Let’s talk about a trope that’s been recurring in anime for some time now: that of humanity under siege by more numerous and/or more powerful enemies. I think the first series where this was really the front-and-center plot point was Shingeki no Kyojin/Atack on Titan. If you aren’t familiar with the plot, I have a little description in my first episode review of it. Then came Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, which I have reviewed the first episode of here. This added the drama of humans becoming the zombies that threaten to overrun what’s left of humanity. And more recently, we watched God Eater which I’ve described here.
It’s like the Japanese equivalent of zombie movies. In our individualized society, the focus is on a small band of survivors, with each one of them having a role to play to ensure the continued survival of their group. Other groups they meet are often dangerous. In Japan, the focus is much more on the group, so the survivors are much more organized and live in cities (which might be linked up through some kind of semi-safe transportation system), and there is a much more stratified and ordered society.
All have in common that there are only a few strongholds of humanity left (sometimes even only a single one!), and outside of there, dangerous opponents that are much stronger roam around. Only exceptional (or enhanced) humans can hope to stand against the onslaught, while the rest of humanity cowers behind the walls of their fortresses, plagued by scarce and/or dwindling resources. Of course, that’s a really cool premise for some kind of heroic action series.
And sure, it’s a pretty good setup: we’ve watched all these three series and we liked ’em well enough (we gave Shingeki no Kyojin an 8, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri a 7 and God Eater also a 7), but something has started to bother me.
In all of these series, there is someone or a small group that benefits from the status quo — in fact, they may even caused the initial cataclysm. And they kind-of exploit the rest of humanity, who don’t have any choice in the matter: it’s either join the system, or die in the badlands. And of course, the main characters are the protectors of humanity, and they find out about the hidden conspiracy. It’s a pretty bleak outlook and it’s not an uplifting look at the human condition.
And this is what I dislike about Blades in the Dark. Yes, on paper it’s a pretty cool setup, but it has this exact same theme — except we don’t even get to play heroes, we get to play scoundrels. Yes, you get to rebel against the ‘City Council’ in a small way, but in the end, there is no conceivable way for you to effect real change in the city. All you can hope to achieve is to grow your gang so you control more of the slums — because you can never escape the city: outside the protective electroplasmic barriers are ghosts and demons, and you can’t hope for long-term survival.
If someone I trust is going to run it, I’ll play — just to see how it works. But reading this book did not give me the same sense of adventure and enthusiasm as other good RPGs did. When I read The Sprawl, I wanted to run it. When I read Monsterhearts 2, I wanted to play it. When I read Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, it felt like coming home. When I read Blades in the Dark, it filled me with a sense of dread and hopelessness. It gives me a claustrophobic, closed-in feeling.
I also don’t think we’ll be watching any more series that have this trope as its plot.