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.
Reading up on the upcoming Captain Harlock film, and thinking back over Giant Robo, an OVA I dearly love, drove me to try and write my own homage both to Leiji’s ostracised, misunderstood hero in a future beyond caring and Imagawa’s preoccupation with principles, expectation and duty set against science and scientific ethics. These are huge themes, the very substantial content that makes their respective series – the original Harlock, the excellent My Youth in Arcadia, and the similarly introspective Yamato 2199 on the one hand and the demolition of hubris that is Giant Robo on the other – so enduring.
Trying to write this made it clear I cannot match the narrative highs of either Robo or Yamato 2199. On the other hand, the imaginative impetus these inspirations give did I think create a story that serves as my response to pieces of popular culture that I rate very highly.
Note: The opening speech of this story is in equal parts derived from President John Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium in 1962 (used to great effect in Public Service Broadcasting‘s 2015 album The Race for Space), and Professor Vogler’s “Beautiful Night” speech from Giant Robo.
My previous blog post on Giant Robo emphasised how it insisted that the viewer remained resolute in their belief in a simple, good versus evil, conflict – this is a useful lie needed to keep anyone, particularly protagonist Daisaku, from thinking too much about Big Fire’s motivations. The series is set at a point in a longer, ongoing story where the mountain of these useful lies that was necessary to perpetuate a content, prosperous society is beginning to collapse, and the villains’ plan is to speed this along by force. Yet what makes it such a compelling animé – and what adds so much to the storytelling – is the use of the soundtrack to manipulate the audience’s responses, and then undermine them.
The future has shone upon us with its glorious brilliance! The time to seize our destiny and conquer all our fears is now! In ancient times man rubbed sticks together to create fire. Then they slaughtered the whale and battled one another for oil! After that came the atomic age! In every chapter of our history we’ve danced with danger but now it will be different! For the first time in the history of existence we will be delivered from fear! Finally, we will escape the prison of our illusions and the beautiful night will embrace us all!
Franken Von Vogler, from Giant Robo episode 2
The search for plenty and the obviation of resource shortages is a preoccupation of science fiction; the main obstacle in the way of unrestricted progress in reality is the scarcity of materials on which the modern age relies. As a result, the science-fiction utopia must either embrace a post-scarcity world in some fashion, or accept that the future must be a more frugal and responsible one. This former solution can come either through the colonisation of other planets and thus the assumption that new resource stockpiles may be found, such that the current rates of consumption may be maintained indefinitely, or through the assumption that science will provide for society with a method of obviating the current reliance on specific natural resources. Giant Robo, in its optimistic, pulp-esque opening narration filled with atomic-age optimism, describes the “third energy revolution”, predicated on the Shizuma Drive, a miraculous invention which overnight ended mankind’s need for natural resources thanks to the sudden cheap availability of free energy. Even the core conflict laid down in this opening – that between the almost naively titled Experts of Justice and the villainous Big Fire Society – is straightforward. Science has provided humanity with limitless power in the most literal sense, and it is inevitably abused by evildoers.