The Children of Rie Matsumoto: Mary Macbeth and Koto

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When children tell stories, they’re often stymied by an inability to communicate. Adults are frequently too far removed from their own childhood to understand, or the child is unable to make adults comprehend – much like the narrator of The Little Prince who, as a young boy, draws an elephant inside of a snake which is then interpreted as a hat. Additionally, when adults look back on their youth, they look at it from the eyes of an adult, reframing their experiences in a different context.

This makes portraying children in fiction and varying forms of media incredibly difficult. All too often a creator will underestimate a child’s intelligence and show them doing unnecessarily stupid things rather than a more nuanced display of ignorance. It’s remarkable when a director or creator gets children right.

With that being said, I’d like to draw your attention to Rie Matsumoto, director of Kyousogiga and Blood Blockade Battlefront.

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The eleventh episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront eschews its episodic romp through Leonardo Watch’s present and delves into the childhood of Mary and William Macbeth – better known as White and Black respectively. Mary is a precocious kid with a yawing maw of an inferiority complex thanks to her talented caster parents and prodigious brother. As the only person in her family without psychic powers, she puts herself on trial to the amusement of her loving mother and father.

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This scene strikes a perfect balance between childish precociousness and Mary’s genuine insecurities. It never writes her emotions off as insignificant, and showcases both her intelligence and the disconnect in her understanding of why her parents would love her. To Mary – in contrast to her mother and father as well as brother William – her lack of psychic prowess makes her useless, a sentiment that her parents naturally disagree with. For them, Mary’s existence is enough for them to love her.

Additionally, Mary grows up watching her parents be shepherds by day and powerful psychic casters by night. In spite of the fact that they obviously dote on her and Will when able, they aren’t always present in her life. This, combined with her lack of powers gives Mary a believably pragmatic outlook, even as a child. Will is often a crybaby, leaving Mary as the “strong child” to step up in her parents absence. Mary puts on a brave front while inwardly struggling with how to leave her personal mark on the world.

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Will and Mary bidding their parents goodbye at an airport in Blood Blockade Battlefront calls to mind a similar scene from Kyousogiga, also directed by Rie Matsumoto (and not simply because all three share the same voice actress: Rie Kugimiya).

Like Mary, Koto is precocious and pragmatic, albeit with a different disposition. Thanks to encouragement from her father – who is hardly doting and often distant – Koto is told to toughen up repeatedly, and often uses violence to express herself or solve her issues rather than speaking. Where Mary acquiesces to her bullies, adopting an air of indifference that’s half-genuine, Koto immediately responds with force. Naturally, this often lands both her and Inari in hot water, making them more of a dynamic duo rather than a parent and child.

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Yet, Koto is genuine and emotionally resonant. She lacks an understanding of familial relationships, but her innocence is never portrayed as stupidity. Forced to grow up quickly, her disposition is is incredibly educated at times and completely ignorant at others. When faced with the fact that her father wishes to disappear and die, it is Koto who bludgeons her way into her father’s heart, shattering his own personal inferiority complex. In spite of the myriad of ways that Inari failed in raising her, Koto still chooses her family above all else.

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While we don’t yet know the anime ending of Blood Blockade Battlefront, both Mary and Will have already put their family first, regardless of the consequences.

In both series, Kyousogiga and Blood Blockade Battlefront, it’s remarkable how believable Koto, Mary, and Will all are. They’re intelligent, but don’t speak like miniature adults in the bodies of children, and have their own individual hangups that come part and parcel with their respective upbringings. Mary is intelligent with understandable self-esteem issues. Will is afraid of his own power and additionally feels inferior to Mary because of the way she projects an attitude of strength. Koto is required to act first and save her questions for later because no adults will answer her questions. All of these emotions are relatable to any viewer and beautifully replicated within their respective series without ever looking down on the three for being children.

9 comments

    1. Thank you! I’ve loved her work – in Kyousogiga and BBB as well as Precure – so it’s nice to find these connections. It makes me happy to see that so many other people enjoy her as well.

  1. Another Matsumoto work that touches very nicely on child development is the Heartcatch PreCure movie. Where Olivier would be the side-character of the week in an episodic format, Rie takes advantage of the feature length to systematically progress Olivier’s worldview through his encounter with the PreCure, exposing him to the familial backgrounds of each character in the ensemble. This works on multiple levels because it not only provides Olivier with a new perspective that he and Baron Salamander have avoided on their journey together, but it also serves as a narrative recap of sorts for the franchise, which is par for the course as far as precure is concerned.

    PreCure in general has an excellent track record in portraying younger characters, and has nailed the middle-grade demographic to a tee, but Matsumoto’s involvement with this movie in particular takes Heartcatch’s formula and runs with it as far as family ties can go. Olivier’s relationship with Baron is rocky, but out of circumstance; how can one be family with a Desertarian? By striking that fine balance in making Olivier’s self-discovery key to his confrontation, Rie does the improbable, to nobody’s surprise.

    1. I really wish I had remembered that she did this movie, and watched it before this post, because so much of the visual imagery is similar. You can really see how she builds her portfolio and continues to hone her craft throughout all three works (the Precure move, Kyousougiga, and now Blood Blockade Battlefront).

      Matsumoto was also involved in Fresh and Yes 5. I now feel compelled to rewatch her specific episodes to pick up on any other visual trends. ^ ^

  2. “When faced with the fact that her father wishes to disappear and die, it is Koto who bludgeons her way into her father’s heart, shattering his own personal inferiority complex.”
    I like that sentence. It shows again that Koto’s and her hammer are a match made in Heaven.
    Ahh good memories of Kyousougiga.

  3. Yeah, children portrayal in media is something’s that always looked down upon, ignoring the fact they too possessed an intelligent, just not in a way how adult’s work.

    I’ve once heard about how children is, essentially, an adult who has much lesser life experience. A somewhat simplification considering it ignores biological factor, but I think its an handy mindset in order to characterize them better.

    1. That’s a really good way of looking at it. Even literature aimed at teens is often condescending and/or an attempt to cash in on an existing trend. It makes me happy that Rie seems to actually understand that children aren’t as dumb as people assume.

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