Kaiba 5 – The Skin Trade

Commodity bodies galore, in this long awaited episode of Kaiba.

I am beginning to see where some of the Marxist overtones that Hige identified early on in this show are beginning to come in. One of Marx’s key critiques of capitalism was that intangible goods like labor, time, or even human life itself, would eventually be commodified as the market pressed to put a price on everything. This episode centers around a planet and a factory where “trendy” bodies are manufactured and traded–and where old, discarded bodies are literally turned into food a la Soylent Green. (The moment when this is revealed is unsurprising given the dehumanization of this universe, but is still somewhat shocking; we share the shock as Kaiba looks in horror at her hippo body sent along the conveyor belt into mashed up oblivion.) We notice as Patch produces patently useless, downright ugly bodies for sale–and people buying them nonetheless, until lots of people have mere variations on the same body, including one that somewhat resembles Kaiba’s lost love. It is as if he is creating an army of clones with individuality increasingly stamped out. This is essentially the end result of mass consumer capitalism that Marx predicted.

The episode centers around Patch and Quilt–such appropriate names!–and Kaiba’s interactions with them. Their seams still show, and their names describe the “utopian” planet’s trade, too: recycling trash bodies into food, and making new bodes for desirous consumers. Patch seems alienated from his work, however–he is bitter and angry that the system he created to help others has become an instrument of consumerist desire, and creates useless bodies out of sheer spite. That they continue to buy his bodies anyway, and that he must continue to relive the same moments day by day (only Quilt, his dog who has the memories of his creator, “rewinds” him each time), is a good depiction of the despair that his entire system creates and sustains. Every day, more and more bodies become food, and more and more people look the same in their foolishness and uselessness. Every day, he laments the same thing, only to be “drained” at the same moment. He, too, is a factory worker in that regard, condemned to Sisyphean repetition. This is hardly a “utopia” at all; it’s a dystopia. The artwork turns even more surreal and ugly to reinforce that; they sometimes look like children’s crayon scribbings, and I think that is intentional.

And what of Kaiba? It was interesting to see him chase the hippo body around crying, “my body!” when in fact that body always limited his movement and speech, and that he’s living inside another one at the moment which gives him much more freedom. (Not least since Vanilla the policeman can be so easily tamed with that body.) It seems that living in a body still produces some level of attachment for Kaiba. The old, natural understanding of identity being tied to the body may only exist as a vague feeling in this world, but it is still there in traces.

The episode ends humanely, with Quilt receiving a body similar to her original one at her prime, and Patch restored to his place beside his creator. Such “resurrections” are possible only in this world, and that it restores the status quo of centuries past is perhaps the best that can be done here, though I think there is something a bit unreal about it all. This is a world where everyone potentially gets nearly infinite second chances, but having a greater number of chances doesn’t seem to increase the amount of meaning and purpose in life correspondingly. The subject of death and finality has always been lurking in the back of this show’s subtext, and at some point it will probably be addressed directly; this episode, however, is a good example of how people attempt to “fix” that problem in their own desperate ways: a new body, a new you.

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.

2 thoughts on “Kaiba 5 – The Skin Trade

  1. this show is rapidly becoming brilliant. it has such a wonderful childlike honesty, but whilst dealing with quite strong themes of love, mourning and personal identity. all backed up with an often haunting soundtrack. rewatched the episode about the girl selling her body and her aunts betrayal- that final sequence at the piano reduced me to tears. really shocked me how strongly it hit me. really good simple, emotionally invested story telling. long may it continue.

  2. 1. The images of abandoned lumps of gold in the backyard is a childishly effective method of showing that Patch and Quilt don’t care about wealth. Since my value system is different I wish somebody would do that for me!

    2. Despair? What despair? Everybody’s happy except for Patch! He’s the only one who rants against capitalism. His creator/partner Quilt voices no opinions on this subject and the rich capitalist is content with the status quo. Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. If people want something that is pretty then who am I to judge?

    3. What’s wrong with eating Soylent Green other than the fact that eating your grandma is a good way to get her disease? As long as you don’t know what you’re eating you’d be fine with it. According to the Disney movie “The Lion King” doesn’t everything we eat come from the circle of life? What’s wrong with skipping a couple of the steps?

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