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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wait, What?: Texhnolyze

So some anime are confusing, either because they are strangely plotted or don't exposit much or exposit way the fuck too much and you overload. I, myself, do not read manga (not that there is anything wrong with manga, I just never got into it) and typically come into a show with nothing but the description on hulu, so I am piecing the plot together all alone. Wait, What? will come after those anime where I am less than perfectly certain that I have put the pieces together correctly, and will consist of me describing what, exactly, was going on. Anyone with a different take, or anyone who had read any source material, is invited to correct or expand or argue in the comments, because I am no authority here.

 And plenty of anime aren't confusing at all, either for good or ill, so they won't get a Wait, What?.

Spoilers ahoy for Texhnolyze, so these segments will always be page jumped:


Ichise's Character Arc:


In my mind, the key to understanding the character arc of Ichise is to understand him as an analogue to Enkidu from the epic of Gilgamesh.

For readers who are not ancient Babylonians, Gilgamesh was the badass king of Babylon some 4,500 years ago. Among his many adventures, he hears of a wild man raised by animals living in the forest and causing all manner of trouble. Gilgamesh sends a woman, Shamhat, to civilize the barbarian, specifically by sexing him up for seven days. At the end of this, Enkidu is rejected by the wilds and is forced to enter civilization under the tutelage of Gilgamesh who slowly turns him into a civilized person.

 In Texhnolyze Ichise begins as a champion prize fighter. The animation is choppy and it almost seems like a montage of fights. The role of Shamhat here is divided into two separate women. The woman with the eye fetish literally sexes him up and severs his arm and leg, thus casting him out of his former life. The second woman is the Doctor who gives him both the skills needed to survive in civilization (Recall episode 2 when the yakuza comment that Ichise is trash unworthy of robot replacement parts) as well as knowledge of civilized society in the form of her connection to both the Class and to Onishi, our Gilgamesh analogue. At the same time, Ichise's lines are confined to beastial grunts and moans until episode 6 (I think) when he shouts at the doctor (his first words) and then in episode 10 when he has finally integrated into the Organo (and if that scene of him stringing three sentances together did not completely shock you, then I guess you had a different reaction than I did). Under Gilgamesh/Onishi's tutelage Ichise's appearance becomes slowly more like that of those around him. He adopts a suit, and finally the ridiculous hair-cut and tie.

Of course, Texhnolyze is not an ancient Babylonian epic. For all that it deals in the same themes (the relations between gods and men, the quest of immortality and the proper handling of death), the modern storytellers have a different set of conclusions they want to test. In the original, Enkidu perishes as a result of one of their innumerable adventures and Gilgamesh is so put out by this that after he quits mourning he goes of in search of immortality because fuck death. Spoilers: Gilgamesh dies. Texhnolyze subverts this by having robots invade before Ichise can die, and even before their relationship can blossom to the level that would affect Onishi like it did Gilgamesh (After all, the famous homoerotic wrestling scene never makes an appearance). Neither hero is particularly seeking immortality while fighting against immortal robots, but that gets into other themes.

As Ichise sees what the even more civilized Class looks like, madmen, sociopaths, and ghosts, he begins to revert back to his uncivilized ways. Already on the train to the land above ground he has lost his stupid haircut and tie, and on his descent down the airshaft (a descent in postion and thematically) he returns to the shuffling of the first few episodes, and finally, with the death of Gilgamesh/Onishi, the last tie holding him to civilization snaps, hence the flashbacks to the episode 1 prizefighting montage.

Yoshii, The Doctor, and Kano:

The Class of people who live on the overworld are an entire society of people who have simply decided to die off. It is unclear the extent to which any at all still physically remain or if they really are all ghosts just waiting to fade out, but the Class itself isn't really the point, but rather a philosophical tradition for all the characters of the story to react against.

It is this reaction that motivates the three descended Class, Yoshii (and Yoshii's friend who is drawn like a meth addict), the Doctor, and Kano. The reason they seem so damn mysterious is because you don't learn what they are reacting against until the very end of the show, and their characters are all fairly one-note responses to the very idea of death, intended to represent the three human responses to death.

Yoshii, despite how interesting he is as a character, is pretty straightforwardly seeking a "spectacle". That is, if he is going to die, he wants to do so dramatically, possibly seeking immortality though stories. By this standard he succeeds at least in the mind of his meth addict friend (Not actually a meth addict, but otherwise so unremarkable that I forgot his name) who imagines him when the Shapes attack and again in the Class office.

Doctor, who is never given a name that I remember, attempts to conquer death through change and progress. Enough is said in the rest of the story about the merits of change and progress that I need not rehash it here.

Kano has some serious Feanor shit going on here. Feanor is obscure enough (from Tolkein's Silmarillion) that it may simply be a coincidence, but the parallels are perhaps more powerful and direct than the Gilgamesh parallels. Both are born from three wombs, with blessesdly little elaboration about how, exactly, that works. Feanor creates the Silmarils, gems that are both alive and imperishible, while Kano creates the Shapes, who could well be described in the same way. Feanor creates an army of elves (while having to deal with a series of defections partly by genociding the elves standing in his way) and goes off to battle Melkor, the bringer of death and chaos, while suffering transport mishaps (setting fire to his boats) and fails as a result of his hubris. Why, exactly, Kano wants an immortal army to kill people who seem hell bent on dying is something I missed, or just a loose end, or perhaps a symptom of madness.

Why do the Class want to die?

Fuck if I know. The world is "tired" and "old", two not uncommon tropes that I have never once been able to sympathize with, though I was trained as economist, not a poet, so that might be part of it. They keep importing Raffia even as they shut themselves off for the entirely relatable reason that in their late stage lethargy it would be too much trouble to deal with Lux and thus they ignore it hoping they die off before it comes back to bite them.

The deal with Gabe:

Gabe is a super mysterious cult town that also builds a bunch of weapons. The elder waxes poetic about how Gabe and the institution of the seer is uncountably old and has watched the rise and fall of countless cities. Everything that Gabe does and is makes sense when you realize three things:
  • The Seer really can see the future through some manner of magic and everyone in Gabe is part of the cult.
  • When the Ran falls silent the town sells weapons to the Shapes hoping the city can avoid the foretold fate.
  • The town of Gabe is a giant electric generation plant. The strange man who appears appropo of nothing in one of the earlier episodes and finally again at the last episode and waxes poetic about the eyes of the city folk changing when the lights go out is in Gabe, keeping the electricity flowing.
Between the seer and the electric plant, they both figuratively and literally illuminate the underworld. When all the people of Gabe die, the lights go out for good. This also explains their longevity and their peculiar political position.

Let me know in the comments if I missed anything confusing, or if I got something wrong.

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