Indulgence, Self Reflection, and Shinmai Maou no Testament

(Reposted from the Tumblr blog which can be found here)

The series that I have wanted to talk about since I started this blog. The series that is probably the only reason I decided to brace the wild jungle that is Tumblr in the first place. A show that, more than any other piece of anime: harem or not, has taken root in my mind. After the cut, it’s time to talk about Tetsuto Uesu’s Shinmai Maou no Testament, or in English: The Testament of Sister New Devil.

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*Angry Noises of Rage*

I fucking hate this show.

Or, I did when I finished watching the first season. I hated the characters, I hated the story, I hated the in your face fanservice, I hated the god fucking awful main character. After the credits rolled on episode 13 of that first season I was almost seething in rage, pacing in my room as I tried to process what I had just watched. Hell even when I watched it, I found myself saying over and over again in my head “Is it me, or does this show kinda fucking suck?”

Shinmai has been a show that has lingered in the back of my mind ever since I’ve done this blog and conversations with my friends I’ve often referred to it as ‘that fucking show” or “god-damn Shinmai” whenever the topic of anime and my recent fixation on the harem genre came up. They have voice interest in why I dislike a show that in all regards, should be at the top of my list. They have asked why I have such an intense dislike for something like this, but continue to praise High School DxD as one of the greatest works of the genre? I told them simply that I would get to it eventually, and that the teardown of it would be as legendary as it would be cathartic.

However, that was almost two months ago, and by deciding to put Shinmai last in my look into the Harem genre, I’ve allowed myself to do something important.

I took a deep breath, counted to ten and thought about my feelings.

I want to level with you. I don’t like hate or hating things. I’m the kind of guy who tries to see the good out of every situation (within reasonable logical sense mind). When people and communities rise up and universally declares something bad, I tend to hang back and look at the same thing and attempt to see the good points, (again within reasonable logical sense).

Ever since the backlash, and Bioware’s copulation to the ending of Mass Effect 3, there has been a steady increase in the amount of fan outrage towards popular culture and certain decisions in fandoms. We’ve seen it with the DC universe, we’ve seen it with The Last Jedi, and we’ve recently seen it with World of Warcraft in relation to story decisions that fans seem to dislike. This backlash has been loud and sometimes dangerous with death threats, harassment and a general attitude towards creators and fellow fans that feels like something out of 1920s Russia. Having viewed this over the years, it has made me hesitant to engage in any sort of fan community, and has made me take a step back from the things I love, to get some distance in order to protect myself from getting swept up in the fervor of rage and anger that seems to present today.

But, what does that have to do with Shinmai? And why did it make me so angry upon my initial viewing?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about it, thinking about why I rejected such a show, why something like this left such a bad taste in my mouth. Was it just not my taste? Had I finally reached “peak harem” and this was just the result? Or was it something else? Something deeper that required some self-reflection.

On July 2nd of this year, I came across an article written by one Film Critic Hulk, in where he talks about The Last Jedi and the rage, anger, and debate that surrounded that movie. The essay is long and very interesting to read, but one passage of it really stuck out to me, and I think it very much summed up what my feelings were in regards to a show like Shinmai. Film Critic Hulk says…

I just want these active hardcore fans to be able to admit that what they really wanted was an indulgent Star Wars. I want them to understand what that term really means. The whole point of this was to understand our language and this whole debate is the debate of indulgence and its role within these films. I want us to have a genuine conversation about what kinds of indulgence are more okay than others. I want us to have a conversation about how awareness is the most important part of indulgence (think of it just like dieting, there’s nothing wrong with Candy. There’s a lot wrong with only eating candy and calling people smug when they say “you probably shouldn’t just eat candy). I want us to acknowledge that indulgence has a huge role in backing up our political thinking. I want some of the most callous of fans to admit that they just wanted to feel like the biggest, toughest space boy in the universe. 

This passage stuck in my head every time my mind drifted back to Shinmai, and I think after everything I’ve seen and read, it perfectly crystallized how I felt about this show.

You see, I started this blog because I wanted to show readers that the Harem Anime, a genre that has been widely mocked and dismissed as “trash” by a vast majority of the anime fanbase actually isn’t that bad. That despite having more of its fair share of “trashy” shows, there is in fact piece of work that challenges the viewer, discuss interesting themes, and reflects both on itself, and the genre in general. I wanted a create something that when people shit on shows like Majikoi or High School DxD, I could point and go. “No, if you take the time to look a little deeper, there is actually something there.’ I wanted people to see what I saw in High School DxD’s Issei and his struggle with PTSD and self-worth. I wanted people to see how in Majikoi, Momoyo’s greed and fear was pushing Yamato away. I wanted to see that even something as disposable as In Another World with My Smartphone was self-aware enough of its stupidity and setting. To put it bluntly, I wanted to show that yes, these Harem anime is more than just male power fantasies and shameless fanservice (which they always have been).

I wanted Shinmai Maou no Testament to indulge me. To keep assuring me that yes, I was right about this genre, to keep that high of vindication going.

But Shinmai didn’t do that. In fact, it did the exact opposite. Shinmai was (and still frankly is even months later) a show that instead of indulging MY tastes, decides to go all in with every bad harem trope and stereotype that the genre has had for years. Instead of depth, it goes for shallowness. Instead of grace, it goes for bluntness. Instead of well-developed characters, it has cheap meaningless avatars. Instead of a steady and responsible handling of fanservice, it indulges in the rawest, everything right up to the line, form of sexy and sexiness they can get away with. All at once, I was brought down to see that Harem anime could be just as bad, crude and senseless as had expected it to be.

But you know what? That’s ok.

There is nothing WRONG with Shinmai Maou no Testament. There is nothing wrong with people who, after looking at everything I just listed, go “Hell yeah, sign me up!” These are MY hangups and MY issues. Just because Shinmai didn’t indulge what I wanted out of a show like it, doesn’t mean that the show itself is bad. It just means that it wasn’t a show that was interested in catering to ME, and that’s ok.

You don’t get to love everything you watch, and it is the height of arrogance to think that the media you consume needs to be tailored to what you want all the time, every time. My time has forced me to realize that I wanted Shinmai to indulge me, and the fact that it didn’t is what made me angry, despite still having many problems with the show itself. After that self-reflection, my hated faded away, and I was left with the simple feeling of “Oh that sucks that I didn’t like that show, oh well). Stuff like that happens, and life, in the end, moves on.

Do I still hate Shinmai Maou no Testament?

Yes, but it is a calm, reserved and passionless dislike. Not wrapped up in the fervor of unmet expectations or a view as a personal attack on my tastes in anime. The fires have cooled and all that is left is really just simple acceptance of what it is. By taking time to think it over, to self-reflect and think about it, I feel in a sense that I have avoided becoming the thing that has much had such a death hold on fans and fandom in general.

Either way, I won’t be going into a detailed breakdown of Shinmai, no it’s characters or story. However next time what I WILL do is discuss the lone scene where I actually found that Shinmai almost touches greatness. Don’t miss it.


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