Kaiba 4 – The Little Prince(ss)?

I was trying to figure out why, with this episode in particular, this series felt strangely familiar. That’s when it hit me: structurally, Kaiba is beginning to resemble Antoine de St-Exupery’s fable, The Little Prince. (Full text and illustrations of The Little Prince can be found here.) That would help explain the increasingly episodic feel of the story thus far and even some of the art style.

I first read Le Petit Prince in high school French class, in French of course; for those who are unfamiliar with it, it is about a a downed aviator (a stand in for the author, who loved flying) who encounters the little boy prince of the title. The boy is possessed of a wide imagination, and he tells various stories about his visits to other small planets and asteroids where he encounters various types of people–a greedy, quantifying businessman, a lamplighter, a geographer, etc, all of whom represent various adult flaws. The asteroids in the original artwork are drawn in a similar manner to the small planets in Kaiba–at least in scale. They are tiny places emblematic of more or less only one thing.

So far in Kaiba, we’ve seen the title character travel to two different planets and one spaceship, where he has helped either resolve or at least work through another person’s struggles with memory and loss. This particular episode continues the pattern as Kaiba learns of the deep seated grief of the grandmother over the death of her husband, and literally watches her choose death within her mind–but not without recovering the location of the “treasure” that her greedy grandsons are so eager to find. The outcome of the plot is not as allegorical or neat as the various visits of the little prince, however; upon discovering that the treasure is nothing more than personal mementos and photos of the grandsons, they, disappointed, decide merely to take off into space. (What a reversal of the usual plotline, where such a discovery would move them into honoring the memories of their grandparents. It is Chroniko/Kaiba who must ask to bury the grandmother alongside her husband, with their beloved flowers growing underneath. This universe is not one with a lot filial piety, which is perhaps a consequence of bodies being so disposable.)

My niggling concern is that, should the show head down the path this sort of show often tends to follow, it will become a tad too programmatic and episodic; already there was a drop-off in emotional intensity, at least, compared to the previous magnificent episode, because it seems like a pattern is being established of Kaiba being primarily an “active observer” of events while the real drama is being played by the characters he helps. (Cameron puts it a bit strongly, but he’s right to observe that we still don’t know that much about Kaiba as a person yet, though I agree with the commenters that this is part of the convention of an observer who is not necessarily a protagonist.) We are given a tiny hint at the end of Kaiba’s romantic past, at least, as well as the nature of his brain: it seems that most of his memories are locked in vaults of some sort. These tantalizing clues suggest that there is much more to him, something terribly important in store, as one would expect for a show titled after his name. The choice to focus on episode-long vignettes can go so far until becoming somewhat predictable. Not that this is getting anywhere close to being bad or boring, but it’s a small concern.

Did anyone also notice that the line work in the art seemed rougher this time too?

One more thing about the Little Prince connection. In a terribly poignant moment, the Prince is about to leave; the narrator begs him not to go, and follows him even though the prince warns him not to. The things he says seem highly reminiscent of some of the themes in Kaiba. The following is a spoiler for the book, of course, so read only if you have read the book or don’t mind knowing the ending…let’s just say that the attitude toward bodies, the nature of how bodies can be changed from place to place, and the journey are all included. It also makes me wonder if this is a foreshadowing of the end of Kaiba, too.

[spoiler]The prince replies,

“It was wrong of you to come. You will suffer. I shall look as if I were dead; and that will not be true…”

I said nothing.

“You understand… it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy.”

I said nothing.

“But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells…”

I said nothing.

He was a little discouraged. But he made one more effort:

“You know, it will be very nice. I, too, shall look at the stars. All the stars will be wells with a rusty pulley. All the stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink…”

I said nothing.

“That will be so amusing! You will have five hundred million little bells, and I shall have five hundred million springs of fresh water…”

And he too said nothing more, becuase he was crying…

“Here it is. Let me go on by myself.”[/spoiler]

It seems that I have found the show to blog regularly this season, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Tune in soon, though, for one last First Look Fair roundup of a few other interesting titles, including Production IG’s latest foray into cyberpunk concepts, Real Drive.

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.

10 thoughts on “Kaiba 4 – The Little Prince(ss)?

  1. Heh, trust you to bring this up. Glad to hear I’m not the only one that made that connection with Kaiba and The Littie Prince — coincidentally, after watching the first episode of Himitsu – Top Secret (which I wholly recommend for a strong sci-fi fix, assuming that you haven’t got that lined up already), I was alerted to “kaiba” being Japanese for the hippocampus, which happens to store short-term memories.

    As for your concern about Kaiba being a tad programmatic and episodic, well, I’ll figure that out as soon as I take a look at episode 05, but as is the case with shows of this make, I wouldn’t expect every episode to be a hit. We’re dealing with human emotions at their rawest, after all, and if there’s anything that this one reminded me of it was how it resembled Fuuko’s condition in Clannad; maybe your subconscious made the connection and mentally rejected it as a result. 😛

    It’s been ages since I read The Little Prince, but I never thought of making the connection between Kaiba and its ending that way. Maybe I should re-read it or something. Appreciate the heads up, as usual.

  2. @blissmo: I’d love to hear back when you do watch it about your thoughts.

    @Owen: AH! My increasing suspicions that this is all happening in someone’s brain gets another piece of evidence. And honestly, I’ve expressed early doubts that turned out to be majorly unjustified in some cases with other shows; part of the danger of episodic blogging is being unable to see the forest for the trees in ongoing shows. I think I was trying to express my feeling that this episode simply wasn’t as engaging as the last one for some reason. Then again, the previous episode was startlingly good, and a very high bar to reach indeed. Again, danger of episodic blogging and judging each episode one by one. It definitely had nothing to do with Clannad–remember, I LIKED the Fuko arc in the end!

  3. The way the characters interact in this episode remind me of the character interaction in a Kyogen play (traditional Japanese comedy) I saw a few months ago at Kennedy Center (google “Kyogen,” “Japan!” and “Kennedy Center”). The mood and setting in this episode is the most “traditional” of the four. The way the twins talk is the same as the way the characters in the Kyogen play talked: sparse with silly interjections like “Yooooo”, and elongated syllables at the end of every expression. The conversation between the twins about the dead grandpa is typical Kyogen humor:

    “You idiot! Don’t say ‘Dead Grandpa’ in front of Grandma….”

    “Oh that’s right…. She falls into a deep slumber every time we say ‘Dead Grandpa….'”

    “The last time you told her Grandpa died…

    [thunk. Grandma hits the floor].

    she finally woke up four months later….”

    [Snoring sounds]


    The moral of this episode voiced by the character of the grandma is: be content with the one you love and enjoy the harmonious beauty of nature in everyday life. When her grandchildren ignore her message and strive for adventure and glory they starve to death on the ship.

  4. ah, that’s funny! I felt the same way about Kaiba… the animation, the themes… very Le Petit Prince.

  5. giz: And I think it’s reinforced all by the end. Kaiba has Le Petit Prince‘s fable-for-adults quality, and works best as such.

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