At some point, this show about exchangeable bodies was going to have to talk about gender and all that it entails. So we have these episodes.
It’s funny that we’ve been watching Kaiba for so long in Chroniko’s body, I almost forgot at times that we saw him first as male. When Vanilla first started chasing Kaiba-in-Chroniko, it was funny because he had no idea that she was a he on the inside, but by this point–at least for a person who watches it only weekly–I have become habituated to that rather comic scenario. Perhaps this tells us something about how much identity and body is based on mutual familiarity. Long ago Carl Jung, later echoed by Anno in Evangelion, observed that identity isn’t just what one thinks about oneself on the inside; it’s also about the self that others perceive on the outside too. Identity is about as much what other people are used to seeing as much as one’s own self-consciousness. Thus, by the time Chroniko’s body is vaporized along with Vanilla’s at the end of episode 7, it feels something like the ending of a doomed half-romance, even though had they known who they really were, it would never have happened. It’s about seeing this cute girl together with a guy, a lecherous doofus of a guy but ultimately–as we see from his final actions–decent and even self-sacrificial. This is the ideal of heterosexual romance, founded in large part on bodily appearance, though its foundation is a lot shakier. What does, in fact, romance mean in a world like this?
We see a hint of what it might mean in the plight of Gel. Gel is a woman trapped, literally, in a man’s body–a buff, muscular man’s body to boot. This is a world where the messy and somewhat indistinct category of being “transgendered” no longer applies, since body replacements are as easy as 1-2-3 with a little money. Feel conflicted? Just literally change body genders. (Interesting thought exercise: what does this do to homosexuality?) The show seems to be suggesting, though, that it’s not quite that simple. Gel seems to be transitioning to becoming a man in “her” attraction to Chroniko’s body/Kaiba, as if the hormones inside the male body are working on her mind. Perhaps then the world of Kaiba is not as Gnostic as I thought before; the body and mind may not be as easy to separate as I assumed. In the real world, they are pretty inseparable, and they are also working on a two-way street in which one affects the other continually. When it comes to sex and gender, new lines have to be drawn as far as the part that relates to biology and the part that relates to social expectations and roles.
Vanilla, at least, seems to be hewing pretty closely to (stereo)typical male courtship patterns, hormones and desires and all. But not only does he seem a bit unusual in his world–he looks different from his fellow cops–he’s one of the few characters who we’ve seen to have the same body throughout the show. His disappearance thus feels like a real “death.” It calls attention to how much our notions of death are dependent on our view of the body in a way. We’ve now seen Kaiba shift into three different bodies, so we feel somehow more confident that this is not the end for him in the way we think it’s the end for Vanilla (though who knows where he’ll show up next–this show at least has been quite unpredictable).
Indeed, we seem to be finding out more and more about this “Warp,” who is getting more complicated with every extra revelation. He does not seem to be a good guy at all. Looking strikingly like–but not identical–to the first body we saw on Kaiba, Warp is merciless and murderous, even to his supposed lost love. Presumably, if the character we are calling Kaiba is also this Warp, he has lost his memories of being Warp; if the memories are lost, but it was the same consciousness, is it meaningfully the “same person”? Is he accountable for the crimes he has committed? Now it gets really tricky. In our current court system, a key factor in determinning guilt and culpability for crime is mental competency, of which one key plank is that one knows that what one did was wrong. What if you can’t even remember in the least what you did? Kaiba may be beginning to remember. This will no doubt fundamentally change his self-understanding as we have seen him so far. Will he make amends somehow? Will he redouble his search to find the girl he may or may not have “killed”?
This show is so interesting in part because so many of the presumably solid definitions of words like that–killed, male, female, memory, identity–are not so solid in this world. Postmodern philosophy has been insisting for a while that this has always been the case all along, of course, that this is all socially constructed; and yet, I don’t think most people live as if that were true, at least not all the way. So much of that is because the link between our bodies and our identities is still very strong, down to our deepest biological elements. Kaiba, like all good science fiction is a thought experiment. It’s probing very deeply, and yet in a relatively simple way, into the implications of what happens when that strong link is broken, and for that reason is still the most fascinating show this season and possibly this year.