Simoun: A Connecting Braid

I remember this being roughly my facial expression around episode 19 the first time through the series.

Rotoraemon and Mamiina were, upon my first (and rather visceral, my analytical powers being nascent at best) viewing of Simoun something of an odd anomaly; I remember that I hadn’t been too terribly interested in their stories until it was entirely too late. One of my more personal goals in rewatching Simoun (the only one I explicitly made) was to pay more attention to their part of the story. The overall goal was to pay more attention to the characters in general, of course, but I especially was looking forward to their “arc”. Hence this post.

If Floe’s experience of love (or something vaguely resembling it, anyway) and war exemplifies Simoun‘s dialogue between purity and war, then the somewhat complicated relationship between Rotoraemon and Mamiina exemplify a different theme structure with regards to purity: that of sincerity, of purity of intent. Other characters wrestle with this as well, but it has stronger significance for the two not-quite-childhood-friends.

Rotoraemon comes from an upper-class family, one that is certainly well-off enough to afford extravagant luxuries such as mansions and hired, live-in help. This would seem to set the stage for Rotoraemon to be the ojou-sama type character (backhand cackle and all), yet she noticeably lacks the supercilious manner in which most ojou-sama characters carry themselves; in fact, she’s quite pleasant, honest, and cheerful. Growing up in the same household as her was Mamiina, the daughter of two servants. Not much is shown of their childhood days, but the impression is starkly clear: the two were friends of a sort, with subtle tensions stretching between them. Only Mamiina seems aware of these tensions, seeing, as she does, interaction with Rotoraemon more as a servant’s duty than the genuine friendship that Rotoraemon wanted and believed they had.

Upper-class families are apparently noted for being the primary source for sibyllae, especially those called to pilot the Simoun, and Rotoraemon’s family is no exception. But, whereas Rotoraemon naturally glides into the position of Simoun sibylla, Mamiina, wishing to surpass her low birth and demonstrate her capabilities, must instead follow a somewhat hardscrabble route to sibylladom. Accepted as a candidate only because she is willing to pilot the Simoun in military action, she quickly rises to the top of the combat poll, no doubt due in large part to her utilization and view of the Simoun as more of a tool–a weapon–than the holy vessels that the sibyllae from more prestigious families do.

In a sense, Mamiina’s use of the Simoun as a tool for personal aggrandizement is a vulgarity of sorts, one that ties into the general concept of tainting something sacred with bloodshed. Indeed, when Mamiina first appears, she seems to fluctuate between a gentle demeanor (no doubt remembered from her childhood) and an aggressive, dominating spirit. She determines to pair with Neviril not because she respects her, but because, by pairing with her, she can achieve her goal of rising to the top and pairing with the most famous sibylla. This immediately sets her at odds with Aer and Parietta; aerial fisticuffs ensue.

Needless to say, Mamiina’s behavior taints the entirety of Chor Tempest and, assisted by terrorism, leads to their stint upon the Messis. As befits an exile of penance, of course, tempers flare up on a regular basis, and those between Mamiina and Rotoraemon are among the first. Here, then, the issue of the braids they both bear is breached: to Mamiina, the child of servants, the braids that Rotoraemon’s parents insisted that she wear became a sign of nobility, a sign of the status that she never had. Of course, now she has braids, but (rather charmingly) she binds them up with a ribbon.

It’s worth pointing out here that Rotoraemon seems a bit childish, or at least continually caught up in her childhood: her bed is surrounded with stuffed animals, either ones that she made or that her parents have purchased her. When Mamiina reappears, she treats her as a friend that she has been estranged from for several years, wishing to resume her old friendship with her, which (of course) is exactly what Mamiina does not want. A return to the old dynamic is not what Mamiina wants at all, considering her recent failure to attain what she had considered her goal. And so confrontation, and so hateful truths spilling themselves out, and so the doll that Rotoraemon herself had sewn (the rather clumsy one) is accidentally torn.

Soon, however, a Fortuitously Timed Emergency occurs, leaving Rotoraemon and Mamiina the only pair of sibyllae who have not scrambled, and bickering on the flight deck. And then, in order to prove to Mamiina the sincerity and honesty of her friendship, Rotoraemon pulls out a penknife and hacks one of her twin braids off. She had pleated her hair as her parents had told her to, and so, Mamiina felt that Rotoraemon was her friend merely because her parents had told her to be her friend. But by severing the braid–the connection to her parents and their obligations–Rotoraemon now proves to Mamiina that she acts under her own free will when she declares herself a friend to Mamiina. No ulterior motives, no conspiratorial schemes, not even a shred of friendship via pity.

The severing of the braid seems to mend the feelings Mamiina bears for Rotoraemon, and gradually, over the rest of the course of the Messis’s travels, Mamiina softens her demeanor and becomes somewhat of a grounding point for the rest of Chor Tempest, even as the world breaks for the other members. And so it goes, until the fateful final mission to the aerial base, where Mamiina manages to fulfill the desires that she seems to have long abandoned.

The first is that, for the mission, with the grounding of Yun and Aer, Mamiina is given the chance to pair with Neviril with little fanfare–indeed, I’m not sure she noticed the subtle filling of her initial stated goal, and I didn’t until well after the fact. But of even greater importance is what transpires upon the airbase: with the Simoun shot down and both Mamiina and Neviril about to be taken prisoner, Mamiina stalwartly defends the honor and sanctity of Neviril–the same sanctity that she previously had wanted to violate, for lack of a better word, for her own ambitions–at the risk and ultimate cost of her own life. But before she makes the fatal jump to her final stand, she unties the braids that Rotoraemon had pleated for her, pulls out her own penknife, and slices one of them off as Rotoraemon before her.

Rotoraemon’s severed braid announced her as a unit independent from her family; Mamiina’s severs a far less tangible connection: that towards her own ambitions. With a single motion, she severs the feelings and obligations she had given herself–the desire to rise above her low birth–and sacrifices herself for the sake of another. In a way, she embraces the role of a servant, but at the same time she also fulfills her desires to rise above her own social status and truly become a true, pure sibylla. In paradoxical fashion, by rejecting her selfish ambitions, Mamiina fulfills them.

It seems odd, then, that perhaps in at least Mamiina’s case the war, the bloodshed, that threatens the purity of the sibyllae, in roundabout fashion, bestows it upon her. Perhaps some cliche-ridden phrase is in order, something along the lines of in the white-hot fires of combat the alloy of purity is forged of impurity laden ore or something moderately ridiculous like that. But perhaps it also goes to show that the definition of “purity” (or whatever you want to call it) is multifarious, and that perhaps the difference is all in how you look at it.

8 Responses to “Simoun: A Connecting Braid”

  1. 1 21stcenturydigitalboy 16 August 2009 at 8:32 am

    a nice summary, and a very nice job in pointing out the symbolic nature of the braid being cut by Mamiina, which I may not have caught but certainly agree with. Very nice, as it always is to see Simoun talk.

  2. 2 Gpard 16 August 2009 at 9:46 am

    a) ditto — it’s great to see more writing about Simoun, one of the most thought-provoking (and gut-wrenching) series of recent years.

    b) I remember when I originally watched it, how the overarching series structure seemed to be a series of arcs describing, and then deconstructing, societal boundaries. The gender biology of the world both blurs gender boundaries (everyone has had the experience of being female) and reinforces gender-ness (it’s a conscious choice that nearly all characters must make). The religious themes set one’s relationship with god against one’s duty to people (leading to an eventual corruption of the meaning of being a sybilla). Boundaries of class constantly impose themselves in between relationships between the sybillae and others and even among themselves, as you note above. Boundaries between nations. Boundaries between industrialized and pre-industrial societies. This sounds rather dry in the description, but Simoun’s victory was that it was able to handle such weighty ideas without losing its contact with real human emotion and feeling.

    • 3 OGT 16 August 2009 at 6:24 pm

      I think it’s pretty obvious Simoun is (through convoluted means) a descendant of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness with the gender themes (I found it hilarious that I started re-watching Simoun and reading Left Hand of Darkness on the same day, without really meaning to), and it certainly deals with all those other weighty themes that you and hashi mentioned.

      It would take a superhuman (or a lot of moderately average humans) to flesh those out via methods other than absorption by viewing (which is often the best way, honestly, for me). Me, I just write about what little I can for what I can, in hopes of a base for another to pick up.

      I find anime generally very, very good at capturing “real human emotion and feeling” since the Japanese have always prized, in their literature, the inner emotions and selves of characters. I feel as though Japanese literature uses emotions and builds a theme around them, rather than building emotions around a theme, as I tend to feel Western-ish literature has a tendency to do. Both are equally capable of real human emotion, of course, but the method of approach (whatever THAT phrase might mean) towards the creation of a story can and does leave a noticeable impact.

      I’m much more at home with emotions than I am with intellectual abstraction, so this is A-OK with me. :)

  3. 4 hashi 16 August 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Excellent piece, and interesting comments from Gpard. At first I just loathed Mamiina. Those “aerial fisticuffs” could have ended with someone dead, if they slipped down the chute and beyond the field of the ship. That almost seemed to be Mamiina’s purpose: to kill Aaeru. But by the end, she was definitely one of my favorites among the group. Class, religion, spirituality, politics, history, war, family, friendship, love. Small themes, lol.

    • 5 OGT 16 August 2009 at 6:26 pm

      From what I remember of my first trip though Simoun, everyone liked Mamiina except me, and I was apathetic towards her (I never hated her, as I rarely hate characters) until she died. Then I loved her. Now every time I think of Simoun I have that wistful sigh for Mamiina.

  4. 6 hashi 16 August 2009 at 7:19 pm

    @OGT — You make me feel better about not being as intellectual about this stuff as I sometimes think I should be. There’s just so much to feel in Simoun and some other shows that it seems a bit of a travesty to think too much about it.

    I like that idea that Japanese literature starts with emotion and moves on to theme. Like all generalizations, I guess it can’t be totally true, but it’s something that will stay in my mind. Something I’ve always loved about the Tale of Genji and the early waka poetry is the way emotion is so sharply and delicately conveyed. And I think that aspect of Japanese creative art has continued right up to the present day and into anime.

    • 7 OGT 16 August 2009 at 8:05 pm

      I don’t think “emotion” and “intellect” exist on a linear sliding scale with one at either end; they are separate things and people naturally tend towards one or the other, and need to learn how to balance both and use one to augment the other.

      I’m attempting to read as much of the Tale of Genji as I can right now (emphasis on “attempting”), and that’s exactly it: Genji is the spring from which all Japanese culture flows. The Japanese language itself is a poetic language (Chinese is similar) as well, and the use of kanji allows for extended use of metaphor. The poems in Genji, for instance, use wordplay and intertext* to evoke the feelings and sentiments the characters wish to convey, without being explicit about it. I think, in some sense, it’s just negative space at work: something is made more poignant by its absence or lack of direct, explicit focus.

      Or I could be crazy. Which I never discount.

      * Which is something else Japanese culture tends to be good at, as the culture actively encourages liberal borrowing from other sources to create something new. It’s also why I think modern Japanese music is very good at creatively blending disparate musical styles into something with a unique sound. [oh god footnote to comment help]

  1. 1 sevgililer günü hediyesi Trackback on 9 July 2014 at 10:09 pm

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