“…I just don’t know what to say…” pretty much describes my reaction to this week’s developments. Half of this episode is an info dump of the worst kind and I’m not sure extending the anime beyond its eleven slated episodes would have mattered in the long run. Sure, the pacing might have improved, but this wouldn’t do much to address No.6’s more outlandish elements.
We’ve focused so heavily on the Shion-Nezumi relationship up to this point that No.6 practically resembled a character drama. Unfortunately, there’s a larger plot looming in the background, which the anime has suddenly decided to address at this late juncture. As a result, the narrative becomes a runaway freight train. I get the parasite bees — they’ve been around since the second episode — but Elyurias? A magical song that lights up the world? A group of cave dwellers (what do they eat? how do they survive?)? Nezumi is the last of a race of forest people? What on earth is going on here?
Before they embark on their dangerous mission to save Safu, Nezumi takes Shion to meet an exiled architect of No.6. Wait, what? If he’s still alive, No.6 must not be very old. The war that tore the world apart must still be fresh in some people’s minds, right? I guess not. Anyway, the architect pretty much does nothing but feeds us exposition. According to him, the great conflict ravaged the world to the point that only six habitable areas remained. A group of survivors decided to construct utopian cities in these six areas. Okay, time out — if this was the case, how did the magical, peaceful, hippie forest people manage to avoid having their land destroyed in the great war? Why wasn’t their land considered part of the six inhabitable areas in the first place?
Even if the forest people’s existence made any sense whatsoever, their systematic destruction only raises more questions. Why would the cities not take advantage of these people’s lush and verdant homes? Why would No.6 torch such a place? Are they stupid? Did all of the other cities just sit idly by and allow this to happen? Are they all stupid as well?
What kind of war are we waging?
I’m not really disappointed by the anime’s sudden turn to the supernatural, because I’m not really surprised by it either; nature vs. technology isn’t exactly an uncommon theme in Japanese stories. I am disappointed, however, by the anime’s one-sided approach to the conflict; it’s quite apparent where No.6’s loyalties lies.
The nature people were peaceful and lived happily until they were preyed upon by No.6. Their magical song even exhibits some rudimentary form of collective consciousness. Essentially, the hippie people of the forest resemble any other indigenous population you might find in pop culture (see: Avatar’s Na’vi). No.6, on the other hand, is totalitarian, militaristic and evil. No.6 prioritizes knowledge and science. Its culture and architecture resemble a spartan, Western civilization. This is very much in contrast with both the indigenous forest hippies and the Orientalist society cobbled together outside No.6’s walls. Hm, do I sense a bias here?
Of course, in reality, the distinction between Elyurias and No.6’s rulers isn’t as clear cut as the story would like it to be. The episode tells us that the forest people “worshiped and revered Elyurias.” In the architect’s own words, when he met her, he “became obsessed with her.” That makes me think that she was some sort of cult goddess to these people. She might have been a benevolent ruler, but as far as we know, power was still consolidated in a single person or being — whatever she was. So it isn’t even No.6’s totalitarianism that the anime finds truly questionable. Instead, the real evil in No.6 appears to be the fact that it is secular and Western.
Masked scientists experimenting on Safu is nothing more than a straw man argument against the dangers of technology. In fact, Nezumi doesn’t condemn No.6 because he finds it unjust. Instead, he calls the city a demon, invoking a sense that No.6 is wrong on a fundamentalist level. Is there a religious bent to the story? I don’t think this is very far-fetched when a biblical plague is about to ravage the city. Or how about the fact that Safu “awakens” by experiencing some form of religious ecstasy before a stained glass window? Time will only tell if our secular Sodom and Gomorrah will burn to the ground.
• The architect gives Shion some sort of data chip containing all of his “research.” The answer behind “everything” magically exists on a singular item. In this case, Shion’s much like the hero who, after a long pilgrimage or journey, stumbles upon the holy grail, the sword of truth or some other mystical analogue.
Ironically, knowledge and research will also play a part in No.6’s undoing. I can’t tell if this is merely inconsistency on the story’s part or not. Hopefully, the ending will strike some sort of philosophical balance between living in a forest or eschewing all of that for a modern, secular city, but I’m not optimistic.
• The architect has the same scars as Shion. He confesses that he was the first survivor of the bee parasite. Weeks ago, I theorized that the red markings might be a symbol of a character’s guilt. Well, the architect designed No.6, after all, so he should have all the guilt in the world. The jury’s still out on Shion’s guilt in my opinion.
• According to Nezumi, infiltrating and taking down the correctional facility will also destroy the city:
“The facility houses some special organization, which holds the city together. If we destroy the correctional facility, No.6 will begin to fall apart.”
It’s really that convenient? This is some Death Star-esque design flaw. For a city with as much control and dominance as No.6, I can’t believe its rulers would put all of their eggs in one basket like this. But hey, three episodes left, right? So I guess destroying some correctional facility — it doesn’t even have a proper name — will just have to do.
• What makes Nezumi’s quest to destroy No.6 somewhat implausible to me is just how personal it seems. When a regime falls, I expect it to be the result of a collective effort of rebellion and resistance. In No.6, however, we seem to have only four people in on the operation: Shion, Nezumi, Dogkeeper, and Rikiga.
I suppose this bothers me because it isn’t so much the fact that the people are re-claiming their agency from a totalitarian government. Instead, we seem to have a few fated and ordained individuals doing everyone a favor like the messiahs — or happy prince, in Shion’s case — that they are.
• Pretty low of Karan’s friend to tell a dystopian story just to creep on her. All of a sudden, his character doesn’t seem quite mentally stable, but we’ll see where this goes.
I wonder if the little girl that usually accompanies him to Karan’s bakery will actually play a significant role or as we near the anime’s finale.