Hypocrisy in Sankarea
A guest post by @redball of shinda akachan, reprinted on O-New with his permission.
Sankarea has two recurring themes. The first, on the surface, is the theme of zombie obsession, and thus an obsession with death. The second is easily overlooked, but the theme of hypocrisy is pervasive.
Now I have to give credit to twitter. I think it was Captain L.B.C. who first pointed out the hypocrisy in Sankarea, noting that the main villain in the series is guilty of the same crime as the series itself. Both Rea’s father and the viewer ogle and objectify Rea via his risque photographs of her. He goes to the utmost extremes, with a shrine to his daughter’s nude form and later bath scenes with the photos strewn about. Yet, the viewer is presented with many of these same images. What, if not fanservice is the purpose of this?
At first I did not notice this hypocrisy. I figured the series was trying, without much tact, to show the depths of the father’s depravity. I won’t claim to be above fanservice, but I didn’t take that as a presentation thereof. However, once this alternative view was presented I watched with a more critical eye and realized that it is correct. The series is quite hypocritical in this regard and it does objectify and sexualize Rea much the same as her father.
Later in the series more hypocrisy becomes apparent. The first manifestation of this is in Chihiro’s obsession with Rea. Much like Mr. Sanka’s obsession, Chihiro is less interested in Rea as a person, but rather as a doll. In her life, she was both dressed up and undressed for her father’s pleasure. He reveled in her image. In her afterlife she is seen as both a zombie lover and a science experiment. Notice her discomfort over Chihiro’s insistence that he document every aspect of her life. The choice is still not hers.
Yet even Rea herself plays along with her new situation with hardly a complaint. She does express some discomfort, but that does not stop the treatment. Chihiro only backs off slightly. Worse is Rea’s professed desire to use her new life to function as a normal girl. Yet, she is not afforded this luxury due to fear that it will shorten her afterlife as her body decays. She’s still trapped with little in the way of new freedoms. Up to this writing, however, she is complicit with this. She acts happy to be in her new situation, despite its lack of differentiation from the old one. Rea is, in effect, choosing who her captor should be and happy to merely have such a choice.
There is also the matter of Wanko and the way Chihiro treats her. Wanko is the first outsider to crack Chihiro’s protective barrier of zombie obsession. She was able to befriend a child only interested in zombies. Her reward for this is dismissive at best. She is treated much the way that every childhood friend character ever is, a dependable but forgettable person to which no lust or attention shall be spared. Of course, this series almost excuses that by proclaiming that she is his cousin. However, it’s obvious that she is still willing to pursue a romantic relationship, so we the viewers are left to ponder whether Wanko is interested in incest, or if she is not a blood relation. If this is a case of incest, should the viewers cheer for Wanko while reviling Mr. Sanka?
Wanko’s character is important to this story because she wants to be objectified, but never is. Only the viewer sees her as a sex object, and thus she serves as the true fanservice vehicle. When we are presented with Wanko fanservice it is without the critical baggage of Rea’s. Another oddity of this is that Wanko is both presented for fanservice but in the story she is consistently second to Rea. We are told that Rea is a vision of beauty that Wanko cannot compete with, yet we have Wanko’s womanhood as a focal point repeatedly.
I’m left wondering why Chihiro’s reaction to Rea is so different from his reaction to Wanko. It could be due to the question of incest, but that’s an issue he never sees fit to raise. Instead, I think it is more of a matter of attraction. Perhaps the narrative of competition between Wanko and Rea is more of an exposition on Chihiro’s personal preference rather than a proper observation. If this is the case then we’ve explained the difference in treatment through objectification once again.
Sankarea uses these narratives to form a story in which each character is painted in black and white, yet their interactions mix to pure gray. At first glance it would seem that Chihiro saved Rea from a life of pedophilia and incest. Closer inspection reveals that her situation has improved little, and worse she has become a corpse and will likely never have a chance to properly function in society. The hypocrisy in the story and the direction forces the viewer to question their moral stance on these events.
To satisfy my curiosity, Sankarea will need to continue to address these issues. It’s likely that some conclusions will be made, but with three episodes left there isn’t much time for new information to be cleanly introduced.