Monday, June 5, 2017

[Anime] Texhnolyze

Texhnolyze – 9/10

If there is an anime which best demonstrates the difference between “quality” and “enjoyment,” Texhnolyze must surely be it.  Texhnolyze is a deliberately crafted view into the abyss.  It is completely uncompromising in its vision and pursues the implications of a Godless world in which all sources of meaning are in full retreat.

To fully appreciate Texhnolyze, a short explanation is in order.  With the rise of empirical science and the discretization of traditional Christianity, the idea of God has fallen into disfavor.  However, without God to hold the cosmos together there is no absolute source of morals or values.  All is will and chance.  This has led to a profound sense of alienation.  There is no benevolent, understanding God and man doesn’t belong in nature, so there is nowhere to turn.  We are estranged from ourselves and others by the inherent unknowability of our own psyche, the subconscious beast that lies in wait beyond the reach of rationality.  The dream of reason and the dream of faith are gone.  All that is left is for us to wander in this chaos until we meet the common fate of death.

Texhnolyze is a metaphor for this experience.  The series begins in the ironically-named city of Lux, located in an unearthly underground cavern.  Here the remnants of humanity huddle, locked in violence with each other.  How humans came to this place is never explained, but ultimately it does not matter.  While there are some who exist beyond the city, we shall see that they have not escaped this shared fate.  The protagonist Ichise is a prize fighter, content to live a menial life of casual brutality and indulgence.  A lost soul, he is forcibly awakened from his mental slumber by the events of the first few episodes and now doomed to be free in a world that is itself adrift.

The Ideologies:
0) Texhnolyization: Not a true faction, but a persistent reality of the world.  It is the encroachment of science and technology on all things, and when integrated into a person invades their very perception of the world.  It is used and abused, worshipped and reviled, at once an accomplishment and a horror, and thoroughly inhuman.  While many look to it to create the next step for humanity, it alone cannot fulfill our quest for purpose.

1) The people of Gabe: these are the remnants of the old religious vision.  They rely on the proclamations of an omniscient oracle to guide them.  However, this reliance on authority collapses into an inflexible fatalism.  Even seeing their doom coming they do nothing to prevent it, helpless in the face of such change.

2) Yoshii: Life is conflict.  Coming from the “lifeless” above, he prizes the turbulent vitality that pervades Lux.  It isn’t meaning he seeks but a respite from his own boredom.  He only feels alive when he is adding to the havoc.  However, ultimately he is killed, his activities come to naught.

3) The people above ground: They are alive, and nothing more can be said of them.  They continue their decrepit existence in absence of hope or meaning, living in the past and steadily dying out because this is not enough to sustain them.  Humans cannot just be cows in the field.

Some have suggested that they are a metaphor of heaven.  I think it is more accurate to say that along with the Class (the people on the hill) they are a statement that there is no better place.  Lux is what the world has to offer, and dreaming of a better place is folly.  When Doc finds this out she commits suicide and Shinji (leader of the Racan) becomes psychotically unhinged.

4) Anti-Texhnolyze Alliance: Kimata and his group are the last persistent strands of romanticism.  They believe in the natural man and loath tainting our essence with other sources.  However, when faced with those who have become integrated with technology, the Shapes, they are torn apart.  There is no returning to our origins.

5) Kano: An abandonment of humanity, he employs texhnolyzation to its fullest extent, replacing his followers in their entirety.  Using these Shapes he seeks to enforce his vision and will on all of humanity.  And in a sense he does win, or at least kills everybody who opposes him and leaves his followers stranded in place for eternity.  He even incorporates Ran into his plan, which has a distinct whiff of fascism saying, “God is with us.”  But nothing comes of it in the end.  He takes over the world and then Ichise just punches his head off as violence is reciprocated with more violence.  Close scene.

6) Onishi: Unlike the others, Onishi doesn’t represent an ideology so much as his own humanist principles, which is what draws Ichise and others to him.  As his many antagonists note, he’s the one holding Lux together even as they try to tear it apart.  He hears the voice of the city, a.k.a. Ran, a.k.a. God, and what remains of the religious values while not actually being religious.  He is able to maintain his position in the face of all that happens.  But in the end he is overwhelmed by the rising tide of violence; he might even be “right” but it does not matter.

I am confident that I have missed many more references and metaphors that await discussion.

The Good:
I have already said a great deal on the symbolic portrayal of ideas in Texhnolyze, but what remains to praise is its art and atmosphere.

The atmosphere of Texhnolyze is both expansive and cold.  It is extraordinarily dark, punctuated by the most blindingly white light.  Yet somehow this light doesn’t seem to reach the objects themselves.  It imparts no warmth on the surroundings.  It simply leaves a stark impression of them on the viewer, with deep shadows lingering everywhere.

The buildings are decrepit.  Everything is in disarray, as though it was once a magnificent place but has since fallen into ruin.  There is also a sense of depth; buildings behind buildings, sewers under the roads.  It is a tangled mess.

All of this combines to create a clawing desolation to Texhnolyze.  The spaces in the world remain empty, a chilling testament to the loss of humanity’s capacity to fill them any longer.

Interspersed with this void are the moments of climax, where for brief moments the characters feel alive.  The screen positively vibrates with the intensity, as though just for now they are truly existing.  It is reminiscent of The Stranger, wherein most of Meursault’s days are spent in persistent vacantness, only to feel reality rushing in at the moment of killing the Arab man.

The conclusion of Texhnolyze also deserves acclaim.  All has come to an end, and only Ichise remains.   He dies alone, but it is all over.  It is a curious resolution, both extraordinarily sad yet also strangely mitigated by the vocals of the music.  Seeing the last vision of a rising flower he smiles.  The lyrics in the background serve to guide us, perhaps even comfort us, but not answer us:

“I dip my hands into this darkness
This is the ink of all of our lifetimes
Here in this world of utter silence
Let the stones speak to me
Tattooed here across my skin, "I Will Live"
Like a rose that grows from the wreckage
Blood red, beautiful
How the storms all around me are now breathless

Is this the end of the raging road
Through the tangled mind?
Is this the end of starlit sky?
Are we walking blind?

Let me set out through this morning
Open arms to greet the empty ages
Reborn, see how I'm circling
I'm a sailor, eternal”

The Bad:
Texhnolyze is, quite frankly, a masterpiece.  I have little in the way of significant criticism toward it on any front.  From art and design to atmosphere and themes, it is a finely-crafted work.  There is perhaps some merit in arguing that the series is quite slow, not character driven, or particularly enjoyable.  But as I began my review, entertainment is not its purpose; it is a tour de force of modern intellectual estrangement, made manifest in the visual medium.  The only reason I cannot bring myself to give it a 10/10 is due to personal disagreement with its message, not any failing on the part of the series itself.

I haven’t done these in some time, but Texhnolyze has a few AMVs that excellently capture its feeling in just a few short minutes:

  • Imagine: Low video quality, but the merging of the song and music is perfect.
  • Paper Clocks: Another AMV that captures the melancholy, unreal atmosphere of Texhnolyze.

"Imagine there's no heaven..."

No comments:

Post a Comment