Coming into the finale of Seikai Suru Kado, I can’t tell for sure whether it has gone completely off the rails, or if I just haven’t been paying enough idea. I thought the Prime Minister of Japan was swallowed by Kado last week, but here he was in this episode, with no ado. I’m still not sure why traveling to the anisotropic would destroy what makes us essentially human, except that it just does. And I missed the part where human + anisotropic = omnipotent god child. Since I really could pick at the finale all day, and I’m not sure if it’s just me, I think it would behoove as all to take a more holistic look at Kado instead, and try to puzzle out the series from there. Therefore, straight to the finale impressions.
Final Impressions ~ I think I’m missing something
People watch anime for all sorts of reasons. An asinine statement, perhaps, but it’s important to remember that the medium is broad, and even amongst ardent fans (those who would read an anime blog, for example) there would be a wide array of reasons why they consume Japanese animation. With all the shows that are available to us each season, we can afford to pick and to choose a bit. I don’t know how you folks do it, but as an anime blogger, I try to sample a spread of the season, and so I let each show sell me on why I should watch it. That’s what pilot episodes usually do; they essentially make a pitch to the viewer, attempting to quickly communicate to us what the show’s about and why it’s good before our attention span expires.
Most anime will try to do this. Even if they don’t do the hard sell, they usually at least take some time to flag what sort of show it’s going to be. That’s because we usually make some broad-stroke judgments on what a story is going to be like just from the introduction. Humans are for the most part pretty good with stories—by the time we get to anime-watching age we’ll have come across hundreds of them, whether in books, or in oral traditions, or in passing from some mate about catching a fish this big. Therefore an introduction doesn’t just have to grab our eyeballs to stop us from changing the channel (or… close the browser window? whatever kids do with technology these days?), it also has to telegraph what the show will be about because if it doesn’t we will make assumptions anyway and make watching decisions based on that. It’s like what they taught us in Essay Writing 101: the intro should set out the argument running through the entire piece, so that everything said from the point is looked at through that context. Sure, anime, unlike an essay, may work in a big twist or whatnot, but even then there would be no twist without something established.
All that was a very long-winded way of saying that I came away from the first few episodes of Seikai Suru Kado with an idea of what it was doing, and I don’t think it unreasonable that I did. And I think that, whatever Kado was to begin with, it eventually threw that all away and went in a very different direction. I’ve been trying to justify that decision in my head, and I can’t really find a good way to do it. I mean, I don’t mind big plot twist per se. Laser swords are cool. And I had been saying from the beginning that it’s only natural that Za has his own agenda, benign or otherwise, and he will have to reveal it at some point. What I didn’t predict, though, was this agenda eventually undermining everything else the series had been about before that point.
At first, the Za landing in Japan was about reacting to a non-hostile alien encounter, about diplomatic and bureaucratic responses, about the world society being confronted with sudden new technology, about balancing the thrill of advancement with caution about its dangers. It was about humanity, our place in the universe, and it being shaken. The scope was wide, there was a lot of underlying philosophy to discuss, and as science fiction Kado asked many interesting questions about about technology and geopolitics. I thought laying out those uncertainties was going to be the main intent of Kado—after all, as Za said himself at the beginning, the only right answer is to constantly question.
For most stories, the scope expands as it goes, but for Kado, it’s almost as if it shrinks. Global politics eventually take a backseat. Then the Japanese government basically abdicates all governing. Then eventually all of humanity is reduced being just Shindou (even though he was supposed to be representing Za while Tsukai was supposed to represent humanity but we forgot about all the formal arrangements in no time). And the entire Za affair is solved not by any united human effort, but by another physical god with a nuke. By the way, that was a stupid plan with too many uncontrollable factors that just happened to work, but let’s be as generous as possible and say that Kado was trying to play the human angle. Maybe something about the unique thing about humanity that Za was trying to grasp—what we inevitably lump under something like ‘the soul’—can only be seen on an the individual level. And I wouldn’t mind the human angle, if only Kado had spent more time developing it earlier. Shindou is very bland overall, never managed to establish much romantic chemistry with Tsukai other than one-sided blushing, and never really justified the unwavering loyalty of his friend who raised his kid, single dad, for 16 years. Yet this entire finale hinged on those things, and without the development lacked the maximum emotional impact.
It felt to me that in the end the two halves of the show ended up as very different stories, and the second undercut the first. It certainly didn’t have to, it just ended up doing so, with much of the philosophy espoused in the beginning left by the wayside or contradicted entirely. Certainly, at times Kado tried to remind us of its philosophical underpinnings even in its second half, but the effort, in the greater context of the show, sounded almost farcical. For example, you have the journalist saying that all that matters for him is the truth, which is a noble sentiment until you remember that he spectacularly failed at finding any of it, too distracted by Za’s shiny Sansa to ask him any questions of import. And we have Shindou’s philosophy about negotiating, that it’s about both sides getting what they want, except both sides end up dead and nobody really gets anything they want. I think that counts as a fail?
Maybe we’re supposed to look at Kado ironically? That it is in fact making a cynical point about media easily sidetracked by sensationalism instead of truth, or about the naiveté of Shindou’s thinking. But it also ends on a positive note, so that shouldn’t be it either? It could just be me—I don’t get it. Make no mistake, Kado was for me a very interesting show, and I enjoyed many aspects of it. But I wished to come out of it inspired, with some new ideas about the human condition. Instead, I find myself mostly bemused and unconvinced. Perhaps Kado is just a strong piece of evidence to support an old criticism about science fiction: it’s very good at asking questions, but much poorer at actually answering them.