Recurring themes

Rewatching Code Geass R2 set my mind working on something that has been gnawing at me for a while, and it's only recently that the semblance of an answer began to take form. The part in question takes place towards the end of the season and is when the Emperor's plan is revealed to Lelouch concerning the Mental Elevator, C's world and the Sword of Akasha: that of unifying the world into a single, super consciousness. Depending upon the anime one has watched this will likely be a familiar concept and one that has underpinned many influential and subversive series.

everybody ends up all warm and fuzzy and with a greater understanding of Mayan philosophy
The most obvious proponent of this concept is of course Evangelion which constructed elaborate systems based upon Jungian psychology, theology and science and implying that the next evolution of humanity isn't as discrete individuals but as an amalgam. Without delving too deeply into the labyrinthine plot of the series and movies, End of Evangelion demonstrates this with everyone melting into a fluid, whereas the final episodes of the series give a fractured glimpse at the emotional montage Shinji suffers during this. Released in 1995-96, this was mostly the result of Hideaki Anno who it is anecdotally said spiralled into neuroses around the half-way point of the series which is coincidentally when it shed all pretences of being a fluffy children's show and went full bore for dark and symbolic.

Several years later Serial Experiments Lain was released and took a very technological approach with only a smattering of religion; the aim however was the same as Evangelion: blend everybody's minds together in order to break down the barriers that separate one another. This was done when the eponymous protagonist, Lain, removes the need for devices to access the series' version of the internet, she then gets unlimited access to shape people's memories and the way humanity interacts, but like all other series mentioned here, the final stage is ultimately denied and humanity is spared this intermingling of the their psyches. Lain is commonly attributed as the brainchild of Chiaki J. Konaka who went on to co-write for the similarly bleak Texhnolyze but also wrote the screenplay for several very pivotal episodes of RahXephon.

RahXephon has always commonly been compared with Evangelion for it's similar composition of characters and touching on familiar ideas, the principal one being the Bähbem Foundation which wishes to "tune the world" using the instrumentalists - Ayato and Quon - which, although only obliquely referenced, will end up much like every other attempt to do this. Like Evangelion it uses pseudo-religious overtones to weave this idea into the story with the added wildcard of the Mulians and the Dolems, the "tuning" being the process where both the Mulian and human realities are brought into synergy and everybody ends up all warm and fuzzy and with a greater understanding of Mayan philosophy.

For many years Konaka went silent which dried up the number of shows entertaining this idea; it was around this time that many writers seemed to become disillusioned with the concept which can be seen in the last two shows to feature it heavily and how it was treated. First was Eureka 7, the magnum opus from studio BONES which, as well as surfing robots, featured the story of Earth being taken over by an extra-terrestrial entity known as the Scub - an organic, coral like creature which created a top layer over the planet and, in the climax of the series, wishes to unify with humanity in order to prevent the limit of life that supposedly spells the end of the Earth. Renton, upon hearing this from avatars shown as his sister and father, immediately rejects this as nonsense and the idea is mostly forgotten about. The speed and veracity as to which it was denied is mirrored in Code Geass which sees Lelouch dismiss the Emperor's suggestion as "claptrap" (official translation).

Other anime and manga have toyed with this idea of a singular mind solving humanity's problems with diverse reach such as Berserk and its interpretation of God or even Satoshi Kon's Paprika and its mind-bending dream blending; however there doesn't seem to be one unifying thread connecting all of the interpretations together. Chiaki J. Konaka has contributed to many of them but it has been explored before and after his involvement and although western shows aren't entirely immune to the concept, they seem more disparate and less prominent with aspects such as Star Trek's Deep Space Nine and the Changeling's Great Link the most salient example.

Mostly the idea seems to have grown from recent trends in Japanese pop psychology, namely the idea of honne and tatemae - essentially a person's inner feelings and their outer persona. Once again separating this from the Japan-centric bias is a  necessity - and thankfully quite easy as it is a universal psychological system, one that Jung explored with his ideas on individuation; however it is important to examine it from the Japanese angle as, while not unique to that nation, other factors within its society contribute to the prevalence of it in anime. Making vast generalisations and steamrollering over the minutiae of the topic: it is commonly understood that the Japanese created a highly organised industrial nation in the early second half of the 20th century, one which promoted the whole rather than the individual when it came to anything from funding policies to schooling - the result being a mentality that eschews creativity for productivity, individuality for synergy.

From that vantage point it becomes easier to see where the idea of a grand unification comes from, as well as the rejection from it. The concept of everyone becoming one is the ultimate form of a community, the individual is subsumed but remains happy and content. It's an enticing prospect because it removes the tatemae, the façade, and lets everyone be themselves, the honne, in front of their peers, in front of the world. The dismissal of it is most always portrayed as an acceptance that part of individuality is the pain of miscommunication and the burden of emotions. It's likely no surprise that the ones who go through with this process in anime are young children, still building their personality and trying to find a balance between the two opposing forces, also that the ones who come closest to undertaking it are emotionally scarred: Shinji from his father, Ayato from his split from Haruka, Lain and the revelation of her being an experiment. Similarly it is those who are most grounded and able to connect with people on some level that reject it outright: Renton after falling in love with Eureka and Lelouch after he loses Nunnaly, Shirley and Rolo. From this thought process it is only a short step to unfurling the perceived mentality of otaku and the commonly accepted root of the hikkikomori syndrome.

One of the other aspects I noticed in Code Geass was that of Jupiter which cropped up in both Nadesico and recently Gundam 00, however that didn't provide for quite as much meat for investigation.

Responses to “Recurring themes”

I enjoyed reading this a lot. It's the first time for me to hear about tatemae and at least from what you say here it's a plausible root of a possible desire to mind meld that's rather common in these Evangelion and post-Eva shows.

An interesting question here then is: "Why only until Evangelion did this theme emerge?"

Granted the Newtype concept wasn't realized in full until the novelization of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but the stuff at the end of Gundam 00 is rooted in that. In space humans need conflict with each other like they need radiation sickness, so they evolve into a new type of human -- who have abilities to be one with the rest using their minds.
The origin for this concept within anime actually comes from the novel Childhood's End by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Hideaki Anno used this book as his inspiration for the ending of Evangelion.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood%27s_End#Movies_and_television

From there, RahXephon ripped off Eva, simple enough.

Lain always felt to me more about escapism (from our lives, our world, and ultimately our bodies), but it's been a while since I've seen it.

Eureka 7 wasn't about the blending of minds, but about wiping out humanity because the "mental mass" off the area of Earth was too large and would create a "mental black hole"... or maybe the blending off minds was what that "mental black hole" stuff was all about? Once again, it's been a while and my memory of events is kind of fuzzy.

I can't remember anything about the Ragnarok Junction of Code Geass, other than it felt shoehorned in and rushed to hell.

Of course, with all of these, trying to figure out what they actually mean is... well, really f'ing difficult. Many of these mental mind benders probably weren't even thought out all that well by the series' creators, I say as a cynic.
Very interesting essay. I would commend to you the novels/films of Kobo Abe/Hiroshi Teshigahara (Abe and Teshigahara collaborated on several films, usually working from a novel written by Abe), which fall along these same lines, and thus underline your point about the importance of the conflict (or balance established) between self and society, as well as the concepts of honne and tatemae.

Note: the linked trailers are just as weird as you would expect from the artistic ancestors of Lain, Evangelion, etc. Heh, heh.

In Woman of the Dunes (novel, 1962; film 1964), a man is thrown into pit, where he is forced to become the husband of the woman who lives there. This is for the good of the rural community, which is losing its population, as young folk have left for the city.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WODbLjG4kzw

In Face of Another (novel, 1964, film 1966), a man loses his face in an industrial accident, and is given the "face of another" via something like plastic surgery. This new outward face (persona) ends up devouring the old inner self.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8igH12o2yYA
>> From there, RahXephon ripped off Eva, simple enough.

Those are fighting words, young man.

Philosophically, the two series have very different leanings, and that's the extent of their relationship in the context of this post.

The Jupiter thing is a reference, at least in certain cases. See Paptimus Scirocco.
@ghost­light­ning: I am woefully underequipped to comment on anime from the early 90's and before so I wonder whether it's not so much that there wasn't anything on this topic prior to Evangelion, but I just don't know of anything! I had also completely forgotten about Gundam 00's 11th hour plan from the Newtypes, I also wanted to mention Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex somewhere as a kind of post-mind melding series that concentrates on the troubles of a highly connected society but didn't feel it fitted in.
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@Michael is Low on Hit Points: I never knew about the Evangelion / Arthur C. Clarke link despite having read and loved the Space Odyssey and Rama series. Childhood's End is now certainly on my reading list.

As for your words on the other series: RahXephon - like omo says, thems fightin' words; Eureka 7 - I don't remember the Scub being vicious in any way towards humanity at least not in wiping them out, it was Dewey's plan with Eureka and Anemone to wipe out the Scub who only wanted to co-exist. Lain - you're right on the emotion but the method was still the same, like you though it has been a number of years since I last watched it. As for the Code Geass's Ragnarok connection, you are right it was just haphazardly bolted on but did explain a lot of the Emperor's scheming. As for their being thought out, I think the Konaka influenced ones couldn't help be anything but thought out, Evangelion and Anno - I'm undecided, how the movies wrap up will solidify my opinion until they rerelease / remake them...
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@Joo­joo­bees: Those look like fascinating films and rocketed straight to the top of my rental list; I'm always on the look out for challenging films, I'll likely end up blogging them whenever they arrive!
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@omo: My indifference towards Gundam may well be my undoing here but I had a feeling there would be a straightforward explanation for it.
With RahXephon, I feel that it's a better series when it's not evoking Evangelion. I also feel the main was a more populous version of Shinji, whereas I feel Shinji is one of the best characters in anime history. This all deserves a much more thorough explanation from me, and maybe if I get off my lazy ass one day I'll write a post about it.

As for my comment on "being thought out," I definitely feel that Eva and Lain were not only thought out but given actual metaphorical weight to them. I could go on and on about Eva's ending for hours if you let me. E7 is too fuzzy in my memory to go into detail (as I've already done poorly in the comment above... maybe it was the bad guy's interpretation of what the Scub were fighting for?), but Geass' Ragnarok definitely did not get the explanation it so sorely needed. Bonus material could've helped here, but alas they concentrated on fanservice for that.
I'm a little too tired to put together a coherent response, but I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your essay here.
A pre-Evangelion show that deals with the same themes and ends in a similar fashion would be "Space Runaway Ideon".
This is one of those things that stares you in the face for ages, but it never clicks until someone points it out. Strange how the obvious gets overlooked really.

You explanations make a lot of sense - what with Japan being a conformist society and all, I suppose it's no surprise that it produces so much speculative fiction that deals with individuality, or the reverse of that.

I'm not suggesting that their society is rife with dishonesty and false-ness in terms of how people present themselves to others, but in my short experience with the place first-hand I got a sensation of forced conformity that's hard to put into words. The culture and society felt alien to me but on an individual level, once you get past the obvious language barrier, the people are the same.

I suppose I'm saying in a roundabout way that a society that's strict and conformist in different ways to, say, a Western European one, puts different pressures on its residents and as a result certain themes resonate more in its media and literature. It's certainly something I'd want to investigate and think over at greater length...in the same way that London isn't representative of what the rest of the UK is like, Tokyo is probably an extreme example of Japanese society in general. I certainly don't want to fall into the traps of jumping to conclusions on first impressions or fall into racial stereotyping (in case this comment comes that way).