Concrete Revolutio Ep. 20: Transhumanism gone awry

Concrete Revolutio - 2001

Same as before, here are two loosely-related essays to digest.


Concrete Revolutio - 2032

The White Man’s Burden

We always want to help those in need, those that we perceive to be victims. But what happens when they do not wish to be helped? This deadlock can only result in violence. Furthermore, is this also not the conundrum behind every recent effort to “liberate” the weak from their so-called plight? We thought the Iraqis or the Vietnamese would greet our soldiers with open arms, but that is not exactly what happened. Some did, some didn’t. But we always feel rejection much more strongly, don’t we? Rejection can easily lead to anger, and naturally, anger can easily turn to violence. The My Lai Massacre. The inhuman tortures and abuse at Abu Ghraib. These two tragedies seem so senseless to those back home. How could our soldiers, our very own kids, commit such horrendous atrocities? It’s unthinkable! But violence is never just abstract violence:

“[Violence] is a kind of brutal intervention in the Real to cover up a certain impotence concerning what we may call cognitive mapping. You lack a clear picture of what’s going on.

So how to solve this problem? Simple. You need to generate an ideological narrative which explains how things went wrong…”

It is for this very reason that Concrete Revolutio revisits the Vietnam War in this week’s episode. Jonathan describes the horrors he witnessed firsthand: “The people there didn’t want the freedom we offered. They chose to live with the forest’s darkness. They lurked in the jungle with monsters and attacked us.” But who attacked whom first?

Midway through the episode, Col. Carloco reveals that the US military’s mission is to “eradicate those former rulers” of Earth, i.e. the Yokai of the world. They see superhumans as “a new form of human evolution,” which will lead mankind to a presumably new and prosperous era. I am instantly reminded of transhumanism and its ultimate goals. Take it from Max More, one of the many leading transhumanist thinkers out there: “[Transhumanists] seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its current human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life promoting principles and values.” Nevertheless, there are those who will forever cling to the “old ways.” There are those who will forever deny our notions of progress and evolution. Are they necessarily wrong? That is why Carloco brings up the Native Americans. When I first watched the episode, my gut reaction was to think, “Gee, that’s a reductionist take on American history.” But that’s not the point that Concrete Revolutio is trying to make. Rather, our folly is that we so often think of progress and evolution in black-and-white terms. Our civilization is advanced, and you should want to emulate us! In fact, you should become us! But what happens if the natives resist? What if they want to remain the way that they are? Again, this deadlock can only result in violence.

The American soldiers are different from their enemies in some ways, but they are not so different in one very critical way: everyone chooses to enhance themselves. The only difference lies in how you choose to go about it. The soldiers rely upon science to turn themselves in weapons of war, but how are their enemies any different? They rely upon the Yokai instead, but in the end, the result is the same: you artificially enhance your fighting ability in order to fight more effectively. You have cyborgs on the one hand, and you have some sort of weretigers on the other hand. They are both killing machines. They are both capable of senseless violence and wanton destruction. So what are we really fighting for? Now think about the Cold War. Think about the US and its desire to halt the spread of communism. It’s one thing to say that communism is ineffective. Fine, that’s a fair position to hold. It’s another thing entirely, however, to argue that communism is just straight-up evil, which was often the case during the Cold War (and I won’t deny that many on the other side thought that capitalism was straight up evil, too). This ideological conflict is what we see here in this week’s Concrete Revolutio. It’s not that the Americans are clear-cut bad guys, but rather, we should be wary of the sort of ideology that aims to reduce the Other to nothing more than evil monsters:

“In an ideological edifice, you need some sell the complete image like this to fixate your imagination, and then this image can mobilize us. Imagine ideology as a kind of a filter. A frame, so that if you look at the same ordinary reality through that frame, everything changes. In what sense? It’s not that the frame actually acts anything; it’s just that the frame opens the abyss of suspicion.”

Rather than accepting that their notions of progress and evolution will not automatically lead mankind to glory, these ideological warriors choose to paint the Yokai as evil rulers. To refer to the enemy as rulers is key. The Yokai are thus dictators! Their rule is totalitarian! They go against our superior ideas of democracy and freedom! As such, we must liberate the poor, unfortunate victims cowering beneath their evil, fascists lords! More importantly, the Yokai are holding mankind back the same way Native Americans were supposedly holding North America back. This new frontier, this wilderness, cannot be tamed and civilized in the name of progress and evolution unless the Native Americans are liberated.

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

And now, the same must be done with, in Coluco’s own words, “Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and then…”


Concrete Revolutio - 2055

War Weariness

Some people are born superhuman. Others choose to be superhuman. Jonathan belongs to the second group, and it is for this reason that Jiro defends the American soldier so strongly. After all, he sees himself in Jonathan. Like Jonathan, he believes in ideals of superhumans. Like Jonathan, he feels betrayed by both father and country. He insists over and over that Jonathan is a victim, because he sees himself as a victim. Therein lies Jiro’s problem: “Don’t give up. You have a country to go home to.” This is not just a plea to Jonathan, but a plea to himself. We are constantly in conflict with ourselves, our weakness, our inner demons. How long has Jiro been on the lam now? How long has he had to live and fight without his family? I suggest thus that this episode explores our hero’s guilt. He is tired. He’s weary. Like the American, a small part of Jiro just wants to go home. A part of him wonders why he chose this path. Just as he told Jonathan, Jiro feels that he can’t give up. He has a country to go home to, but only if he can fight for it, the home where everyone is free. But at what cost?

Jonathan, therefore, offers Jiro a glimpse of total failure. The American soldier didn’t have to enlist. He didn’t have to turn himself into a superhuman. He didn’t have to put himself in this situation. Yes, Jonathan blames the army in a lot of ways, and he’s lost faith in the institutions he once held dear, but in the end, it is his guilt that dooms him: “Jiro, I’m nothing but a murderer.” He adds later, “Murderous superhumans can’t go back to the states.”  At a crucial turning point in the episode, Jiro finds Jonathan gripping his head in pain yet again. Not only is he suffering from PTSD, but there is also a schism within his identity. At this very moment, the American comes to a very painful realization: he is neither a soldier nor is he a civilian. But more importantly, however, he cannot be redeemed. He is triggered by the “smell” of the Japanese countryside; it reminds him of the Yokai, and as a result, he teeters on insanity. Nevertheless, I feel that this part is actually a red herring.

If Jonathan could repent for his crimes, then there’s no reason why he can’t one day return home. There’s no reason why he can’t one day return to civilian life. But near the end of the episode, he laments, “Only the battlefield can take in a body like this. There will be bloodshed everywhere I go.” So Jonathan takes the only path he feels he has left. He kills his pursuers, then claims their weapons for himself. In the end, he turns into some bizarre combat Vishnu. He even kills a couple of “natives” to boot: “Its as if in order to really be a member of a community, you have to render you hands dirty.” Essentially, Jonathan wishes to become the perfect soldier — the perfect killing machine. In his nightmares, he saw himself stuck in place, unable to perform his duty as a soldier. His mind couldn’t cope with the horrors of war, and as such, he was a bad soldier. Recall his words from earlier: “I thought if I could survive the jungle, I could prove someday… that the war was justice.” Jonathan thus tries to become the perfect soldier to create his own brand of justice.

As a result, Jiro has to be very wary of the path he’s taking. Over and over again, people try to convince him that it is to late to save Jonathan’s soul. Even Raito, Jiro’s partner-in-crime, saw this week’s mission as nothing more than a fruitless endeavor. Our hero wants to protect all superhumans, but he’s not strong enough. He didn’t have the ability to help Jonathan, and it’s debatable if anyone could’ve helped the soldier. Jiro will continue to come into conflict with not only his father and country, but other countries as well. In fact, the entire US army. So in order to succeed, he will need more power, but how far is willing to go? And will it prevent him from returning home one day as well? In the end, the American soldier doesn’t actually get to go home. Don’t mistake his dead body for that. Rather, he has been reduced to a mere symbol: a coffin adorned with those familiar stars and stripes. And that symbol, you can imagine, will simply further certain ideological aims. Elsewhere, Yokai are framed for Jonathan’s crimes.

There is thus not only a looming threat that Jiro may lose his humanity after all of this is over, but despite his best efforts, short of a true and concrete revolution, those in power will simply rewrite history. These concerns must weigh heavily on the soul, and that is why I suggest that the episode explores Jiro’s war weariness. This important bit of character development comes at the perfect time too as the second season of Concrete Revolutio prepares to wrap itself up. In spite of it all, Jiro stays true to his ideals at the end of the episode; he is the hero, after all. Crucially, however, he finds a valuable takeaway from these painful events: “Jonathan admired superhumans and aspired to be one. That was my reason to save him. And my duty to see his death.” Should the day ever come that Jiro falls short of his ideals, he will likely think back to Jonathan and the monster that the American soldier eventually became. And upon that reflection, he will remember what he needs to do.


Everything Else

— I love the way everyone looks at Prof. Magotake. Every time they learn something new about him, it’s not good. It’s not enough for the Bureau to dissolve, but you can feel their patience wearing thin.

This shot reminded me of The Price, a rather gruesome painting from 1944.

Jonathan’s character design reminds me a lot of Fred from Scooby Doo, so it was a bit difficult to take him seriously. I somewhat felt the same way about these cyborg soldiers. They look like those toy action figures we used to play with, don’t they? But that’s part of Concrete Revolutio’s charm. The anime combines serious themes with a certain nostalgic pop aesthetic, and the result is a sort of ironic detachment from the subject matter. And therein lies the true power of visual art: the ability to fully tackle these crucial dimensions to the same degree that is not possible in reality.

— Emi continues to assist Jiro, but in her own way: “It’s better to act like an ally and get in their way than rebelling.” But does this actually work on a large scale? Certainly, she succeeds here, but Jiro’s after something much bigger. She probably believes that Jiro can effect more change on the inside, i.e. with the Bureau, than as a fugitive on the lam. But honestly, I can’t see anything but incremental change if Jiro had stayed.

— According to Master Ultima, Jiro “holds the key to the future global energy crisis.” Wuh? More importantly, Ultima doesn’t need our hero alive. What exactly is that arm capable of?


Final Word

I really enjoyed examining this week’s episode in-depth, and this is notable since, as a whole, I can’t help but feel that the second season has fallen a bit short of the first. As I’ve said before, it’s still a strong anime series, and one that I am now looking forward to watching every week. Nevertheless, the momentum from the previous season’s finale wasn’t carried on through to this season. The episode with the ski jumpers, while interesting in its own right, felt like a side story. The same, I feel, can be said for Devilo and Devila’s story. On the bright side, it’s a good thing I didn’t start blogging the second season until now, right? Anyway, four more episodes to go, I believe? I’m hoping for finish that is as thrilling as the Claude episodes.

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7 thoughts on “Concrete Revolutio Ep. 20: Transhumanism gone awry

  1. kenshirojoestar

    I really liked this episode. I am not a fan of Gen Urobuchi, but he did a good job as a writter in this episode. I really liked the charater development of Jiro in this episode and the way they protrayed him. My favorite part was the conversation that Jiro and Raito had in the end of the episode.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Oh, I didn’t know he wrote this episode. I was just wondering the other day what the guy was up to.

      Reply
      1. kenshirojoestar

        Urobuchi and Kazuki Nakashima(Kill la Kill, Tengen Toppa, etc) became members of the writing staff of Conrevo in this season. I don’t know if Urobuchi is working in the series only as an episode writter or if he is helping in the plot of the story, but he and Kazuki are working with the 2 writters of the first season(Sho Aikawa and Masaki Tsuji).

        Reply
  2. sonicsenryaku

    i had felt similarly that the second season was slightly weaker than the first but the last few eps, especially this one, had all the things i really enjoy about this show. This was easily my favorite ep of the second season

    Reply
  3. Akeem

    Amazing, the analysis really is amazing. It’s always impressive when people manage to write up things like this especially when i missed so much of it.

    Reply
  4. fgfdfh

    Good write up as usual. Shame there’s only 4 ep left. The pieces are already in place for a final battle, so I’m excited.

    I don’t think the second season is weaker than the first though. If you view the anime as a series of episodic stories connected by a theme, it’s much better.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t mind the episodic structure if the anime is world-building, but after the first season, I wanted a focused story centered on Jiro ultimately needs to do. The side stories are like amuse bouches when I was ready for some actual entrees.

      Reply

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