「力、己にこそ宿る」 (Chikara, onore ni koso yadoru)
“Power Is What Dwells Within Your Own Self”
Wow, there’s a lot going on here. I mean, seriously – Planet With is revealing itself to be a TARDIS of mecha anime. It just doesn’t seem possible to cram as much emotional and intellectual complexity into 22 minutes of plot as eps like this one do, even for Mizukami Satoshi – but the evidence is right there, on our screens. Yes, it does make one ponder wistfully just what he could do if he had say, 24 weeks instead of 12 – and yes, with that extra time he could craft an even more exquisite and multi-faceted gem. But that he doesn’t need that extra time – that he can still do what he’s doing, even given one cour – is the real testament to his genius.
I’m not sure what to make of Benika’s comment about Ryuuzouji Takashi searching for the stuff inside the vials with divining rods, but the rest of her conversation with Torai-san was more straightforward. Yes, clearly, there is a latent power in humanity that gives them the potential to become an aggressive warrior species like their cousins from Souya’s world. And once unlocked, as that power was with the Paladins by whatever was in those vials, it can never truly be sealed again. The plot implications for the characters in the story are fairly obvious, but the more important element here are the implications for the larger questions Planet With is asking. And all the events in this week’s episode lead neatly into each other, bringing those questions ever more clearly into focus.
It certainly doesn’t surprise that Torai turned down Benika’s request to join the Sealing Faction – his motivations here are entirely different from hers. And that, in fact, is the most important theme of the entire episode, not just as it applies to them, but all the major players in the cast. Even Benika couches it in terms of “betraying humanity” – she knows full well the true nature of the cause she’s thrown in with, even if she doesn’t yet know all the details of their operation. Those don’t really matter to her – and again, that’s a major theme of the episode as a whole.
Meanwhile, Nozo-san – whose motivations seem to be about as straightforward as anyone in the cast – has taken it on herself to give Souya-kun a little “gratitude tour” of the town he’s saved. It starts out pretty disastrously (like most of the things she does) but I think she realizes the dark place he’s currently in, even if she doesn’t fully grasp why. Unfortunately Shiraishi-san can’t resist the urge to meddle on their “date”, and while this is mostly played for comedy there’s certainly a deeper meaning implicit in her actions. Just leave those kids the hell alone – would that be so hard? The answer to that is apparently yes – because sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong is pretty much the raison d’être of the Sealing Faction.
The Generalissimo, meanwhile, has a new interpreter in Yousuke-san, even as Benika seems to have more or less installed herself as the new Takashi. He (I could listen to Wakamoto and Koyama bark and meow all day, seriously) at least wants to try and understand Benika before he gives her the keys to the doomsday device, which is about the most left-handed compliment I could give him but as generous as he deserves. Wan-kamoto teleports the three of them to an onsen under the old notion of shedding inhibitions along with clothes, and she tells them of how she came to distrust power – using the very “if you saw a gun in the hands of a child” analogy that’s kind of at the very heart of the Sealers’ manifesto.
I still don’t know why Shiraishi’s hypnosis doesn’t work on Nozo (maybe it really is just the glasses) but I’m heartily glad it doesn’t. The whole bit with Souya being snapped out of his trance by his senses realizing that Shiraishi’s boobs were in the wrong place was hilarious, a classic Mizukami lowbrow moment in the midst of a huge dump of philosophical subtlety. But in the bigger picture this final sequence of the episode is kind of a distillation of the Platonic essence of mecha anime into about five minutes of screen time, as Mizumai pretty much breaks down every thematic element of the genre into its essential nature with all the artifice stripped away. And it’s a glorious thing to see.
If I may digress for a moment this, it seems to me, is the ultimate expression of Mizukami’s peculiar talent as a writer – to take what’s complicated and/or messy and make it elegant and simple. Souya is every boy who’s ever been forced to get into the cockpit and fight when he doesn’t understand why or simply doesn’t want to – except in this case, everything is straightforward and makes perfect sense. Souya’s whole world is gone – his family, his friends, everything he loved (it’s by no means irrelevant, either, to consider Souya’s tearful speech in the context of his race and planet supposedly being evil). Everyone around him – including his saviors, Ginko and Sensei – are using him to their own ends. And he’s just sick of it, plain and simple. He doesn’t want to fight anymore, doesn’t want to choose sides – and no one ever chooses his side.
Except one person does, and that’s Nozo. Well, and Torai too, to his credit – but more on him shortly. Nozo isn’t aware of the galactic geopolitic that’s playing out here, and probably wouldn’t much care about it if she was. She just loves Souya, and sees that he’s in terrible pain and needs someone in his corner. So she takes it on herself to be that person, and because her perspective is the most uncluttered and focused she’s the one who ends up doing exactly the right thing. She doesn’t have to be anything more than that – an alien, a princess, a latent powerful esper – because being that person makes her noble and important and that’s enough. And thank goodness for Souya that he has someone like her in his corner.
And here, after a thousand words of babble trying to capture what was an elegant and spartan episode of anime, is the nut of where I think we are with Planet With. Everything – and I do mean everything – is personal. And therein lies the source of the problem. Beings should not be in the position to make decisions which affect the fate of entire species, because everyone is driven by their personal biases, a prisoner of their own experiences. Benika, Takashi, Haruna, Yousuke (you can’t tell me he isn’t in this because he’s in love with Benika) all of them – the cause is secondary to their own demons driving them forward (even Torai, though the nature of his personal demons – save others at all costs – makes his actions more selfless). That’s the irony of the sealing devices working on the basis that they do, because they exploit that to fulfil their own purpose – a purpose which Benika immediately sets out to inflict on the town after the Generalissimo gives her the power to do so.
That leads us, finally, to the People of Paradise, whose representative makes his appearance just as Souya is refusing to fight Benika, much to her disappointment. And that of Shiraishi, too – I don’t think it’s trivial that the Sealing Faction is so insistent on a so-called “level playing field” (it betrays a vulnerability in their position, I’d bet). The POPs are still a mystery of course, but early impressions are that they’re the same as everybody else – they want to exploit Souya to do for them what they can’t do for themselves. What better way to goad him into fighting than to tell Souya that the Dragon is alive (sleeping on the dark side of the moon)?
It seems to me that whoever the being that looks like Souya’s Onii-chan is, he’s trying to couch in nobility a simple act of exploitation. He’s playing on Souya’s lust for revenge still motivating him – in what way is that noble or enlightened? Just leave the kids the hell alone. That, in fact, is one dog in this fight – the idea that intelligent species and beings need to be given the freedom to make their own choices (and mistakes). The Pacifist Faction would claim to ascribe to it, but their actions say otherwise – and in doing so, they highlight why this dilemma is so very vexing by calling into question the very nature of pacifism. Is there not a time where beings of conscience have to interfere to fight evil and protect the powerless? But then, who defines evil, anyway? And how much wrong is one willing to overlook if it’s committed in the service of right? These are not easy questions, any of them – and I’m fascinated to see how Mizukami is going to tackle them in the final four episodes.
OK, after my my comment last week about Mizukami hiding things in plain sight, I’m calling it now about Nozo-san and her inability to be hypnotized – I reckon she’s not human either, and will play some big role towards the end of the series.
Beautiful nod towards the original GitS movie in the scene with Ginko escaping from the lab, though.
Yup. Mizukami is such an anime fanboy – it’s a big part of his charm.
I’d expect it’s more likely that she’s just another human whose psychic powers are awakening and she ends up serving as an example of humanity’s potential to use their power for peace.
Ghost in the Shell, is that you?