The title of this story (the follow up to Time to Get Up and The Circus in the Sky) is a reference to this song, used to great effect in Eureka Seven. It picks up on a theme that I find incredibly powerful in E7 and which I feel was alluded to and squandered in Gundam Reconguista in G – the positive, idealistic drive of an ultimately immature hero that is catalysed by their growing up into something workable and valuable from something ignorant and misguided. I described in a blog post about Reconguista that its protagonist, Bellri, fought irrepressibly for the right thing without even knowing what the right thing was – and there are definite parallels there with E7‘s Renton.
At their heart, a lot of mecha anime are coming-of-age stories, using conflict to drive immature protagonists towards adulthood (even if this maturation comes as a kicking-out against conservative, “adult” values). Youthful, naive idealism is hardened into something valuable and positive; perhaps the ne plus ultra is Gurren Lagann, where the climax of the entire series serves as a recapitulation of how ultimately being able to punch harder won’t help in every situation – yet being able to take the drive to improve to the highest possible extreme is valuable. There are parallels there with Full Metal Alchemist – a story which repeatedly impresses upon the viewer that there are many, many problems that simply being good at magic can’t solve and which is entirely about the quest to atone for hubristic failure.
In this story I imagine how someone’s exposure to war might not, necessarily, turn into a desire to be a hotblooded Simon, piercing the heavens with overwhelming firepower – but instead, to maintain the above analogies, someone more like Renton trying hard to do the right thing in an unfamiliar situation.
Nothing has happened. Well, a lot has happened, but nothing has happened in that there has not been another night of dancing lights and screaming, tortured skies. School is closed. There was a lot of debate, closed-room discussions with the teachers and the class representatives, and given there were only a couple of weeks of term left it was decided to give us all a mountain of project work to do and shut it all down. So I’m, if anything, lonelier and more acutely aware of how isolated Sail Cay is than ever. Life hasn’t really changed, but people are less talkative. Perhaps more than ever we do what we need to and go home. Or, in my case, take long walks across the coast or sit and read, absorbed in overwhelming music.
They cleared Caile’s machine away from the field. Two machines arrived one day and picked it up like friends carrying a drunk home, draping it over broad mechanical shoulders and, ultimately, letting its broken limbs hang as they took off. It was more than a little pitiable. Caile phoned me a couple of days ago. His leg is mostly better now, and he’ll be able to fly again soon. I’d managed to miss – and, to be fair, so had he – that there was a small break there. He’d done a lot of damage before it was diagnosed. Recovery was boring, he told me. The Army have been doing a lot of training in new machines and he wasn’t there to join in.
I missed part of the phone call, it was caught on my answering machine before I picked up. For some reason, one evening, after I return home from meeting some schoolfriends for a study session, I listen to it again.
“Yosuke? It’s Caile. I wish I had more information about, well, the war, but I don’t. I’ve been in hospital. My leg was broken.”
It cuts there as that was when I picked the phone up. His voice is as nervous on that short answering-machine clip as when he woke up in my bed. In fact, he was softly-spoken, nervous and hushed, all through the call.
He did tell me where the army base was. I walked over there the day after the call, and there was nobody around who knew him personally. Nobody that I got to speak to, anyway. I hung around like an idiot for a while, browsing the run-down newsagents and video-parlours and supermarkets that sat in the surrounding streets, and eventually met Toki. Her name’s Toko, actually. Toko Imagawa, or Toki. She guessed pretty quickly I was looking out for Caile. She passed on a message, and gave me one too.
There are recruiting papers on my kitchen table. Tomorrow I’m going to walk back over to the base and drop them off. Apparently there’s a real need for pilots, and heaven knows if I’m going to be living underneath where the fighting is going to be I want to be doing something about it. I was scared on the night Caile was shot down. Terrified, windswept and hiding from people dying to protect me. Most people would have been changed by that for the worst. I’ve seen it in the people of Sail Cay as they silently, stoically live on, and even some of the students. They’re talking about leaving for other islands further from the Lily. Heading off into space, even, once they graduate.
I want to keep Sail Cay how it was. I want to do something about this, make sure that next time the sky is a perverse firework show I’m not running scared. Nobody ever got anything by waiting for it to come to them. My conversation with Caile only skirted around this subject, but I got that impression from him, too. Perhaps it was the way the others treated him, how they had reacted to his almost-brush with death, but he seemed to have a passion not exactly for war, but for being the right man in the right place, being someone doing the right thing. The way he had simply uncomplainingly – or so it seemed – got back into military life was quite inspirational. I don’t know if following him is doing the right thing. I want it to be. I couldn’t accept it if someone as… passionate – no, not passionate, he’s never been the hotblooded hero I am used to seeing on the television – as idealistic, maybe? Someone as idealistic as Caile being on the wrong side would be terrible.
The base gate is up, and people are just milling about on the tarmac. Out of courtesy I stop at the guardhouse and show my papers. Apparently there has been a fire drill in the control tower, and the staff are waiting to be allowed back in.
The watch officer takes my paperwork, notes the letter of recommendation from Toki, and sends me off towards one of the concrete buildings that form a businesslike cluster away from the more obviously military parts of the base. These could be any kind of office-block, and were it not for the military paraphenalia on the walls the offices could be anyone’s.
“Here’s how this works. You want to pilot one of these.” A finger jabs at a photograph of one of the Armours I have seen far too closely. “Well, they’re a bit expensive, and take a bit too much training, for us to just let anyone walk in and take one for a flight. So you sit down, take a simulator test, and we can judge if it’s worth putting you forward for training. Simple.”
“Everyone crashes. It’s what you do before that that counts. You have an hour to get used to the controls and read the manual, and then we begin.”
And so I crash, and crash, and crash again. Every time accompanied by plain red text on a black lozenge across the screen, YOU DIED. Sometimes I don’t even make it out of the hangar. Sometimes the cockpit is a screaming red storm of alarms and the post-mortem display shows the missile that hits me, detailing how long it would take me to die. Sometimes I’m drowning as my unit sinks to the sea bed. Sometimes it’s a quick death. At least once it’s nothing more than an embarrassing crash into a field like Caile. It’s annoying at first, the burning in the heart that I’ve only ever felt sailing off ledges in computer platform games. Then it’s anger at myself for keep dying, hatred of this virtual enemy for having the temerity to kill me. It’s never frustrating. It is the most intense hour of my life.
The actual test is over in minutes. The officer supervising shakes my hand and tells me that there’s no way I can ever be a pilot, no way I will complete the training. I’m just not worth the time and effort (no offence.)
On the other hand, I have a letter of recommendation from Captain Imagawa and that’s pretty unusual, apparently. There are consultations between tall high-foreheaded men in tan uniforms and white gloves. Phone calls I cannot hear clearly as I sit in a corridor.
There is an opportunity within the maintenance staff on Toki’s unit. Some combination of events the officers are not at liberty to discuss, on top of my above passable grades at school, make me a suitable candidate for learning to be a mechanic. Maybe even a radio man. The news about my grades is a surprise, to be honest. There will be formalities to attend to. A medical examination, a brief physical test, a couple of written tests. All over within a couple of days apparently. I probably won’t fail. Nobody really fails.
Can I drive? Do I want to learn? Am I good with computers? Have I got experience at repairing machinery?
What this all means is a little overwhelming. It’s going to be a new life. Arguably one with Caile, and I will admit the thought of a familiar face close by is making it a lot easier to cope with. I’ll be doing something to help Sail Cay, and that has to be good.
At the same time, though, my eyes linger on an Armour taking off a little too long, a little too wistfully, and I wish I was back at that simulator trying one more time.