Of all the series I’m blogging this season, this one is the most resistant to brevity.
This was an episode of Concrete Revoutio that a lot (relatively speaking – generally, not many folks seem to be watching this show) of viewers were really looking forward to. That’s because it was written by Urobuchi Gen (if he’s not the biggest name writing for anime today, he’s certainly in the top two). And interestingly, it was the first episode this season that I had significant issues with. Again, that’s relatively speaking – Concrete Revolutio is never less than the most intellectually challenging series on the schedule, even if it’s not firing on all cylinders.
My personal history with Urobuchi is somewhat checkered. I admire his talent, and whatever issues I have with his choices and ability to write an ending, it’s easy to see how much better it is to have him writing than the alternative in shows like Suisei no Gargantia and Aldnoah.Zero (not to mention Psycho Pass). But to be blunt, I found his work with ConRevo pretty heavy-handed – and heavy-handed is not a good fit with this series. Concrete Revolutio thrives on its complexity, subtlety and nuance – it’s a far better show when it doesn’t hit you over the head with the point it’s trying to make.
Let me state for the record than in the broad sense, I mostly agree with the perspective Urobuchi is taking here. But if you want to know why I have a problem with his simplistic, high-handed moralism, I suggest you Google one word: “Ainu”. Some of you know it, some of you don’t – but I can tell you from experience that a lot of Japanese people know it and pretend they don’t. It’s easy to take potshots at the United States, because when they screw up they do it in front of the world, and the consequences are often very high. Let’s be honest – those potshots are often deserved. But there are definitely times when a mirror would be more useful than a bully pulpit.
What we have here, then, is a pretty ringing condemnation of U.S. foreign policy during the Vietnam War, one that slowly expands to a condemnation of U.S. foreign policy in general and (what Urobuchi sees as) the raison d’être of the country itself. If you believe America is nothing more than an imperialist bully trying to impose its will on the world in the name of manifest destiny, this episode is right up your street. And if one wanted to make that case they could hardly look for a better straw man than the unmitigated fiasco that was the Vietnam War. Urobuchi’s screed takes place mostly in Shinka Year 49 (1974), with a brief flashback to Year 43, when the war was at its height.
Fortunately there’s more to this episode that the heavy-handed America bashing – a good chunk of it focuses on the PTSD that afflicted many veterans of this and every war. A lot of young Americans saw and did terrible things in the Mekong Delta, and Uribuchi illustrates this using the canvas of a superhuman soldier named Jonathan Morrell. He and the other superhuman soldiers who were part of Sam’s “J.O.E.” (oh, Gen-san – you really are shameless) program are now prisoners at Sasebo (a real U.S. airbase in Nagasaki Prefecture), unable to return home. Jirou takes it upon himself to free Jonathan, although he doesn’t know exactly what Jonathan did to put himself in the state he’s in, and that puts him once again at odds with the Bureau, who’ve been retained by the U.S. Army to try and recapture Morrell.
Several developments here are interesting. Fuurouta seems to have teamed up with Jirou for now (after he brings Kikko to Jirou at his request, he later brings Emi so as not to “play favorites”), though he’s clearly still distraught and bitter. Jirou himself seems to be exposed more and more as an extremist – an idealistic one, no doubt, but an extremist just the same. He’s becoming less and less concerned with the consequences of his actions and more and more obsessed with subjecting every situation to some sort of absolutist moral litmus test – the morality, of course, being measured by his own narrow perspective. There are times when I wonder if Aikawa Shou’s intent here isn’t to muse on whether it’s worse for people to do bad things in the name of good, or good things in the name of evil.
One last little Easter egg here is the tidbit that comes from the man pulling the strings with J.O.E. and the U.S. Military – Jirou is somehow the “key to solving the world’s energy problems”. If that’s been explicitly explained already I confess I’ve forgotten, though there’s certainly plenty one could speculate on based on what we know. Concrete Revolutio was probably always destined to come down to Jirou being a prize fought over by the various factions fighting for power in this world – it’s the one scenario that seems most suited to bringing all the themes Aikawa and his team of writers have raised over the course of 20 episodes.