Concrete Revolutio is a series which is complex, holding the cards of its main plot close to its chest; eight episodes in it is hard to see exactly where the endgame will be despite Shin Mazinger-esque flashforwards showing some dystopian, uncertain future where alliances made during the main episodic plots seem inverted and the utopia that the heroes want to fight for has failed. It is clear from these main plots that the hoped-for utopia is based on a faulty premise, but there is the hope that the characters will realise this; each story has their faith in the world shaken a little more, but how this ties into a future where their actions are framed almost villainously is as yet unclear. This is fitting; it is a series about the people who control the image of, and perception of, heroism and justice. It is a series that calls into question the popular perception of justice, and it is perhaps for this reason I find myself comparing it repeatedly to Giant Robo.
Giant Robo opens with a heroic narrator expounding the virtues of the Experts of Justice, a supposedly unstoppable, infallible organisation that fights undeniably evil villains. Throughout the series this is wholly undermined, the nature of the organisation and its members cast into doubt and the motives of the villains made out to be something quite different to popular perception. The series is not specifically, as Concrete Revolutio is, about managing the public perception of heroes – it is about how efforts to discredit others to hide one’s own failings can spiral out of control, using the black and white morality of a hero serial to tell this. Yet its plot is ultimately a grand misdirection, the time-honoured reversal of hero and villain; and it is this that Concrete Revolutio also runs with, on a much grander scale. Its premise is a world where all kinds of superheroes from the pages of comics and the world of cinema and television exist, where Ultraman and super-robots and magical girls fight kaiju and aliens and rogue robots. To keep the peace, an organisation called the Superhuman Bureau “registers” – with all the vaguely fascistic undertones this suggests – these superhumans, and hunts down all those who will not accept. All superhumans are considered equivalently by the law, from a group of comedians with minor powers to powerful combat androids – and much of the drama comes from how intractable this world’s morality is. Moral relativism has been the first casualty of public safety, and this suits the heroes that the world has chosen to defend the peace.
A procession of superficially perfect heroes from the pages of the genre’s finest examples – Ultraman, Little Witch Sally, Kamen Rider, Robot Detective K, Cyborg 009, Astro Boy and more – all feature front and centre. Yet uncompromising Friends of Justice, perhaps most strongly epitomised by Astro Boy reference Earth-Chan, are poor arbiters of justice as a more abstract concept. The Earth-Chan episode is an excellent dissection of black and white superhero morality. She is an android child programmed to receive good feelings when she helps someone, and with an absolute understanding of right and wrong. Her programming completely fails the world. When she sees a child ill due to pollution, her solution is to wreck the factories, affecting the town’s economy. When she sees a reformed villain, the Alberto the Impact-esque Judas, use his powers after vowing to never use them again she cannot comprehend that he was doing it to save an innocent’s life and values his keeping his word more highly as a measure of his “goodness” than his desire to save lives. It is revealed, in the end, that Earth-Chan has entered a kind of addiction to “helping” which has led to her looking for short-term solutions that can easily be rendered into yes or no judgments; perhaps the epitome of the nostalgic “good old days of superheroism” attitudes being criticised.
These misdirections, these misunderstandings of heroism, define the series; in the robot detective homage episode, the heroes chase a deadly secret weapon they believe to be a bomb; in the end, in a Giant Robo-esque inversion, the weapon is a powerful yet good-hearted android. In the Ultraman homage the roles of kaiju and Ultraman appear switched, and it is only by breaking the “rules” of the Superhuman Bureau that the heroic ideal can be restored. Matters come to a head in the super-robot episode, detailing the apparent fall from grace of Kamen Rider-like hero Rainbow Knight as he apparently kidnapped children before dying in a police standoff. The inversion is not quite as straightforward as one might believe – Rainbow Knight was acting on misguided beliefs and did take a number of hostages – but in the process of finding out that a true hero was, apparently, wrong the nature of heroism is called into question. The super robot Gigander 7 around which the episode revolves is a misdirection itself; rather than an actual robot it is a construct of metal formed by the Magneto-esque superpowers of its “pilot” (one of the children Rainbow Knight took hostage). Its “team,” the BL society of boy detectives, want to believe in good and evil. They call the position of neutral belief in a moral good (rather than a legal one) “lame, like being non-political” – while the counterpoint view is that sometimes standing for a moral good justifies apparently “bad” actions. Rainbow Knight’s fall from grace came from his idea of a moral good – saving other superhumans from exploitation – being carried out in the “wrong” way. However, while his actions were worthy of condemnation they were motivated by the same moral compass that had driven his heroism before. Explained like this, the BL boys understand it better and their own actions are set in context. They have been pretending to be one of the most notorious villains of history, the Eye of Lucifer, in order to let the man who once held that title but has tried to mend his ways escape the public eye and be given his second chance.
Ultimately the argument that keeps coming back in Concrete Revolutio is that a just morality is discrete from law; the blind enforcement of law is antithetical to true justice, and the efforts of the Superhuman Bureau to control all superhumans as potential threats are doomed to failure. Many of the “heroes” of the Bureau, and with whom it interacts, are children; they have blind morality, a sense of right and wrong and law and crime which is usefully intractable. It is the “villains” – much like Vogler in Giant Robo – who are, if not always misunderstood, capable of understanding a more complex morality exists and – in the cases of Judas and Eye of Lucifer – willing to try and become better people. Meanwhile the supposed forces of law and order – as shown in the ghost boy focus episode – are happy to let a blinkered view of morality be used to justify murder and all manner of evil in the name of the public good. Concrete Revolutio may be confusing and an overwhelming cocktail of heroic archetypes, but it uses this disparate inspiration to out and say, repeatedly and loudly, what it thinks about terrorism, and the erosion of rights for the public good. How can one read a story about the regulation of those who are “different” and powerful any other way? X-Men was unafraid to tread similar ground, Watchmen ran with the idea in different directions, but the fear of an unaccountable, empowered minority of an apparently equally unaccountable, empowered minority with a conflicting sense of moral justice is clear.