No. 6: if only it were that easy…

This short commentary will be built on some of the themes Asano Atsuko talked about in this interview, so do read that first.

The ideal city, No.6. A perfect city-state where everything is provided for, where everyone knows their place, swears their loyalty to their state, and questions nothing. A city where nothing that is imperfect is allowed to exist.

In this environment, Shion has been raised as one of the elite, having passed many stringent tests since the time he was a child. A successful and privileged future lies ahead of him, despite the strange uneasiness, the discomfort that lies in the pit of his stomach. On his 12th birthday, an encounter with Nezumi, a boy that lives outside that privileged system, sets the wheels of fate turning…

People this different can never have normal encounters, can they?

As with most other series I’ve seen this year, No.6 was on my watchlist simply by virtue of being noitaminA. A few episodes in, what most people seemed to be focusing on was the supposedly ‘romantic’ relationship between its two protagonists. Which I found rather saddening, because it involved largely ignoring a number of salient issues that had played a part in that why those two characters were drawn to each other.* I’m referring, of course, to the vastly different environments in which they’d been brought up. Shion, raised in a city where people are stratified based on their abilities, where the old are made to feel like there isn’t much they can do to contribute to society, where you have to swear absolute loyalty to the state at the start of work each day. (IMHO, the last, in particular, is rather eerily reminiscent of the indoctrination of loyalty to the Japanese emperor in the century leading up to the Second World War…) Reading the corresponding novel chapters some time after each episode, I initially felt that the unease Shion felt was just much easier to depict on paper. However, skimming even just the first episode a few days ago, I realised that it’s most definitely represented in the show too, if the viewer is astute enough to reflect on certain sequences.

I know…I am shallow in some respects, but really, *sighs*, both of them have some absolutely gorgeous features…

Nezumi, on the other hand, had long had an antagonistic relationship with the city, culminating in the escape that brought him into contact with Shion. To reveal more would spoil some fascinating – at least in my opinion – developments in the show, but let’s just say that there is a very good reason for his interest in and dedication to Shion.

p.s. Ain’t he pretty? Sorry, I just couldn’t resist (^-^;)

Putting aside the relationships between the characters, another important theme – arguably the most important theme – deals with the relationship between people and their state. What Asano-sensei said in the interview has a ring of truth: many dictatorships and authoritarian states today continue largely because their people allow the status quo to continue. Unfortunately, by cutting out any representation of those authoritarian leaders in No.6, not to mention glossing over the importance of the people in its destruction, the writers for the anime seem to simply have dropped it. Possible reasons for this include a lack of time – the reduced episode count of this timeslot was really detrimental in the case of No.6 – and also, the sheer difficulty of bringing this theme to the fore when everyone still watching is so focused on something else. I still stand by what I said when I first shared the above interview elsewhere: it’s almost a pity that Shion and Nezumi’s relationship became so contentious,* because it really drew attention away from the thematic seed that was the basis for this story. Their relationship may be the heart of No.6, but this political theme was far more interesting, at least to this viewer. Or to put it another way, where the anime creators decided to go with the final episode really screwed this series up, for it defined what they cut out of everything leading up to that conclusion.

Supernatural destruction? How is that even relevant?

In the end, I felt that No.6 had a lot of promise, especially considering the themes that Asano Atsuko built her story around. Unfortunately, most of that was lost in the anime creators’ attempt to hook a particular group of fans. They probably succeeded, to a certain extent, but I think I’ll just ignore the dvds and add the novels to my reading list.

That said, the real world shows that it’s not as simple as Asano-sensei seems to believe. Perhaps it was true for Libya and Tunisia. And Liu Xiao Bo’s criticism of the Chinese people along those lines certainly reflects that belief. But the reality is that the support – or rather, the lack thereof – from neighbouring states and superpowers can make all the difference, as the Bahraini people who gathered at Pearl Roundabout earlier this year discovered… It’s a sobering thought.

NB: edited in 2017 to clarify that at these points (*), I was referring to some really unpleasant discourse on certain anime forums, where a lot of people just kept complaining because of it was “gay”/”yaoi”/etc. The only forum that I found palatable at the time was aarinfastasy, because the posters there were able to discuss the show and Shion and Nezumi’s relationship with each other in a more in-depth way. One other thing I should note is that I’m fairly certain Asano confirmed in a post-series interview that Shion was in love with Nezumi, though I also seem to recall that she wasn’t quite sure how to characterise Nezumi’s feelings for Shion. (NB: apparently that confirmation was in Pash! July 2011)

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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