Simoun: Purity and War

Obligatory Image of Neviril and Aer Kissing In A Simoun Post

I figured it would be best to get the Obligatory Image of Neviril and Aer Kissing in a Simoun Post out of the way as soon as possible.

Considering its name, it should be hardly be surprising that yuri series tend to deal heavily with purity; yuri means “lily” and, let’s face it, when your name for a particular style of fiction wherein two women may or may not have romantic interest in one another comes from a flower associated with the Virgin Mary, she of the Immaculate Conception, it’s kind of difficult to not have purity invoked as a deliberate theme. Sometimes it’s embraced [->], others fetishized [->], and still others challenged [->], but the theme persists. I’ve been rewatching Simoun lately (as I have intended to do since, oh, I finished it), and it proves to be no exception, and one-ups a lot of series I’ve seen by explicitly making it a major theme.

Simoun is set in a world where everyone is born female and makes a decision to either remain female or become male after their 17th birthday. The central nation, the Simulacrum Theocracy, possesses the ability to seamlessly transition the individual from female to male, should they desire, through its belief in Tempus Spatium, an ability that a neighboring country seems to mysteriously lack, relying instead upon technological methods of gender-alteration. Additionally, those who have yet to undergo the transformation are the only ones qualified to be Sibyllae, the priestesses of Tempus Spatium, and pilot the Simoun aircraft, which must be piloted by a Pair of Sibyllae.

Naturally, of course, the plot concerns a group of twelve Sibyllae known as Chor Tempest; rather quickly we discover that, although everyone insists that they are pure, noble, and other yamato nadeshiko-esque adjectives, for various reasons, they aren’t exactly the purest lot of Sibyllae around. (Although, apparently, none of the other Sibyllae are any better at the purity schtick) And not only this, but due to the invasion of other countries, they are also being forced to pilot the Simoun aircraft in a militaristic fashion. They are expected to be noble and pure, yet frequently aren’t.

Well, okay, that’s assuming a functionally non-existent one-dimensional interpretation of the term “purity”; many of our intrepid Sibyllae exhibit some (or even many) qualities vaguely embodied by the lofty, indefinable concept of “purity” but, on the whole, never really fit in. And even then, they don’t always get treated as though they were pure, as the assumption goes: case in point, episode 11 [“United Front”], where the scout airship upon which Chor Tempest makes its residence transports an all-male military outfit to lay siege to a captured town on the border. If the nobility and other upper-crust denizens of Simulacrum treat the Sibyllae with deference, respect, and guarded requests, the rough, uncouth military men of the front lines treat them as, well, the young, nubile maidens that they are. This leads to Problems of the sort that only tend to crop up when the terms “pure” and “nubile” start to conflate themselves, as they are wont to do.

Most of Chor Tempest treat the male soldiers with disdain (haughtiness somewhat optional), but one–eternally cheerful, naive, innocent, oblivious Floe–is fascinated with these creatures known as “men” and rapidly (and, one might add, forcefully) befriends a similarly naive, oblivious young soldier, Mastiff, who thankfully has more tact and respect than the rest of his fellow soldiers. What follows, of course, is the (quite charming) mutual discovery that the Other is not a fearsome entity, but another human being, rather much like the Self, in fact, allowing for certain differences in physique and temperament. Still, our Intrepid Young Soldier learns that a Sibylla needn’t be distant nor conform to his perception of their purity, and our Intrepid Young Sibylla learns that men are not terrifying beasts of lechery and violence and can be quite charming and friendly.

Except that there’s a war on, a war that directly threatens the alleged purity of the Sibyllae by using them to combat the opposing forces via fancy skywriting. Purity and killing other people en masse don’t exactly go well together, even if the other people are busy trying to kill you at the time. And so Floe and the rest of Chor Tempest perform their duty–possibly scared, definitely military–to first deliver and then assist the soldiers in their efforts to retake the town. Floe chooses–insomuch as she has a choice–to engage in combat and compromise herself to protect her ephemeral soldier friend. But the very act of engaging in combat, be it her choice or not, shatters Mastiff’s impressions of Floe–and, thus, of Sibyllae in general–in ways that her previous behavior had not: she becomes less of an accessible priestess, but a demon of destruction.

He respected her purity and sanctity, even as the other Chor Tempest members scorned her for her association with a man, even as she behaved in a manner incompatible with how he perceived a priestess should behave; yet her violent protection of him shatters his faith in her. Ironic, then, that her decision was made with the sort of purity–naivete, innocence–generally only found with first loves; with a selfless, kind-hearted, and ultimately “pure” motive, she simply and effectively ruins the life she was trying to protect most, and destroys her own purity in the eyes of another. Purity, it seems, is a dangerous thing indeed.

Granted, this isn’t the most important thing to happen in the series, nor is it the only angle of approach to Simoun’s purity aspect. But this particular episode struck me as one of the best moments to illustrate the impact of war upon the Sibyllae; the other characters reflect other aspects and, sadly, I’m only halfway through a rewatch now, and nearly every other character is more complex than Floe, which means I really ought to finish the rewatch before I go any further, time and energy permitting.

In the meantime:



6 Responses to “Simoun: Purity and War”

  1. 1 kadian1364 29 July 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Reading blogs about anime with Big Ideas and Meaningful Messages, with the exception of the few shows I know by heart or have seen very recently, always makes me feel like I need to rewatch the whole thing just to make sure I know what I’m talking about. This is especially the case for Simoun, where the first and only time I saw it, the subs were coming out with months between them. Those sorts of things can hamper one’s ability to put everything together, as it were.

    • 2 OGT 29 July 2009 at 2:59 pm

      Simoun is definitely something you want to rewatch before making Grand Sweeping Statements about (or before Making Fun of Someone Else’s Grand Sweeping Statements, whatever the case may be); it’s complicated even the second time through and even I’m not sure how much I get right or wrong in trying to put moments like the eleventh episode into words. And even then, it’s just fun to rewatch, period. Much, much more immediately compelling the second time through, I found.

      And I remember the days of the Simoun subs being released. I managed to watch the series more or less at once (19 episode marathon woo), using standalone .ass files and other contrivances. This makes the DVDs very much worth the investment, even if the Simoun-Fans subs are technically better now that they’re completed.

  2. 3 Animanachronism 29 July 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I’ve no idea (and — forgive me — perhaps not that much interest in) how this plays in Japan, but for me ideas like purity and virginity are already connected to the idea of the teenage pilot (as opposed to the slightly older and more experienced pilot, as in Macross Plus). Whenever Biggles’s hands are mentioned, for example, we’re told that they’re small and white like a girl’s. (Well, until WW1 finishes and he grows older and has further adventures, at least.) And I guess I’d submit Yeats’s ‘Irish Airman’, which I think I’ve mentioned before in connection with Simoun, too. So, at least when I watched it, the show was kind of playing with the idea of purity from two directions, the yuri element and the young-pilot side of things.

    Also, the eleventh episode was one of my favourites, for all sorts of reasons. Even for little things like the stark, functional look of the cuboid troop-transport containers tied on to the Simoun. Simouns? These plurals are beyond me.

    • 4 OGT 29 July 2009 at 3:13 pm

      “Teenage pilot = pure untouched virgin” is pretty accurate (sup Amuro, sup Renton); the angle in Simoun happens to be that they’re all supposed to be priestesses (even going so far as to use the term miko to refer to them in a casual way), which implies a certain level of obligation to be “pure” or “virgin” which clearly none of them are in the strictest sense (I still haven’t figured out if I want to try to tackle Caim and Alty). Add this to the fact that it’s a series couched in yuri appeals, where yuri is almost conceptually rooted in “pure” (see Class S lesson if you missed it), so the two interpretations aren’t that far off, and both can probably be argued from the same evidence. I rather think that the “purity” concept as applied to the female characters of Simoun (and, by extension, female characters in all of anime and possibly even actual real women) is slightly more important to anime itself, as a kind of reminder to fans (male and female) that “purity” (oh the vagueness of that term) can be a rather silly thing to demand someone be, in the Age of the Fantasy of the Unchanging Cute Female Character. See also: whatever that mess was about Kannagi‘s Nagi earlier this year.

      I don’t quite know how much structural similarity to WWI fighter pilot stories Simoun bears, and how much of that structural similarity is intentional. I’d imagine it’s pretty accurate, except with more boys than girls.

  3. 5 moritheil 3 October 2009 at 10:06 am

    I’m just getting to this post of yours now as a result of a backlink, but I think there’s a lot of anime that questions the classical dichotomy of purity. Just off the top of my head, Eureka Seven did it, Kannagi did it, Ponyo did it, Megami Tensei probably did it . . .

    I guess I should take time and draw up a list.

  1. 1 Simoun: A Connecting Braid « Anime wa Bakuhatsu da! Trackback on 16 August 2009 at 8:04 am

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