Despite its success and popularity, 2020’s Drifting Dragons anime (by Polygon Pictures) proved controversial for its similarities to Japan’s whaling industry. This isn’t the first time the depiction of human-animal dynamics in entertainment has caught my eye, and it doubtless won’t be the last. Is Drifting Dragons the violent propaganda some claim it to be, and how far do our own animal cruelty biases go?
With a setup as unsubtly pro-whaling as Ben Shapiro is unsubtly a bellend, Drifting Dragons sees its characters take to the skies, hunting and killing dragons for their flesh, blubber, oil, and other things that allow our asshole protagonists to uphold the cultural and capitalistic status quo of their world. Dragons are peaceful and uninterested in humans, so the drive of Drifting Dragons rests on “Yum, meat! Ohh, oil!” As motives go, that’s about as charming as bludgeoning handicapped orphans with a baseball bat or Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Much of Drifting Dragons is centered around its whaling metaphor. Characters kill dragons because they like the process and reward, and it’s their culture. It’s in their blood! Said arguments are identical to those defending all forms of animal cruelty. If Drifting Dragons is defendable, then the following forms of animal cruelty like dogfighting, circuses, trophy hunting, and, of course, whaling are too.
Picking and choosing the animal cruelty we do and don’t approve of based on superficial specifics is the height of bias; one’s enjoyment of something doesn’t excuse its victims’ suffering. Who’s to say the culture, pleasure, and pockets of dolphin and whale murderers hold more intrinsic value than the bloodshed of each marine massacre? Why should Drifting Dragons be the moral authority on such an issue?
For whalers, their lifestyle is held afloat by flawed yet effective arguments. “It’s our culture!” Should culture define morality? For this argument to hold water, then all instances of it must be defendable, from China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival to West Africa’s female genital mutilation. “It’s how we make a living!” Should money define morality? If so, slave traders, human traffickers, and the makers of snuff films can sleep soundly, knowing their actions are ethically watertight. If culture and/or capitalism can justify any action, then the very construct of morality is dead. How does one draw a line in the sand when there is no sand?
All industries built on animal exploitation flaunt similarly flimsy excuses for a conscious choice of cruelty. The rabbit hole of capitalism’s chokehold over animals goes on and on and on, and cultural bias muddies matters more. If Nazi Germany (and 99% of modern politics) taught us anything, it’s that propaganda is key. Case in point: the rebranding of words. Dolphins and whales are harvested, not killed. Dolphins are processed, not murdered. That’s whale meat, not dead whale flesh. Drifting Dragons uses similar linguistic rebranding regarding the products of dragons’ disemboweled corpses, and the arguments of culture and money provide an added layer of cruelty excusing shittery.
It’s remarkable how much a punchy phrase can convince and deceive, from “Yes we can,” to “Make America great again,” to “The circle of life.” Drifting Dragons defending itself via the circle of life echoes the sentiments of many carnists. But The Lion King is a made-up cartoon, not a documentary. And if the circle of life does exist, we’ve royally fucked it to death through battery farming and abattoir brutality.
So what do we do?
The backlash to Drifting Dragons rarely surpasses tepid disapproval. Those with endless energy to champion human rights (which is tremendously noble and vital activism) via retweets and TikTok memes have only empty gestures for the animals they claim to love when commenting “OMG, so cute!” on a post from The Dodo. If someone must be a pretentious vegan asshole, then let it be me. Every flicker of validation Drifting Dragons receives is support for genocide on countless dolphins and whales. Culture, capitalism, or enjoyment doesn’t negate suffering. If you disagree, then ask yourself “Is my progressiveness for clout, or change?”
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