[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the kinetic and NSFW The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace! Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace worth analyzing, or is it a waste of your time?]
The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is something that really gets under my skin. On the surface, it’s a statement that bemoans that styles of entertainment have shifted in a way that newer shows or movies are somehow inferior to older pieces simply due to changes in societal standards. See the number of people who point to Blazing Saddles and say that “they don’t make comedies like these anymore.” But in the world of anime, there is something to be said about the fact that shows nowadays are almost unrecognizable from the style and tone from decades ago, such as the 90s.
The 90s were the wild west for the anime industry. Original video animations, or OVAs, were being churned out like mad and most of them weren’t given much regulation. They were made because production companies had money to burn and could show shocking imagery that wouldn’t fly in anime nowadays to releasing on physical media, circumventing television regulations. So people tend to view that lack of regulation as being a golden age of sorts for anime, one where creativity ran wild and creators could do whatever they wanted. The one problem with that narrative is that the majority of those shows were, and still are, trash. So when I see otaku say “they don’t make them like they used to,” all I tend to hear is “the anime they make today isn’t as extreme as it once was.” Or, in some circles, how anime nowadays is neutered compared to decades ago.
An argument can be made that yes, anime is heavily neutered because it needs to reach as large of an audience and still be accessible to newcomers. You still do get shows that are geared towards adults like Interspecies Reviewer, but those are way in the minority and cater to controversy like it’s a badge of honor. Most shows play by the books and push conventional standards, but still stay firmly within those limitations.
There was one title this season, however, that did push against those social taboos and actually pushed past them in some areas. It went beyond them so hard that the series actually has a content warning on Crunchyroll, one of the few I’ve ever seen for the service. That show is The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace and it goes all-in on reviving the raw over-the-top sex and violence of the 90s. For good and for bad, this is almost exactly like how they used to make them.
The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace follows a group of gods in their fight to defeat ancient demons who wish to destroy the world. However, demons have been sealed away for 800 years, so an entire generation of gods, or idaten, have never known any conflict. That peace is shattered, however, upon the realization that a fascist empire, the Zoble Empire, is secretly being led by demons who have assumed human forms and taken on human personalities while retaining their monstrous strength. So now the current group of idaten needs to be trained to deal with these new demonic threats or face extermination.
You wouldn’t think that a show with as colorful of a palette as this would try to puff up its chest at how adult it wants to be, but that just goes to show that looks can be deceiving. One of the key tenents of 90s anime was a bleak outlook on most of humanity, often bordering on nihilism. Suffering and violence for the sake of suffering and violence was the name of the game and shows like Genocyber, Devilman, Violence Jack, and Doomed Megalopolis are the gold standards of such themes in anime. The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace most definitely has a nihilistic outlook on life and existence, though it’s one that’s weaved in a fascinating way through the idaten themselves.
In short, the idaten don’t really care what happens to humans. They may be gods among men, but they’re not saviors. Prayers mean nothing to them and the only thing that matters to them is that humans still exist. As long as one human is alive then the idaten have no interest in human affairs because the human concept of God is what keeps them alive. They’ll overlook countless atrocities as long as the human population never dips to zero. It’s a deeply unnerving mentality, but one that would make sense for a diety to have. They’ll only die if humans die and since they’re above human conflict, why would they involve themselves in petty issues that won’t impact their well-being? It keeps that nihilistic edge that was a trademark of anime from a bygone era by at least offering up some well-needed context for it.
And at times, The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace seems to actively lean hard into recapturing the tone of tasteless anime from the 90s. Unlike its interesting take on nihilism though, these callbacks don’t feel nearly as nuanced or well-intended, like the first episode concluding with a group of soldiers raping a nun. There was no reason for it to happen for the record. As of episode 7, that event has had no impact on the plot other than to serve as a mission statement. That pointless (and tasteless depending on your ideological leanings) aside firmly establishes that this is a show that is “mature.” It is going to be “adult” and deal with “adult themes.” You know, what teenagers tend to think adult themes are.
The problem that The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace frequently runs into is that by trying to be seen as “adult,” it instead comes across as juvenile. One character has a sex addiction and carries around phallic objects, gallons of blood are shed whenever a fight scene occurs, and a fight is settled by overstimulating someone’s sexual drive because why not? The only way The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace stands out from those aforementioned 90s OVAs is this show is consciously attempting to push beyond acceptability today while in the 90s, those ultra-violent and “mature” titles were the norm. The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace is unquestionably not normal in the year 2021. The weird twist of fate is that while making something akin to 90s OVAs and anime, is far riskier today than the literal nightmare fuel that came swirling out of the 90s.
Making an ultra-violent anime in the 90s wasn’t seen as a huge risk. Due to the booming Japanese economy, studios were able to fund more wild and niche experiences in the effort to try and reach untapped markets. But because of the number of capital studios had to spend, they could afford to make a couple of bombs in the search of finding the next golden egg. Insert saying about not being able to make an omelet without breaking a few eggs here.
However, that economic bubble in the 90s burst, as do all economic bubbles, and suddenly all of those ultra-violent duds came home to roost, draining profits since numerous productions were already greenlit. Plus consumers weren’t flocking to ultra-violent shlock anymore. They had their fill and now they wanted something else, so all of those greenlit productions made hardly any money at all, putting many anime production studios into debt. That analysis comes with the benefit of hindsight. In that moment, ultra-violent action anime was a verifiable hit among certain otaku circles.
Which makes The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace such a weird title to watch in 2021. It maintains those 90s sensibilities and has no qualms about being crass for the sake of crass. If this show ever gets an English dub, I would almost expect it to be filled with meaningless cursing and jokes in poor taste to fully capture the style that it so wants to emulate. To do anything else besides that would betray the theme and tone the series is obviously going for. You have to at least respect a show that is so brazen about not giving a damn about its content that insensitivity could so readily be accepted in localization despite not really being present in the original language.
Can the series dip into poor taste? Not really, though it does tiptoe into uncomfortable territory at times but never wallows in it or derives pleasure from the misery of the characters. One of the running jokes throughout the series is when disturbing concepts on how the Zoble Empire work are fast-forwarded through almost exactly how it was done in the video game No More Heroes. It’s played for laughs and does get a chuckle out of me every time, especially when a character interrupts their own monologue to comment on how no one seems to be mortified at what they are saying. Extreme concepts are there, but they’re relegated to exposition that the series pushes through.
In a world where most anime, and anime action in particular, are more open and willing to experiment with extreme violence that would have been pushing boundaries a mere decade ago, The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace strangely feels simultaneously like a relic. It’s really weird to explain. It mostly has to deal with how the content is presented to audiences since if we’re going to talk about gruesome action, Jujutsu Kaisen has this series beat in spades, but that show also frames its action in a Shonen light. Teenage boys can watch that show and be excited at the fight scenes, cheer for the heroes, and boo the villains. The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace has morally ambiguous heroes fighting despotic villains while humans around them suffer. There’s no one to really relate to and while I should be rooting against the Zoble Empire demon generals, they are the most well-developed characters in the show.
And yet the series is just so well animated! I don’t recall ever mentioning the studio responsible for this series before, but Studio MAPPA consistently produces some of the slickest and most well-animated television time after time. The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace mixes bright pastels and neons with a world that feels almost surreal, and that intro. MY GOD THAT INTRO. Full disclosure, the only reason I decided to watch this show is because I caught a glimpse of the OP a few weeks ago and I found it mesmerizing. It’s a kaleidoscope of psychedelic imagery conveyed through surrealistic depictions of virtually every character in the show, major or minor. Unless the Fall delivers something truly amazing, we have a clear winner for Best OP of 2021.
It’s hard to fully formulate an opinion on The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace because there are elements I really do love about the show. The visuals, like I said, are to die for, and there’s something undeniably hilarious at just how cartoonish some of the fight scenes can become. There are also moments I absolutely hate. The characters, both good and evil, are entirely unrelatable and can range from being one-dimensional to sociopathic. It says a lot that the hedonistic nymphomanic is the most likable and entertaining character in the series, and that’s not a ringing endorsement.
The show also moves at a snail’s pace. I binged the first seven episodes to catch up on the show and very little, if anything, actually happened. I’m inclined to say that that’s also a hallmark of 90’s OVAs where the plot was nowhere near the podium of priorities, but this is 2021 and what flew back then in terms of the narrative just doesn’t hold up today.
It’s important to note that Amahara, the writer behind the manga, is also the same creator of the infamous Interspecies Reviewers. Both series are controversial for a variety of reasons, so it lends me credence that Amahara created The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace very deliberately and not just to trigger people for the sake of it. As someone who’s seen both shows, it doesn’t come across like shock value for the sake of shock value, but at the same time, it isn’t trying to play to the lowest common denominator for easy thrills. Senseless violence can be tiring but this isn’t a show about senseless violence. There is some artistry here, it simply never lands in any meaningful or impactful way. It’s like eating cotton candy: it’s sugary and looks wonderful but as soon as you take a bit into it completely deflates.
The more I write about The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace, my opinion becomes increasingly complex. I wouldn’t call it mindless trash though. There’s an incredible amount of competency, and dare I say excellence, in the show. It’s a series that should not have as big of a budget or be as good as it is and I’m not even a huge fan of it. To use another analogy, imagine if Guillermo del Toro was given $100 million, hired the best actors in Hollywood, and was given unlimited time all just to make a remake of Manos: The Hands of Fate. Like, that’s cool and all, but why Manos? As much as I love that movie, it just feels weird to see so much effort put into something so undeserving of it.
I’m a bit out of the popular opinion regarding The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace but I have reason to believe that given its late July release, not many have seen it so there is no general consensus. I’m airing a bit more on the negative side here but given how there are still three episodes left of this show before it concludes, my opinion could very well change. Maybe it won’t end up being a chronologically displaced ode to OVAs of a bygone era. Maybe it will stand on its own two legs as something unique and worthy of critical reevaluation and praise. But if this really is a modern-day reinvention of “how they used to make them,” then I think it’s safe to say that, for the most part, it’s a good thing we’ve moved on to better and more fruitful grounds.
January 2021: Anime of the Year Awards 2020
February 2021: Akudama Drive
March 2021: On-Gaku: Our Sound
April 2021: The Promised Neverland
May 2021: SK8 the Infinity
June 2021: Odd Taxi
July 2021: Beastars
August 2021: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop