Kaiba 2 – Sex for Gnostics?

That was one of the strangest explorations of sexuality that I’ve ever seen in anime. Or, at least, it beats maid robots and right-hand girlfriends.

Kaiba is, of course, all about the idea that memories and identities can be exchanged between bodies willy-nilly (well, if you have the money that is). The opening explanation makes that clear if it wasn’t already. Episode 2 asks the question many might ask first: what does that do to what is usually considered the most earthy, bodily kind of act of all–sex? Can you, say, have sex with another body that has your own memories, and can that double the pleasure? (Even if it leads to problems, as we can see?) Create clones of yourself for the purposes of sex?

What does that have to do with Gnosticism? In ancient Gnosticism, which was the popularized form of Neo-Platonic spiritual philosophy–it is to Greek philosophy as the average New Age Oprahfied cult is to real Hinduism or Buddhism–the body was neither here nor there compared to the life of the divine spark/spirit inside, which is the “real you.” In the majority of cases, this led to a denigration of sexuality and bodily existence altogether, with strict fasting and abstinence; this was the strain that most challenged orthodox Christianity in its early centuries (Gnosticism was scandalized by the idea of God having something as inferior as human flesh). However, a minority of Gnostic sects took the opposite but equally logical conclusion that whatever was done in the body didn’t matter–so you might as well live it up and be as promiscuous as you wanted. It wasn’t the “real you” doing it, after all.

The world of Kaiba takes the lack of the importance of the body being tied to identity one step further: now it need not even involve another person, even if another body is involved. It becomes the ultimate form of masturbation in a way, whether it’s by implanting yourself in another body or by creating another body for the purpose. All that matters is the orgasmic high, a state that has very often been described as feeling “spiritual.” Though it’s interesting to note that there is a distinction the policeman makes between killing an “original” versus a “copy”: one is homicide, and one is legal. But in a world where every body is exchangeable, why does having an original or a copy matter that much? Isn’t it having the memories/identity, as the show’s world either assumes or takes for granted as the state of affairs for many people?

This isn’t the only thing this episode explores. The whole time, Kaiba is dissociated from the body we found him with at the start of the series (with a hole in his heart) and trapped inside a mute dinosaur. He gets to watch his previous body being abused by the Cape Woman (I can’t remember her name) and gets to watch too as a friendly couple is mercilessly executed before his eyes, all without being able even to grimace. The artists do an excellent job showing how much longing, frustration, and sadness Kaiba is feeling even though he can’t speak or make faces. (The ethereal music helps too, and the gorgeous OP’s mostly correct English lyrics capture the mood perfectly.) One wonders what direction Kaiba’s journey is going to take: is he going to learn that his body is really dispensable and he can learn to feel at home in any “shell,” or is he going to feel especially attached to the body with the hole in the heart for some reason and want it back?

I noticed that the ship company and the ship itself are named after brain structures–the company is called Synapse Narc, and the ship itself called Neuron. It immediately made me wonder whether this whole universe is really literally inside someone’s brain, and what we are watching are the life and death of neurons. Memories, after all, free float in space as “roes”–a startlingly beautiful and also rather sad image, as they are memories shed by the deceased in one great stream of lost images. Though, of course, the premise seems to be that in this world, those free-floating memories left behind by the dead can be contained and commodified, thus containing and commodifying one very important part of our humanity.

Good science fiction asks and explores these kinds of questions, and so increasingly what we seem to have here is many of the same issues raised in Ghost in the Shell minus the cyberpunk, nudity (of the usual kind), action, and typical anime art style. Instead, we get a work of ethereal beauty, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously–how can one not laugh at the “double self” sex scene, or the overbearing policeman?–and yet, with a floppy round world as a backdrop, remains intelligent and probing.

(Shout out: good job editing this episode, saturnine.)

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

6 thoughts on “Kaiba 2 – Sex for Gnostics?

  1. I’m still largely undecided about this series. But I did think that the sex scene was interesting. And the distinction between someone who has their “soul” trapped in a metal cone and someone who’s death is “real” because she joins the afterlife. And I do like the very visible afterlife part of it.

  2. “gnosticism” — wonderful catch. One aspect of the separation of mind and body we’ve already seen with the “sheriff” — one can be executed for the most minor of crimes (though you’d think the bodies would be valuable on the — apparently existing — black market?).

    This is what an adaptation of a Philip K Dick novel should be like.

  3. Thanks a lot, Mike, but I think I’ve got to give credit where it’s due: my second editor (Rathann) and three QCers (Raziel666, Requiem, wineaux) contributed extensively to the final product, and I couldn’t have done it without them. After working with them I’ve come to realise that my English isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s been a humbling and learning process.

    Having just gone through a refresher crash course about Gnosticism in a study of John’s Letters last Friday, I’m especially blown by your comparison, and feel quite dumb for not noticing that earlier. Props to you for that one.

    As usual, you’re asking all the right questions, and you’ll find some of those answered in the next episode (of which we’re currently sQCing, which is the second-last step before the RC encode for the final QC), so keep up with this distinct approach, will you? While bloggers who understand Kaiba aren’t uncommon, I have a feeling you’re going to stay at the top of the class with the methods you’re using, and I look forward as usual to your next post.

  4. @Cameron: it seems to me that the usual term “afterlife” itself might be blurred in such a world. I’ not entirely sure myself. One of the things that I like about this show is that it invites you to think about such things at all, and that it does so in a non-stuffy, non-pretentious way.

    @dm: the execution for trivial crimes I think is both an indication of the relative cheapness of bodies as well as a reinforcing of the universe’s class distinction. The rich can easily afford new bodies; the poor cannot, so punishment is by design much harsher for the poor than for the rich.

    @Owen: you’re very welcome, and I’m fascinated that you’re taking such a course. 🙂 It’s probably most accurate to describe the group described in the Johannine letters as “proto-Gnostic” than full-blown, as they didn’t become full blown alternative competitors until well into the 2nd century, when Irenaeus wrote “Against All Heresies.” But for John it boils down to whether someone can confess Jesus coming in the actual physical flesh or not, and that was scandalous to the Hellenized culture from the start. I’m looking forward to seeing episode 3 from you guys, then! I gotta put my theological education to use somehow. 🙂

  5. Yeah.. to be honest, I’m finding myself liking that part of the show. I’m kind of not liking the mute observer/audience stand-in of a main character. He’s kind of reminding me of Meursault from The Stranger without any of the charm. I would say he’s kind of a classic existentialist hero, but really he seems a bit detached for that.

    But it’s still enough for me to keep watching it.

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