GAR (V): Why GAR is Good For You

Lt. Burning
‘This battle will be decided by whether or not you two stop acting like a pair of screaming amateurs.’¹

[This is part of a series of entries considering GAR. The first one sets out what’s happening, the second reinterprets the epic tradition through the lens of GAR, the third examines the relationship between GAR and gender and the fourth makes the case for moral GAR.]

Moving away from moral GAR back to GAR considered in general terms, I’m now going to explain how GAR can make you thin in just 28 days! why GAR is (mostly) a good thing for the anime viewer. [I'm keeping The GAR Diet to myself 'til the patent comes through.]

The rather tired phrase ‘role-model’ is bandied about a fair bit these days (in the British media, at least) but – unlike certain other popular phrases – it has managed to retain its meaning. The emulation of those one admires is a significant force in changing one’s character in the long term (though not in the short term).

Consider the enduring popularity of stories about people we are meant to admire – the presence in the newspapers of members of the public who stop robberies, the instructive or didactic messages of successful children’s storybooks; consider too the long tradition of saints’ lives in medieval literature and indeed the way that a number of religions hold up one or more figures as the ultimate exemplars for correct behaviour.

In previous parts of this series, I’ve established that GAR is relational – we feel GAR for a character, and without an audience to feel GAR a character cannot be GAR – and that GAR involves a power gap: we feel GAR for characters who we look up to, admire, because they are more filled with manly courage and virtue than we are. Will (of Criminally Wierd) produced an interesting take on this, in which he built on the metaphor of the relationships between sheep, sheepdog and wolf.

GAR Bright
From left to right: wolf, sheepdog, sheep²

I think this is a useful metaphor. If feeling moe for a character involves thinking of oneself in the role of the sheepdog, and placing the moe character in the role of the sheep, and GAR is a sheepdog quality, then feeling GAR for a character involves placing the GAR character in the role of the sheepdog. And if we’re considering a character who’s stronger than us to be the sheepdog, there’s an unsettling implication: we might be as weak as the sheep.

So feeling GAR is in fact a humbling experience: if we are casting someone in the sheepdog role, and recognising that he (or she) is more GAR than we are, then we are forced to face our own inadequacies. Recognising that an anime character possesses more manly virtue than we do dampens down – even if just for a second – the incipient hubris which infects humanity. Yes, I can spell ὀνοματοποιία without reference to a dictionary, quote Horace from memory and clear a sink U-bend armed only with a teaspoon and my natural wit (I’m such a productive member of society!), but have I ever pierced the heavens with my drill?

Or, more seriously, would I have the moral GAR necessary to refuse to push others off the girder of the Human Derby, at the risk of my own life? I honestly don’t know. And am I really any better than someone who doesn’t know his or her Classical Greek, Augustan poetry and DIY kitchen plumbing, but who does possess that moral GAR?

[The previous two paragraphs underline the importance of Kaiji's status as a loser, helping us to consider ourselves in his situation - I don't know about you, but I've never actually had the opportunity to try to pierce the heavens with my drill.]

Of course, this process doesn’t have to be conscious. It’s probably something we consciously notice only very rarely. And I’m not suggesting that a careful diet of Kaiji and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann will instantly make you a better person. It’s a drop in the ocean of self-improvement – but then the ocean is made up of drops.

Fictional characters are, well, fictional – but the emotions we feel towards them aren’t. (Remember the School Days Makoto-hate-train?) GAR is therefore an unsettling emotion. It challenges that assumption of our own superiority that we carry with ourselves most of the time, and forces us to reconsider our status. And in doing so, it can be the catalyst for self-improvement.

Hmmmmm
Hmm . . . wolf and sheepdog and sheep, sheepdog and sheep

This is, I think, is where ultimately I find GAR superior to moe. Feeling moe places the viewer in a position of being more powerful than the object of the moe. This is not necessarily a bad thing – but it’s hardly as ascetic a practice as contemplating the fact that an anime character is ‘so overwhelmingly manly that your own masculinity is absolutely *buried*’, to quote one Urban Dictionary contributor. Moe does not unsettle one’s established idea of oneself.

Now, feeling moe can be linked to an urge to be GAR in a protective manner. But unlike feeling GAR, moe doesn’t inspire emulation. Instead, a protective impulse arising from moe is an insertion impulse – we wish to be a character in the anime concerned, in order to act as the sheepdog. But this is a hopeless wish. Either a character within the series will protect the moe character, or they will not. [In Now and Then, Here and There the sheepdog will never come.] The ‘feeler of moe’ (I need a word for that) will not be able to do anything about it either way; protective moe is a powerless emotion.

GAR is – while being exciting – unsettling and humbling if you give it a moment’s thought. But, unlike protective moe, GAR carries a grain of hope, since the impulse it creates is to emulate a character, rather than to insert oneself into a fictionl story. And emulation is eminently possible. May I recommend a course of early-morning meditations on selected collections of GAR moments, behind a waterfall? I’m sure you’ll soon find that you too can mentor prettyboy mecha pilots, fight the tentacles of the monster of gambling and crush the miniscule masculinity of other men by virtue of your mere presence.

Notes

1. This character is so GAR that his very name is literally Burning.

2. I hardly need mention the gendering or the use of armour on the nameless Space Aztec attacking Bright, tapping into the long tradition of cowardly armoured goons fighting brave, unarmoured heroes.

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10 responses to “GAR (V): Why GAR is Good For You

  1. Ah, another excellent post that sheds light on an all-too neglected aspect of what makes certain anime characters awesome. If the arguments above make GAR both the inverse and antithesis of moe, I can’t NOT support it!

    “…The ‘feeler of moe’ (I need a word for that)…”

    I considered ‘moe-er’ and ‘moe-ee’ then confused even myself. It’s worth thinking on though, perhaps.

  2. These are really interesting. I’m not sure if I entirely agree with the idea of using fictional characters as role models. But in the end that is neither here nor there. Essentially if I’m reading it right, you’re saying that we should emulate what ever made us feel GAR.

  3. @ concretebadger: Thankyou. Judging by the power relationships involved, there does seem to be a kind of ‘opposite end of the spectrum’ thing going on. A suitable word for the feeler of moe still eludes me.

    @ iniksbane: While conscious emulation is a good thing, I think most of the time fictional characters exercise an ‘emulative pull’ on us without us noticing. Of course we need to subconsciously identify the character concerned as somehow ‘like us’, or at least ‘like an upgraded version of us’ before this can happen (which is why watching School Days won’t make you emulate Makoto – he’s not a character most people feel comfortable linking themselves to).

  4. I’d be inclined to agree, but doesn’t your immoral GAR from a few posts ago completely undermine this? I think you can only accept one or the other. I’d be inclined to go with this one since I still don’t think Akagi is GAR (which could also mean that GAR only works if you would admire and want to emulate that kind of thing anyway?) but I’m interested to know how you reconcile it.

  5. That’s . . . a very good point, which I think I need a full entry to address!

  6. That’s kind of what I started going into in the comments over at my place. GAR fights the righteous and/or virtuous fight. The “or” allows for the inclusion of anti-heroes who do… un-nice things to people even more reprehensible than themselves. I screwed up my last comment over there in the last sentence. It should read…

    “Vengeance can be righteous but is rarely virtuous, and there a lot of GAR characters that live simply for venegeance of a wrong. (And if they just happen to beat the big-bad and save the world in the process, virtuousness is a potential added bonus).”

    It’s harder to come up with an example of virtuous fight that isn’t righteous.

    Somebody mentioned the other day the movie Secret Window as being a bit of a mind-screw. [spoilers, though I've not seen the movie, I'm going from someone else's synopsis]Protagonists spends the movie going through a nasty divorce after his wife cheats on him and being accused of plagiarism by some other guy. Protagonist eventually snaps, killing the ex and the accuser.[spoiler] I mention this because the person who saw it said that at first he felt very good about what had happened, considering how badly the protagonist had been screwed over, until he realised he was explaining away the cold-blodded murder of people who hadn’t really done all that much. The emotional pull of vengeance can be very powerful.

    (I was at first going to use the “but I understand” Chris Rock stand-up segment (language warning is a given) as an example, but for some reason I remembered it being about something other than OJ Simpson. I think Secret Window serves as a better example and is less politically charged.)

    There’s a fine line between righteous GAR actions and villainy. You have to be sure you’re actually beating up a villain. The Sheepdog must never, ever, harm the sheep.

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