「君はまだ歌えるか」 (Kimi wa Mada Utaeru ka)
“Can You Still Sing?”
The defining nature of Concrete Revolutio is chaos. Whether you managed to keep up or not, though, let us agree that Concrete Revolutio has a method to its madness, and uses its chaos to its advantage. Now that we are at the finale, it is more clear than ever that everybody in Concrete Revolutio has a gambit, some easier to see through than others. Jirou’s was obvious, since he was basically just trying to redo Shinjuku, but on a larger scale. Also, we already know that Concrete Revolutio draws a lot of inspiration from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, so if you’ve read that you would understand what Jirou intended instantly. Jaguar’s gambit, though, was less straightforward, though we know that he’s always been of the more decent sort so we could have guessed that he had something up his sleeve. What I didn’t expect at all, though, was the Imperial Ads guy sudden villainous backstory. We could probably have guessed that he’s a nihilistic megalomaniac—those are a dime a dozen—but he also one ups Jirou as the nuclear bomb baby by being something of the Tunguska event baby. I suppose it’s more or less appropriate, since he ultimately plays Jirou’s foil (or Jirou plays his foil, whatever). It’s just that I was thinking he was more the Lex Luthor type, as opposed to the fallen Superman type. I don’t mind, since all I really wanted was that someone punch him in the smarmy face before this was all over, and the epic fight scene we got gave us plenty of opportunities. Considering the convoluted, grey morality of Concrete Revolutio perhaps the gratification of good socking evil is too straightforward, but I’ll take it.
Speaking of grey morality, let’s go back to Watchmen. For those of you who haven’t read the graphic novel or watched the movie (spoilers incoming!), Watchmen was written before the collapse of the USSR, during the Cold War. Then, the world was still fearing the two superpowers sparking World War III and ending civilisation as we knew it. Fun times. In the Watchmen world, though, there are superheroes, but they are only there to be deconstructed. Thus it’s not heroism or destruction of ‘the great evil’ that saves humanity from nuclear annihilation, but paranoia about a possible alien attack that makes the USSR and the USA work together. That is, fear and hate win the day, even if it is for the greater good.
Concrete Revolutio ends up more optimistic than Watchmen, definitely, but it does certainly do variations of the theme. Superhumans—heroes—seem only to be able exist if there are also villains. It is evil that defines good, not the other way around. Jirou only calls himself a superhuman, finds his heroic resolve, because he identifies a villain that he must fight. There is still a pessimistic version of moral objectivity here. Concrete Revolutio debates throughout its entire run about what exactly is ‘good’, but it is certain about ‘evil’, and there is plenty of it. The cynical conclusion: good is the fantasy, evil is the reality.
The tagline of Concrete Revolutio though, was to ‘fight against reality and make fantasy the victor’. And, in this finale, fantasy wins. In the stories that come after the Choujin Gensou, Jirou is remembered as a hero. Certainly, superhumans aren’t very compatible with reality. Concrete Revolutio has always made a point, with its strongly historical setting, that reality kinda sucks. The wars, the death, the clashes of private interests are messy, violent, and unpleasant. Superhumans must have no part in that. The very idea of a Superhuman Bureau is flawed. Superhumans cannot be a faction. They cannot be a people. They cannot be something real. Otherwise, they are exploited and twisted, like they were throughout Concrete Revolutio. Instead, they must remain in secret, as rumours and legends, only emerging to combat evil. Then, their ideals live on forever. Jirou will return someday, to fight comedy aliens, but until then he has to remain as only a shadow. The myth of Jirou inspires all the boys and girls, but Jirou the fleshy meatbag was a very flawed human, who’s mostly confused, who can’t keep any of his promises. Compare him to King Arthur, also foretold to return in Britain’s time of need. Arthur the man was a mere mortal of many failings. But Arthur, the once the future king, is a hero.
Final Impressions ~ Chronically underappreciated
So, was this a good finale? Hell yeah. Sure, Concrete Revolutio always moves way too fast, and leaves a mess when doing so (a strangely coherent mess, as we will discuss later) but this finale brought everything together. There were no loose ends, and everything was internally consistent, except for that guy who keeps forgetting he can manipulate metal. I had some doubts last week as to whether Concrete Revolutio could pull it off, but it managed to do everything a finale needed to do: wrap everything up, and send it off with a bang. The fight scenes, I must say, featured some rather stellar animation (look at all the frames in the final punch!). While the art of Concrete Animation is not always the most consistent, I believe that was a deliberate choice to make the show look more retro. With the animation always preserving the BONES quality, I’m willing to give Concrete Revolutio the benefit of the doubt regarding style.
But finales do not live by aesthetics alone. All these characters bearing all these agendas who have been driving the plot also need to work. The superhuman war is important and all, but what Concrete Revolutio has always more been about the internal conflict. The smary Imperial Ads CEO is villainous for his lack of internal conflict, instead just hopped up on his power and his schemes. In a show about moral relativism, being so cocksure is always Bad™. Fortunately, the rest of the major cast were nuanced characters, to Concrete Revolutio‘s credit. In particular, I want to draw attention to Emi, whom I’ve always had mixed feelings for, in an entirely good way. She was never particularly heroic, nor was she particularly villainous; she had her own things going on, and she played to them. She is at once a conflicted character, having to balance her love for Jirou, her duties to her people, and her own ideals for youkai/human coexistence, yet a strong character, because she makes her decisions and does her things, contrasting Jirou who’s just a big ball of doubt. Which makes Emi’s ending all the more bittersweet, as all the things she wanted only accentuates all the things she loses. If I was still doing my Lord of the Rings metaphor this would be the part where the elves sail west, which was also a bittersweet end to their tale.
I wanted to highlight Emi, but other characters were plenty strong in Concrete Revolutio as well, and indeed this show is full of strong elements. I fear, though, that Concrete Revolutio will never have the popular success as I think it deserves. It is an extremely clever shows, packed with substance, but in doing so it demands a lot from its viewers. Concrete Revolutio moves very fast, and never explains anything, but it gets away with it because it expects us to already know a lot of things. All the literary and historical allusions give the many seemingly disparate parts of Concrete Revolutio together and provide vital context to the overarching narrative, so if one doesn’t pick up on those they will only see a mess, and be unable to recognise the patterns in the chaos. I think I followed along well enough, but I’m also aware there is much I may have missed, since I’m not The Nerd Omnscient. I can’t imagine someone newer to anime, unfamiliar with certain tropes, or with less interest in history being able to really get into Concrete Revolutio. It’s definitely a good thing that Concrete Revolutio has so much ambition, and has such respect for its viewers and never condescends on them, but those who get lost in its relentless pacing are the casualties of its format.
This is why I describe Concrete Revolutio as ‘underappreciated, simply because there is so much there. It is, I think, as completely packed as an anime can be. I suspect that I may be underappreciating Concrete Revolutio despite how much I’m stumping for it, since there’s bound to be lots of smart references that went over my head. In a some years time, perhaps we will look back on Concrete Revolutio with some reflection and judge again whether it was a brilliant show or too clever by half. For now, though, I would recommend Concrete Revolutio to anyone who wants more from their anime than just battles and explosions, as vital watching. No, battles and explosions are great, but Concrete Revolutio takes all those battles and all those explosions, the entire geekdom, and connects them all with a unifying depth. Such a feat needs to be seen to be believed, let alone appreciated.