A Fire Burns in Concrete Revolutioby Nick Creamer,
Fires burn in the streets, born of anger at a system that kills those it's sworn to protect. Citizens rally to any leader that speaks in their voice, united less by pride or conviction than by an overriding fear. There are devils in this world, but we can't call them out and tear them down. The devils live in all of us, burning hotter as our footsteps echo like a challenge to the devils we march against.
We live in a world of diffuse villains born of personal belief, and leaders who seem threatening even to their own citizens. Worlds like this one clearly need heroes, and so that's why we invent them. Both in fiction and fact, we invent them. People who seek justice. People who defend freedom. People who embody peace. The heroes we need come into being, through whatever means are necessary to create them. While citizens on any given “side” pray for a justice that suits their world, heroes rise above, sending a signal of a truth more universal than our own. Heroes offer clarity in a world of grey.
Concrete Revolutio is the story of Jiro Hitoyoshi, a man seeking justice in a very broken world. Jiro believed in heroes once, in that unblemished way only the young or desperate truly can - but his hero was broken in front of him, and now he knows even heroes can die. As an adult, Jiro works for the Superhuman Bureau, a government agency tasked with protecting heroes - with registering and managing superhumans, the diverse and ambiguous beings who populate the world of Concrete Revolutio. But that's not the bureau's only job - they're also expected to eliminate dangerous superhumans, superhumans who threaten what the agency, or its government superiors, deem as threatening the peace.
Even within the first episode, the tenuous relationship between Jiro's justice and the bureau's peace comes into conflict, as Jiro ends up personally sheltering a superhuman he was assigned to destroy. We see a future Jiro, jaded with the bureau and seeking a better future in his own way, pursued by his once trusted companions. We see the embers of war catch fire anew in the ways governments use their superhuman subjects, in the ways student unrest turns to violent action. We see a world in conflict even as each of its inhabitants seek a better one, clashing and rallying and spilling blood on the streets. We see a world without heroes; we see the world as it is.
Concrete Revolutio's setting can be seen as a direct parallel for post-war Japan, with its student protests and counterculture aesthetic and looming threat of American intervention. But its concerns regarding justice and heroism are universal, simple realities of attempting to “fix the world.” Superhumans are dangerous, so they must be monitored to maintain the peace. But keeping superhumans contained violates their freedom, and so in order to seek their own justice, they and their supporters rally against the public order. As one character succinctly puts it, “defending my freedom disturbs the peace! Pursuing your justice violates my freedom! There is no single answer!” Concrete Revolutio is a world full of conflicting truths and ideals of justice, and each of its characters must find answers in their own ways.
Jiro sticks to the simple things, because Jiro wants to believe in an unerring justice. When asked directly what he believes in, he states he wants to protect superhumans who try to help even just one individual person. There are many heroes who believe similarly to Jiro, even among those who often disagree with him. The police detective Raito Shiba consistently clashes with the bureau, because he believes superhumans are inherently untrustworthy - but basically all of his actions adhere to a stable ideal of justice, a belief that anyone who violates the public peace is acting in an unjust way. Shiba is the classic “we can make this system work” character, one who accepts society as a given in order to keep its citizens safe. His detractors would say that means he's protecting a greater injustice, and at times, they would seem to be right - at one dramatic moment, he finds himself defending a US submarine fueled by enslaved superhumans, a practice he would never willingly condone regardless of his own feelings on them. But in that moment, he is not willing - he is protecting a higher ideal of peace and order, and must stay the course.
Of course, defending a “current peace” inherently implies defending the status quo, which may itself be unjust or likely to provoke future war. And so contrasted against heroes who try to protect individuals, Concrete Revolutio introduces heroes who embody a larger social consciousness - superhumans who, in their own words, think using their powers to save kittens from trees is a cowardly waste, and that they should instead attempt to improve the world on a societal level. Your own definition of peace inherently implies a certain view of the government and society as it currently exists - if you are comfortable within the existing society, that is peace and order. If not, it is injustice and evil.
Many of Concrete Revolutio's superhumans rally with protesters against the existing order, rightly pointing to the ways it abuses superhumans, or conceals critical information, or collaborates with the United States in pursuit of ever more powerful war machines. As they rise and resist, they are challenged by those who see them as breaking the peace, and conflict sparks fire all for the sake of governments and corporations that are in truth playing both sides. The Superhuman Bureau feeds weapons to the protesters to justify harsher crackdowns, and private companies sponsor folk heroes to further cultural penetration and profits. It may seem like justice is lost in this muddle of legitimate values, but that framing implies there was ever a real justice at all.
Concrete Revolutio's stars want to believe in a real justice, and in the idea of heroes that can represent it. The real world is complicated, and requires engaging with questions that have no real answer. Scales of justice range from rigidly punishing overt “bad action” (like the detective, who equates injustice with breaking the law) to situationally pursuing any actions that result in a better overall future (like the superhuman Claude, who murders and provokes riots, but through these actions reveals human rights violations on a staggering, unthinkable scale). Jiro doesn't want to believe this is the only world that can exist - he wants to believe in the perfect heroes that once inspired his own belief in justice, who even in the presence of a muddled-up world present a light in the darkness.
Jiro isn't the only one with this wish. Many of Concrete Revolutio's characters deal with the complexity of real-world justice by hanging their desired belief in true justice on an ideal, someone who represents heroes the way they “should” be. When the ghost Fuurouta is nearly broken by learning of his own crimes, and says that he wishes to “become an adult,” Jiro urges him to reconsider, and says that it's fine for him to remain a child. While Jiro has had to embrace the ugliness of real-world compromise and consequence, he still wants someone else to represent a belief in something true. And Jiro himself performs this role for his fellow employee Emi, who hides the ugliness of the bureau's actions from him in order to preserve him as someone who can truly believe in his own actions.
The show's most pure icon of this unblemished justice is likely Earth-chan, the robot girl who is guided not by any larger political motive, but by the earnest calls for help she personally receives. “Violence is bad” according to Earth-chan, and so those who threaten violence are stopped, regardless of their motives. As the scale of your justice increases, the consequences increase as well, but this doesn't matter to Earth-chan - when a boy calls for help because of air pollution, she doesn't hesitate, and immediately ties the nearby factory smokestacks into a knot. This won't “stop pollution,” and her actions certainly negatively affected the lives of many workers, but she was still pursuing a pure justice. Just as Shiba sees the public peace as the ultimate good, and so corrects individual “wrongs” in pursuit of that peace, so does Earth-chan do battle with anyone creating individual unhappiness, even if it means she's picking a fight with everyone to do it.
And moreso than the immediate effect of her actions, Earth-chan matters as a symbol. Earth-chan's simple righteousness inspires the people around her - so much so that the bureau at one point attempts to use her to define righteousness. At one of his darkest moments, Jiro responds to new bureau member Kikko's “Earth-chan does things because they're right, things aren't right because Earth-chan does them” with a jaded “we will make it so.” But though the government is occasionally able to spin Earth-chan's actions towards their own gains, they can't stop her from being a symbol to inspire others. The importance of this symbol is made manifest through the character of Judas, an electric-powered superhuman who once robbed banks, but was legitimately changed by Earth-chan's call for him to improve himself. Though he later finds himself swept up in activism with no easy solution, Earth-chan still remains his symbol of true heroism; even if her justice cannot account for the world as he understands it, she needs to exist to inspire his faith in a better one.
Concrete Revolutio is itself more cynical than many of its characters, and often frames its contrasts between societal and individual justice as the difference between youth and maturity. The young rally to change the world, while the old embrace incremental shift from within the system. The young see the past as a debt that must be paid, while the old embrace senility for the sake of their own internal peace (or, in the government's case, in order to not be held accountable). At one point, a time-traveling hero must literally kill his own younger self, for fear that his violent activism will undo the careful good his older self has done. And both the slow march of history and Concrete Revolutio's frenetic time-shifting hammer in how injustice and its counterpoints move in cycles, and how the heroes of today are inspired by the ones who once died for their own freedom. But Concrete Revolutio acknowledging the fatigue of age doesn't mean it embraces it - the youth are right, and Concrete Revolutio knows it. And just as Earth-chan, Jiro, or any other individual hero might represent belief in a better world to just one person, the fire of revolution sparked by the young is our faith in a better future made manifest.
It is the passion of those who truly believe we can do better that saves Jiro, as the streets burn and heroes clash all in the pursuit of their own hard-fought justice. Jiro isn't defeated by another superhuman - he's lost to himself, as the ugly specters of his past and the limitations of his idealism make him embrace the monster inside himself. And as the hero he fights is literally swallowed by the consequences of the compromises he's made, Jiro becomes fire itself, a swelling rage shifted from actionable passion to destructive frenzy. But Jiro does not take the city with him - instead, he's stopped by the other superhumans, who pull back from their own battles to save something greater, a fragment of peace that everyone can agree on. As much as the reality of our incompatible ideals is tragic, it's also beautiful - even if we disagree and fight and destroy, we are all searching for a better world.
Concrete Revolutio is a messy, ugly show, full of characters who lose faith and heroes stained in blood, marked by savage battles between figures you wish could just work together to take on the real villains. Its first season offers no real answers, and its nods towards the future imply that even those who once represented a pure justice might find themselves shackled to reality's compromises. But even if the show itself is jaded, it respects the faith of its beaten, resilient heroes. They clash and fall, but also rise again, changing tactics and goals while never losing sight of their faith in a better world. Even if heroes don't have all the answers, or even the power to save us if they did, having faith in a better future in spite of that is itself the mark of a hero's strength. It is that faith that might save us all.
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