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Phase 13 -- Scenery With A Rocket
Or: Hachimaki’s Mom Says “Ara” A Lot

In a way, this episode serves as a direct follow-up to Episode Two, in that that one established Hachimaki’s character and this one shows how far he’s come since then, or at least directly pulls on those threads. That isn’t to say that he’s the only one with character growth, though, since Yuri is the one that gets the big monolog at the end, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

The most obvious point of comparison between the two episodes is the fixation on Hachimaki’s spaceship, his dream and the reason he’s in space. It’s first reintroduced in a chance encounter with one of his old high school buddies, someone who has settled down and now has a wife and a child to take care of, which both pulls the relationship thread a little since he expects Hachi and Ai to be doing the same, leading to an almost-kiss, and also again provides another alternative for him. “You can be happy like this too,” the show presents this as.

It’s then expanded in the motorcycle drive where Hachi, with a bit more storytelling flourish, basically describes the moment in the ED where he drives his motorcycle towards the rocket launch (told you these things were important!). “I saw that and knew that I wanted it,” Hachi says, and not to spoil a major character moment coming up, but the language here certainly helps set that up. Instead, let’s move on to the last moment in the rule of threes: its direct challenge by Hachi’s brother, Kyutaro, where, in an argument over the brother’s dream to build rockets, Hachi is met with “You got complacent! You settled down the first chance you got!” which confirms my read from Episode Two, so that’s nice.

In any case, this moment, perhaps obviously, shows the contrast between the two siblings. Kyotaro’s dream of building a rocket and taking a day trip to Mars is just as childlike as Hachimaki’s dream of owning one, but at least Kyotaro is working for it by building rockets. The entire A-plot of the episode is dedicated to that purpose. At the same time, what does “working towards owning a rocket” even mean besides, you know, just working? Again, that doesn’t seem to be working out for Hachi.

Kyotaro’s struggles to get his rocket to fly strait also neatly segue into the other bit I mentioned: the part where Yuri states another thesis of the show out loud. Planetes is very interested in the interconnectedness of all things. A montage of a younger Yuri’s travels demonstrates this thusly, as he visits Buddhist temples and other mystics/mystical sites in his search for meaning. The answer Yuri comes up with at the end of his character development (signified by leaving his compass behind because of course it is) is that, just because there is no clear boundary between the Earth and Space, there is similarly no clear boundary between any two other things. We saw a light version of this in the previous episode, with each person unaware how their actions were impacting any others, and yet they all had to happen for each other person to act.

I’m probably doing a bad job of explaining this, so I’ll instead draw from an example I first heard from Alan Watts: a thing is defined just as much by the environment as it is as itself. Imagine a scene where a spawning fish leaps out of the river water and into the waiting open mouth of a bear. A common interpretation of this event involves three separate objects: the river, the fish, and the bear, but the bear has the quality “eats fish” and “roams the river”, the fish has “spawns using the river” and “is hunted by bears” and the river is defined itself by the bear’s and the fish’s use of it, among every other quality of every other animal and every other location. Like Yuri, I’m not sure if I understand all of it myself, but I hope that works for the show’s purposes. There will be other explanations by the show later on as other characters come to realize this same lesson.

A brief montage covers the rest of the show. Arvind, Fee, and Phillipe visit their families, Edel spends her break studying, and they have a brand new Toy Box to look forward to when they arrive back. That’s where we’ll join them next time.

-r

Next time: Okay I know I already said that but there’s also a resolution to the will they or won’t they stuff.

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Edited by radio414

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Phase 14 -- Turning Point
Or: They Will

So yeah they’re dating now, like, it still takes a bit longer to get there because of some nonsense but yeah, they are actually dating by the end of this episode, so that’s nice to finally get out of the way. Romance is kind of the episode’s main focus, though, so it does need a little bit more examination than that for this post than a brief aside at the end of last week’s.

To be more specific, the show is again turning its focus towards the capitalist landscape and how it affects the individual, or individuals in this case. I’m probably stepping outside my wheelhouse to say this and I’m sure there are counterexamples, but romance in the traditional sense flourishes when the two participants regard each other as equals, or at least without care for the labels foisted upon them by the world. Countering this, of course, is corporate structure, which not only has a hierarchy put in place (even ignoring the much-discussed managers and executives ruling over the actual labor of the company), but also basically encourages a dangerous social game as well, a la “Who knows who, who’s related, therefore who can’t be messed with,” the sort of thing that Arvind worries about basically every time he’s been a major player in an episode.

There are three romances going on in this episode, though. The first is, obviously, Hachimaki and Ai’s relationship finally turning the corner and becoming official, sealed with the kiss that they weren’t able to do back on the beach. Ironically, despite the major focus, theirs would be the one most likely to bloom under this read, given that the only hierarchal obstacle is that Hachi has been with the company longer. There is something to be said, of course, for the danger of bleeding relationship drama into work (as evidenced every time Hachi and Claire are in the same scene together) but still.

The second is the one in Third Division between the scientist and the receptionist, an example of that encouraged set of hierarchies: a receptionist is generally regarded as lesser than a scientist (though maybe that’s my own biases showing here), but the receptionist is the daughter of Third Division’s Chief, and he, of course, throws a fit so that’s the social web aspect, which serves as the throughline of the episode, both inspiring Arvind’s brief office romance ban and being the main conflict in the episode’s third act. Love wins, of course, because that’s the solution Planetes has for the conflicts it has presented even if the only character saying so so far is Ai (and maybe Yuri): people together are stronger than anything that might hold them down.

Finally, there is the introduction of Claire and Hakim as an item, which isn’t going to show up as much onscreen since neither of them are major characters just yet, but it is important to note that it happens now, and particularly important to note the final line of that scene: “I suppose I’ll never be one of the nobility.” There is a sense here that this is why Claire has been taking on all this extra work: to earn that respect, and though she has earned Dolph’s because that’s what he values, other higher-ups at Technora have either already turned on her or have started to after her work with Temara and his space suit undermined the orders they gave her. That’s her conflict now, and something that, through implication at the end of this scene, we can see endears Hakim to her.

This is the first episode of Planetes’ second half, and we can see elements like this -- things that set up the show’s future developments -- everywhere in the episode. Chang-shen is seen reading a brochure for the Von Braun (oh hey it’s that name again, but we’ll still get to that when we get to that), a spaceship that’s going to Jupiter, and it’s similarly mentioned when executives are discussing Claire’s recent performance. The title “Turning Point,” like many episode titles, has multiple meanings, and many of them are in regards to this. We’re still not abandoning the episodic nature of the show just yet, though. It is starting to blur the line between that and serial, but then again, maybe it was always blurred?

And isn’t the show about blurring all these boundary lines anyway?

-r

Next time: For Edelgard’s episode, she wields a gun.

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Edited by radio414

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Phase 15 -- In Her Case…
Or: Okay Technically It’s An Anchor Launcher Not A Gun But Still

Before we begin, for those watching along, Edel has a brief monolog in the hotel room describing past experiences with sexual assault and a general loss of autonomy. Nothing is depicted and I wouldn’t say it’s graphic, but it is there, so there’s that content warning.

Most of the side plots in this episode are ones already covered in this blog, whether that’s Ai and Hachimaki’s first date (which strikes down any more relationship drama by having Cheng-Shin be a good sport about things, even if there’s drama elsewhere when Claire sees the same date and realizes Hachi is moving on with his life), to Gigalt’s struggles with his own disease, to Claire’s growing realizations about the nature of Technora and her bonding with Hakim. That isn’t to say that any of these should be ignored when viewing the episode -- obviously, each thread has merit in its own right -- but it does mean this blog post can spend more time on the main plot, which revolves around Edelgard Riviera and her life before flying up to Seven.

On the surface, the information we learn about Edel in this episode seems to run counter to the read I’ve been developing of the show thus far. She is someone who is, in fact, putting in the hard work and is four months away from achieving her primary goal and hopes to achieve even more after that, something parts of my read say is impossible the way things are now. Space and search for capital are both unfeeling, crushing entities, after all. But at the same time, one point I have come back to on multiple occasions is the idea that it is still worth it to try. It is still worth it in both the show’s eyes and mine to keep living as best one can. So far, this has largely been through characters resolving to do so in the future, such as Sia’s parents, for example, who choose against suicide (a pretty direct moral if ever there was one). In comparison, Edelgard shifts the tense back to the present (she is trying) or even further back (she has been trying for some time now).

Complimenting this read is that Edel’s dreams aren’t particularly lofty. That isn’t to say they aren’t meaningful, especially to her, but the comparison between “becoming a full-time employee” and “owning my own spaceship” is certainly noticeable. That being said, there are a few points of comparison in the show, the first being Temara, who along with several like-minded El Tanikan scientists, managed to get a spacesuit to pass INTO protocols (even if his other dreams are certainly loftier). The other, though, is Hachimaki’s brother Kyotaro, who is trying to build rockets, and used his ambition to attack Hachimaki’s apparent lack.

That last bit is actually brought up again this episode when the Von Braun spaceship passes Hachi’s notice. “They’ll probably see I’m from Half Section and kick me off,” he says. This, to my memory, I could be wrong, is the first time we’ve seen this specific part of Hachimaki’s character. Before this, it was simply told to us or otherwise alluded to, so it’s nice to have that established in the face of things to come.

Speaking of character development, though, I want to give a quick shout out to Ai in this episode for her exact motivations in putting herself between Edel’s anchor launcher and Sasha. In an earlier episode, where she might have indeed sided with Edelgard’s ex-to-be, stating that love, if it exists, must always win out. We saw her do something similar with the head Flying Squirrel and his lover. Here, though, she puts herself in the way out of worry for what might happen to Edel. Shooting Sasha would inevitably put Edel at the mercy of INTO’s justice system, ruining every other dream of hers but one.

The fact that the side plots weren’t as worth mentioning here is a sign that things are starting to finally get a bit more serial. Next episode is the inciting incident for that (and it even has an on-the-nose title because of course it does) so look forward to that.

-r

Next time: Hachi finally realizes just what space is, also Nono is back!

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Edited by radio414

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Phase 16 -- Ignition
Or: Oh Hey It’s Another Thing From The OP

We’ve been getting a lot of “an analysis of Hachimaki’s character up to this point” episodes, and while maybe there’s a fair critique of the repetition of this particular subject, I would argue that each one has been different in the specifics. In Episode Thirteen, for example, the attack within the show came from Hachimaki’s brother Kyotaro. Before that, it came from coworkers and random strangers. Here, though, it comes from Hachimaki’s inner psyche, represented by the ghostly mirror image appearing in his hallucinations. Each time, the criticism has come from a more intimate place than the last.

Again, the criticism is mostly the same -- Hachimaki’s dream of owning a spaceship is not only naive, he’s not even working towards it in a meaningful capacity. It has evolved a little bit, though, by the time his psyche brings it up, it presents its alternative option in the same breath. “You want to settle down,” the astronaut says. “You want the excuse, ‘if only I didn’t have this disorder, I’d still be up there.’” But I suppose to talk about that more I actually have to talk about the rest of the episode.

The attack on Hachimaki’s sense of self is bolstered by the sheer amount of continuity maintained within this episode. As I mentioned last week, Nono returns and is always fun to see, Ai mentions the Lunar Flying Squirrels having gotten new jobs at an engineering test site, and the main conflict of the episode is very similar to Harry Roland’s, a fact that was both commented on in one of Harry’s monologs (good foreshadowing there) and by Fee this episode. Space, both in the world of Planetes and in real life, is really big, and even worse, it doesn't care about you no matter how much you love it. Hachimaki even gets to exclaim “Space must love me!” right before his world falls apart, just as Roland did.

Because this is an internal issue now, Hachi can’t just stubbornly ignore the problem like he has every other time this has come up. What is the solution, then? Well, at present, Hachi simply rationalizes the existential problem, basically engaging in a form of nihilism. “Yeah, maybe space doesn’t care about me, but everyone else working in space exploration surely has had the same issues, so whatever” is his rationale. You’ll notice, of course, that this isn’t exactly a satisfying answer, though thankfully, the show doesn’t think so either, with Hachimaki’s hallucination promising to return. It does solve the initial conflict, though, so there’s that. He’s almost there.

The catalyst for this revelation is the Tandem Mirror Engine, an experimental device that will power the Von Braun spacecraft, and while I’ve been dancing around the issue this entire series, I’ll be sure to (finally) address that reference next week, especially since it’s not the only Werner Von Braun name reference this show is going to make -- there’s a character named after him too, and he’s about to show up as well. But the scale of the project is massive, and that’s enough for Hachimaki.

-r

Next Time: Werner Locksmith is not the only new named character next episode…

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Edited by radio414

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Phase 17 -- His Reasons
Or: Finally Those Two Guys Show Up

The Space Race was significantly more complicated than most exhibits about the issue tend to present it as. Now seventy years removed from its inciting events, it’s more often portrayed as a friendly bet between the two global hegemons with the resources to do so, but that framing, of course, ignores that it was rather a part of the complicated socio-political maneuvering that made up the Cold War. Even ignoring the demonstration of technological superiority that getting humanity into space would demonstrate, getting into space first was seen as a matter of national security. The race itself came out of intercontinental ballistic missile research, after all. This is not something Planetes ignores -- I’ve written before about how the show considers space exploration a messy subject even despite how the circumstances of its 2076 make it necessary (though still overall good), and we’re going to be seeing that a lot more in upcoming episodes. That being said, there is one aspect that, after so much putting it off, I’d like to talk about now. I am, of course, talking about the influence of Wernher Von Braun.

Well, that second-to-last sentence isn’t entirely true, is it? Both a minor character and a plot-important ship bear his name, not to mention both the V-2 and Saturn V rockets featuring prominently in the OP. It’s difficult to argue that his presence isn’t felt. But at the same time, Werner spent ten years of his life as a member of Germany’s Nazi Party and has admitted to being aware of the atrocities, with additional accounts alleging that he personally picked out prisoners to build the V-2 rockets, and here’s where we get into the complicated issue of legacy because he was perhaps the biggest “get” of the United States’ Operation Paperclip -- a relocation operation moving hundreds of German scientists to work on American projects -- and, as mentioned, designed the Saturn V rocket that eventually took astronauts to the moon. For this, he is considered a hero and an inspiration, and the actions of his past are held to a lesser standard.

That isn’t to say they have gone completely unnoticed. Satirists especially liked to poke fun at this apparent disconnect. Tom Lehrer’s song named after the man famously includes the line “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they go down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher Von Braun” while Mort Sahl similarly made the comment, “I aim for the stars, but sometimes, I hit London.” The titular Doctor Strangelove from Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is also inspired by Operation Paperclip in general and Von Braun in specific, is portrayed by Peter Sellers as a man who, while on the surface is loyal to America, still regresses into Nazi gestures and, occasionally, ideology.

If we are to take Von Braun’s statements that he “felt helpless to do anything” against Germany’s Nazi Party, well, that doesn’t exactly absolve him from blame in my eyes, but, combined with the above portrayals as “a man who only wants to build rockets,” it does lead to an interesting comparison study between him and the fictionalized version of Jiro Horikoshi in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. Jiro Horikoshi designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero plane, used by Japan’s military in World War Two though, like this conception of Von Braun, is really only doing it to design planes. Throughout the movie, there is an implied question: is creation okay if the creator cannot control what it is used for? It is even asked outright in the movie’s final sequence. And the answer the movie comes to is “Yes it is, because creation would be impossible otherwise.”

Now, this conclusion certainly attracted a lot of controversy in the wake of The Wind Rises’ release, but it is also the answer that Planetes has settled on, for good or for ill. There’s been pushback, more recently, about Wernher Von Braun -- more and more people attacking his Nazi background, though interestingly, it frequently seems to stop short of “we shouldn’t have gone to the moon on the backs of Nazi scientists.” It’s more “we really need to talk about how and why this happened.” I’ve tried to do my own small part today.

Fortunately, Wernher Locksmith is not even close to the most likeable character in Planetes, but that’s for after the break to discuss.


I do have to admit some fault here. I typed all that up before watching the episode and now, having watched it, I have to reveal that my memory was a little hazy about a particular detail that I’ve now mentioned time and time again. I said the show doesn’t talk about Wernher Von Braun’s Nazi history, drawing specific attention to the V-2 rocket, and now here the show is making that specific mention. I’m keeping it, obviously, because I think the actual reading of the text is still sound enough, but I did have to make that mention. To be honest, I’m thankful for it, because it does, as mentioned, wrap into that “Space is messy” thesis and therefore strengthens it. Anywho…

 

Watching the way Wernher Locksmith responded to the Tandem Mirror Engine explosion, how he said “we got a lot of useful data out of it,” I’m reminded of Elon Musk’s remarks regarding the several different times one of SpaceX’s rockets has done something catastrophic upon landing. “We got a lot of useful data out of it,” they both say, as if such a disaster is something to be proud of, a mark of a good space engineer. And if you’re already sympathizing with the politics of the show (through the eyes of this blog at least), that’s certainly going to be a mark of criticism, especially when such a line is shown to be a net good in the eyes of at least two characters. But on the other hand, the other key remarked-upon characteristic of Locksmith’s is his lack of humanity. He is a man who, as stated by the text “is a genius who can only love spaceships.” So, to revise this reading, I would reframe Wernher Locksmith as someone Elon Musk -- who is a capitalist desperately trying to disguise that fact with a cult of personality -- wishes they could be seen as.

At the very least, it is implied that Locksmith actually did participate in the Tandem Mirror Engine’s design, so he’s still in some sense participating in the means of production. Also, apparently there’s a scene in the manga where he reveals that the human cost of his efforts weighs down on him, though that’s in a different continuity so it’s more difficult to include here as more than an aside mention.

The other character introduced in the episode is Hachimaki’s father, Goro, whose main purpose is to act as a counterpart to Roland and Hachimaki’s angsts about Space’s destructive power. Even as he estranges himself from every relationship, Goro still yearns to go to space. He may deny it -- he may say he wants to settle down back on Earth -- but by the end of the episode, he is inspired to go to Jupiter. Perhaps too, he is a counterpart to Wernher Locksmith, with how both men love space to the detriment of their humanity. We’d have to go a few more episodes with these two to find out specific differences, though, if we’re to compare them any further.

Meanwhile, Claire is continuing her downward spiral, though her arc involves her saying the thesis statements out loud so there’s less room for analysis. Much of it I’ve said already in this blog -- her background means she’ll never fit in with the executive class, both in her eyes and in the eyes of the preexisting class, and it’s slowly turning into a rejection of the system entirely. Her few positive encounters recently are those with Hakim, a character we’ll finally get to start exploring sooner rather than later.

-r

Next time: The episode is literally called “Debris Section’s Last Day” and I’m not sure I can do a better job than just saying that.

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Edited by radio414

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Phase 18 -- Debris Section’s Last Day
Or: Who’s Going To Keep Space Safe?

I haven’t really talked about Arvind Lavie or Phillipe Myers that much because, well, up to this point, they haven’t done much of note. And that’s okay, I mean, they’re bit characters designed to keep Debris Section from feeling empty -- they barely even show up in the OP. But the show so far has done well to give even such bit characters a little bit of extra screen time to flesh themselves out (even the Lunar Flying Squirrels were shown working on the Tandem Mirror Engine, demonstrating their newfound resolve, though that was tragically cut short). This is that episode, so let’s talk.

Planetes has always had this conflict between the moral and the capital (see: literally every other post on this blag), and every single time up to this point, Arvind and Phillipe have chosen the latter. When rumors were abound that a workplace relationship had upset a Technora higher-up, they chose to ban workplace relationships, for example, or later in that same episode where Arvind tried to stop the rest of Debris Section from saving a doomed science experiment. That being said, they always did so with their own personal motivations in mind. Phillipe is close to retirement and Arvind has seven children back on Earth to take care of. In their own words, neither of them can afford to be fired, and so cannot dare to step out of line (which has its own commentary about how people are held hostage by their jobs, to be sure, see: the American healthcare system). These have also been significantly less moral plights than the one of this episode. A moss experiment, while interesting and worth saving, does not have the same value as seven human lives (especially lives that Arvind and Phillipe know particularly well), so this is the episode for when the chips are down.

This is also the first time INTO has been portrayed as unambiguously evil. That is to say, even in the episode where they intervened in the El Tanika conflict, one could at least rationalize that away. It would involve a good amount of pro-colonialist rhetoric, but you could do it. Same with the statue from the first episode, commemorating peace to a conflict INTO helped start. The debris of this episode, though, is a mine placed by INTO into an orbit that is stated in-canon to be used by Russian and EU transport ships, so not only are they using corporate politics to classify these satellites as debris and then having executives look the other way, they’re doing so in a way that would harm civilians. The rationale would likely be in the interests of space security -- they need these data mines to keep Space Defense Front activity contained, but, well, given that America is twenty years into its Patriot Act with a similar justification for it, one can kind of see what the end result will end up being: further consolidation of INTO’s power and not much in terms of actual deterrence.

Claire says it herself, “You can’t fight the system under its own rules.” It’s in response to Ai trying to reason with the aforementioned director, but it can also be given to any number of situations, some of which will obviously come up in the future as her and Hakim continue to intertwine, but it can just as easily be applied to the resolution of this week’s episode. Arvind doesn’t solve the problem by working within Technora (even when politics has consistently been portrayed as a strength of his), but by escaping it, even symbolically leaving the Toy Box to operate the mechanical arm on another ship. He, inspired by his children, chooses the moral side of the coin. Phillipe (and Edel, we can’t forget her, of course), also does so, stalling as long as possible to make the operation go through. We don’t get to see the fallout from any of this yet, though, because focus does have to shift a bit to make sure the actual title takes its meaning.

This isn’t Debris Section’s last day as a whole, but it is someone’s last day. Hachimaki is leaving the company, but we’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that.

-r

Next time: It’s time to move on to bigger and better things.

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Phase 19 -- Endings Are Always…
Or: Nobody Talks About The Homeless Guy Who Asks Hachimaki If He’s Chinese In The Japanese Language

In many ways, this is Hachimaki at his lowest point. At least, it is his lowest point at this point in the story, a point on a downward slope towards, well, I’ll talk about that in a moment. At the same time, however, by the end of the episode, he has gotten what he wanted; Hachimaki has passed the preliminary exams for the Von Braun Jupiter mission, as has a friendly face in Hakim Ashmead. In terms of where he was at the start of the story, he has definitely achieved some sort of character development.

Everywhere else, too, is going just as well. It was only implied at the end of last episode, but Debris Section gets to keep their jobs, having gained enough publicity from both their experience with the Space Defense Front’s attack and discovering INTO’s mine to avoid being touched for a considerable amount of time. There is even a minor point of hope for the future as Arvind’s kids are mentioned to be miniature celebrities at school -- the children of the area know where their priorities lie, just like Sia or Nono have in episodes prior.

But Hachimaki is also becoming isolated from everyone not named Hakim. Not communicating with Ai has caused them to drift apart, he has an argument with Cheng-Shin about ambition where he definitely says some things he’ll probably want to take back, and he can’t communicate with anyone else because he’s stuck in New Guinea without even a roof to fall asleep under. In a sense, this is the logical conclusion of the argument he made to his shadow self (Persona reference? Jung reference? Who can say?) back in the hospital; you can’t just accept that nothing matters and keep moving forward. By doing so, Hachimaki has become laser-focused on his goal, yes, but the cost is steadily rising.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a necessary sort of pragmatism involved in spaceflight. Werner points it out himself when a practical test goes wrong: you can’t endanger a mission where the whole crew is in danger to save one person from a mishap. They might as well have referenced The Wrath of Khan entirely with its “Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” message. That being said, though, and this is a point Planetes has made time and time again, humanity is not intrinsically built for space. If you cast off everything terrestrial to embark on a seven-year voyage, well, without those things, are you even human? That’s one of the next questions Planetes is about to ask.

Meanwhile, in terms of broader worldbuilding, we yet again see how things are on Earth. Homelessness is rampant enough that there is an entire section of a city basically dedicated to people sleeping on the streets; the police even recommend such an area for Hachimaki to camp out in. The police! There’s also a bit of celebrity involved, with a small reality show made out of a tennis star’s application for the mission. Neither of these points are anything new -- not much has been fabricated out of whole cloth from the world of 2004 -- but it does serve as a brief reminder that such things -- homelessness and the media’s fixation on specific individuals -- aren’t going to go away by waiting.

-r

Next time: Who is taking Hachimaki’s place now that he’s absent from Debris Section?

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Phase 20 -- Tentative Steps
Or: Werner Locksmith Really Likes Gunpla Models, You See

Just as a heads up, the scene where Cheng-shin is returning from the Von Braun tests and meets with Ai escalates to a sexual assault. Nothing graphic, but it’s there and worth warning about.

With that said, now let’s continue with the question I said the show was just about to ask: If you have to cast off everything from earth to go to space, does that mean that you have to cast off your humanity as well? And the answer the show has is yes, not that the characters realize it yet. Gigalt gets a moment to himself after a call with Ai where he reflects on this. “Doesn’t Hachi know every ship needs an anchor?” Really, the rest of the episode is about the characters grappling with their lack of anchor. The only reason Ai called Gigalt in the first place, for example, was because her boyfriend wasn’t contacting her and she needed reassurance from anyone else who might know him better.

Hachi’s lack of an anchor takes up the primary plot of an episode. Even without talking with Ai, even after burning his bridge with Cheng-shin, Hachimaki still finds himself latching onto someone, and that someone is Hakim. From his perspective, they share the same goals. They both want to get on the crew of the Von Braun, and they both are willing to do so by any means necessary. At the same time, though, the veneer surrounding Hakim has started to slip a little bit, at least in terms of what the audience sees is concerned. The episode introduces him by handing off a suspicious object, he takes as long as he is allowed to get to the second round of tests, and he refuses to elaborate on his motives when asked. I’ve mentioned before that many of these characters serve as a reflection of Hachimaki in some way, and Hakim has kind of been an enigma in that regard -- there hasn’t been enough to compare just yet, despite his reintroduction and relationship with Claire. That’s about to change now the link has been made.

Speaking of Claire, though, her anchor, as alluded to by Gigalt in his introduction episode, is her status as part of Control Section, though we’ve seen her fall from such lofty heights since then. Here she is now in Debris Section, and while Ai tries to cheer her up, there is still anger in Claire’s reactions. In previous episodes, she was more blaming herself for her own mistakes, aware of the systematic injustice of it, but not quite internalizing it. Now, though, perhaps because of Ai’s optimism (at the very least, the naiveté of Claire’s situation certainly didn’t help), that frustration has turned towards the system that has cast her aside.

In each case, this episode is more of a transitionary period, one that is starting to set up the thematic elements of the final act. I’d elaborate more on those, but again, this is the sort of show where it’s going to say its thesis out loud, so I’ll talk about it then.

-r

Next Time: Hey remember when that first tandem mirror engine exploded? Someone should probably do something about that…

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Phase 21 -- Tandem Mirror
Or: Time To Start Calling People On Their Bullshit

I don’t think there’s a better sum-up of this episode -- nay, this whole series -- than Claire describing to Ai during one of her particularly naive moments exactly how space development will further widen the gap between the wealthy countries that can go to space and the poorer countries that cannot, and Colin Clifford saying, “Well, that’s how capitalism is supposed to work.” I mean, technically that’s only half the episode, but the other half is basically the same thing but with a different audience and a different intent. The other half is the scene where Hachimaki confronts Hakim, and the show draws a direct comparison between the two by having Claire and Hakim’s final lines be the same: “In the end, you’re just one of the fortunate few.”

That being said, talking about them more probably requires splitting them up, so let’s go chronologically. While both of them are focused on the impact of wealthier countries monopolizing the space race, Claire’s is specifically focused on attacking Ai’s idea of love as a saving force. “When has your love ever saved even one person?” she asks. “It certainly won’t save El Tanika or Manangan.” And yeah, that’s true so far in the show; as mentioned before on the show, the world has not proved very kind to Ai’s love. But Claire is attacking it in a general sense as well. A better way to phrase it would be: Claire is rejecting the very lib “What if we all just tried to get along, to see the common ground we share with other people? It’s so simple, isn’t it?” And it works because, well, yeah she’s kind of right to do so. Societal problems aren’t just going to be solved by free and open dialog, by Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi or whatever. At best -- at best -- they are a starting point, a place to make the issues known, and many would argue we’re already past that point. People are becoming more and more aware of systemic issues, and many have the privilege of not having to do anything about them. They, like Ai, are part of the “fortunate few.”

Hakim is interesting for other reasons. First is in how he’s finally revealed as a member of the Space Defense Front and has been working to join the Von Braun with the key goal of sabotaging the mission. There’s a retroactive implication that he’s been a member for some time, both in reflecting on his past actions and also the reincorporation of his “Do you know of a country called Manangan?” speech, which now reads less like a statement of intent but more of a reassurance to himself that what he’s doing is both good and necessary. Still, it also means that the “Hakim and Hachimaki are similar” comparison I made is what is attacked here. In Hakim’s eyes, such a comparison is impossible. They can’t be similar. Despite Hachimaki’s improved drive since coming out of the hospital, when push comes to shove, he’s still not entirely devoted to his chosen path. He still deals with his inner cosmonaut, and he’s unable to fire a wire anchor into Hakim’s chest to save the Tandem Mirror Engine. It’s a nice counterpoint to Ai -- Hachi is reliant on the Von Braun, absolutely needs it to succeed, but is unable to defend it.

At the same time, I still stand by the Hakim-Hachimaki comparison. When push finally comes to shove, Hachimaki doesn’t put down his weapon, he wheels it around and (I would argue) is about to pull the trigger when the explosion goes off. This is the line that Planetes refuses to cross in its messaging. Violence may be the language of the oppressed, but that doesn’t mean you’re in the right for being violent. To do so falls short of its other messaging, but that’s more of a topic for later episodes. For now, though, it’s another step towards casting off one’s humanity, another way one isolates themselves from everyone else on Earth.

-r

Next time: Hakim and Hachimaki’s relationship is not the only one that’s taken a turn for the worse.

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Phase 22 -- Exposure
Or: All The Truths Come Out

An interesting feature of this episode is that, despite this being Hachimaki’s nadir, his lowest point where everything and everyone seems to be turning against him -- from his girlfriend revealing that she knew about his mentor dying, to losing his one remaining potential friend, to finding out his ex was dating that same former friend, and so on and on down the line -- the episode still does a lot of work to try and prove his particular brand of nihilistic philosophy as flawed. In the same breath that Hachimaki’s reflection is bemoaning how distant every human is from each other, he still runs into everyone he needs to at every opportunity. Even outside his sphere, too, Ai manages to find him through her connection with Edel. Nono was there by Gigalt’s side all throughout his final hospital stay, and Claire met up with both Cheng-shin (who is finally experiencing something of a character arc this far into the show) and, at the end of the episode, Hakim. 

The most obvious point the episode makes, though, is in Gigalt’s final lesson to Hachimaki. We’ve already heard these words, “Every sailor needs a harbor, a place they can return to,” but it’s the first time Hachimaki has heard them, and even besides that, it’s their repetition that gives them their importance. It’s not too dissimilar to what Yuri was talking about just a few episodes ago during his own revelation, and it’s not the only time this moral will be repeated: it is our connections that make us human, and while Gigalt is arguing for a very specific type of one, this can easily be extended to any other sort of connection.

If Hachimaki is alone, he is only alone by choice. That’s the point the episode wants to make here. He says as much to end the episode as well. “You don’t deserve my pain,” he tells Ai after she offers to console him. But that also means he’s not completely gone too, doesn’t it? “Alone by choice” means he has the opportunity to come back. Interestingly, that was the initial argument of Hachimaki’s shadow, that he should reject space and instead return to Earth and make Ai his wife. If there was going to be a good ending at the end of this, then, it would be in finding the synthesis between these two arguments, which, again, the show is already starting to provide, even if Hachi probably won’t realize it for another few episodes.

As a setup episode, this one also works just as well. The higher-ups of the Space Defense Front are finally introduced, for example, and they are making one final play this show with a focus on both the Von Braun, which is now orbiting the moon, and an INTO summit that is taking place in space for the first time. Every character, both major and minor, is now on the moon. The stakes have been set, and enough people have expounded upon their motivations that it’s time to put some of that into practice.

-r

Next time: Something’s gotta happen now, something’s gotta give.

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Phase 23 -- Debris Cluster
Or: Part One Of Two! Unless You Think Saying That Is A Spoiler In Which Case, Uhhh…

While there is action that takes place with the requisite guns and explosions, the core battle of this final major setpiece, like many of the ones before it, is an ideological one: INTO versus Space Defence Front, and while we don’t have the specifics of the latter’s demands just yet, we can, either through context clues or hazy memories of when this was last rewatched, make a guess at the battlefield. It’s mentioned that the marquee bill for this INTO Council meeting would make it official policy that the resources discovered in space would be divided proportionately to a country’s contributions to INTO, which even the non-radicalized members of the cast agree is a pretty skeezy imperialist policy and, given what we know about INTO’s actions to this point, one is inclined to agree. The SDF, then, is acting in opposition by… threatening to crash the largest spaceship ever built into a lunar city with a population of over 120,000.

So I do want to get something out of the way here. There is a common trend in media where the resolution to a conflict is to point out “both sides are bad, actually” and just sort of leaving it at that, and I’d like to head off that accusation at the pass here, not because it isn’t true -- make no mistake, Planetes has no empathy for either INTO’s council or SDF’s higher-ups, as illustrated by their lack of screen time up to this point -- but because choosing such an opinion leads down a middling, status-quo sort of path, and Planetes isn’t interested in that either. By the end of these two episodes, there will be a winner.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the characters for a moment. Claire’s descent, now that it’s finally out in the open, is an example of how the system radicalizes people on the fringes, her isolation by higher-ups at Technora, perhaps even after her break-up with Hachimaki, allows her to be seduced by Hakim’s pragmatic cynicism (though, to be fair, it is implied there is a non-cynical romance between them as well as shown when their call is interrupted this episode). Speaking of pragmatic cynicism and Hachimaki, though, he has completed his own transformation into a similar character, ending the episode holding Hakim at gunpoint for the second time and definitely ready to fire -- his self-imposed isolation has left him fixated on the one thing he has left: protecting the Von Braun. The show implicitly asks a question about Hachi at this stage: what happens to him if he fails or, even if the Von Braun does survive, what happens when, seven years later, he returns to Earth?

These are just the two or three major characters of the episode, but other plots figure in as well. Dolf’s corporate pragmatism gets called out as he is asked to choose between human life and surrendering access to every file in his burgeoning company -- he chooses the latter. Yuri’s closure over his dead wife is brought up again, just in time to it become relevant in an episode or two, and Ai is looking to put her namesake love to use doing anything. She wanted to run into Hachimaki, though he’s a bit engaged at the moment, so one wonders who she’ll run into instead.

-r

Next time: Well, the episode's called "Love" so one can only assume.

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Phase 24 -- Love
Or: That Happy Ending Theme Is Really Dissonant, Huh?

How much value is a human life worth? That’s the question Planetes is now asking. It has the courtesy of keeping the units consistent on both sides of the equation at least, though, as the question slowly becomes “How do you value the dead next to the alive?” There are three scenarios presented by this episode, one of which is given a resolution and another two which are left hanging. I suppose we should go over those in order:

The first is the closest the story has to a metaplot is the Space Defense Front and the Council. The INTO Council is presented with the prospective deaths of 120,000 people with the only solution apparent to cave to a terrorist faction. This is probably one of the most divisive parts of the Planetes fandom (such as there is one), for the record, more than the tone shift in the second half, more than the Lunar Flying Squirrels, it’s that the Space Defense Front, in a broad sense, wins. The Chairman’s bill is voted down. All the higher-ups in the Space Defense Front get away scot-free (the same cannot be said for many of its grunt operatives, but we’ll get to some of those). The takeaway message in-universe, though, is that INTO’s reputation is worth less than actual human lives. Chairman Clifford even gets an actual “with great power comes great responsibility” (yes that’s the actual translated line). The takeaway message outside the show’s universe, too, is that progress is always going to happen -- you can’t close Pandora’s box and expect things to go back to how they were -- and it is up to us to manage its cost.

This leads nicely into the second scenario of the episode: Hakim’s fight with Hachimaki, where this exact point is brought up during their argument. Hakim’s argument stems from statistics. Five million people died of starvation in the show’s 2074. Hundreds of thousands died in Manangan’s constant civil wars. What’s another hundred thousand or so? And while his argument is sympathetic, Hachi’s response brings up its obvious flaw, even if Hachi himself is too focused on space to realize it yet: Killing a hundred thousand people who benefited from the explosion of space travel doesn’t suddenly bring back a hundred thousand starving people, it only adds to the pile.

Let me take a brief aside to mention the side stories that get a continuation in this episode. Fee, Yuri, and Cheng-Shin collectively (and without communicating with each other) decide to use their ships to try and guide the Von Braun away from Sea of Tranquility City. There isn’t much discussion of the consequences of this decision besides “what happens if nobody else shows up?”, but the implication is that they likely would have died should everything have crashed down on them, which adds to Planetes’ overall “needs of the many” thematic leanings. Many lives are worth more than just an individual’s. Lucie and Colin, on the flip side, also demonstrate the necessity of fighting for one’s own life, continuing the other set of themes: “Life is worth fighting for.”

The last scenario, and the one that takes over half of the episode to go through, is Ai’s encounter with Claire, first on the Von Braun and then on the surface of the moon. What’s perhaps interesting is that this is the nadir for both characters. Claire, as a member of the Space Defense front, has technically won, though having been wounded, she’s accepted her death. She spends most of this episode, then, as almost-literal dead weight, being carried along by Ai to safety. For Ai’s part, she’s finally confronted by the naivete of her love-focused worldview as compared to the crushing weight of the universe. Love isn’t as all-encompassing as a solution as Ai would like it to be.

It’s the mixture of these two properties -- with a helpful dash of Hakim’s final line of earlier in the episode: “If you kill me now, you will become no longer human; you’ll become like an animal, something that can only go forwards” -- that presents the show’s cliffhanger. Ai ends up with both the need and the opportunity to take Claire’s air tank, which might let her survive. Love is worthless, Claire is worthless, survival is the only thing, right?

-r

Next time: Survival is not the only thing.

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Phase 25 -- The Lost
Or: It’s Not Quite Professional Therapy, But It’ll Do

It’s really good that Yuri had his revelation like a dozen episodes ago so I don’t have to summarize the main thesis of the show in its final hour. I mean, I will anyway because it’s a good moral, but certainly not to the same extent that I did last time, and certainly with more of a Hachimaki focus than as a broad spectrum thing. Anyway:

Hachimaki’s biggest problem is that he has always viewed space as a frontier -- the next place for humans yearning to explore. But that mindset 1) stems from a legacy of colonialism, something the show has constantly examined through its depiction of INTO, and 2) not true because it excludes an entire planet’s worth of things in it. Space, Planetes then argues, is everything past the tip of your nose. Everything and everyone is a part of Space with a capital S, and therefore the world is just as deserving of Hachimaki’s aims as everywhere else.

This leaking of terms, bleeding the boundary between the stellar and the terrestrial, goes both ways, of course. That’s how the comparison between the crushing realities of both the infinite, uncaring nature of the cosmos and, bluntly, capitalism comes into play. But, as I’ve set before, the solution to both has already been presented as well (or at least a starting point -- it’s not as if the show ends with all problems of the world solved): We are not alone.

Of course, I don’t mean in an “aliens exist” sense -- the only alien in Planetes is Technora’s mascot and I’m pretty sure that’s just a guy in a suit -- but in the broadest sense. Hachimaki knows and loves and is loved by everyone in Debris Section, not to mention his own family, plus his high-school buddy from Episode Fourteen, and on and on and on. And each of those people, each link in the chain, has their own connections, people whose lives would not be the same without, and so it goes throughout the entire world. Even Hakim, who Hachimaki could not kill (not for lack of trying -- one could argue despite the reveal being so late in the episode, Hachimaki pulling the trigger is the inciting incident of this episode), is included in Hachimaki’s vision here. Hachi is just as defined by his interactions with Hakim as he is by everything else.

Ai was wrong about love, but only partially. Love alone is not the solution to the world’s ills. But it is a good starting point.

Speaking of Ai Tanabe, while we don’t have an explanation as to how she survived her trek across the moon’s surface, we do know the aftermath: her nerves are damaged and she’s quit Technora, but she should be able to make a full recovery if she does well in physical therapy. Claire also survived, so the only real remaining reveal for that particular storyline is how we got from A to B. There are a few other points to wrap up as well, such as Dolph and Werner Locksmith’s partnership and what eventually became of Hakim, but we’re getting there.

-r

Next time: All good things…

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Last Phase -- And The Days We Chance Upon…
Or: …Must Come To An End

Twenty-five weeks ago, when I was first starting this project, I said Planetes was, at one point, my favorite anime, and the point of the project was to find out if that was still the case. I’m still struggling with that question, to be honest. Not in a broad sense, mind you -- broadly speaking, I think my favorites are those of the more pretentious fare these days -- but in the specifics, where things start to break down. There isn’t really a weak element of Planetes in my eyes outside of the initial romance, and even that improves over time as our understanding of the characters grows and evolves.

There are a lot of elements to Planetes, too. The climax requires that the viewer at least sympathizes with basically every named character, a prerequisite that falls apart if any of the episodes are especially bad. At the same time, though, I can’t remember an especially stand-out episode either. I think the closest would be the one with Temara the El Tanikan engineer? Or the one where Hachimaki gets lost in space and has to recover? Even then, these episodes aren’t that much more exemplary than the rest. It feels like Planetes stays in the solid 7-8 range, occasionally rising to a 9 but never all the way to a perfect 10 to buoy the series.

I still feel an attachment to this show, though. Doesn’t it still deserve something for being my “first favorite,” whatever that means? It’s certainly an emotional connection, the kind where each heartfelt moment triggers the same reaction in me that it did the first time. When Nono introduces Hachi to her “ocean,” when the suicidal parents reclaim their daughter and reaffirm their will to keep living, it’s all genuine. There is no cynicism here.

But also, am I going to miss this show? After taking a month-long break and posting another poll and moving on to future projects? Honestly, probably not, and not just because technically the show isn’t going anywhere (it’s on the internet now, you think it’ll get lost?). That being said, when I inevitably rewatch this show in three years or five years or however long until then, I think I’ll be glad I made that decision.

A comfort show. That’s the term I’m looking for. And in terms of that, I think Planetes is exemplary.


All the stories that still needed wrapping up get wrapped up here. I won’t go in chronological order because a show about space has no need for time, but I do want to touch on all of them. The throughline for the episode is Hachimaki, so let’s start with him:

Hachimaki’s “deal” got solved last episode, but this is the episode that really drives it home, directly comparing who he was at the beginning of the series to where he is now by returning both him and Ai to Debris Section and having characters stop by, including Edel, who has moved on to a full-time position at Technora; and most of his friends, who he shares a similar rapport with now that he’s a minor space celebrity compared to before, but the atmosphere is more clearly now one of respect, at least as far as “this is the last we’ll see of each other for seven years” extends. Hachi also reacts with embarrassment at seeing his old will pinned up against the wall because he’s moved on from that sort of “die and the world moves on without you” attitude.

Ai too has kept moving forward, often in the physical sense in that she continued her physical therapy, the thing that allowed her to make the Technora visit in the first place, but also in the mental. Her line as she steps through the door to Debris Section, “There are many different kinds of love,” is not one she would have made at the beginning of the show. We also get to find out the exact circumstances of her rescue, her refusal to kill Claire to prolong her own life, demonstrating that while her views have changed slightly, there is still the same Ai Tanabe behind those eyes.

That brings us to Claire then, who is now serving her terrorism sentence. Her scene details her reaffirmation of her right to live, as she tells Cheng-shin and Hachimaki how Ai’s stance on the value of her (Claire’s) life reinvigorated hers, and it was she who alerted the passing shuttle to their presence. In some ways, she has been cut off from her El Tanikan heritage in prison, with her isolation and the prison cutting off her dreadlocks, but she also continues to find her way forward, learning El Tanikan so she might be able to work as a translator when she gets out. 

This is also the scene where Planetes spells out its thesis in the simplest terms: “The opposite of love isn’t hate,” Cheng-shin tells Claire, “it’s apathy.” Apathy is the destroyer here, and while I won’t go back and list every single example the show has provided, you can go back and see, both in the blog and in the episodes themselves, where this has been the case.

Okay, I will mention one: It’s been said over and over how Dolf’s passion, presumably for space development, even if we don’t get a lot out of the show specifically confirming that, puts him above the standard upper management, and it’s in this episode that he demonstrates that, cutting himself off from the cold and emotionless Technora board to instead work with Wernher Locksmith and his upcoming projects.

Last, but certainly not least, is the scene sandwiched inside all of this, Nono’s encounter with Hakim on the lunar surface. As a Hakim on the run prepares to make sure Nono never blabs about him, he lets slip his motives, though they’re a different set than the ones he’s been telling himself the past: a more generic “we need to take all countries back to the good old days and start again from there.” It’s this genericized rhetoric, of course, that strips him of his humanity, he has become the thing he described to Hachimaki just a few episodes prior, an animal always moving forwards towards a goal, no matter what that goal might be.

Nono, of course, counters like she always would, “Where’s your country?” And here’s the scene I was thinking of when I mentioned Hakim’s reaction to Temara sobbing at the non-existence of boundary lines. He can’t see them either, and the realization of what he’s been fighting for, along with the further realizations kept only to himself (though we can guess it’s things like “What have I done, and what was I fighting for?”) that gets him to back down.

The final shots of Planetes are of baby clothes waving in the wind, signalling the arrival of Ai and Hachimaki’s child in just a few months; and a shot of the sky, both of which do the same heavy lifting as the tilt towards the sky in the ED. It’s a message of hope for the future, that humanity can carry the light to Jupiter, to the stars, and beyond.

-r

Next time: A month break, and then who knows?

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Well, I gave myself an extra week break because I didn't realize the first Saturday of January was literally New Year's, but now it's time to get back to blagging away. "But what will you blag about?" you may ask, and, well, like the previous two times, that's going to be decided by a poll. Here are your options:

Mawaru Penguindrum

Spoiler

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Kanba and Shouma Takakura are doing the best they can to take care of their sister Himari in their parents' absence, but on a trip to Ikeburo to see some penguins, Himari suddenly dies, only to be resurrected by a mysterious spirit living in a souvenir hat who tells them they must obtain a mysterious artifact called a "Penguindrum." The spirit offers some assistance, though, in the form of a trio of cartoonish penguins and a single hint: to find Ringo Oginome, a girl with a diary that tells the future.

Like last time, this is the "keep radio talking about Kunihiko Ikuhara" option, except in the intervening time since then I've actually watched the other three not-Sailor Moon anime he's directed, so now would prefer to go in order. Honestly, I have a complicated relationship with this one, but would like to see it again with a fresher set of critical eyes. This would also coincides with the recap(?) movies(?) coming out this year, so that's neat too.

Penguindrum has twenty-four episodes, though I don't think I'll be able to link to any of them.

Paranoia Agent

Spoiler

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Have you heard the rumors? There's a new menace going around, "Shonen Bat"/"Lil' Slugger" they call him. They say he goes around with his roller blades and silly grin looking for people who are at their lowest and giving them a solid beating with his golden bat. But the victims, witnesses, even the police officers assigned to the case, they all have their own little secrets, and if they're not unravelled soon, all of Tokyo is in danger.

Much like the late Satoshi Kon's other works, Paranoia Agent gets rather surreal rather quickly. It's internally consistent, sure -- when viewed as a whole it all starts to make sense -- but the journey to get to that point takes a bit. It's an exploration to revel in, though, and with such a unique cast of characters, it's hard not to. 

The anime is 13 episodes long and can be streamed on Funimation. If we wanted to get real "Auteur theory" in here (or more Auteur theory, I guess), we could also go through Kon's four movies, Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika (which are not on Funimation -- you have to buy them).

Serial Experiments Lain

Spoiler

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Life for young Lain Iwakura is turned upside-down when a classmate of hers, Chisa Yomoda, throws herself off a building. The suicide itself isn't the issue, though, it's that Lain is starting to receive email messages from Chisa, even after her death. Digging further, Lain starts unravelling everything, from the relationships she thought she had, multiple conspiracies, to the boundary between the "digital" world and the "real" one.

At thirteen episodes, Serial Experiments Lain is dense in a way that's difficult to describe. The plot is told almost entirely from Lain's perspective, which means that some details get brushed over, and even whole plots are left to be inferred by the audience. And yet, what is there is still captivating. It's certainly something I want to be able to talk about with more people, at the very least. Maybe you can help me dig through it all.

The anime can be found on Funimation.

I put an "other" option too just in case someone wants to force me to go in to something blind and leave comments on it but if you vote for that option you're legally obligated to tell me what that is. That's just how it works. I hope to enjoy whatever comes, though.

The poll ends when Friday (January 14) does, and the first post of the new anime will come out the next day.

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Episode 01 -- Enter Lil’ Slugger
Or: Batterrrrrrr Up!

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Between the surreality and symbolism of Revolutionary Girl Utena and the fixation on the real of Planetes is a small middle-ground where reality is frequently rendered symbolically, but not to the point of incongruity. That’s the realm that something like Paranoia Agent falls under. Put more simply, Paranoia Agent, a 2004 anime directed by (and premise by) Satoshi Kon, written by Seishi Minakami, and animated by the studio Madhouse, is weird -- weird enough that, at the end of each of the first four episodes in my initial viewing, I thought, “Well, there’s no way the show gets any weirder than this,” only to be proven wrong each time -- but it’s still easy to follow and has very coherent themes. And by “very coherent,” I mean characters will say what the theme is out loud. Certain aspects might get missed at times, but not the primary one.

Also helping here is the anthology format. The premise of a police drama investigating a strange string of crimes gets dropped about a third of the way in, and even before then, it wasn’t the focus. Satoshi Kon created the series to use all the little ideas he wouldn’t have been able to turn into a full movie, which is probably why the theming takes such a strong focus -- because it’s more of a throughline than the actual story. In a way, Paranoia Agent is more of a societal cosmic horror story than a crime drama, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Perhaps the most underrated aspect, though, is the show’s character design. As you can probably tell by the OP (which, like every other time, will get a bigger section to itself, don’t worry), each character is wholly unique, averting the usual anime trope to have only a few stock faces to draw from. This is important, because, for example, a character might disappear for five episodes and come back dressed entirely differently and he needs to be recognizable right away, or foreshadowing and bait-and-switches revolving around characters who do look similar. It’s a small detail, something that would have probably gotten passed by in favor of, you know, having a manageable budget, but it absolutely helps.

All that being said, it’s certainly not for everyone. Ignoring the main plot, which is a whole bunch of a kid on roller skates going around bopping people with a golden baseball bat and ignoring the blending of reality and fiction common in Kon’s works, an entire episode is dedicated to a trio trying to commit suicide, including a child, and a character records an underage girl undressing without her knowledge. And this is just off the top of my head -- I’m sure there’s more. I’ll include such warnings as I find them in the rewatch, of course.

Until then, I’ll see everyone below the break for episode one. If you didn’t notice, there are links to the episodes again, though, given the mature content, you do have to have a Funimation account set up (though no premium required if you don’t mind a few ads). I hope you enjoy!


Perhaps the title gives it away somewhat, but this episode is almost structured as almost like an origin story. While the police investigation and rival investigation by magazine reporter Akio Kawazu are the main plot, a great deal of focus is given towards how the antagonist of the series, Shonen Bat/Lil’ Slugger depending on the translation (and yes, it is weird that Funimation uses the old translation for the title but a newer translation everywhere else -- I distinctly remember “Lil’ Slugger everywhere the first time I watched this, though I will try to be consistent with the current subtitles at time of writing), is brought into the public consciousness. In fact, a not-insignificant amount of time is simply dedicated to people talking. “Do you know? Do you know? Have you heard the news?”

Some of this is because of who Shonen Bat’s first victim is, Tsukiko Sagi, the designer behind Maromi, basically Paranoia Agent’s version of Kitty White of Hello Kitty fame, which is what I imagine gets it on the news in the first place. If Shonen Bat had, say, first attacked Akio Kawazu, I don’t think it would have hooked Japan in quite the same way, though I suppose the idea of “elementary school brat beating people up” is worth talking about. In any case, by the end of the episode, Shonen Bat is still a minor curiosity, a thing to mention off-hand, and part of the show from this point on is to see where he goes from here.

There’s also a key point I should touch on with regards to Shonen Bat’s modus operandi while he’s still being introduced: Both of his attacks were at people who perceived themselves at their lowest point. Tsukiko is obvious, she’s under immense pressure at work to replicate her success in designing Maromi while she’s also collapsing under the weight of a losing workplace politics game, and Akio is in immense debt after hitting an old man in a reckless driving incident to the point that he starts stalking and Tsukiko after her attack and seemingly forcing her to either relive her trauma or recant it. The sequence of Akio calling after Tsukiko on a barely-lit street makes this distinction even clearer: despite being a sleazebag, this is still something Akio is doing out of desperation. 

Meanwhile, I suppose I should talk about the other two principal characters introduced in this episode, the two police officers Keiichi Ikari and Mitsuhiro Maniwa. On the surface, they have a pretty stock dynamic; the older, gruffer, Keiichi tends to rely on his strong intuition built up by years of being on the force, while the younger Mitsuhiro is more empathetic, and insists on approaching the Shonen Bat case scientifically. This characterization is strong enough that it becomes immediately apparent in their introduction as they interview Tsukiko, which means like the character experiencing his origin story, the rest of their time on the show is going to be spent taking apart the how and why of these two characters.

Really, that’s what makes Paranoia Agent a compelling mystery. Each person throughout the series has their own secrets that necessitate revealing to understand the Shonen Bat attacks. Whether it’s the madman who turns out to be a fourth-wall-breaking oracle or Tsukiko’s complicated relationship with her creation/hallucinatory imaginary friend Maromi, these are the things to keep in mind.

-r

Next time: Suspect Number One is introduced, and he’s not happy about his new title.

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Episode 02 -- The Golden Shoes
Or: Sixth-graders are the meanest people on the planet for twenty-three minutes straight

Content warning: This week’s episode contains depictions of bullying that are frequently represented by nightmarish imagery as well as instances of fatphobia revolving around Yuichi’s perception of Ushiyama.

The way I’ve scheduled this blag series, we’re going to be talking about Paranoia Agent, then “his” four films in order, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and Paprika. That isn’t to say that’s the whole of the things he has worked on, obviously. Famously, he contributed to the first adaptation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, directing and contributing animation to episode twelve of APPP’s OVA version of Stardust Crusaders, and I’ll probably use one of these sections to talk about his final short film, Ohayo, but that doesn’t mean his other work isn’t important and worth looking into.

And that’s a weird sentence to type given that I’ve devoted time in the past to talking about the flaws of auteur theory, that one person alone generally does not make a movie, animated movies especially so. I even took a moment to look up the actual writer of Paranoia Agent, the person who turned many of the story ideas into scripts, for inclusion in last week’s above-the-break section. But also, like, there is a sort of unambiguity here. Despite the value of Seishi Minakami’s work, I don’t think even he would take the same amount of credit for this show, for example, not in the same way that Yoji Enokido might claim for Revolutionary Girl Utena (rightfully, of course -- he is just as much a member of BePapas as Ikuhara, Saito, and the rest of that collective). It’s to the point that one of the reasons The Dreaming Machine, Kon’s final, unfinished, work remains unfinished is Studio Madhouse’s stated inability to find a director able to replicate his vision for the project.

I would argue, too, that auteur theory is necessary to discuss the interlocking themes of these five productions. Kon is the key point of continuity between these works, and they do relate to each other, sometimes explicitly so, in their thematic ideas, the nature of their plots, and, as Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos explain in their video, their editing style as well.

Of course, a director is not only a set of thematic ideas remixed and repurposed for everything they help create, and we’ll certainly talk about this in regards to Tokyo Godfathers -- the most obvious odd anime out -- when we get to it, but viewing each of these, they’ve certainly still got his fingerprints all over them. Even if he isn’t the sole author and creator, he’s still noticeably there.

And listen, even if the theory doesn’t hold, if this is all film crit nonsense, like, they’re all still good movies. There’s nothing lost by watching them just because of that.


This episode is at an interesting spot in the show, since while chronologically, it makes sense for something small scale like a school drama story to happen while the idea of Shonen Bat is still taking shape, and also serving as a small but not insignificant introduction to another of the characters appearing in the OP, Harumi Chono, it’s also a break in the pattern I said existed last post. I said that Shonen Bat was targeting people at their lowest point, and Ushiyama, the first victim of the episode, clearly isn’t that.

That’s not to say he couldn’t have been, of course. Yuichi is a jerk to him, and not just because of the trauma he experiences being suspected of being Shonen Bat. Yuichi being the way he is is, in fact, why he even suspects Ushiyama of being the creator of the rumor in the first place; the dislike was already there, so Yuichi’s baseless suspicion naturally fell to him. And yet, Ushiyama takes all of it in stride. One of his final lines to Yuichi is how he understands how Yuichi feels, since he transferred away from his own bullying problems and is now trying to make a better run of things.

Really, all this does is highlight how Yuichi’s facade of being the ace of the school was always just that: a facade hiding his true character, a narcissistic bully who lusts after his college-age tutor. The episode is one part an examination of that, yet at the same time, it’s also a highlight of the injustice of a hate mob. Yuichi bears a resemblance to Shonen Bat in that he’s a schoolchild who plays baseball and has some golden rollerblades, but also, like, he distinctly isn’t Shonen Bat. His bullying is unjust, and yet the societal mythologization of this serial assaulter continues onwards.

Meanwhile, Ikari and Maniwa’s investigation continues, though outside of provoking Saki and Maromi’s subsequent assertion that she is the only thing Saki needs to listen to (a surprise tool that will help us later), their only real role in this episode is worsening the school’s perception of Yuichi. That being said, there is some character building involved here, even if it is continuing to establish the stereotypes of the intergenerational partners. At one point, Ikari says, “I can never tell what younger people are thinking.” “I’m younger,” Maniwa says, and is immediately shut down: “Exactly.” But this is also something that’s going to be explored later, in a way that explicitly calls attention to its stereotypical nature, so just keep it in the back of your mind.

In the meantime, Shonen Bat is going to skate forever forwards.

-r

Next time: Remember Harumi? Now it’s her turn to be a focus character. I sure hope nothing is wrong in her life…

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Episode 03 -- Double Lips
Or: You may ask yourself, how did I get here?

Content Warning: The plot of this episode involves two personalities fighting for control of their body, much of the horror involves that sense of paranoia of not realizing what you’ve done while “out”.

As is slowly becoming tradition for this blag, let’s take a moment early in the series to talk about the OP. The timing isn’t too bad, actually, as just over a month ago, Dream Island Obsessional Park got absolutely dumpstered in the OP poll tournament I ran (not that I’m bitter or anything), so yeah, let’s talk about those weird, out-of-context moments that only knowledge of the show can really unlock.

Some of them are easy, like, why Harumi and Maria always seem to show up simultaneously (or almost simultaneously) whenever there is an opportunity is given a straightforward answer by the end of this episode. Why the old man only appears on the moon is also justified by the post-credits sequences where he predicts the future in frustratingly enigmatic ways. But perhaps this literalism is what turns people off of the rest of interpreting, because not everything in the OP is as simple as those examples. The laughter of each and every character present is both the one constant and perhaps the most inscrutable element of the whole sequence, but yes, I’ll try my best to answer it here.

But let’s take a step back here. While the OP being strange does allow the show to add a bit more symbolic coherence once the actual themes of the show are understood, a bit of rewatchability to an otherwise skippable ninety seconds, the real reason for its strangeness is actually a ploy to draw viewer’s attention. This is a routinely circulated story every time this OP comes up, actually. Paranoia Agent aired on a late time slot, so an energetic theme with odd animation was used to draw the eye, to get people just passing through to stay and watch more. By contrast, the ED was much more mellow and features many of the same characters lying down in a field sleeping, an invitation for viewers to do the same.

And yeah, it does draw the eye. The very first shot is of Tsukiko Sagi standing atop a building with her shoes in her hands, a common symbol of suicide, especially in Japan, that we’re going to see Satoshi Kon use in other works. Yuichi and Ushiyama getting washed away in a flood, Maniwa plummeting down from the sky, and Ikari raising his arms in front of a massive explosion are similar memorable images. What’s key, though, in all of them, is there’s a denial of reality. Each character is choosing to laugh at their circumstances rather than do anything that might improve them. Sagi could step down from her precipitous ledge. The drowning woman, a character we haven’t met yet named Taeko Hirukawa, could try to swim up to the surface. Any one of the characters on the title card should probably get out of traffic. And so on.

That being said, the character’s actions are still defensible in theory. Between the title of the accompanying song being Dream Island Obsessional Park and the shot transitions being more associative than literal (the three water transitions, then three ruined locations, then three characters standing atop something high up), the characters being actually in a dream throughout the OP is a defensible theory, I think. But that does mean that, by the time the episode actually starts, they do have to actually wake up and face the consequences of their actions, whatever they may be.


There are two interpretations to this episode, a literalist one and a symbolic one. The literalist one is obvious, it simply takes it as fact that the events depicted happen as they are displayed, a battle of literal wills as described in the content warnings. And I don’t want to deny that as probably the most accurate interpretation, especially since this will not be the first time we’ll see Satoshi Kon use this plot device with what I would say is a similar literalist intention. To deny it anyway would require ignoring the scenes with Harumi’s psychiatrist. But also, like, the episode got my wheels turning even before I went back to rewatch it, so I would like to go through it with a slightly different tack.

 

The plot of this episode, the problem that Shonen Bat exists to solve with a bonk to horny jail, is just that: Harumi wants to send her alternate prostitute personality to horny jail so she can settle down, get married, and ignore this part of her life entirely. In a way, then, Maria simply serves as Harumi’s sexual repression, the part of her that doesn’t want to do any of that, who certainly doesn’t want to become an invisible part of society. Maria even says as much during a session with the psychiatrist. Maria isn’t afraid of disappearing, she just wants to live life to the fullest.

Really, Maria isn’t in the wrong here. Make no mistake, she is the antagonist of the episode, but her arguments are still correct. At the very least, open and honest communication should be expected between fiances and whether or not Maria literally exists, Harumi still needs to have that discussion. It’s Harumi fleeing that discussion that really triggers Maria’s wrath. At the same time, though, Harumi’s the one who wins, who is “freed” by Shonen Bat’s assault. Her attack both diverts the awkward conversations she was already running away from at the climax, and also could give her an excuse if Maria manifests herself again.

It’s important to note two things. The first is that these two interpretations aren’t inherently contradictory. As appropriate for two characters sharing the same body, Maria can be whatever she needs to be. That’s really the reason I wanted to bring it up despite evidence from the source material to the contrary.

The second is that the show is starting to use the word “freed” to describe the attacks, another addition to the myth of Shonen Bat. Yuichi is the first one to bring it up, saying it freed him of the responsibility of being a suspect, not to mention putting him in the sympathetic category of “victim,” but it’s his revelation that seemingly gives Harumi hers in turn, and that’s when Shonen Bat appears. We’re starting to see this idea take hold, then. You too can be freed from your responsibilities, you just need a metal bat to the face and a ghostly kid to blame it on.

So I guess it’s up to the rest of the show to tell us why that’s bad.

-r

Next time: Wait, Shonen Bat was caught already? How did that happen?

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Episode 04 -- A Man’s Path
Or: ACAB, especially this guy

Content Warning: A sequence involving a drugged-up Hirukawa breaking into an apartment ends with the implication that he rapes a young girl.

Also a heads-up, I’ve linked the Funimation video as normal, but it doesn’t seem to play anything but the English dub. The dub is fine overall, but if that is a dealbreaker, this is me telling you to look elsewhere.

One can’t really talk about Satoshi Kon without at least mentioning the project he left behind. Before he died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, Kon was working on a project called Dream Machine, a movie about… well, that’s a bit harder to say. Some of that is just temporal distance -- despite our best wishes, 2010 was twelve years ago now -- some of that is that every film school class has produced a short film with a similar title, and some of that is just the vagaries of something in the middle of production. Put the most simply from what I can gather, it would have been a road trip movie with robots as characters, including a central trio of Ririco, Robin, and King.

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(source, Ririco in red, Robin in yellow, and King in blue)

Reportedly, Madhouse’s head promised Kon that the movie would be made, and production resumed a few months after Kon’s death with Yoshimi Itazu taking over the directing duties, only for production to halt by 2011 due to lack of funds with the movie a little under half-finished. Here’s where things break down, though, because that head of Madhouse previously mentioned, Masao Maruyama, has left the company and gone on to found MAPPA, effectively killing all momentum Dream Machine might have had. Since then, various stops and starts occasionally get brought up, whether that’s one of the project leads getting into crowdfunding, leading to people asking if Dream Machine might be next (though, to editorialize for a moment, I don’t think the average campaign could raise enough money for what people are expecting out of a decade-long wait, though it might help convince other, more conventional fundraising efforts similar to what happened with, say Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night), or just asking for updates from the people involved directly. The current line is this: All involved want it to be a Kon movie, and most any director would inevitably add their own influence to the project, making it distinctly not that, hence the hesitation.

Lost and unproduced media fascinates me, honestly, because of the speculation of what such media might have been. I’m writing this, for example, the day after Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first album, All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling was either legitimately posted on a random /mu/ thread or rather convincingly hoaxed, and while I hadn’t been waiting as long for this as some people, I can still feel the energy of those people as they make their discovery, as the speculation converges into something real. But that can be a good or bad thing. In the case of All Lights Fucked, if it is real, I think there’s more relief that the album is available at all (my take is that it’s not bad, but it’s also still in the prototype stages of being good (which means if it’s fake, props for making it sound convincingly like that)), but with unfinished media, I mean…

Valve’s Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life 2: Episode Three, if you’re like me and insist on (admittedly, probably outdated) semantic arguments) has been “in development” (scare quotes mine) for just about fifteen years now, and while the hype has died down in recent years, there was a period where any inkling of news was met with intrigue, with a steadily growing amount of hype. The joke wasn’t that it wouldn’t be released, just that of course it needed some extra time, this was Valve we were talking about. “When it’s done” was just a cover for not having to officially make delays before the game went gold. And obviously, that hasn’t happened. But the hype didn’t scale backwards over time. The consensus hasn’t become, “Ah well, it would be neat to have closure on that cliffhanger episode two (and then Alyx, which I’m not going to even get into) had,” it’s still, “If this comes out, it better be the best game of all time.” The same happened with Duke Nukem Forever, which did come out, and, uh, to be charitable, was very much not the best game of all time. Or any time, really.

There is hope, of course. That’s the only thing that can drive the hype. Orson Welles’ final film The Other Side of the Wind got stuck in editing hell for over thirty years after his death, eventually being released in 2018 after some Netflix money entered the picture, and it’s really good! It’s one of my favorite movies. But that one had all the footage shot already, it just needed a lot of wrangling, both in post-production and legally. Given my understanding of where Dream Machine was, post-production is still far, far off in the future.

I guess my point is this: Right now, Dream Machine is trapped at a crossroads of tremendous euphoria and utter disappointment, and while much of Kon’s work is about blurring boundaries, I’m not sure this one can get the same treatment. Apparently, there is a French documentary coming out (or is out? It’s hard to find details) about Kon that has some animated sequences from the movie, but that’s probably all we’re going to get. It’s a comfortable limbo to be in, a place where it likely won’t be forgotten for a good long while. I’m okay with that being part of Kon’s legacy, but also, like, I would like to see it.

I could keep going -- again, I love this stuff -- but I have an episode to write about.


We’ve just hit a third of the way through the show and Paranoia Agent is still introducing new thematic elements to keep us on our toes. This episode brings up the worth of nostalgia and the values of the past, something that both the protagonist of this episode, Masami Hirukawa, and the overarching protagonist of the series, Keiichi Ikari, share a bond over more than once. Let’s start with the former:

Masami Hirukawa has a very specific idea of what a man should be, one based on Fist of the North Star and adjacent shonen manga, which he reads voraciously. In his mind, he must be chivalrous yet aloof -- the standard toxic masculinity stuff -- and in doing so he will be rewarded with whatever his heart desires. You’ll notice a contradiction there, though. I mentioned in the previous paragraph that the thematic beat was one of nostalgia, and yet here I am also talking about the show bringing up a contemporary shonen manga. But that’s kind of Paranoia Agent’s point -- not only is it a bad ideal, but it is just an ideal. It is an archetype people think they want to aspire to, but nobody ever really meets it.

Hirukawa certainly doesn’t. He plays the role of a family man and yet trades information to the yakuza to fund his lifestyle and, when he starts pissing the gangsters off, starts robbing people for cash. The tragedy is that he realizes this long before he actually pulls himself together -- basically, as soon as he starts being the extorted instead of the extorter he realizes just what he’s gotten himself into (not that he deserves the consequences of his actions any less). The episode’s most dramatic moment, his drugged-up break-in, is very effective at highlighting this,  a juxtaposition of his actions and shonen sequences that only serves to highlight his pathetic nature. By even trying to be the sort of person he imagines he should be, Hirukawa only makes things worse for himself. His arrest of Shonen Bat is similar. He doesn’t strive forward valiantly to take on a hardened criminal, he drunkenly throws a shoe at his assailant and beats up a helpless child.

Ikari, meanwhile, gets to express his own issues. The world is moving on without him; the next generation doesn’t seem to make any sense. His job, he believes, is to find connections and yet the Shonen Bat case is full of broken ones. There is no rhyme or reason anymore. If you, like me, are thinking, “hey that’s just Tommy Lee Jones/Sheriff Bell from No Country For Old Men,” I mean, yeah, that’s the sort of nihilistic energy they’re going for here. It’s also going to be, spoiler alert, basically the resolution, because that’s just how climbing out of nihilism tends to work. But that will be described later.

In the meantime, a throughline is introduced in the form of the Rising Sun matches, “classical” things as Hirukawa puts them. It’s a metaphor without a comparison yet, so I won’t go into too much detail, but it is important to point out that it exists.

-r

Next time: Now that the main antagonist is behind bars, Paranoia Agent pivots hard and becomes an isekai.

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Episode 05 -- The Holy Warrior
Or: Okay It’s More Recap Episode Than Isekai But Still Weird

I’m really trying to link to the legitimate source here, but not only does Funimation still only play the English audio track, the English subtitles have also completely disappeared for this episode. 
This would be where I feel forced to talk about the dub, which was produced by New Generation Pictures and features Michael McConnohie and Liam O’Brien as Detectives Ikari and Maniwha respectively, both of which have way too many credits to list here (though, interestingly, they both were in Planetes, as was Sagi’s VA Michelle Ruff). But honestly, I don’t want to do that. I’m not particularly interested in doing the same thing as the two other times I’ve made an “anime dub is okay” post. Because, like, whatever. Even if a dub is “bad,” whatever that’s supposed to mean, it’s not really worth relitigating the same arguments for every single instance.

The most frequent argument I’ve seen for the works of Satoshi Kon is that of “diluting the artistic vision,” as in, people make unsourced claims that Kon only intended for his works to be seen in Japanese with only subtitles allowed to make any sort of transformative headway. Even ignoring the word “unsourced” in that sentence, though, reeks of way too much auteur theory to me, to the point of taking a creator’s word above everything else. It’s also undermined by, you know, the existence of the dub in the first place. New Generation Pictures’ dub isn’t some fandub uploaded to the internet on a shady website for free, it was licensed. It aired on Adult Swim in 2005. In my eyes, it means you have to either accept that Kon was not the sole arbiter over Paranoia Agent (though we can, of course, talk about the negative effects of media’s corporatization another time) or accept that it’s a dumb statement made up for internet points.

This also ignores the occasional dub change that’s for the better. One of Tokyo Godfathers’ main characters is Hana, a trans woman, and while Yoshiaki Umegaki is a good voice actor and good in that role, he’s also, to put it bluntly, not trans. The second English dub stars Shakina Nayfack, who is.

Back when I was talking about the dub of Revolutionary Girl Utena, I vaguely described how it was bad (again, not helped by the two principal characters recording at different times in separate states) but slowly got better over time, drawing specific attention to certain performances in lines where it really mattered. Since making that post, I’ve encountered a number of people whose first encounter with a dub of Utena was their formative one, which, in my mind, negates a number of those criticisms by itself. This also extends to notably panned dubs. I’ve met people (in real life, even!) who loved the 4Kids One Piece dub. At the very least, it was good enough, and that’s really what I want to stress. Even when the dubs are “bad,” (and a heavy emphasis on those scare quotes there), they’re still frequently good enough.

Also, while I don’t want to get too off-track, I found out about this line by Nanami in Utena’s dub, which saves the whole dub by itself:

 


This is not the first time Satoshi Kon uses this narrative device of characters literally appearing in the story being told to them, changing costumes and making comments on the narrative as they go, but it is the first time we’re encountering it as we go through Shonen Bat’s interrogation. He’s also finally given a name, Mokoto Kozuka, indeed a junior high school student. The interrogation goes poorly, though, because Kozuka’s motivations are nonsensical.

Maniwha takes the video game RPG framing seriously because he’s the one at least trying to get Kozuka to talk, which leaves the job of pointing out the nature of the narrative to Ikari. The roles certainly fit. After all, Ikari is the one obsessed with his lost youth. At least twice during the episode, he looks down at his box of Rising Sun matches and waxes nostalgia. In his mind, dealing with this nonsense is not why he became a detective. Especially important is that Maniwha doesn’t get it; he’s too young to be nostalgic about anything.

One important thing to note also is that this interrogation doesn’t actually do what Maniwha wants it to do either. The only attacks we get concrete details from Kozuka’s perspective are the attack on Ushiyama and, from the previous episode, the failed attack on Hirukawa. The episode even ends with the investigation unfinished -- loose ends still need to be wrapped up. After all, the original attack, the one on Tsukiko Sagi, goes completely unremarked upon. This is the first episode where she doesn’t appear at all.

Even worse, there are still lingering doubts introduced in this episode. While what we’ve seen of Shonen Bat has not been fully defined, what we have seen of him does not include the braces that a very close insert establishes that Kozuka has. So perhaps it’s better to take the lead already suggested by the show and not take much of this literally. If that’s the case, what metaphorical meaning can we glean here?

Well, we’ve already talked about Ikari’s conflict, but there’s also the nature of animals within the role of the story. Each character in Paranoia Agent has an animal they are named after that hints at their true nature. Harumi Chono is the one most directly called out here, with “Chocho” meaning both butterfly and, in the syllabic duplication, referencing her relationship with Maria. Most of the others I will leave as an exercise for the reader, but I will give this one as it’s about to become rather important:

The “Sagi” in “Tsukiko Sagi” means “heron,” but it can also mean “fraud.”

-r

Next time: Honestly, probably the most fucked up episode in the series? It involves Hirukawa, though, so perhaps that should be expected.

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Episode 06 -- Fear of a Direct Hit
Or: ACAB, but
especially this guy

Content Warning: Masami Hirukawa commits sexual violence against his underage daughter, which is revealed in a scene beginning with said daughter, Taeko, checking his computer. Taeko later also has some suicide ideation in a scene with her at a bridge.

Until we get around to dealing with, uh, all that, though, let’s go back to one of Satoshi Kon’s earliest works, a manga from 1990 called Tropic Of The Sea.

The town of Ade used to be a rather unfortunate place to live. The seas were rough, unforgiving, and often completely devoid of fish. Things changed, though, when a priest came across an egg, and, later, the mermaid who laid it. A promise was made. The priest would take care of the egg for sixty years and worship the sea, and in return, the seas would be easy and bountiful. In modern times, however, the new priest and Yosuke’s father has been more interested in fostering development, using the old mermaid legends as a way to attract tourists, and with the sixty-year deadline coming up, something is going to give.

People tend to think of Satoshi Kon works as mind-bending, though that’s not exactly present here. If you’ve seen something like the movie Scales, you probably know what to expect (I know I’m name-dropping a semi-obscure Saudi Arabian movie from 2021 here, I know, but the point is, the “making promises to the sea and then reneging” plot is relatively common). There are other elements that stand out, though, like Kon’s seeming insistence on ignoring the conventions implicit in portraying a conversation. Characters will frequently be in conversation with one person, a conversation that is clearly continuing, but the next panel moves on from the scene entirely or otherwise skips forward in time. It’s similar to a montage, but it isn’t set up that way. Knowing what I know now about his career, I’m glad he kept this style in his transition to films, but for a first long-form manga release, it can feel kind of rough at times.

A trap Kon doesn’t fall into, however, is a complete villainization of the opposing viewpoint. Ozaki and his goons are undoubtedly the villains, with the key turning point being when they demolish the secret mermaid shrine, but you can also see how their arguments might have swayed someone like Yosuke’s father. People are leaving Ade for the city. Yosuke is planning on it at the beginning of the story, and Nami, who did come back, is an outlier by her own admission. The world is changing, and you can definitely see why someone who doesn’t put stock in the mermaid legend outside of its potential tourist attraction might do the things they do.

At only two-hundred pages, Tropic of the Sea is a quick read, so it has to get a lot of its ideas across rather quickly. It can be hard to keep track of exactly where everything is in relation to each other, especially in the two big action sequences. But it’s also a creator’s first officially published work, and with that lens, it’s a fascinating read.


While the previous episodes had framing that occasionally drifted into surreality, this is the first episode where such events take the forefront, as three stories intertwine in seemingly coincidental ways. The first is the old woman’s story about her granddaughter, originally framed to be Taeko even if it is revealed to be otherwise by the end of the episode. There is a line near the end of the tale, “There’s no home to go back to.” This particular belief is something Kon will explore in Tokyo Godfathers, another movie about the homeless, but here it serves as a backdrop for Taeko’s story, one about discovering the parents and home she loved were perversions. This mirror is underscored by the scene on the bridge. While Taeko is considering suicide, “ruining her father’s happiness” as she puts it, she glimpses the old woman holding on to dear life. For a moment, though, she sees herself.

Taeko’s story then starts to mirror the detectives’ interrogation of Tsukiko Sagi. Having found a witness to her assault -- again, the first of the Shonen Bat attacks -- Ikari confronts Tsukiko with the fact that there was no Shonen Bat at all. He was just something she made up to remove the pressure imposed on her by her workplace. “You wanted an escape. How easy would it be to just be the victim of an assault?” And again, a direct comparison is made between these two stories. When Taeko gets attacked by Lil’ Slugger, Tsukiko simultaneously violently faints, ending the interrogation without having to give an answer.

But hold on, didn’t I just say there was no Shonen Bat at all? That’s the new mystery to be explored in later episodes, but there are clues given to us already. Some of them are from previous episodes, and I’ve tried to remark on those when I can, but let’s talk about the nature of Taeko’s attack.

In the moment, Taeko is cornered between a desperate desire to escape her father through suicide, and, especially provoked by seeing the old woman, a fear of her own death. She’s already expressed one wish, too, of seeing her father’s house destroyed, and here she introduces a new one as well: a desire to forget, to just move on from everything that has already happened that day. It’s only then that Shonen Bat strikes. The house collapses soon after in a mudslide. There’s not just the connection between the victims actually welcoming their assaults as a method of escapism, there’s also a supernatural force-of-nature aspect to it as well.

And yet, there are still more elements to explore. I’m going to call particular attention to a close-up near the end of the episode, where Maniwa pauses to look at the Maromi doll Sagi dropped in her fainting attack. Remember, we’ve seen him be alive in Sagi’s presence. We still need to see the end of that. And why Maniwa at all? Besides being younger and more open to the weird ways of the modern world compared to Ikari, he still hasn’t gotten a lot of character development. We’re going to need to see more of that too.

-r

Next time: Wait, if Shonen Bat is still out there, what’s going on with the guy they’ve already got locked up?

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Episode 07 -- MHz
Or: It’s short for “My Mind Hurtz”

Content Warning: Some nightmarish imagery, largely stemming from a character questioning their own reality. Kozuka also expresses a desire for suicide in his appearances in the episode.

I want to talk about Kon’s final completed work, Ohayo, a piece he directed as part of Ani*Kuri15, a series of one-minute short films meant to air as bumpers between scheduled NHK programming. I’m running into a few problems, though. The first is that technically, I’ve already shared it when I linked to the video Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos made back when they were still doing Every Frame a Painting, which already provides a decent amount of context regarding this and Kon’s other work. And it’s not like the short needs that context anyway. It’s a vignette about a woman waking up, and while details stick out, especially the establishing shots implying that this woman just had a birthday, there’s nothing that really alters that interpretation for me. I don’t think the woman is possessed every morning by the awakeness ghost.

So okay, just present it without any of that and just talk about Ani*Kuri as a whole, because there are fourteen other shorts to talk about in addition to Ohayo, which invoke not just the styles of the directors helming their projects, but the studios they are working with as well. Ohayo is not even the only project Madhouse worked on, they also worked with Osamu Kobayashi (who is perhaps best known for his work with Studio Gainax, specifically being an animator on Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking). But then I can’t help but run into my second problem, which is that I can’t personally divorce the short from its context. While Dreaming Machine is nice to think about as a “what could have been,” the reality of the matter is still that this is his last offering. It’s hard not to talk about it like that.

I’m not so far gone that I’m going to talk about perceived symmetries in the work. There are enough Youtube comments to filter through trying to find those, trying to close a perceived cycle starting with Perfect Blue and ending here. Instead, I just want to talk about the mundanity of it. Ohayo depicts a normal moment, a singular moment in time, and despite the birthday gifts and party favors strewn about the apartment, it is something the woman (and, by extension, the viewer) goes through every day of her life. There is a bit of surreality in the woman splitting apart into two beings until she finishes her routine, but again, it’s obviously symbolic unlike much of his other work where those two worlds blur more significantly.

I don’t think this was intended as his last message. If you want to be really technical, his last message was a letter he wrote and was uploaded to his blog by his family, so if you want to read that, here it is. As a last message, though, with that context, I can’t help but interpret it to call people onwards, that whether the day before was happy like this woman’s was or miserable, there’s still a chance to greet each new day as just that: new.

 


We’ve seen in previous episodes how the Shonen Bat case has affected Ikari, and while there’s still some of that to come, with his plot threads already laid out for him, this episode is focused on Maniwa and how he’s been dealing with the case. Specifically, how his scientific mindset deals with the surreal, unexplainable twists. The answer, it seems, is to assimilate into it, desperately searching out any connections as if that will explain everything.

He’s right, of course, as we’ve already started exploring on this blog. Shonen Bat does come after those who feel emotionally cornered, to those who feel being heavily concussed (or worse) would be preferable to their perceived future. The problem is that with the rest of the anime being the standard “like real life except when it isn’t,” setting, such theories are difficult to explain.

Another problem is that peeling back the nature of reality erodes Maniwa’s own sense of reality. This episode in particular is full of hallucinatory imagery and dream logic, first by the Holy Warrior spirit of Kozuka extolling Maniwa to continue the quest in his stead, then by several encounters, some real and some imagined, with the mad oracle at the hospital. The radio station he sets up at the end of the episode (or beginning, the intercuts make it difficult to pinpoint), is illustrative here; the imagery of the space likens it to a conspiracy theorist’s. All that’s really missing is string on a corkboard and PEPE SILVIA scrawled in the middle. “If I can just find who’s emotionally cornered, we can catch him,” Maniwa thinks. Again, exposing himself to the true nature of his world’s reality means that he becomes aware of the attack on Kozuka, but only too late, just in time to see Shonen Bat skate through a wall, which combined with, you know, letting a suspect die under their protection, is the final sever. Maniwa is now separate from reality, even as he still exists within it, with some foreshadowing that he might just become the oracle he keeps encountering.

As always, this serves to contrast Ikari, who has resigned himself to the perceived meaninglessness of the case. You’ll notice that their roles have shifted, though. After all, it was Ikari who was right that Tsukiko Sagi just invented her assault, chiding Maniwa for trying to find a random schoolchild, but now he’s fixated on that as the solution. The Rising Sun matches return as a motif, as the box he acquired a few episodes ago empties out and he needs to seek Maniwa’s more modern lighter.

We’ll follow both of these plots further, of course, but the biggest problem is this: With Kozuka’s death, the detectives are forced to resign and the case will be closed by the prosecutor’s office. That means nobody outside of a madman is looking for Shonen Bat and, as the final line of the episode is keen to remind us, Shonen Bat is still out there. There is nothing left holding him back.

-r

Next time: Introducing the three people who can scare Shonen Bat off.

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Episode 08 -- Happy Family Planning
Or: Omae Wo Ma Shindeiru

Content Warning: The plot of this episode is that of a suicide pact. This whole episode is basically three new characters doing suicide attempt after suicide attempt, including a shot of someone jumping in front of a train. This is mostly played for comedy and the episode, besides the morbidity, is actually rather lighthearted. I will note that this is the most “filler” of the episodes if that can be said for any episode of a 13-episode series, so feel extra free to skip this one if you want.

I say “filler,” and I do mean it -- like, Shonen Bat doesn’t even get mentioned until two-thirds of the way through the episode, and the only previously established character is only shown in a text box (and you really only know it is them by an easily missable bit of dialog) but that doesn’t mean it can’t also do some building off of what has come before. The episode, if you can handle the subject matter (and again, no shame if you can’t), is a good recentering point, pulling the show back from the brink of despair and setting up the plot of the next few episodes, which are really focused on exactly what Shonen Bat is. There are going to be a few answers to this, actually, but we’ll get to them as they come up.

The one introduced in this episode is this: “Shonen Bat comes to those who are cornered.” This in itself, by this point in the show, is not a revelation. Maniwa said it out loud last episode, and even before that I was pointing out the specifics of each attack and drawing out the pattern. The revelation comes that the message is spreading, whether through channels like Maniwa’s new radio setup or just the Tokyo rumor mill as we saw in the initial few episodes. In this instance, it’s the revelation that the FOX character seen in the forums is actually Makoto Kozuka, the Shonen Bat impostor. 

All this being said, I struggled in the week leading up to this episode trying to think how I was going to tackle a specific aspect of this episode. Namely, this is a group of people who are suicidal, and yet Shonen Bat hasn’t come to them before this. It’s not like their situation is without precedent in the show. Both Zebra and Fuyubachi are implied to have lost loved ones, whether through death or by heartbreak, and Kamone is dealing with her own abandonment trauma, all of which we’ve seen already. Then I remembered that that’s not the only requirement at play here. You also have to know about Shonen Bat.

That’s where the connections between the previous episodes come into play as well. Akio Kawazu heard about it from the initial investigation and his own harassment of Sagi, Yuichi was targeted both after the rumors of his involvement in that same attack and his personal involvement in Ushiyama getting bonked by Kozuka, Harumi Chono is Yuichi’s tutor, and so on. While this episode is certainly lighter than seeing Maniwa drift slowly into insanity, it also holds a darker secret behind it. Shonen Bat is a meme, and the meme is starting to go viral.

There’s one other specific bit of symbology I’d like to direct your attention to, and that’s the use of Maromi. Here, it’s just the accessory the suicide pact uses to identify each other, but it does mean it’s one of if not the first thing you see this episode. Maromi is given much more prominence than Shonen Bat despite not getting any lines, and the relationship between those two is only going to get more established in the coming episodes.

-r

Next time: Kashira Kashira Gozonji Kashira?

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Episode 09 -- ETC
Or: If I Had A Nickel For Every Three-Letter Title This Show Had…

Content Warning: In terms of things that give me personally nightmares, this is probably the episode with most of them. I don’t really know how to define it deeper than that, though. The stories told in this episode run the gamut from medical malpractice to high-pressure test-taking. I could also see an argument for fatphobia in the boxer’s story, so be aware of that too.

When I was talking about the mythologization of Shonen Bat, this is the specific episode I had in mind. Setting the episode as a group of gossipy hens doing exactly that was a very smart move. It’s simply an extension of the show’s already established anthology format, and it even pokes fun at the connective tissue that ties the episodes together. Last episode involved a Shonen Bat attack at an inn, and that reminds the women of a story, which reminds them of another, and so on until they’re all gossiped out.

It doesn’t even matter that most, if not all of the stories, simply aren’t true. After all, Shonen Bat himself was created on a lie. It also serves to illustrate the revelation I mentioned in my last post: More and more people are becoming aware of Shonen Bat, thus more and more people are vulnerable. Even worse, as this episode establishes now, Shonen Bat is starting to become “in vogue.” One piece of gossip involves a politician who, upon being found out for corruption, tells his subordinate, “Get me Shonen Bat!” and the episode ends not with the put-upon newcomer to the gossip group phoning an ambulance, but asking her husband how he got attacked so she might fit in better.

While the stories might not be true, they still establish the new rules of the character, which basically amounts to there are none anymore. Someone feeling cornered is still a prerequisite, yes, but, as shown in both the mother-in-law story and the doomed lovers story, it’s not necessary to personally feel cornered. Aside from that, and with the knowledge of what we saw just a few episodes ago where Shonen Bat skated through a wall, Shonen Bat can now show up anywhere. In the desert island story, he even appears rising out of the water. 

Shonen Bat was never human, but now a veneer of that deception has peeled away. The mystery has changed. Even as Maniwa drifted off into insanity, he was still convinced that Shonen Bat was a thing that could be caught, but that isn’t true anymore. Now, he’s something that needs to be stopped. That does beg the question, then, what does Shonen Bat represent? What are the writers trying to say about society? We can answer some of these already. In the progression of the show, things are continuing to worsen. Despite the momentary alleviation of responsibility, getting whacked with a baseball bat is still a really bad thing to happen to someone, just like real life. The initial attacks, though, were largely based around the victims finding such an assault preferable. The question to ask in that regard, then, is were they really? Were those the only two options?

-r

Next time: We’re going to put some of those questions aside for a moment and instead talk about Maromi for a bit.

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