I’ve had the increasing sense while watching Concrete Revolutio – and never more so than this week – that this is an anime that will be regarded as a classic say, a decade from now. I’m probably one of its staunchest defenders, and my sense is that even I’m selling it short. The degree to which it seems designed to fail commercially is almost Manglobe-ian, yes, but it goes beyond that. It also seems designed not to be fully appreciated as it’s being watched.
I’ve made this allusion before, but to me the experience of watching Concrete Revolutio is akin to putting together a puzzle when you don’t know what the final picture is supposed to look like. By necessity, you can only fully appreciate what you’re looking at in retrospect – and surely, that takes away some measure of the satisfaction one would normally get from the process. Is that a flaw, dramatically speaking? Perhaps it is, but it’s also an insidiously clever way to capture the imagination of those with the patience to stick with building the puzzle. That’s why I think “reviews” of the series now are meaningless – they’ll really only matter once the series is done. And even then, I think perception of it will improve with age like a fine Cuban cigar.
All that is contingent, of course, on the second cour not screwing things up royally. And since I’m still on-target with my suspicion that it will be radically different from the first, that’s certainly possible. But that’s for April to worry about – for now, we have no make some sense of the first cour, just ended. It was a strange and beautiful ending, as one would expect setting the stage more so than clearing it.
I have to hand it to Mizushima and Aikawa for elegantly summing up a Byzantine and perplexing series in one simple question – “Whose side are you on?” It was asked of Earth-chan in the early moments of this episode, but in essence it captures the dynamic of the entire show. Whose side are you on – what do you choose to fight for, and why? At some point it’s a question all of us are asked in our lives. Sometimes the circumstances are dire, sometimes only intensely personal. And sometimes we choose, while others the choice we make is not to choose at all.
Life would be a lot simpler if that choice was always easy (“should I stand against fascism?”) – though even easy choices often demand a price. But it rarely is, and that’s the whole point of Concrete Revolutio. At one point in this episode Claude says to Jiro “In order to fight for the humans, right now you have to fight against them” – and that’s really what this ep is in a nutshell. It’s a reckoning for almost all the major players we’ve met in the first twelve episodes, a tallying up – whose side are you on? Yumihiko tells Earth-chan that “It’s always better to know clearly which side is right”, and no one wants that more than Earth-chan does – it’s her entire existence. But we almost never have that luxury (I’d go so far as to argue that it was this realization that caused Earth-chan to finally shut down altogether and go into a “coma”).
Certainly, the fight between childhood friends Jin and Jirou is the crucial moment of the episode. What happens to Jirou absolutely recalls Evangelion, and it’s clearly intended to – how could one not recall the berserker rage of Eva-01 in watching Equus tear Jin apart? But what stands out to me is this patch of dialogue from Jin:
“Justice, peace, freedom? Defending my freedom disturbs the peace! Pursuing your justice violates my freedom! There is no single answer!”
This, then, is the essential problem – the “ideals” movements and societies are built around almost always conflict with each other. And our definitions of these ideals vary from person to person – that is, when people can divorce themselves from their selfish material needs and desires to care about them at all. This is some really dense and penetrating stuff here – Concrete Revolutio is in an intellectual realm of anime where the buses just don’t run very often. Ambition does not in itself make a series successful by any means – but when it’s so breathtakingly on display as it with this show, it’s awfully hard not to admire it.
I’m not going to try and explain everything that happened in this cour or this episode, largely because I don’t think we’re supposed to understand all of it yet. Akita killed in order to pursue a larger goal; Emi saved someone she hated (Kikko) in order to do the same. It was full of hard choices and moral compromises. And it ended on a wholly unexpected twist, with the suggestion that Jirou was somehow born out of the ashes of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Of course, historically speaking the Enola Gay didn’t crash in Japan, so I’m not sure just how literally this development is intended to be taken – but it’s yet another intriguing twist.
I can recall few instances where I’ve looked forward to the second half of a split-cour series as much as I am with Concrete Revolutio. Partly that’s because of how fascinating and genuinely perplexing (in a good way) the plot is, but selfishly, it’s also because this is a show that practically blogs itself. Rarely do I have this much fun writing about a series, or have to grind less to find the words I want to write about it. The table has been set for what could be a truly spectacular second cour – now let’s see if Aikawa and Mizushima can deliver a meal worthy of that table.