Looking at one of the less orthodox ways of marking the 200th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.
This January there was some strange news from China, the airing of a Karl Marx animated series usually called Karl Marx the anime, but actually titled The Leader. There was quite a bit of fuss on news sites and social media, but oddly once episodes started floating around the net it quickly disappeared. It doesn't seem to have gained much traction even in the circles that make image reactions and jokes.
I found a youtube channel that not only uploaded all seven episodes but had also fansubbed the Chinese dialogue into English and Russian. I watched the whole show, and I think I see why it didn't last. Using the channel statistics as a guide, episode one has 100,000+ views, episode 2 though plummeted to 15,000 and the drop continued with the last episode getting around 7,000. There's a lot to untangle so I'm going to break it down a bit.
Bluntly the show is very incompetent, both in animation and story structure, it seems to have deliberately gone out of its way to show off how poorly made much of it is. There's no consistency, it switches between 3D and 2D animation styles arbitrarily, the models are extremely janky in movement and stick out from the backgrounds. They often look creepy especially when laughing.
The models are also recycled heavily, Marx doesn't appear to age or change his clothes much from age 17 until the 1850's when he starts to show the beginnings of a beard. His wife Jenny is usually seen wearing her wealthy noblewoman dress and her maid is wearing a sexy formal French maids outfit. The crowds are some of the laziest I've ever seen, a good chunk of multiple episodes are dedicated to Marx giving a speech, and we get reaction shots from the audience, but whats weird is that these audience usually stay motionless until the speech is finished, and then they applaud robotically. Most do not even emote during, and many not in the front row despite being clearly visible often do not have faces.
|This is not the worst example of lifeless crowds, this is only the first example. From the first episode, about two minutes in|
It looks cheap and its very jarring. Even the show opener highlights many of the worst features of the animation. But what's really strange is that the first episode is the cheapest looking one, every other episode while not perfect is an improvement. Now animations having spikes and drops in quality is nothing unusual, budgets of both time and money can effect production, but I've never known the opening episode to be the one that's the most cheap looking. I honestly had to pause the episode multiple times to process what I was looking at, its not just that it looks bad, it often actively confuses.
An obvious 3D Gatling gun model
|One two second cut later, and its transformed|
I think the last episode looks the best, and its much easier to follow, but that's mainly because aside from an epilogue it focusses mostly on Marx coming to terms with his age and ill health. The section with him and his wife Jenny was surprisingly quite emotional.
|I picked out this comment to highlight how poor a job it seems to be doing in teaching people about Karl Marx, most of the other comments weren't much better|
Theory were involved.
|This is the final image of the end credits of every episode. The credits are a timeline of Karl Marx's life so the connections aren't subtle.|
“If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually be at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”
Even the titles for the episodes sound like they were taken from propaganda posters
- Different Youth
- Defending the Rights of the People
- New World View
- Scientific Socialism Shines Brightly
- Great Work Das Kapital
- First International
- Marx Forever
And of course the name of the series The Leader isn't exactly subtle. But in case you didn't get it the last part of the final episode really drives it home. The ending credits are a timeline of key events in Marx's life, except for episode seven. In that episode the timeline is replaced with a history of Marxism-Leninism, through to the present day in the People's Republic. Complete with a narrator praising Mao Zedong, then Deng Xiaoping then the Three Represents and then finally Xi Jinping.
Xi Jinping's new era of socialism with Chinese Characteristics together will bring the people forward into a new era for China
The intention is of course is crystal clear, Karl Marx is the indisputable leader of Communism, and the CPC is the heir to Communism, and so it is the heir to Karl Marx.
|Of course its not exactly a new claim, just a few more heads to squeeze on the banners.|
There is some attempt to justify this posture though, in an early episode Marx is absolutely indignant at the oppression of peasantry by the landlord class, and the Paris Commune is criticised for not having a strong central leadership. Also Marx did briefly talk about the importance of theory adapting it to historical conditions and reality. Which the narrator echoes at the end by claiming that Maoism through to Xi is just the Sinification of Marxism.
I also think though this is speculation that the propaganda potential of the series is the explanation for its poor production values, especially in earlier episodes. The series premiered on the 28th of January, with an episode a week, meaning it ended roughly around the anniversary date. If the decision to make the series had come late, with the anniversary being the hard deadline it must reach, then that would explain why the earlier episodes are the worst with the most obvious time and cost cutting. The later episodes which look much better would have had more time available to work on. But even in the last episodes there are obvious signs of short cuts in some sequences.
Which is a shame, as I don't believe the idea of an animated series is without merit, the Manga adaptation of Capital was largely a success, the films Young Karl Marx and the West German film about Rosa Luxemburg were very informative and interesting to watch, and historical drama's are becoming increasingly common and more refined. If the CPC didn't cobble this together to meet its targets and it was allowed artistic freedom it could've been something great. For all its faults the final episode was quite good so the people doing the actual work of making the production seem to have been capable of doing good work.
* Incidentally this same episode covers the revolutions of 1848, during which time many of Europe's bourgeoisie eventually allied with their despotic aristocracy to destroy the more radical workers and student revolutionaries. So it seems like Wietling was largely correct on that point but this is never addressed.