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.