Archive for the 'simoun' Category

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.

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:

dawwwwwww

d'awwwwwww

Simoun in a Library, or: A Feeble Excuse to Talk About Simoun Over a Year After the Fact

So, as a kind of Christmas gift to the public library I work at, I bought an extra volume of Mushishi DVD 1 and Simoun DVD 1 and donated them. Mushishi showed up a month or so ago, and today I noticed that Tech Services had processed Simoun and it was now available for checkout. Behold the marvelous spectacle of Simoun with a bar code sticker:

In celebration of this monumental event, I will now discuss Simoun for no real reason.

Back in 2006, I was still in the process of maturing as an anime fan, growing from mere fan-fledgling into full-blown otaku, and I kind of glossed over Simoun at first glance, like a good many people did, thinking it would be a silly, trashy series full of thinly veiled excuses for pantyflashes. Instead, it was a thrilling, moving series full of thinly veiled excused for girls to kiss. What’s not to like?

Simoun, unfortunately, has, to a novice viewer, a slow and somewhat confusing start. It’s one of those shows that operates on the bell curve principle, in that the middle is several orders of magnitude better than the beginning or ending. It’s somewhat similar to, again, Eureka Seven, which had a similar beginning pattern (slow start), in that people tend to be driven off by the early episodes for varying reasons. However, I had it on good faith from several friends that Simoun was actually good, so I, eager and always hungering for new anime to devour (this is one aspect of my style of anime fandom that has never, ever changed) gladly took their word for it. And I, like everyone else, was mightily confused by the first episode, but by episode four I was solidly convinced that this would be a great series.

Episode four, for those who have seen the series, is the episode where a lone pilot from one of the neighboring, warmongering countries to Simalcrum kidnaps Aaeru and Limone and runs off with them to the woods in an attempt to steal their Simoun. There was just some air about this episode, in the way that Nishimura and the writers portrayed the enemy pilot not as an unspeakably evil person but, instead, as a human being who just wanted to help make his country’s lot in the world better. Although this pilot never says anything intelligible to the audience, you’re almost sad when he dies at the end. The very humane portrayal of the enemy convinced me that this series was going to be a doozy, so I figured it passed the four-episode test within a reasonable margin.

And then Rodoraemon cut her braid off.

That single event starts a chain of events both external to the Chor Tempest and internal, as they contend not only with the enemy’s machinations, but with their own relationships within their own Chor. And episodes ten to twenty-one were glorious. From the cute, yet extremely character-building moments like Limone planting a kiss on Dominura’s cheek after having love explained to her in basic, childlike form, to Mamiina taking a page from Rodoraemon’s book (and winning my absolute love at the last second), Simoun truly was at the top of its game. I’d seen Maria-sama ga Miteru before, but I think Simoun was the first yuri series that knocked me down and said “This is what we’re made of”.

Simoun is an excellent example of the recent trend towards anime/manga adopting elements both from male-targeted anime/manga and female-targeted anime/manga. It’s a process that’s been going on since at least the 70s and maybe even back in the 60s, as the lines between what is “shoujo” and what is “shounen” (and what is “josei” and what is “seinen”) consistently blur the line. Anime fans are already the most ignorant of target audiences, crossing gender-defined genre borders seemingly at will, so it’s nice to see that there’s still anime/manga that effectively takes elements from both and combines them to form something that anyone could theoretically enjoy. It’s part of why, even after five years of watching the stuff, anime still holds the power to amaze and astound me. And that is the best thing something can do–the loss of that sense of wonder is usually what leads to people abandoning fiction-related hobbies and taking up different tastes and different genres, and so, when one retains that sense, staleness and boredom never set in. And this is a Good Thing indeed.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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