After last week’s review of the amazing Harmony, we now examine the adaptation of Itoh’s debut novel, Genocidal Organ. It was meant to release in Japanese theaters at the end of 2015 (in place of Harmony, in fact), but was delayed due to the bankruptcy of Manglobe. The production was then taken over by Geno Studio, which was founded by Yamamoto Kouji (山本幸治), a producer at Fuji Television who’d been involved with noitaminA since its very beginnings. The movie finally started screening in Japanese cinemas in February 2017, marking the completion of the Itoh trilogy.
This raises a first question regarding the quality of the animation. Thankfully it seems the staff remained the same, and as such, there’s no glaring inconsistency; the quality remains the same. In less thankful news though, this “quality” we’re speaking of isn’t exactly the best; although the action scenes are relatively well done in that there is a visceral quality to the violence, much of the character acting could do with being more convincing. It sometimes borders on unnatural. It’s not a badly animated movie, especially given the difficulties faced during its production, but we cannot brush its downsides under the table, either.
But just like Harmony, there is something else that makes this movie stand out: that is, once again, what Itoh wants to share with us. Although his debut already presents a pessimistic worldview, Genocidal Organ touches on very different subjects, and doesn’t have Harmony’s tragic quality.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to delve into much depth without spoiling the story and the twists that define it; readers should consider what follows as a taster of the real depth and scale of this movie. We hope our article encourages you to watch the movie when it becomes available to you. We will, at a later date, publish a more complete analysis.
What we find out early on is that the world has done away with terrorism, and is now going through an era of genocides. They are being committed at an alarming rate, although they do not affect industrialized societies. Our protagonist, Clovis, is captain of American military intelligence. Along with his friend Williams, he is charged with tailing one man: the charismatic John Paul, the so-called “King of Genocide”, who is thought to be the man at the origin of every single genocide for the past few years.
Just like with Harmony, Genocidal Organ mixes social concerns with more philosophical musings. But Itoh’s debut may be even more convincing in the first aspect. Written in 2006, the work seems perfectly relevant to the current world events. While the era of terrorism has come to pass, this development is based on one idea: Americans giving up on their individual liberties for the sake of security. This is, obviously, an extremely relevant topic today, when terrorism is the major worldwide threat. Last year’s controversy between the FBI and Apple after the San Bernardino shooting is a very good example of this debate. While this solution drives terrorism away, it has a price; one not all are ready to accept. A few small groups still value individual liberties and are ready to resist.
But the real essential aspect which Itoh explores is how this situation came to be. He centers his analysis around one concept: language. The grammar used in the movie’s world is designed to loosen people’s moral values. They are lulled into a sense of acceptance, manipulated so that the horrors occurring in the world around them doesn’t shock them anymore; even worse, they are made to come to terms with committing crimes in the name of their “work”.
This is only implied, but the American government’s push for a trade between freedom and a world free of terrorism saw them use a specific grammar that lulled people into swiftly accepting the change, leaving only very few people in the fight for privacy (freedom as a trade is a concept the movie brings up very clearly). Those genocidaires all over the world, naturally, are also manipulated by the higher-ups into committing the worst atrocities. Clovis murders all sorts of people for his work: he tells himself he can’t help it, but is that really it? If he really was forced into it, sadness or uncomfortableness could at least well up in his heart.
But he feels nothing. He commits crimes with absolute precision and calmness. He is a wonderful product of his environment. The movie presents this aspect as the worst of all: it doesn’t necessarily blame them for committing crimes as much as it awakens them to the cruel reality that they’d unconsciously accepted.
Although the inquiry into language and its effect on our thinking (our more precisely here, our ethical values) is the more philosophical aspect we mentioned above, it also feels very socially relevant in today’s world, where it appears many people (from the lowest to the highest ranks of society) act without a care for any values of any sort, or whether their acts will hurt others. They often justify themselves using vague concepts such as “realism” or “pragmatism”, freeing themselves from any guilt while also fooling others into believing they really are right for behaving as such.
Once again, one really ought to value the work’s tone, in this case. With this kind of subject, it would be easy to fall into the trap of didacticism and simply tell people they ought to be good and not hurt others because hurting others is bad. But Genocidal Organ is a mere (although crucial) wake-up call: slowly, we are becoming comfortable with things we shouldn’t.
This message is made effective thanks to Itoh’s focus on language: he tells us how easy it is for a shrewd mind to use it in a way that will give them the result they desire. The movie tells us precisely what we must be careful of if we don’t want to be manipulated. While we must be careful of the grammar we hear, we must also learn to use it ourselves, because it can be used as a tool to resist. Language can be used to once again awaken our senses to the horrors going on around us; and it is how we should use it. Itoh’s process is a not a negative one (as in, one that “destroys” the use of language without attempting to rebuild it); in fact, he very much emphasizes on the possibilities on language. He warns against its misuses, while also encouraging it to use it positively. He carefully weighs the importance of language and gives a contrasted view. And on top of that, his message is more relevant than ever.
Finally, this movie, on top of its fascinating themes, has something Harmony didn’t: it is a fairly exciting experience. The story is the tailing of a single mysteriously powerful man, and it includes a few twists that make it hard to see ahead. The path is troubled, but it allows one to look forward to what’s next. The violence has much more impact, too. All of this gives the movie a rhythm that Harmony didn’t have. All it lacks is the shock value of the ending that elevated Harmony so beautifully; having said that, it also ends on a more hopeful note as Itoh brings an answer to the question he raises this time around. Some people may prefer this route.
The Itoh trilogy couldn’t have ended any better than with Genocidal Organ. It’s an enthralling ride which touches on some profound themes (even if they’re not revolutionary), never shies away from showing crude sights in order to best express itself. Itoh is great at explaining his concepts, weaving them into an exciting story, memorable characters such as John Paul, and summarizing everything in a powerful conclusion. His own Harmony is the only comparable work of the same quality.
In the end, this trilogy was a brilliant one: two jaw-dropping works were only brought down by the confusing and messy Empire of Corpses. Even if one watches the latter first and finds themselves disappointed, we cannot be more pressing in our recommendation to make time for Harmony and Genocidal Organ, both utterly brilliant pieces of a rare kind we seldom see in anime today.
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