On Cyclicality and Stasis in Endro

Episode 7 of this season’s Endro concerns itself with Princess Rola’s attempt to understand the other party members of her beloved Hero. Throughout it, she comments on how any given action of a character, usually a fairly benign one, calls back to similar behavior on the part of said character’s predecessors. Given that this is the 999th Hero party and the fact that Rola has read about every one of them religiously, she possesses a vast database of knowledge. It would be easy to see otakudom in her actions here; she seems to perceive the past Heroes and their comrades as traits before people and perceives the members of this new group through these traits in a codified fashion, rather than receiving them head-on as the people they are.

However, what I’m more interested in is how this depicts cyclicality, something which is unconsciously present in the vast majority of high fantasy anime. (I’m ignoring isekai here, which I believe has fundamentally different dynamics than other high fantasy. That topic will, of course, be covered in the future).

The cyclical fight between the Hero and the Demon Lord has existed for, at the very least, 999 years. In episode 6, it’s said that as the Demon Lord herself, Mao remembers around 3000 years of existence. If we assume that Heroes are generational — and to some degree, they must be, given that Rola reacts to Yuusha as if she’s met the only Hero she’s ever had a chance to know — and that the royal family has been consistent throughout this time, then we can only conclude that there has been no major change on this continent in tens of thousands of years. No technological progress, no political overthrow, and no breaking of this eternal cycle.

This is not something unheard of in works of this nature but it stands out even above its “competition”. In Zelda, the cycle of the heroic Link continues but the world itself sees much change. There’s a medieval fantasy constantly at play, yes, but in various periods technologies are invented, political shifts occur, and time moves forward. Endro, on the other hand, utterly rejects this. It’s arguable that in it, time isn’t even cyclical, merely in stasis. Nothing occurs, there are no politics.

It’s remarkably postmodern, in a way. History does not exist to Princess Rola, not in any meaningful way, because nothing has happened. Instead, she perceives history as nothing more than simulacra, as events in a book that had no real bearing on the world at large. To borrow from Azuma, she engages in database consumption, because there’s no other way for her to engage with the past.

And, of course, that ties into capitalism. The world of Endro is a pretty generic Dragon Quest setting, one in which fantasy feudalism is still the name of the game. Yet it reflects all too clearly the period we find ourselves in. Increasingly divorced from History as such, reduced to reading about the past as if it were itself a series of fictional events, in this age of Capitalist Realism, all of us are driven towards database consumption, the otaku moreso than anyone. To Rola, Yuusha, and all the other members of the cast, there’s no reason to believe that the fight between the Hero and the Demon Lord would not go on forever; for all intents and purposes, it has always existed and will always exist. For us, capitalism is much the same. The work’s queerness is important here, as it’s a sign of change. Rola’s offer to change the law so that she and Yuusha can marry is a hint at the breaking of what I might term “Heroic Realism”, or at least a place from which it can be broken.

This brings me to the topic which I feel is most important to discuss: the “Heroic Narrative” as a whole. A common subject in isekai, it exists in other fantasy works, though it’s used to different ends. In most series of this sort, the destined nature of the Hero is given a religious air to it, much as with, say, the narrative of Jesus’s resurrection and the call to Heaven. What I’m positing here is that most otaku high fantasy actively engages in the construction of a pseudo-religious pseudo-grand narrative. But where isekai uses this narrative as a means to showcase progress away from feudalism, as the last redemptive push of a blatantly failing liberal hegemony, works like Endro wield the Heroic Narrative for a very different end. In these, it is essentially collapsed, with all of its temporality removed. Rather than attempt to save liberal hegemony, it gives up on the idea that liberal hegemony is even some new thing; if History is gone then this moment in time has always existed.

I don’t think this indicates that works like Endro have fully embraced postmodern liberalism, however. No, I think they’ve rather accepted it as a fundamentally “natural” system, albeit one that’s difficult to live in. To Endro, the state we exist in is just as innate as our need to eat and breathe. That said, there is still resistance in Endro, not even including the potentiality of same-gender marriage. That is, of course, otaku consumption and creation; a subcultural space in which various desires can be expressed, including non-normative ones such as the work’s explicit queerness. To Endro and media like it, the world we live in is not comfortable, but it’s not malleable either; at best, an attempt to bend it to our will would cause it to snap in half like a plastic toy. As a result, it would rather find the little imperfections that exist within the toy and reside within them. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll provide enough comfort to keep going. Endro implies a counter-hegemonic potential but stays far away from a broader, revolutionary one.

I came into this piece expecting to talk about how cyclical Endro is but I came out of it talking far more about stasis. So, before we end things off, let’s talk about this cyclicality one last time. The world of Endro is divorced from History and utterly frozen but as a work, it emerges from a cyclical process. Anime production is itself a cycle, of course, but more interestingly is the way in which otaku tropes and favored elements morph over time. Endro exists in a cycle spawned by Dragon Quest. There is a historicism here, but it’s not one of advancement; it’s one of return. Endro returns to where Dragon Quest left off from. It’s no shocker then that the series itself begins with a reboot.

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