as an underdog. A well done character of intellect would have people admiring him or her but not feeling a personal connection.

    For the King Wu part, i believe King Wei was already outnumbered by King Zhou because the people was not particularly happy about being abused so when Jifa showed up, people just opened the gate and let him do what they wanted him to do.

    • ToastCrust says:

      Well, here, I must admit to the sin of using “good” interchangeably. By good, I don’t mean a particular moral ideal, but whatever the thought system preaches as the proper course of action (which in Confucianism, would be a moral ideal, while Daoism strives for balance). In either case, a very important ingredient is the intuition, something not all the learning in the world can instill in a person, and possibly only lead to corrupting.

      For Daoism, obviously, there’s a stress on the wu wei (non-action) and non-striving. But on the bigger picture, it’s a resistance of the imposition of a false order on the natural world that’s already running properly. Now, for us unfortunate, unhappy humans, we have this cursed thing called the mind that makes us do things contrary to the natural order. That’s why there’s, in addition to the stress on taking the path to least resistance, a stress on spontaneous, flexible and fluid action. Is there really anything more in tune with nature than a simpleton who simply follows his instincts?

      It’s the kind of thing that leads to Gisey being totally impotent in the crisis of the sky pirates being ambushed, but allows Fam to make the quick snap judgement to follow the sky birds to lead them out of their trap. It’s literally the pinnacle of putting your hands into the guidance of the natural world over attempting to “solve” a problem through brute force of intellect and cunning (which is Gisey’s specialty).

      So my apologies, when I say “good”, I ultimately mean more in the sense that it is “correct”. After all, even Daoism prescribes a guideline on how one should act, even if much of it is through inaction.

      • Anonomyous says:

        The wise man understands the results, costs and reasoning behind being simple. The simpleton does not and regrets when the consequences hit. Therein lies the difference.

        Take for example Saber from Fate/Zero. She is the classic example of a failure of not “doing nothing”. By taking on everything, her people will never have any other hero because she is sufficent, yet all things die and when she is gone her people will suffer and die. Wu wei in her case, points to allowing people to raise their new heroes but the cost is not nothing. People will die as a new hero will fumble or the hero might even fail and die but that is natural. The simpleton will breakdown when sees people die and likely he will walk the path of Saber, not knowing that cost and result naturally come hand in hand.

        This is why to understand wu wei is not as simple as it seems and the mind is actually one of the most important things you have to develop to reach wu wei as understanding is the first step. For imposing on nature, we should also recognise that it is the nature of man and animal to do so as every living creature will wish to survive and breed. The problem lies with humanity becoming too unbalanced with nature without understanding that extremes are not a good idea. More education would actually be helpful and simpletons would just reject the entire idea as they would focus on their own nature (that of personal survival and breeding).

  4. Lol, you could honestly say it’s more about the power of purity and innocence vs the power of experience. Like the Blakeist poems of Innocence and Experience, Experience is innately a subtractive factor. What you’re ultimately doing, any time you gain experience, is taking away from yourself at the same time as gaining something. So while you age, you are constantly losing a special advantage that only the youthful possess, regardless of what you do. This is the basis of the young protagonist; it works on the assumption that there is something inherently righteous and good about the innocent, and that something grants them an advantage over older, more experienced foes. Sometimes it’s their charisma which brings others to them, other times its their different perspective, but either way the case they seem to be trying to make with characters like this is that older and wiser isn’t necessarily better. You have to give up the different perspective of childhood to see things like an adult. Not to mention, you’re spiritually impure, tired, world-weary. The young just have a lot of advantages and it’s natural for even the dumb ones to be protagonists.

  5. Pingback: manga no tsukurikata – le cristal se venge | HEARTS OF FURIOUS FANCIES

  6. mudakun says:

    Hi.. Great essay, I clip-quoted it when discussing the issue; see pingback. Many thanks for interesting theory writing and the reviews!

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