How long has it been since I wrote an actual, well, anime review? It’s fitting that my first regular, non-video entry has to do with my favorite show so far this year.
The way the plot is at last starting to pick up is fascinating, partly because of the characters involved, and partly for what they represent. We find out, for instance, that Popo–who we first met in episode 1–works for an organization that is fighting for a more natural world without body and memory transfers. (It is referred to as the “Issou-dan,” which according to Cinnamon Ass means “One Thought Group.”) Given the general perspective that the show has been presenting so far about the complications and dehumanizing features of this cheap-body world, one might think that they might be portrayed as heroes, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Popo not only presides over the organization hypocritically, as we discover that both he and his own mother have changed bodies themselves, he appears to be as bloodthirsty and power hungry as Warp, the tyrant they are fighting. He ruthlessly cuts down a group member who succumbed to the temptation to transferring his sister to another body. We see from the beginning of his childhood that his desire is to be a “king” and he is the type who will stop at nothing to accomplish that goal.
The show effectively demonstrates that while there are plenty of downsides to the ease of body/memory transfers, they are rooted in deep human longings and desires. I felt sympathy when Neiro’s childhood friend pleads with her not to follow Popo anymore, calling her destruction of a large memory tank a form of murder. In a world where memory transfers are possible, that makes a lot of sense; to destroy memories in that case is to forever deny a person a chance of living again (even if in a different body). What makes death death is its finality; in this world, the locus of that finality has shifted from the body to encapsulated memories themselves. Facing death even in this form is a cause of grief and pain and suffering, which have not gone away even when these techniques have been invented to alleviate them. From an artistic perspective, this helps make the story relatable to the audience and takes it from being simply an exploration of interesting ideas. I’ve begun to realize that not only is (as Zhong put it) every episode about love, every episode also has the shadow of death hanging over it in some way or another, and that these are the show’s emotional engines.
So memory is at the crux of everything here. What does that make, then, the “real” Warp/Kaiba? The hole in the heart body is the real one, apparently “indestructable,” of which everyone else’s copy–whether it is the king or the three rulers of the Issou-dan’s–is just a powerless copy. The power of memory is again the key, in that one can tell the “real” Warp by the fact that only that one can hold the enormous vaults of memories that we’ve seen before inside Kaiba. Another way of putting it is that Kaiba/Warp holds the essence of entire generations and lives before him, and this gives him enormous power. “I am large; I contain multitudes.” Perhaps this is why, too, he simultaneously is linked with the monstrous memory-eating plant by name, which we see in the ancient room. He is simultaneously a repository and the destroyer of memory, almost godlike. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the link is between Kaiba the plant and Kaiba the man, and I guess I won’t be sure until the end, but this sounds like one possibility.
It’s characteristic of this show to not necessarily focus on these larger issues, but to boil it down to a concrete and relatable situation: namely, Neiro’s. We discover at last that the reason why there were black face masks over certain memories is because Popo manipulated them to put Kaiba’s face over every bad one and his face over every good one. We see that when push comes to shove, it is those memories–flawed as they are–which produce the instinctive reaction, which in this case was to kill Kaiba/Warp for the death of her parents. Again, memory has become the key to everything in this world. What she chooses to believe, even when it is seriously called into question by her friend Kichi and the admission of the memory “engineer” who changed those memories for her, is the memory.
The scope of the show has become much larger now. It is no longer an odd travelogue about passive-observer Kaiba discovering different things; now it is about life and death for the entire universe that they live in, about who will hold sway. It’s worth noting that we do not actually know much about the character we call Kaiba; we actually seem to know more about the people who have his cloned bodies and the fearsome reputation that “Warp” has. My guess is that the memory banks that are sealed within Kaiba will be opened, and then we will at last discover something of what his “true nature” is. And it’s interesting that at the end of the day, the show wants to insist that there is something called the “real” Warp, the “real” Kaiba, even as the people who fight for “real bodies and memories” end up being so hypocritical and downright nasty. It could go in a fascinating, complex “postmodern” direction by declaring that such ideas are meaningless in such a slippery world, perhaps by showing that “Warp” is only a collection of different people’s memories himself.
Who knows who’s who, really; I guess we just have to find out in the concluding episodes. (Please, F-B Ureshii?)