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Dies Irae’s Magnum Opus

This is more a recommendation than anything else.

If I were to describe Dies Irae as succinctly as possible I would say: Dies Irae is about the creation of the Magnum Opus.

In alchemy, the greatest achievement possible is the transmutation of the philosopher’s stone. The result of following the three stages named nigredo(blackening), albedo(bleaching) and finally rubedo(reddening). It is that which turns lead into gold and makes men immortal, called the Magnum Opus, the Great Work. So the prologue of Dies Irae goes, at the fall of Berlin during WWII several Nazi super-soldiers among them three aptly named Einherjar Albedo, Einherjar Nigredo and Einherjar Rubedo turn on their people and use them as sacrifices for some unknown occult ritual.


Nigredo and Rubedo

Of course in modern times magnum opus has come to mean something else, particularly a great work of art, yet modern use is not too disconnected from the use in alchemy.

Enter the Hermetic tradition, a tradition in occultism that is defined by the beliefs and core tenets espoused by the eponymous, and totally not real, Hermes Trismegistus. It could be summed up as so: “As above so below”, that is to say, once one is to find the truth behind it all, the components that shape the universe(such is above) one will find the truth in all that rules our daily lives and our very selves(such is below); it’s individuation, it’s the Magnum Opus, the Holy Grail, it is Brahman, or even impetus behind the elusive Theory of Everything (that might be streching it a bit). Hermeticism has flourished since the Renaissance and with the spread of syncretism putting on the mask of the occult, then grown even stronger after the Enlightenment.

This is where Dies Irae, alchemy and the magnum opus come again. A great work of art for those who follow such beliefs could be said to be transcendental beyond mere entertainment and then properly seen as a magnum opus, art that elucidates on our very nature. I would not make any such claims that Dies Irae achieves something like that(or that it is even possible at least by the values of Hermetisism, because that’s really not my scene) but it is certainly about that.

Of course it is also very “anime(rather, much in line with what tends to come from out of the otaku subculture), very much so andas you can probably figure out, when the traditional term of the magnum opus in alchemy and the one used to refer to art come togetherit goes for a self-aware meta-narrative like what you’d expect out Nisio, and wraps it all under the blanket of the occult. It is maybe inevitable that it would do so given the subject matter.


This all said, it is probably already evident this is not for everyone. It’s a Battle Royale, not unlike Fate/Stay Night, a comparison that is made way too often and I’m probably not helping, but it does come with a ton of historical references and is seeped in occultism.

The narrative itself a generic predictable archetype, the characters the same, no development or growth is to be found here. Characters all stubborn machines, zealotry not for a god but their god itself. It’s more like a cacophony of clashing ideals; as a visual novel with several routes: death is only a minor setback so the characters all keep coming back and thirsty for battle fight each other, their ideologies and sense of aesthetics in a myriad combinations, each more fitting than the last.

Not only that but the bad guys cartoonishly evil(I mean, they’re Nazis or worse) they all ditched their countrymen, not for honor, but because their destruction lacked scope, it doesn’t get much worse than that. Oftentimes it is trite and cliche, for instance the Big Bad called often not more than a devil, he’s bad, very bad and wants to kill everyone and destroy the universe, everyone and everything here is always on extreme ends of the spectrum. Yet time and time again it works, or I should say that Dies Irae could not work any other way.

Dies Irae devil.png

Dies Irae thrives on cliche

In its pursuit of the ultimate presentation, holisitc overview, of an action/adventure meta-narrative it takes the Greek epic, the Norse saga, the classical literature and even philosophical texts and attempts to turn them into little parablesExtracting the kernel at the best of times, or cherry picking only what is convenient at the expense of the source material it takes from at the worst of themto further itself. At times it all comes together, it’s as if all of history conspired just to make Dies Irae the ur-battle royale come late, at others it is not much more than pop-culture farrago, thankfully this later ones are few and far between.

It keeps on then, adding without discrimination liturgical languages to the melting pot; to find Latin and Hebrew in one same paragraph is not a rare sight in Dies Irae.

I leave to the end what makes Dies Irae stand out most. Because it’s both the greatest reason one reads this but I also find the hardest to convey, that is the richness of the text itself. At times may feel obtuse or veer to close to the ravings of a lunatic but it would be mistaken for me to imply here a lack of lucidity on part of the writer. No, Dies Irae’s greatest strength is indeed an unorthodox beauty in which the most extreme of characters in the most fantastic of circumstances feel as true to life as many Slice of Life dare dream of.


Dies Irae is a fantastic visual novel, many strengths as yet unmentioned, namely the art, voice acting and soundtrack, but it also a flawed one. There are many contrived developments. It frequently throws a good sense for tone and narrative out the window, it’s sometimes predictable, characters will come back after presumed dead at the most impertinent times undermining previous developments, but it invariably comes together in a satisfying way. Despite all this it is thoroughly exciting, precisely because it’s designed to work as such, I mention these flaws because they are how Dies Irae finds how to make itself unique and endearing. It is ambitious and unlike anything of its kind, the ultimate epic fantasy battle royale, a weird title but one that mustn’t be missed.


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Is Mayoiga “so bad it’s good”?

“So bad so good.” The idea that an artist who creates something hilarious is not aware of the joke. It stems from a feeling of perhaps intellectual superiority, a relationship between the audience and creator where the audience comes out on top; everyone loves some “so bad so good” shows. I don’t believe Mayoiga is one of them.

Over-the-top dialogue and characters, occasionally erratic framing and shot composition, nonsensical plot developments, and all make for a surprisingly cohesive experience. Everything in this show is wrong but just in the right way…

Camp and melodrama.

The condensed version is that camp goes to go against preconceived or generally accepted notions of aesthetic and beauty, a wink wink nudge nudge that points out how bad or ugly something is and maybe ironically is found to be beautiful, artistically valuable, for that very reason.

The most obvious example in anime is likely Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, elegant it is not, it lacks some of the most basic elements of what is these days seen as “high art”. Yet it is influential and has managed to stand the test of time, the characters are not inline with the standards of beauty as it is conceived nowadays but most still finds it quite fabulous. Fabulous in very similar ways a cursory google image search of kitsch(often associated with camp) would look like.


Not sure this is related but thanks anyway Google!

There’s now something that may seem pretty obvious on such cursory google search, that would be how much Mayoiga doesn’t look like camp, not only that but many might feel that calling Jojo “ugly” is not fair because Jojo is stylish and looks good, and I would somewhat agree with the later statement.


Only somewhat though.

So to better understand this and for the argument of Mayoiga as camp we may have to look at camp beyond the surface.

For the sake of expediency it could be explained like this.

In psychology there is an idea that humans have two different modes of thought, addressed in-depth in the book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

System 1: Fast, intuitive, and emotional.

System 2: Slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

Camp might be defined in some way as possessing a beauty that appeals more to System 2 than it does to System 1 while still having a strong impact on System 1, Mayoiga makes more sense as camp if thought of in that way.

That alone of course does not fully explain why it’s not a bad show. That comes from the interplay between the dialogue and narrative, the tone and directing.

This is also where the melodrama comes in, something writer Mari Okada is very good(or bad, depending on your preferences) at, melodrama is a very effective way of getting character’s motivations and afflictions out in an easily digestible way, often seen as bad but it has a place. With a huge cast and no fear of shame: “Oh husband will you protect me?” “Yes, even if it kills me!” is perfect to make characters instantly recognizable.

[HorribleSubs] Mayoiga - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.08_[2016.05.04_20.04.42]

Also works.

While it has plenty of ridiculous and out of place dialogue that doesn’t mean we are not supposed to be invested, it is merely to ease us into the idea that this characters will do terrible things and make terrible decisions, by treating the characters with such ridiculous condescension it is easier to accept their bad decision making. And thus easier to invest in the drama and tension that comes from it, yes, the ridiculousness is meant to accentuate the drama.

Dramatic Irony.

The audience knows the consequences of the actions of the characters, by making many of them walking tropes(at least when taken at face value) we know how their arcs may develop and how they will play off of each other. For example when we see Glasses-kun pretentious act, acting as the voice of reason despite the ridiculous act of traveling to a secret village tainting anything of value he has to say, we are able to anticipate he will fail, it is both laughable and tragic.

The characters are stereotypical, loud and dumb, the show makes sure you know it so when the time comes that they must face the consequences of their actions, all of which are questionable, we understand and accept why. They deserve it after all right? A free get out of jail card to justify all the stupid things the characters will inevitably do, like it is often the case in horror. This show wants to have its cake and eat it, and it gets away with it, just look how entertaining of a ride it is. If nothing else I’m sure we all feel bad for the bus driver.

Of course it only works if the viewer is able to at least somewhat care about the characters, if Lovepon makes one slightly uncomfortable, or if not her, then the idea that noone seems to put her in her place, how accepting everyone seems to be of her; at the same time we are not meant to be pissed at that. The atmosphere has been shaped to allow us to accept it and only slight uneasiness filters through, because otherwise one would just be pissed at how stupid everyone is, that would be terribly unenjoyable.

This was all mostly aimed at people already enjoying the show but don’t consider the writing to be good or even intentionally fun, it is not coincidence that you do have fun but a deliberately and carefully concentrated effort at crafting just the right atmosphere through comedy in a serious setting.