「力、己にこそ宿る」 (Chikara, onore ni koso yadoru”)
“Power Is What Dwells Within Your Own Self”
OK, I’m stumped.
I realize that I went a bit overboard with last week’s Planet With write-up. I mean, if any anime episode this year deserved 1500 words that was certainly the one. It was a masterpiece of storytelling, that’s the most obvious takeaway, but also one of the most intellectually dense and challenging anime eps I’ve seen in years. But pieces like that are, quite honestly, exhausting to write – they leave me feeling totally drained in their aftermath. I probably only have so many of those bullets left in the chamber at this point…
So here we are, then, at the close of another blockbuster Planet With episode, left to try and make sense of it in
7 8 paragraphs or less (I mean, ideally…). I’ll say up front – there are elements here I found a bit baffling, but I’ll get to those (hopefully) shortly. First off, some housekeeping, courtest Yousuke’s dream. Apparently he’s the younger brother of Benika’s sempai who was killed by the child with the gun, which does explain a lot. Yousuke loves Benika, Benika loved his brother.
When Benika is sealed after her defeat, it’s Yousuke’s brother who she dreams of – but not only him. And Benika’s fate seemingly seals that of Earth, as Yousuke decides that with her gone to him, the only path is to seal the planet and then, himself. There’s an almost unutterably sad moment before he goes to finish the job he started where Yousuke gently rests his hand on Benika’s cheek and whispers “I’m sure there’s no room in her dream for me.” But there is – he’s in there too, along with his brother. The thing, is, though, it doesn’t matter – it’s what Yousuke believes that matters. And as we see that recurring theme repeat itself – personal feelings pushing humans to make decisions for the entire species – Yousuke takes to the skies to seal his planet and people.
And so he does – the opposition of Torai, Haru and Miu brushed aside pretty easily. The imagery of the sealing device’s arms encircling the Earth in their cold and terrible embrace is as iconic as it gets, even for mecha anime. And the result is horrifying – a soundless, dead Earth is the result, with humanity forever sealed in dreams. Only Souya is immune – and he has no problem guessing the reason why. There’s another motivated player at the table, and for whatever reason, it needs Souya to be the one to play its cards.
Here’s where things get difficult for me, even as some elements become clearer than ever. First of all, Planet With’s connection to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End has never been more clear – and next week’s episode title, “Karelien and Rashaverak”, seals the deal. I feel as if one shouldn’t discuss that novel too much here, as that is in effect a potential spoiler, but in the Sealing Faction and the People of Paradise one can certainly see parallels with Overlord and Overmind. As for the title itself, I would argue that those parallels are less direct than they might seem – but again, I won’t probe that deeply here.
The baffling part to me is what to make of Souya’s decision, and the way it’s presented in the episode. To me, what’s happened here is quite clear – the People of Paradise have blackmailed Souya into fighting the Dragon for them. “Fight the dragon, I’ll unseal the Earth” – quid pro quo. But as omnipotent as these beings are, why do they need this Siriusian child to do their dirty work for them? Even setting that very obvious question aside, things this week seem to have evolved into a very black-and-white scenario – Pacifists good, Sealers bad, Souya rousingly deciding to fight for the former. Right?
Well – I don’t know, such clear-cut answers are not the stock and trade of Mizukami series. The contradiction is implicit in a phrase literally used in the episode, where Sensei is referred to as a “pacifist warrior”. Huh? I don’t doubt that what the sealing device did was a terrible thing – and even after Souya gave the people a choice, it seems most elected to live in reality rather than a dream. “Even if in reality my home is gone, reality is still my home!” What a beautiful, elegant turn of phrase – and I don’t doubt the underlying truth of Souya’s motivation here.
But can it really be that simple – it’s fine for Souya to fight, he just needed to find the right cause to fight for? For most mecha series that would be more than adequate, but it just doesn’t feel like Mizukami somehow. It’s a very conventional development, and even if it means I’m holding Planet With to an unreasonably high standard, I don’t want it to be conventional, ever. There has to be more to what we saw this week than it appears on the surface – other shoes waiting to drop, shattering our reassuring notions of what’s right and what’s wrong as they fall. Next week’s is an episode that’s going to speak volumes about what Mizukami-sensei is trying to say with this series, and even if I find myself unsure as to the answers, I’m used to that with him. Bring it on – in the Water God I trust.