Mothers and Demons – The Women of Cross Ange
December 18, 2014 2 Comments
The history of Japan is filled with female figures, mythical and historical that are as powerful as they are dangerous. They are mothers, demons, and gods, holding the power of life and death in the palms of their hands, and for that reason they are worshipped and feared in equal measure. The story of Japan’s creation, and the roles of its gods demonstrate the power that women hold within Japanese belief and mythology. The Brother and Sister called Izanagi and Izanami are said to have created the islands of Japan and its deities. Izanami gave birth to the Japanese islands as well as to a large number of deities, but giving birth to the fire god Kagu-tsuchi was too much for her. During this painful birth, she was badly burnt, and after one final effort she bore the gods of metal, clay, and water from her vomit, faeces, and urine, only to perish and disappear into Yomi-no-kuni (the underworld). Izanagi in his grief chose to enter the underworld in an attempt to return Izanami to the world of the living. But, instead of following him back, Izanami instead begged him not to look at her in her current state. However, Izanagi could not resist and looked, but seeing her putrefying body, swarming with maggots, he exclaimed: ‘What hideous and polluted land have I come to unawares!’
Thus shamed, the furious Izanami sent the Yomotsu-shikome (Ugly Females of the Underworld) after him with the express order to kill him. Izanagi was barely able to escape from these furies; Izanagi was able to stop his wife/sister from catching him only by blocking the entrance to Yomi-no-kuni with a rock. Because of the shock that he had suffered, and the fear of what his wife had become, Izanagi announced his divorce from her – in traditional Japan a word from the husband was enough to sever a relationship. In retaliation Izanami vowed to strangle a thousand people a day in his land, while he replied that he would set up fifteen hundred houses for childbirth in one day. Now free from Yomi-no-kuni, Izanagi took great care to purify himself of the pollution of the dead by having a bath in the Tachibana river, thus spawning new deities; Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, crawled form his left eye, and her brother Susanoo, the wind God, emerged from his nose. Amaterasu was allotted the Plain of the High Heavens, and Susanoo was put in charge of the seas. But, he was not happy with this duty and screamed, desperate to be with his mother in the underworld. But, before he made his descent into this land of darkness, he decided to pay his sister a visit in the heavens.
Susanoo in this creation myth has a fairly strong mother-fixation, as well as being childish and immature, a deity that did what he liked regardless of the consequences. After arriving in the heavens he destroyed his sisters rice fields, relieved himself during sacred rites, and finally he flung a flayed colt (sometimes described as a flayed pony) into the hall where Amaterasu and her entourage were busy weaving sacred garments. One version of the story has Susanoo killing one of her attendants, the other has this particular causing one of Amaterasu’s attendants pricking her genitals and dying. While Amaterasu, like all good sisters in Japanese mythology and culture is a patient individual who loved her brother dearly, often indulging his ridiculous and occasionally insulting behaviour, this final act had gone too far. Amaterasu in her fury and grief hid inside Awa-no-Iwato (heavenly rock cave), thus plunging the world into complete darkness.
The gods decided to hold a meeting in order to decide how to get Amaterasu out of the cave. Several attempts were made to lure the goddess from her cave, but she would not budge. Finally, Ama-no-Uzume, the goddess of dawn, mirth, and revelry, put a tub in front of the cave, and began to dance, tearing off her clothes in front of the other deities. Her erotic frenzy was considered so comical by the assembled deities that they burst out laughing so loudly that the whole universe could hear them. Amaterasu, whop could not bear the idea of other people having fun without her, put her head out of the cave to see what was so funny. Immediately Ama-no-Uzume placed a mirror in front of her, and entranced by her glorious reflection, Amaterasu lost all composure, reaching for her reflected image. At that moment, the god Ame-no-Tajikarawo rushed forward and pulled her from her hiding place, thus the world was once again bathed in light.
These creation myths are important when looking series like Cross Ange as they demonstrate the nature of Japanese deities, and in many respects the representations of humans we find within Japanese popular culture. The Japanese gods are not the beneficent, all seeing figure found within Christianity, instead they are human figures, or more accurately, humans are fashioned in the shape of their gods. These deities are capricious, childish, infantile, obsessive, jealous, and vain. The world was thrown into complete darkness because Amaterasu went and sulked in a cave, and her actions were due to her selfish, and childish brother Susanoo. Similarly, Izanami is a god to be loved for she created Japan, but her wrath is to be feared. Their actions can have positive effects on the world of humans; they can bring good fortune to those who honour them, but simultaneously, their childish behaviour can have disastrous consequences as well. Women in Cross Ange inhabit similar roles as those of Amaterasu and Izanami, both as mother figures, and demons that bring about ruin and destruction.
At the beginning of the series we are introduced to Ange (going by the name Angelise), the first princess of her country, and a figure who is loved by every citizen as a mother figure, someone whose very existence is a blessing. The way she talks to her sports team, even her actions in defeat are mother like, assuring everyone that this is not the end, and with determination and effort they can be successful once again. Interestingly, it is Angelise and not her mother that appears as the mother of the nation, the figure that represents everything that is good about their empire. This all changes when it emerges that in this glorious utopia Angelise is not one of the chosen mana wielding population, but a ‘Norma’, a demon that will plunge the world into chaos and ruin. The sudden change in the populations attitude towards Angelise, coupled with her parents failed attempts to keep her safe, helps to demonstrate how easily the mother figure can become a destructive demon. That all ‘Norma’ are women further reinforces this duality found within Japanese culture of women as good and evil, individuals who can unleash devastating forces on the unsuspecting population, but who also care and nurture.
Jealousy in particular is one such force that the Japanese fear, further explaining their deeply ambivalent attitude towards women, and the representations of women that can be found within popular culture. they are worshipped, particularly as the mother figure, but they are also feared as corrupters of purity. Izanami is the creator of life as well as the personification of death and pollution. Her jealousy further prompted her to vow to strangle a thousand people a day. She has no reason to be jealous of another women, and as far as we know, there were never other women in Izanagi’s life. But, she hated losing her marital, and by extension, social status.
Social status, regardless of the problems within society regarding bullying mothers-in-law, or neglect by unfaithful husbands, is still an important aspect of Japanese society, although one that is being challenged and reinterpreted. Ange, as a Norma loses her social status, her family, her reason to exist, and it is the terrible forces that this act can unleash that plagues society within Cross Ange. Furthermore, the existence of Norma can be viewed as a form of pollution, they are malign creatures that cannot use the divine mana, while also holding the ability to resist and destroy it. They are therefore the very beings that can bring about the destruction of this utopia merely by existing.
Also, the existence of Norma tears through the notion of a utopian society where everyone is happy and equal, ultimately showing all that this vision of utopia is merely a thin veneer covering over the cracks and inequalities that continue to exist. Their pollution is not so much physical as it is mental and emotional, representing a time and place when mana didn’t exist, a time of ‘barbarians’, rather than the pure and unsullied society that the population wishes to maintain. Furthermore, as a member of the royal family, Angelise is supposed to represent the ‘perfection’ within society, the idea that through this utopia everyone can be as beautiful, as intelligent, and as lucky as she is. But, her existence as a norma tears down this façade and threatens – at least in Julio’s mind – the very existence of the royal family as the totemic heart of the utopian ideal.
By publicly condemning her, and blaming the death of their mother on her norma ‘barbarism, he is able maintain the façade, while further reinforcing the perception of norma as a dangerous, even demonic existence. There is another element to add here, that of being a good, and productive member of society, a message that is repeated ad-nauseaum within anime and broader Japanese culture. To be part of the group is essential, and to be ostracised is a fate worse than death, thus people conform, do well in their studies, get into a company, and remain in that company, perhaps getting a promotion, but more likely not until they retire. The heroes found within many anime often do not conform, however, they are the outliers, those who have to remove themselves from the everyday niceties of society in order to achieve their goals. In this they are to be respected, but also pitied, because they no longer have the safety net of the group to rely upon.
Ange, as a Norma cannot become part of the group, furthermore, she is incapable of becoming an adult. From what we have see, the Baptism that she was going to go through is an important ritual on the road to adulthood, and if it had been successful, Ange’s status as the figurehead of the state would have been increased. But, because she cannot go through with the baptism as a Norma, she can no longer tread the road to adulthood as is stuck as a child, an immature, but also brutal creature that may grow older, but will never grow up. This is a trait that the Norma Ange encounters on the remote island share; they are all relatively childish regardless of their age. As a child they are not bound by numerous social, and cultural taboos, in a sense they are still too innocent to be capable of acknowledging them.
However, as a child who is conscious of those taboos and boundaries, Ange, and every other Norma are incredibly powerful, and dangerous to the apparently utopian societies who reject them. These individuals are selfish, childish, greedy, and capricious, much like the gods in Japanese mythology. That they also care for each other isn’t necessarily important here, at lost, not to the societies who have rejected them, for they only see the destructive abilities of those who are capable of piloting the Paramail, and fighting off the dragon threat. In a sense, this makes things worse because Norma, despite the messages that are continuously repeated do hold real power, and it is that very power in the hands of those who are eternal children in the view of society that worries those in power and reinforces the image and attitude that Norma are destructive demons that must be forced, like gladiators in Ancient Rome, to fight for their food, and for their lives. Only through this prism can the false utopias allow Norma to live on, and accept their usefulness, like vicious guard dogs.
Of course, there is truth in this image of the Norma, and as we have found out over the course of the series, the central cast is comprised of teenage girls who are childish, immature, jealous, and greedy. They have been forced out of their society; some when they were merely babies, and have had to fight in order to survive. They therefore lack the social niceties that characterised our introduction to Ange, and so, there approach to life is that of a spoilt child who merely does what they like. However, the reality is that these individuals are forced to fight for their survival, and while there isn’t the refinement we see in Angelise’s lifestyle at the beginning of the series, they are hardly barbarians.
The girls who Ange now associates herself with (perhaps begrudgingly) may be rough, even fatalistic at times, but they are certainly not barbaric or less cultured than anyone else. Rather, the Norma and how we see them within the context of the series are a product of their background and lifestyle. But, they are not bound by the social conventions of ‘normal’ society, and as such their actions and attitudes reflect a very different perception of life, one that is more immediate and upfront. Furthermore, because they have not, and cannot go through the rituals of adulthood they are forever children in the eyes of the general population, but as children with power they are feared, because, unlike normal children they are entirely aware of their own situation and what they can accomplish.
Much like Izanami, Ange loses her social status, and is shunned by society as a form of pollution that could endanger the very framework that the nation she grew up in is built on. Her reaction to this sudden change of circumstances is initially one of denial, but as the series has progressed she has come to accept who she is, even reverting to a more spoilt period in childhood when she does and says what she likes. Free from the social conventions of society, of the expectations and image that had been created for her, we are presented with an Ange who seems far more realistic than her image as the perfect princess, the mother of the nation. And, much like Izanami, in being cast to one side, not only by the nation, but also by her family, and even her beloved younger sister, Ange swears vengeance on everyone and everything. That she is able to do this, even joking with Hilda, someone who was initially an enemy, and yet quickly jump to the rescue of the island helps to demonstrate the juxtaposition between the mother and the demon that can be seen in Cross Ange, and other aspects of Japanese popular culture.
The central irony of all of this is that the societies of Cross Ange appear to need the Norma in order to survive. Their ability to pilot Paramail, and perhaps even their resistance and inability to use mana may be the saviour of the world. If nothing else it seems that the societies who have all rejected the Norma would have been overrun with dragons were it not for their constant fight for survival. Not that this makes up for their treatment, but it certainly demonstrates how these societies need women like Ange and her friends (and they are certainly her friends now, or are at least slowly becoming her friends), while further reinforcing the dual nature of women, both as caring and motherly, and as destructive and dangerous. Furthermore, within all of this, and particular over the last couple of episodes we have been presented with a picture of a society that is far from caring and perfect. The ‘humans’ are angry, spiteful, and vicious; they are willing to put someone like Ange to death in order to purify their society of the pollution that she is deemed to have brought by merit of her status as a Norma with royal blood. Those whom she called friends no longer see her as anything more than dirt, and her sister in a pathetic, even ridiculous volte-face becomes a jealous demon, whipping her sister and chastising her for her sins.
Women in anime that have any form of power inhabit a particularly fascinating position, both as a caring, kindly figure, but also a demon, something that may destroy anyone who angers her. In Cross Ange, the central character also inhabits the role on the lone hero, someone who must go through extreme hardships in order to learn their truth, a Zen awakening if you will. Ange has to be rejected by everyone she once knew in order to understand the fundamental flaws of society and come to terms with her powers and how they can be used. The role of women in Cross Ange is very similar, they are accepted, but as soon as they threaten the fabric of society through their inability to use mana, they are rejected, pushed away and forced to fight for fear of what they could accomplish if they were left alone. To go back to the original myths surrounding the creation of Japan, within Cross Ange we see female characters that are like Izanami and Amaterasu, they are selfish, dangerous, loving, caring, jealous, and able to destroy humanity should they wish too.