What’s it about? Heavenly deities Taishakuten and Bonten have descended upon the mortal realm to save it from its earthly desires after Dainichi Nyorai takes a leave of absence. The two buddha are ready to cleanse the earth and help it towards a period of enlightenment, but the 12 other heavenly deities are telling the two to chill out.
Thus have I heard that NAMUAMIDABUTSU! -UTENA- is now available for streaming and I was compelled to watch. A more pious adherent to Buddhism may take this show as a challenge, a boulder in the path that must be overcome or detoured around, but I’m simply announcing this is the end.
We are in “mappo,” a degeneration or corruption of Buddhist law. While Buddhism may teach that our earthly desires (translated as “vices” in the show) are to be overcome, NAMU only seeks to amplify them with hot boys. It is worth noting there are a total of 108 worldly desires and sexual lust is one of them.
And though the pretty boys might be the most apparent transgression in a series about a religion that often teaches austerity and mindfulness, there are plenty of other issues that made me stop and ponder if a Buddha would necessarily follow what this show is doing. Would a Buddha “save” the earth by actively eradicating desire? Does simply cleansing the corrupted earthly desire from a person actually help them when the root cause of that desire is never actually addressed? Would a Buddha need or use a microwave?
Though Shaka Nyorai preaches to the two protagonists to let the mortals figure out for themselves how they should overcome their run-of-the-mill “bonno,” the action of the series focuses on the deities actively fighting to save people from being literally swallowed by their desires.
So while one point of Buddhism teaches to overcome the struggles of everyday life, NAMU also takes a nod from the Jodo sect of Buddhism in invoking its namesake prayer. Namu Amida Butsu, or “Hail the Amida Buddha,” is a prayer to Amida Nyorai that asks him to save humanity. Basically, if there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?
That’s right: the Buddha (though ironically, Amida Nyorai, while present, isn’t the protagonist here).
You’d think with a show so loaded with religious figures, I’d be able to say something more about it by looking into some deep connection these characters have to Buddhist lore. But in truth, the first episode largely blows past all of them in an effort to get the story set up. Any reference to religion either went over my head or just wasn’t really all that there. Perhaps there is more to come, but I’m largely just too exhausted to care.
I’m honestly not sure what this show wants to do, aside from showing off sexy men. Is this a show about beating up really bad desires and saving humans, as the story’s initial scenes frame it? Or is this going to be a Jersey Shore spin-off set in a Japanese temple?
While Saint Young Men beautifully executes a slice-of-life comedy about heavenly deities living in modern Japan, this show’s tone indicates anything but that. Taishakuten appears to have some sort of chip on his shoulder against Asura, while Bonten appears to be an overly-serious type, playing to his historical role as a protector of the Buddha.
Both of them, having freshly descended from Heaven, appear to be ready to kick some spiritual ass, but Shaka Nyorai and the other members of the 13 Buddhas appear to be preaching they should let things be and enjoy the luxuries of modern life.
As for any issues with objectification, the show is unabashedly dedicated to showing off the conventionally beautiful heavenly men, but isn’t too leery in how they are presented. Though there was a bathing scene, it was strictly chest up for the Buddha and the camera work remained respectful.
The cast is mostly men, with only one feminine Buddha (Ashuku Nyorai) present in the cast, and their role was relegated to one voice line to establish they exist. Though, in confirming their voice actor is male, I’m leery what kind of story they’ll try to pull when it comes time for their character arc, if there even is one. Bonten also transforms into a high school girl for a short time to disguise himself from being a deity, but the joke isn’t anything lascivious or needlessly drawn out.
So aside from being a collection of really sexy men, NAMU doesn’t really grab your attention that much. Its rushed effort to establish all the characters and tonal whiplash largely just feels draining. I don’t think I’ll keep watching, even if the boys all looks EXTREMELY PRETTY.
And, while I’m here, I know I’m kind of the black sheep of the AniFem editorial board, never having watched Utena, but I’m glad to have this opportunity to say I finally watched an Utena show. You see, an “Utena,” as referenced in the title of this show, is a lotus petal platform that Buddha rides in Nirvana.
So for everyone on staff who told me to go watch Utena, here is your monkey paw wish come true.