Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou – 11 (End) and Series Review

Damn – where do I start writing about a series like Concrete Revolutio?  Where do I even begin?

I don’t look forward to series review posts in general.  Partly it’s due to the sentimentalist in me being bummed about a series I’ve enjoyed coming to an end (and these days, I don’t finish them if I don’t enjoy them) but it’s also the fact that the buggers are just plain difficult to write.  Series intro posts are not only more fun (for obvious reasons) but also far easier.  With end posts you have to try and sum up everything that’s happened over the course of a series – what it means in itself, and what it means to you.  And that’s never easy.

And then, well- you have Concrete Revolutio.

As I sometimes do before an end post, I looked back over my old episode posts a bit, just to see how my views on Concrete Revolutio have evolved over time.  Of course I was not a big fan out of the gate – I found the show to be a mess, pretty much, and of course it was.  I was very close to dropping it during the A-Part of Episode 2 in fact (talk about a bullet dodged), but somewhere in the second half of that episode is started to connect with me.  I started to get a sense of what Mizushima and Aikawa were doing here – why they were delivering a show that seems so slaphazard and intentionally confusing.

What really struck me was that even in those confusing first few eps, I was seeing much more of the truth than I remembered seeing.  I observed very early on that Jirou was like a “weapon of mass destruction in human form”.  I was rather gobsmacked when I saw this paragraph buried in my post all the way back at Episode 4:

Concrete Revolutio is clearly all about the grey areas that exist between black and white spheres of moral certainty.  No one wants to see absolutes more than Jirou, yet he’s constantly barraged with confusing scenarios – evil acts supposedly committed in the name of good, lies told for the sake of truth. 

Now I mention all this not to immerse myself in glory, because I take no credit for incisiveness here.  Rather, my point is that Aikawa Shou and Mizushima Seiji deserve immense respect for what they’ve wrought.  There was a method to their madness from the very beginning, just as in the swirling chaos after the big bang the laws of physics still existed, and there was an order present – it just took a while for it to be plainly visible if you paid close attention.  And paying close attention is very much fundamental to the experience of Concrete Revolutio – if ever a show existed as a litmus test for the attention span of the modern anime audience, it’s this one.  That may be why it seems far more popular among anime bloggers (like the AniTAY website with its excellent – and very useful – series timeline) than the general public.

For all that, I won’t claim to understand everything that happened in Concrete Revolutio, or even everything that happened at the end.  While this is one of the most intellectually dense anime we’ve seen in years, it’s also quite a visceral one – breathless, exhilarating, exhausting sometimes.  It’s plot-driven more than character-driven (though only because the plot is that exceptional) but equally, it’s idea-driven.  The characters themselves act in pursuit of ideas and ideals, and they drag the audience along with them as they do so.  It’s not an approach to storytelling you see in anime nearly as often as you used to, and you never saw it very often to begin with.

As I predicted, the second season saw Concrete Revolutio act on a much more linear narrative timeline than the first.  The first season was all about expansion and the second contraction.  This final episode took place almost entirely in two timelines – February, 51st of Shinka Era (1976) and April, 53rd of Shinka Era (1978).  Those later scenes were what amounts to the “present” for ConRevo, and featured Fuurouta and Kikko reminiscing about everything that had transpired.  Especially the war between the humans and the youkai in February 51, which was where everything more or less ended.  In doing so they give away much of what’s going to happen in the finale before we actually see it, but none of it comes as a huge surprise in any event.

I’m not going to try and break down or even understand everything that happened in this final episode, because there was so much of it.  I think Jirou simply reached a breaking point – he’d seen more “grey justice” than his heart could take, and as Emi said “the heart is like a beast”.  The fact that Satomi was, like Jirou, a being that came into existence in a great impact (in his case a meteor) was certainly an important revelation. It’s easy to forget now, but back when this all started Jirou was something of a self-hating superhuman himself – not so different from Satomi as one might imagine.  Satomi has used his power in a manner both much more selfish and self-aware than Jirou, played a long game to achieve a world free from the “unnatural” influence of superhumans.  Everyone has been dancing to his tune since the beginning, and those who should have known better were fighting amongst themselves right up to the very end.

I was pleased to see Jaguar reveal his true spots in the end and betray Satomi for the good guys – he, perhaps, was in a better position to play the long game than anyone.  What actually happens in that final battle in Ultimapolis is, I think, open to considerable debate.  There’s no question that many of the beasts and superhumans (including Emi and Ullr) left for the other world.  But if Jirou was born at the nexus of our world and this one, does that mean that because it was Satomi’s power used to open the portal that those youkai went to a third and different world altogether – which would explain why our world seems considerably lacking in the magical?  And in leaving, did Ullr turn Kikko more or less into a normal human (she still retains a bit of her power, at least)?

The epilogue, then, is a world in which Fuurouta and Kikko are left more or less alone – not even visible to most humans – but one in which the view of superhumans and youkai has evolved into something closer to nostalgia and wish-fulfillment.  Superhumans are the stuff of children’s dreams and manga, movies and flights of fancy.  And Jirou, his body (or rather, the Fumers which kept his power contained) lost to Satomi’s Bio-Destroyer, circles the Earth as a kind of protective spirit.  And when Devilo and Devila bring news of an incoming fleet of spaceships, maybe – just maybe – Jirou will come back to us once again to fight for the Earth.  That’s the role of superhumans after all – to live in our dreams, and save us when we’re in trouble.

It was a remarkable ride, Concrete Revolutio. Series like this are rare for some very good reasons – they’re damn hard to make, and they don’t generally make money.  But Bones is a studio that’s never shied away from trying difficult material, and they’ve always been a champion of content for its own sake. I have boundless respect for this studio and for everyone involved with Concrete Revolutio, because it challenged and enlightened and forced its audience to think.  And along the way it proved itself a loving tribute to all the forms of artistic expression that speak to the dreamer in us.  Originality and ambition are not guarantors of quality in their own right by any means, but they’re always admirable – and when expressed as passionately and and skillfully as they were with this series, they ensure that the end result will live on as a significant part of anime history.

 

 

 

 

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15 comments

  1. When the series was getting closer to ending I began to dread how in the world one could even begin to write about this series and had hope that you and passerby over at random c dot net would do it some justice. And thankfully the two of you did a pretty good job – this is a very difficult series to write about. It is one of anime’s works of incredibly dense prose that almost deserves to be studied to get closer to all the things it is saying.

    And in some ways many folks nowadays whether in film or tv or any other medium have a hard time (perhaps due to lack of examples?) to zero in and lock down on an art form and seriously study it in a way that yields aesthetic enjoyment and reward at the same time.

    Thanks for wrestling with the series – I enjoyed reading your posts. 🙂

  2. Rarely has there been a series about which I’ve more enjoyed writing. It’s been a blast.

  3. J

    Great post – said most of what I would have wanted to say about this series. I really do unabashedly love this show – it isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s just such a relentlessly creative and intellectually challenging show, the likes of which you very rarely see in anime these days. Mizushima and Aikawa just seem like a special combination to me; I really loved UN-GO as well, so I hope they’re able to continue to collaborate in the future, commercial appeal be damned.

    Also, movie sequel anyone? Obviously I don’t expect it to happen with how unprofitable this show was, but I sure would love to see these characters just one final time…

  4. Love to see it – not expecting it. UN-GO was not as commercially unsuccessful as ConRevo, so perhaps there’s a chance Bones might let these two team up again on the right project. I certainly hope so.

    Thank goodness the real Mizushima has worked on material so much better the crap shows he directed in Shirobako…

  5. s

    And this is why i love bones as a studio; they do whatever the fuck the want. When they left sunrise to form their own studio, they werent joking when they said that they’d be a studio that would create any work they felt like. Concrete revolutio is a great example of this studio’s ambition. Bring on Mob psycho 100 this summer, again highlighting the different IP’s this studio likes to dish out.

  6. I love this show, and how it explores so many different the loss of idealism through so many different perspectives. I’ll be sorry to see it go, but dang- it’s been one heck of a ride and I’d rank Jiro as among Ishikawa Kaito’s best performances to date.

  7. That’s getting to be a pretty long list.

  8. D

    It’s definitely been one of my favourite shows of the season, and a show which richly awards the attention you give to it.
    I think it’s one of those shows which may not be commercially successful with the otaku hivemind, but which will be critically acclaimed and well remembered when better selling shows are forgotten.

    Anime needs shows like this if it’s not to sink into a mire of the same old same old.

  9. B

    Reading both your and Passerby’s posts in quick succession makes me wish you two did a podcast on the show.

    Thanks for blogging this, Enzo. It’s been a wild ride, but a very rewarding one.

  10. Its a good ending, just a bit too traditional for my liking. I second the praise on Passerby’s posts; they’re the only reason I visit Randomc nowadays.

  11. F

    It was a really great show and this ending fits almost perfectly. I’m just a little bit sad that Earth-chan didn’t have more screentime during the second season, because she was one of the most interesting characters beside Emi and Jirou.

    And thanks Enzo for your continued coverage of this show, I’m glad to see that there are still a few animes out there that can incite meaningful conversation among its viewers.

  12. Thanks, Faolin. It must be said, too, that another reason this was a great show to blog is that the tenor of the discussion was great (though I wish there’d been more commentary). No shipping wars, waifu nonsense or homophobia – just discussion of what was happening on-screen, and what it meant.

  13. C

    I have mixed feelings about the show. I’m glad something this challenging and “non-commercial” was made, but it was so dense, with so much *stuff* happening that I found it hard to engage with it emotionally. It required a memory better than mine to keep track of what was happening from week to week, and I wasn’t connecting emotionally with the multitudinous characters.

    In Hollywood, a author of a novel is almost never permitted to write the associated screenplay because one of the main arts in screenwriting is paring the story in the novel down so that it plays well on the screen. Novelists fall the love with their work and lack the objectivity to do this–it takes fresh eyes and hard-nosed editing; some material always must be discarded. Ultimately, I can’t help but feeling that Concrete Revolutio skipped the “paring it down” step, to its detriment.

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