Just to get one thing out of the way first.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of Rape, pedophilia, animal abuse/murder, and gore, as well as violent imagery. This anime should NOT be watched by anyone under 18, and even a lot of those that are 18 or older probably shouldn’t watch it either. Yeah, this one is pretty fucked up.
I am… unsure how to really feel about this movie. I feel like there are a lot of things, both good and bad that I can say about Midori, and a lot of different ways it can be interpreted. I will say that it did turn out better than I expected since I went into it expecting it to be absolutely terrible, especially since I first discovered it from a “worst anime of all time” list.
The main reason why this anime tends to be so widely hated, and why it was even banned in Japan as well as having some of the footage completely destroyed and thus lost forever, is because of just how disturbing it is. Regardless of context, most people will have their limits with what they think should be allowed to be shown in media, and Midori certainly goes far beyond what a lot of people will be able to stand. One can already see where this is going based on the premise alone.
The story is about a young girl named Midori, who is abducted by a group of freak show circus performers after her mother falls ill and presumably dies. She is regularly abused by the rest of the troupe physically, mentally, and even sexually. From beginning to end, Midori is utterly grim and nihilistic, and any sense of hope that is ever presented only exists so that it can be completely shattered.
A major focus of the story is pedophilic relationship that Midori has with a dwarf magician named Masamitsu. Yes, it is absolutely disgusting, but it is also understandable why Midori would consent considering that Masamitsu is the only person who has shown her any kindness and has protected her from the other circus freaks. And no, they never try to present Masamitsu as a good person as he does some pretty horrible things as a result of jealousy, and it’s clear he is the abusive type who wants Midori for himself. Yet compared to everyone else, he actually comes across as fairly likable by comparison, and it would be realistic for someone in Midori’s position to end up feeling that way considering how people end up in abusive relationships. Masamitsu is a very nuanced portrayal of a domestic abuser as opposed to just a shallow caricature, and the fact that it is logical for Midori to like him despite these things really drives home the depressing reality of people in her situation (and yes, there are people who have been in similar situations that I have known personally). The rest of the cast aside from Midori and Masamitsu are not especially deep, but are not too shallow either.
In a way, the absolute nihilism of this movie is artistic in and of itself. Despite the reputation that this movie has, I will give it credit in that everything exists for an artistic purpose, and it never felt too exploitative or hentai-like. Yes, even the scenes involving *shudders* child rape were brief and not overly drawn out and emphasized like an extreme fetish hentai, despite having subject matter that would not be out of place in one.
Despite this, there are still moments where it feels like it goes too far. What specifically comes to mind is a scene in the beginning where one of the troupe members goes far enough to kill puppies that Midori played with and to use their meat to make dinner for the rest of the crew including Midori. Yes, the point is to demonstrate how cruel and sadistic the troupe members are by having them kill puppies just to remove Midori’s one source of happiness, but was this really necessary? I ask that in earnest because I don’t know if it was needed or not, and the main source of displeasure is much more likely due to it existing in the first place.
One may notice that this sounds very similar to Lucy’s backstory in the 2004 anime Elfen Lied. This is an accurate observation, but there is one difference between how they are handled. The latter does not actually show the puppy being killed in graphic detail, while Midori does. I mean this in that all frames of the dogs being killed are shown on screen, and are animated. Hell if you look on Google image search for this series, there will be images of a puppy being crushed beneath someone’s foot complete with detailed blood, guts, vomit, and eyeballs popping out. I am choosing not to post it here for obvious reasons.
Additionally, there are some moments that are just flat out weird and are never explained. One example includes Midori seeing Kanabun, one of the female troupe members, peeing while standing up and finding out that she has a penis. This literally has no relevance to the main plot and was never elaborated on. Another is where Masamitsu gets angry at a crowd and uses magic that randomly causes their bodies to contort and explode even though nothing prior to that point said he had actual magic, and that his primary stage gimmick was just an optical illusion. It even says that the crowd somehow when back to normal afterwards and survived even though something like that would realistically kill anyone. Maybe these could have been explained in the lost footage, but we will never know.
What specifically makes Midori a unique anime is the fact that there is no censorship; none. Yes, this includes genitalia, even though that isn’t even legal in Japan. Seriously, even hentai has censored genitalia in Japan, yet Midori not only has uncensored genitalia, it has uncensored CHILD genitalia. Hiroshi Harada has some serious balls, I’ll say that for sure. It also adds a lot more insight into why this may have been banned. Yes, most will just say because it was violent and fucked up, but so is a lot of hentai and that stuff doesn’t get banned. I don’t consider this child porn however since it is clear that it was never intended to be sexy, and any scenes with it are very brief.
Also on the subject of the art direction is that gore is far more detailed and realistic than most anime. In most anime, when someone gets mutilated you just see a lot of blood pour out if anything is shown at all. In Midori, it looks just like it would in real life. This makes gore much more frightening than in most anime, and a lot of it is downright sickening. Additionally, credit is due for having a very unique art design compared to most anime. It really is unlike most anime I have ever seen, which really ups the creepiness factor and it may have been a bit less creepy if it used a more typical anime art style.
Unfortunately the actual animation, if you can even call it that, is beyond stilted. I have literally seen visual novels that were more animated than Midori. A lot of the movie is made up of still images or animations with small amount of frames. It often felt like I was watching a PowerPoint presentation. However, Midori at least makes very good use of what few frames it does have and gets the most out of them. As a result, the movie still manages to be creepy and disturbing as all hell despite the limited budget.
The sound editing is also as good as it could be with this type of budget, and the voice acting is surprisingly good considering that Harada must not have been able to find any expensive high profile VAs. The sound effects were good and the music was especially effective with the ending theme is notably haunting and beautiful. The lower sound quality almost enhances the effect that these songs have in a more abstract way. An Interesting thing to note is that the music was done by J.A. Seazer, the same person who would later go on to write the music for Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Overall, Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki is an anime that clearly had a lot of thought and work put into it. Harada was clearly passionate about this as he worked on it entirely on his own for five years with his own money. I do feel as though it is misunderstood by a lot of the people who claim it is one of the worst ever created. It isn’t some sick fetish hentai along the lines of things like Bondage Game or Starless, nor is it meant only to shock or disgust someone like The Human Centipede or Salo.
I would not blame anyone for not being able to look past such horrific concepts like child rape, pedophilia, and animal abuse being played out in detail. In fact, I almost was not able to myself, and I can’t exactly see myself rewatching this any time soon due to how depressing and unpleasant it is. I do think there is artistic value to be seen here however. Midori is meant to provide a look at absolute despair and hopelessness. It is a very cynical and pessimistic story that, despite having problems, was very compelling. I wanted to see what happened to Midori and hoped things would work out for her, even though I knew it wouldn’t in the end. What separates Midori from the above examples is that the above examples are all edginess with no real sense of humanity in them to begin with; it’s all shock and disgust with no emotion, which means there is nothing to connect to. Midori manages to weave a slight bit of emotion and hope into the narrative, and even ends with a fairly valuable message that one should not always assume the worse (but I can’t explain how since it it would be major spoilers).
The most disturbing thing about Midori is not any of the scenes it depicts or the frightening imagery; it’s the fact that it feels all too real, and none of us want it to. Yet Midori shows us what we don’t want to see and what we turn away from. Right now, there are possibly millions of people alive who are just like Midori and are in similar situations, and we will never know. Our natural instinct is to turn away from whatever looks disgusting or scary, and because of this, none of us want to know what truly happens to some people.
In the end, I can only recommend Midori to those who see the value in and enjoy these type of depressing and dark stories. I am pretty sure that everyone else must have already made their decision while reading.
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