Twelve Days of Anime 7: Subete ga F ni Naru, a Commentary

The Europeans don’t think like us Americans, and it drives us crazy. One area of disconnect is their reduced need for closure. Perhaps it’s because they’ve lived cheek-by-jowl on a tiny peninsula since forever, and they know that whatever happens between them and their neighbors, they will still be neighbors tomorrow, and so will their grandchildren. Associated with this is an ability to go inside themselves, to think deep thoughts and then to act, wisely or foolishly, on them. It’s not that Americans can’t do this, it’s that our culture doesn’t encourage it. We want closure, we want openness, by which we mean a direct circuit between a thought and an action, unmitigated by reflection. And if things don’t work out, well, we’re off to the frontier, or are neighbors are, and we are never stuck in an unchanging situation.

Living in the US, and then England, and then the US again (in a previous Century), I got to see this first-hand. Take television crime shows. The archetypal US show is the old Dragnet. At the end of each program Detective Joe Friday captures the villain, and the narrator tells us that they were tried and convicted in the Los Angeles County Superior Court in and for the county of Los Angeles, and sentenced to ten years in prison. All wrapped up. No loose ends.

What was English crime TV like? Not as many murders, for one thing, and the police would wax indignant over the injuries a victim had suffered from being hit with a club. More to the current point, there was less emphasis on closure, on justice being seen to be done. Many shows ended with the last bit of evidence being found, and Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt (Softly, Softly) putting on their hats and heading out to make the arrest. Roll credits. Or they might not even get their man. One program involving a series of furniture thefts (no murders, just missing credenzas) ended with the police car squealing to a halt at an intersection in order to set up a roadblock, just seconds after the loaded van went through.

Similarly with thoughts and introspection. There’s a whole class of European movies that have this tendency to pause while the protagonists stare off into the distance before having some massively important revelation strike. Characters are always having long, seemingly pointless discussions on the whichness of what. Films are structured around the complex interactions of complex, possibly unlikable, persons. Such things don’t resonate with Americans at all, which is why they are labeled “arty”, and shown only at local film festivals, or on college campuses.

As far as I know, Japan doesn’t do this so much, which is why we are always surprised when it happens. Take the anime movie Sky Crawlers, for example. At one point, the protagonists make out in the front seat of a rental car, while struggling for possession of a cocked pistol. The male lead has an epiphany while sitting in the BOQ, watching a squadron mate read the newspaper. It’s a movie about flying has about ten minutes of flying in it. The Yūichi, I am your father revelation is only hinted at, leaving Yūichi to deduce it on his own. All very arty, very European.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider (based on a book by Mori Hiroshi, who also wrote Sky Crawlers) is much like this. It’s a locked room mystery inside an isolated island mystery, with a touch of cyber-weirdness to add spice. But the mystery is really only a vehicle to display the characters and quirks of the people involved. None of them are very likable. One of them, the perpetrator, is made out by all the others to be a genius far beyond the ability of mere mortals to understand, but from where this mortal stands, she’s an asocial, psychopathic, schizophrenic serial killer with no redeeming values. To which the series would say, “So? What’s your point?”

I enjoyed much of this series. I was irritated by much more of it. I’m not sure if I’ll buy it when it comes out on DVD, but I might gift it to some of my more intellectual friends.

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