「『黒い霧』の中で」 (“‘Kuroi Kiri’ no Naka de”)
“Inside the ‘Black Fog'”
When I was a wee lad, back when humans were just beginning to scribble mammoths on cave walls, I collected bugs. Actually, I didn’t so much collect them as catch them, stuff them in brown paper bags, then lock them in a drawer. Then I’d get sad when they all, to nobody’s surprise but my own, died. It was quite a grisly affair, all in all, and perhaps the reason why, a bit later in life, I developed a phobia for bugs of all kinds. More probable, though, is that God was punishing me for being such a horrible little psychopath as a child.
The arc of the moral universe is long, and it hates Passerby.
This week, Concrete Revolutio continues having little respect for its frenetic dance between a pastel-coloured past and the grim twilight of the present (or is it present and future?). It’s a bit clearer what’s going on compared to the first episode, though, because the two lines are much easier to connect. They are seven years apart from each other, and feature as protagonist the shapeshifting ghost Fuurouta (Nakamura Eri) What seems to be going on with Concrete Revolutio is that, instead of like the usual narratives that will introduce all the characters first before drawing them into some sort of conflict, it is trying to do both at once. There are positives and negatives to this. On one hand, it makes the series harder to follow (even flashing dates on the screen means we have to read dates, and nobody wants to read in an anime), but on the other hand it allows for immediate juxtaposition between characters pre- and post-development. Case in point: Fuurouta before, Fuurouta after.
So, what’s going on here? Fuurouta, whose self-described purpose is to befriend children, unwittingly commits genocide against a new friend. That’s… pretty harsh, epsecially for just the second episode. I actually raised an eyebrow at how flippantly the entire concept of eradicating an entire sentient species was treated within the show. They casually bring out this extreme bioweapon, let some kid who they don’t even employ take it, and then, whoops, everything’s dead. And then I suppose nobody thinks about it again until the princess comes for revenge. And to be clear, even without knowing the identity of the black fog, what the Superhuman Bureau did is still technically horrific, but doing it this way dispels the idea that the real mission of the Superhuman Bureau is to protect superhumans. While we’re told it’s a rule of the Concrete Revolutio universe that for every villain that arises there will be a hero to appose it, the Superhuman Bureau is evidently not very interested in that. Naïve good vs evil is kid’s stuff. You wanted to grow up, Fuurouta? This is what it tastes like.
Looking ahead ~ fantasy vs reality
One hears the phrase ‘fan pandering’ or ‘otaku pandering’ tossed around as slurs against certain anime now and then, as a shorthand for a show marketing to the lowest common denominator. But really, with so much of the industry by nerds for nerds, it’s just the natural course of the industry. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; knowing your audience and being able to appeal to them is an advantage. And, occassionally, you get a show like Concrete Revolutio, where the producers genuinely seem to be their own biggest fans. Not only does Concrete Revolutio celebrate anime as fiction, there’s a great love in it for all parts of the Japanese nerd-dom. Everything in it is a reference to something, and while this second episode may not have the same outrageous enthusiasm as the first one did about Ultraman, there’s still the sense that, even with the heavy themes, someone on the staff is having a lot of fun. The 60’s was a great choice to set this show in (notice their dedication to 4:3 graininess and the artefacts of the time, too); in the West, it was the Silver Age of comic books, and I’m sure something similar was going on in the Japanese imagination as well (to cross the two, Fuurouta to the Superhuman Bureau would be the Flash to the Justice League). Giant insects, goofy poltergeists and transforming aliens definite feel at home here.
The 60’s was generally a horrible time for everybody, but that’s probably also what drove some of the very idealistic media of the time. ‘The people’, such as they were, were beginning to awaken to civil consciousness, and there was still a general feeling that things could be better than this. Thus the clash between idealism of the age and the ruthless cynicism that is always the ruling paradigm. More to our shared humanity than realpolitik, or something. And here’s Concrete Revolutio, blatantly a comic book universe, with good and evil as clear as it could be, and still struggling with morality vs expediency. ‘Fight against reality and make fantasy the victor,’ the tagline was. Fantasy seems to be the underdog here, but that just makes it more enticing to root for.