Juuni Taisen: Satire or Joke?

To most who watched the show, Juuni Taisen was either an atrocious attempt at a dark drama or an at best mediocre battle royale. Despite the title of this post, I should clarify that I enjoyed Juuni Taisen quite a bit. You can say it’s because I’ve been too anime-deprived over the hectic school term, because there’s that too, but I also believe Juuni Taisen has some interesting things to offer.

So what distinguishes between a show that’s a satire and one that only deserves to be laughed at as a bad joke? It all really comes down to intention. Was Juuni Taisen purposely full of ironic flaws for us to spot and reflect on, or were certain parts just accidentally kind of bad? If anyone remembers Mayoiga from a few seasons back (did anyone even watch that show at all?), I feel a serious sense of deja vu when asking this question. Without further ado, let’s break Juuni Taisen down and get to the investigation I’ve been dying to carry out since a few episodes into the show. (I’m not going to tell everybody to clap their hands before I start because I’m sure they’re all sick of the reference, but you may clap if you want)

*This post contains spoilers

Intention

juuni taisen necromancist
Oops…

I think it’s clear that Nisio Isin was going for something that challenges your standard death game battle drama. Just look at the reverse Chinese zodiac death order. Even the characters of Juuni Taisen reveal knowledge of the original zodiac story, and the titles of each episode (which are based off of cliched Japanese sayings) basically spoil everything anyways. And don’t even get me started on the way people die. Lots of people complain about Nisio Isin not knowing how to write epic fights or create emotional impacts, but I’d argue that everything here is very intentional. Nisio Isin just…doesn’t like long fight scenes (you see it in Katanagatari too), and neither do I. I’m all for efficiency. So here, we see a purposely anti-climatic set-up for an anime with a premise based on battle showdowns. Satire: +1

juuni taisen 2
Not a comment on Chicken’s clothing!

But what about those really cringy aspects of a battle royale that Juuni Taisen displays but doesn’t clearly mock? The first that comes into mind is the ridiculous costumes. Girls (and Bunny), wear more clothes! Many of the outfits are sexualized, but most of them in a not-particularly-sexy way. In a standard action show with fan-service female characters, the big-breasted women would be the ones in revealing clothes. Here, Monkey and Boar are both fully clothed, and it’s the less-shapely characters (Chicken, Tiger) who are in ridiculous things. And the camera isn’t all that voyeuristic towards Chicken and Tiger. Even with Rabbit, the camera doesn’t really linger on his abs and thick thighs (even though he still has a fanbase for that). Again, this I see as a conscious choice. Satire: +1

juuni taisen 4

Oh, what about the half-hearted effort at creating back stories that tie the Juuni Taisen with the real world? All the back story arcs are cliched in their own ways, and depict fairly flat characters in flat situations. Boar becoming a shrilly-laughing villain as a result of sibling jealousy, Chicken suffering from amnesia after committing patricide as a result of child abuse (“When I woke up there was blood all over me…” sound familiar?), Horse’s “tsuyoku naritai!!!” shounen power-up…you get the idea. And the world they are featured in is just so horrible for no good reason. The battles they fight in result in tons of bloodshed but are oddly paced and way too easy to get out of, and the people conducting the Tatsumi brothers’ court case seem so simple-minded and easily triggered that it’s just cringy to watch. It’s like the author’s understanding of things such as war, peace-making, and the judiciary system is too basic for him to depict anything realistically and meaningfully. Since I cannot detect enough irony in this, I’d say that it is a sad miss either on the part of Nisio Isin himself or the anime adaptation. Even if you are to satirize the world of politics, you should at least display a little more understanding of the subject. Joke: +1 The characters, however, are clearly intended to be extreme. A battle royale – what better opportunity is there for an author in love with ideological questions to set contrasting philosophies up against each other? For this satire to take effect, characters need bizarrely dumb back stories to justify their extreme personalities. Satire: +1

juuni taisen 7

The biggest issues most have is probably how many unexplained things there are by the end and how the ending is. Why do the characters have superpowers? Who organizes the Juuni Taisen and who the hell is that “clap your hands” dude? What would Ox’s wish have been? Do characters with horns just have horns in real life, which suggests that they have…animal genes? What the heck are the rules of this game (they obviously aren’t respected anyways. Just look at Bunny killing Snake early without consequences)? Why do characters participate in the Juuni Taisen anyways (it’s hinted that it’s obligatory, but the specifics aren’t explained)? How does the proxy-war with betting countries work and what’s the result? See, it goes on and on. A little too many to be an accident, I think. With the ending of Rat forgetting everything and therefore, making the whole battle purposeless despite the amount of deaths, the unexplained portions of the story kind of adds to the pointlessness of the Juuni Taisen. Some might think the ending is a result of hastily having to conclude, but with a light novel with no length restriction, I don’t see that being the case. Definitely an intentional troll ending. From the bit of research I did though, it seems that the light novel explains a lot more technical details than the anime. So I’d say that it’s an even split. Satire: + 1, Joke: +1

Message

If something is intentional, it has a message. Let’s get down to the next level. Something that Juuni Taisen clearly satirizes is its people. Let me list all their flaws, in case they aren’t obvious enough:

Boar = sadistic, overly confident

Dog = underestimating opponent

Chicken = manipulative, lacks self-identity

Monkey = stupidly idealistic

Sheep = underestimating opponent

Horse = cowardly

Snake & Dragon = not taking life seriously/not having goals

Rabbit = sadistic

Tiger = being a tsundere (not that bad, surprisingly)

Ox = lacks flexibility

Rat = self-centered

What a cast! The most prepared ones who have the longest internal monologues are the ones to die the most ungloriously. I mean, look at Sheep… Also, the ones who hesitate the most are mocked the most (looking at Horse, Rat). One moral you can get out of this is carpe diem – seize the day! Aside from missing the opportunities to confess to Ox about their past encounter, Tiger pretty much does that, and she is the warrior to receive the most positive depiction. The characters’ extreme sadism or idealism also says something. Rabbit cannot be permitted to succeed because his insanity is harmful to the world, but Monkey’s wish to convert everyone to pacifism, including Rabbit, doesn’t end well either. None of our characters are all that practical, and none think that deeply into their motives. The absurdity that Juuni Taisen is shown to be and Rat’s final questioning of everything show us just how unthoughtful all the characters are in participating in the battle (especially when their shallow wishes are revealed). But so what? I suppose specific philosophies (e.g. pacifism, Ox’s ethical principles – which I’m sure have a name). I’d say that Monkey, Ox, Tiger, and even Horse and Rat were all effective characters for me in terms of providing some food for thought. We are shown how all these people think to a certain depth. As for the others, I’m not really sure what statement I can form regarding a lot of them or what they’re there for, and as a result, many just aren’t as interesting. Again, half-half. Satire: +1, Joke: +1

juuni taisen 3

Another thing that’s obviously satirized is the battle royale genre and perhaps war in general, as Nick Creamer discusses in this insightful post. Like Nick says, war isn’t glorious, and people really do die in a blink like our dear characters do. On top of that, it is unproductive despite all the trauma it creates, as the ending to this ridiculously defective battle royale shows, supported by all the war-related back stories. Pretty ambitious theme. Satire: +1

Effect

Satires only work if they get across, and from the anime community’s reaction, it doesn’t look like Nisio Isin got his satire across. Many characters don’t encourage the audience’s investment because they aren’t relatable or likable, which is fine for a satire and justifiable because it’s a battle royale. What I’m amazed by is that there are characters I find worthy of liking. Ox and Tiger are my personal favourites. Sure, one walks around dressed like and talking like a chuunibyou hero in actual life and the other is a shoujo who loves senpai, but they both have inspiring beliefs in justice that get challenged in memorable ways (and I so ship them). Even while more-or-less knowing the when and how of their deaths, I was still scared of it actually happening. And Monkey and Rabbit have lots of fans too. Conversely, the Tatsumi brothers are just…forgettable jerks. But it’s a battle royale and some characters just have to be less important (compare this to the Caster team in Fate/Zero), so I’d still say that Juuni Taisen’s characters were not wasted despite their mostly pointless deaths. Satire: +1

juuni taisen 6
War is just so “ugh”!

The war satire is something I feel more iffy about. The pre-Juuni Taisen war scenes are just so skewed in favour of our characters of focus that the horror of war just never gets across. If the point is to take away the sense of glory associated with war, I think ridiculing it by making it seem like nothing is the wrong way to go. Comparing it to something like Fate/Zero (*SPOILERS), Fate/Zero’s serious tone sends a much stronger message by presenting to its audience all the lives sacrificed by Kiritsugu’s utilitarianism. Juuni Taisen ends with everything turning out to be for nothing just like Fate/Zero, but whereas it’s something out of human control that damages Kiritsugu hard, Juuni Taisen‘s end result is a conscious choice by Rat. If anything, it says more about Rat’s personality than about the pointlessness of war. Joke: +1

juuni taisen 5
Justice overload

While clearly intended to be a satire, Juuni Taisen is also too much of a battle royale at the same time. Nisio Isin was definitely having fun with all the abilities of each character and how they ally and plot against each other, which was definitely fun to watch. And then there’s the colourful costumes, poses, and cool lines. These things blur the line between satire and serious battle show and make Juuni Taisen some obscure, in-between thing. Sometimes it makes me wonder if the novel was written in a clearly satirical tone but the anime adaptation team didn’t get it when they made the anime. If you look at Katanagatari or the Monogatari series, both by Nisio Isin, you’ll find that both of those lack the cringe moments you get in Juuni Taisen. The characters in those say a lot of disagreeable things, but the anime is always self-aware enough to dramatize the cringiness to let you know that here is where you laugh. None of what we get with Ox demonstrating “justice” by waving his sword while lecturing a fawn-eyed Tiger (you’re my favourite character, Ox, but that made me question things). Joke: +1

Final Verdict

Satire : Joke = 7 : 5

The show, to me, is more of a success than a failure. I’m glad it’s the show that serves as a “welcome back to anime” for me after the school term. I feel like something people should stop doing with Juuni Taisen is assessing it as a pure battle thriller. If you can’t see it as a satire like I do, at least consider it to be a joke – something fun to laugh about. There’s so much more enjoyment that way. After writing this post, it’s much clearer to me that Juuni Taisen is just not that serious about the dark drama thing. So why not appreciate the fun?

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15 thoughts on “Juuni Taisen: Satire or Joke?

  1. Interesting. I completely missed everything even remotely satirical about it. Of course, I didn’t see Katanagatari as particularly satirical either, so maybe I just don’t understand satire in the first place. Myself, I’m still boiling at how Rat’s wish made it so all the characters literally died for nothing, which makes me wonder if that is the deliberate point. Of course, I also just really hate tragedies, so when Rat could have wished for something to give the story a happy ending, and then we got the wish he actually made… yeah, cue the boiling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel you, man. I hated Rat’s wish. Makes us all feel so trolled. I wouldn’t really call Katanagatari satirical either (at least not in the Bakemonogatari way). It’s just that it’s better at…making fun of its characters? Like when you see Togame do something dumb there are always cues to tell you that. Whereas you don’t get the comical tone at all in Juuni Taisen so it just feels like it’s a serious drama when it really shouldn’t be (imo)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually haven’t seen the Monogatari series as of yet, though it is on my list of anime to eventually watch. As for Katanagatari, though, it functions in a comedic way, and a dramatic way, and a poignant, thought-provoking way. I never felt trolled, as you put it, when I started realizing that the act of killing was carried out so cavalierly at first, and then it became much more significant. Enemies became more than we thought they were, Shichika grew and developed immensely as a character, etc. Juuni Taisen didn’t have any of that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Juuni Taisen definitely takes on a different approach (and one that I find inferior to Katanagatari as well, Katanagatari being possibly my favourite anime). Juuni Taisen is mean to most of its characters and ridicules them a whole lot, while Katanagatari’s characters can be poked fun at good-naturedly and are all redeemed in some way despite their flaws

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  3. I enjoyed Juuni Taisen for what it was — a show blatantly riddled with irony, disguised as a battle royale, that barely if at all takes itself seriously (which I suppose would fall under satire, yes xD). And I’m not saying this under any sort of negative light. Just, that’s all I think what Juuni Taisen amounted to. Which is why, if anything being associated with NisiOisiN is what I think contributed greatly to the ire some fans have towards it. I mean, Juuni Taisen is rife with Nisio’s “classic” subversions (the most prominent theme being, fighting is meaningless) but other than that, nothing about it would really tell you that it was a Nisio Isin work.

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  4. The show was at its height at episode10 for me. It was starting to waver a bit before then but I didn’t full totally out of it until the final two episodes. Decent enough ideas and I get why Rat wishes for what he does, I just don’t think things were presented in a way that was conducive to that being a satisfying ending.

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    1. Interesting! I’ve heard many people say that they only enjoyed the last two episodes. For me, my feelings for the show were pretty consistent (an 8/10, roughly). What disappointed you the most about the ending bits/the parts about Rat?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It just felt so anticlimactic. Rat’s power is really interesting and they briefly explore it but I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this and Haruhi (specifically Endless Eight and the Disappearance film). The latter I found more enjoyable, despite how the community feels on the subject. Juuni Taisen just didn’t present this ending in a way that worked for me.

        The other problem was that the show piqued my interest only to deliver the most boring version of where I thought the story would go. The battle royal part was fun, and given the fact that I am familiar with the staff for this project, had expected some sort of twist on what felt otherwise formulaic. It just fell short. I still enjoyed it overall though (like a soft 7/10 if I put it into numbers).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, that’s a very fair thing to say. For me, Rat’s wish was just such a frustrating letdown that it was enjoyable in a ridiculous sense. But I get that not everyone likes laughing at others’ miseries and shortcomings (wow, I sound like such a sadist 😂). Well, I haven’t seen the Haruhi film yet, but I am again reminded that it’s something I should be watching.

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  6. negativeprimes

    As someone who enjoyed Juni Taisen more than most, it appears, I’m grateful to you for pointing out the satirical elements. I read the show as more melancholic than satire, but I think you’ve got a point. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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