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Truth and The Mask - part 4

Sup guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part four of the blog post series discussing Honne/Tatemae in Japan. This post is rather long, so apologies in advance.

How does all this help me understand Anime / Manga better?

This is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll have a go at it anyway. : )

General Overview

This is my personal opinion, and I am sure many of you may have even more insightful, profound opinions - which would be awesome if you could share it, I am interested in everyone’s views! I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this, it’s a subjective thing in the first place - just connect with the stories you read/watch in the way that is most meaningful to you personally, and take what you learn from it and strive to become a better person, to better guide those around you. : )

To set the scene, which may be a very obvious one (forgive me), the origins of Manga and Anime as we define it today is, well, Japan. This means that the writers who no doubt put their lifeblood and soul, and all their experiences of their life, in to writing a given story, will have been influenced by the culture and societal standards of the society from which they were born/grew up/live in, in one way or another. (Let’s keep the flaming of any particular series that is not advancing to your taste, and editors (who are not soul-less either btw), and “they’re milking it for money” and blah blah out of this and assume for now my comment about the mangaka is a general truth ;9.) This means that the stories they write, and the characters they bring to life for us, will reflect those nuances too. Some particular nuances may not be very familiar or recognisable to an audience who has never experienced watching anime or reading manga before - but the more you watch it, the more cultural aspects you learn, right? (Or at least, I think you’re supposed to.)

The most obvious examples everyone picks up on would be the typical traditional stuff like how there are summer festivals in Japan, people wear Yukata, watch fireworks together, go to the shrine together on New years eve (insert falling snow scene), smash watermelons at the beach, obligatory school festival episode in anime etcetcetc - that sort of thing.

However, there are many deeper nuances that can be picked up on. Of course, everyone - even people who grew up native to Japanese culture - will perceive certain events or themes differently.

When one character shows their fragile weaker side to another character they have developed a trust bond with, that is not the tatemae. It’s a bigger, more significant ordeal than you think it is, when you reflect on the whole tatemae culture - even if the event in question is something very trivial, or very stupid.

“Hey, Soma-kun, I really don’t want to go to the study group today. I’m kind of uncomfortable around that group of people.”

That simple statement can be a biiiig deal. :x People usually don’t say that sort of thing to just anyone.

“I really dislike the beach, so I’m gonna pass this time round.”

“Okay, I get it.”

This sounds kind of … really super duper lame right? But even small things like this - if someone says this kind of thing to you, you ought to treasure their confidence in you. : )

In Bleach

In terms of Bleach, and where the values honne and tatemae (and giri) come in, I can think of a few examples. Of course, you can disagree - and tell me I’m thinking too much into it. But this is all in good fun, and looking at a story from this kind of a perspective can be interesting!

Shunsui and Aizen

Honne and Tatemae doesn’t have to just be for politeness, or to maintain an image. It really takes a lot of searching and perception to be able to understand what the other party is getting at.

Their banter these recent few chapters are a good example of general vagueness, sarcasm, and underlying implications that exist for the reader to interpret. I think Urahara, Shunsui and Aizen are pretty pro at this whole Tatemae thing.

A friend pointed out his point of view on a specific scene in Bleach to me:

When Shunsui spoke to Stark about how Hitsugaya is apparently going to be stronger than he is 100 years later, he feels that Stark was really saying:

"Mmm yea he is strong, but I am stronger."

That’s the sort of subtle thing you’ll begin to pick up on for yourself the more you understand certain aspects of a country’s culture.

Da Central 46

What the actual flaming fudge are these guys even doing?

Has the C46 legit done anything useful in the history of Bleach?

They only tried to

- Kill Rukia - death by giant flaming bird / allegedly most dangerous weapon in SS -_-

- Banish Urahara

- Kill Shinji

- Kill every other vizard

- Obstruct CC Shunsui

- Condemn Aizen to Muken, and oh my, look at where he is now and what he is doing. (¬_¬)

One could say that their job is primarily to preserve the peace and good of Soul Society. Yet, they are often manipulated, and will make a ruling that may be unjust, but it is the direct way to preserve the peace (rather than investigate the truth.)

C46 is the tatemae of peace and harmony in a society that is supposed to have no conflict, and now who’s the shogun that puppets his shadow government? Aizen Sousuke.

The C46 makes the judiciary system look like absolute trash - in fact, a lot of stories do. But I suppose it exists for many purposes, one of them may be a sort of commentary on how power is manipulated, how a government can be run (puppeted), how fearsome a facade can really be - and perhaps show that the people who follow their instincts and their hearts, perhaps, are doing things in a better way.

The Protagonists

There is not a lot to say on this except for the fact that most protagonists in Shonen manga are very straight forward, demonstrate qualities of courage and strength, and always do what their heart tells them is the right thing to do. It’s almost like it’s for the purpose of challenging the main tatemae culture of Japan.

Many shonen protagonists are brash, say what’s on their mind, total KYs .. and so forth. It’s quite a contrast to real life, and they challenge the way people are normally expected to behave. Perhaps that’s why shonen manga is so popular - it is really fresh, exhilarating - and the story will take you into a boundless world where speaking your mind and following your personal beliefs is the right way to go.

When a protagonist is at a low, afraid to reveal their true feelings for fear of bringing inconvenience and harm to those around him - he’s usually taught that he shouldn’t be afraid to take the risk to pursue his dreams and goals, that he should just get stronger, and that people accept him that way and they are there for him.

The Gotei 13 , and the quincy crew, and the espada

The Gotei 13 and the Sternritters are a collective group with a clearly defined leader (In the case of the Gotei, I will talk about Yamamoto Soutaichou as I feel Shunsui is a different kind of leader to Yama-jii)

Japan is a very hierarchical society - this is also a facet of their culture that is entrenched in deep cultural and historical roots. This is where “giri” (Obligations) arise from.

All members of the Gotei are bound by the decisions of the C46, and the individual squads have a captain, who in turn defers to the captain-commander.

It’s that self-sacrificing sense of duty to your leader, and your people.

In Bleach, there are times where obedience is paramount, and you put your life on the line to protect Soul Society. (Think TBTP, think quincy invasion). But there are also other cases from the very beginning (SS arc), where you can see characters challenge the thoughts and values of their superiors, and make a stand. Early on, there is Ukitake and Shunsui vs Yamajii. Even now, the quincies are staging an uprising against Yhwach. This portrays the conflict between what is a rigid duty/obligation (to your lord/people) and what is the “right thing” to do (for yourself and the people/values you care about) - and it directly challenges the norm of the existence of a “paramount” duty (giri) that is socially unacceptable to turn your back on in a collectivist society.


There can be a lot of symbolism to do with the double code of honne/tatemae, the mask, the truth, the lies.

Not just in Bleach - but if you think in terms of Bleach - you can find symbolism in Aizen’s Kyouka Suigetsu, the masks of the Vizards, the internal battle with the inner hollow (Specifically in terms of the hollowfication process, the more agitated you get - instead of trying to stay calm - the faster the hollowfication happens. Your true feelings are super bad for you D: ) and even within the characters themselves. Ishida pretty much never says what he thinks, but his friends get it and just let it go. So what is he doing by Yhwach’s side right now? Biggest facade ever, if I can hazard a guess.

A lot of this honne/tatemae stuff is related to why the term tsundere is even a thing. :x
Tousaka Rin!!!!! (Fate Unlimited Budget Works)

Who in Bleach are the manipulative shrewd ones, whom you really have to read between the lines to get at the heart of what they’re saying, and who are the ones who always speak their mind? Which characters have a relationship of trust in each other? Which characters put up a wall and speak in riddles? This kind of stuff can all be related back to Honne/tatemae, if you think about it. Might give you a new perspective on things. : )

That’s it for part four – thanks for reading, and part 5 will just be a final wrap-up/summary post. Hope you enjoyed reading.

Jaaa mata.