by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
You'd think that live-broadcasting the mass suicide of dozens of people would be enough evidence to toss the book at a guy like Kaika Itsuki, but “Chase” is all about demonstrating just how far beyond the pale this mess is in a city like Shiniki. This week sees Babylon at its most doggedly procedural, letting Zen Seizaki and his team stew in the messy aftermath of the debut of Itsuki's manifesto, as they try to figure out how in the hell they're going to arrest a guy who, technically speaking, hasn't broken a single law. It might not have enough action to satisfy your everyday thriller fan, but those who don't mind indulging in more cerebral conflicts will find plenty to chew on.
The dilemma that Zen faces as he works tirelessly to pour through the law books and compile all of the evidence can be perfectly summed up in the morbid question he is asked by Shiniki's Minister of Justice, Yoshifumi Sekuro: “Is suicide really a bad thing?” This is a sociological can of worms that people with higher pay grades than me have been debating since the dawn of ethical philosophy, so I'm not going to pretend to have an easy answer to that question, though Babylon doesn't seem to be trying for that either. Rather, it's showing us how the entire existence of Shiniki has allowed for this fatal philosophical debate to play out in real time. Lacking a parliament of any kind as of yet, Itsuki is exploiting the infant city's purpose as a testing ground for radical new legislature – the whole point of the Shiniki initiative in the first place was to be able to affect transformative, large scale policies for it citizens without being held accountable for the centuries worth of piled-up red tape that smothers the ability of other cities to grow and change with the times. This is how Zen finds himself where he is, with a man who is obviously leading the charge for hundreds of deaths across Japan, yet isn't responsible for a single one of them, because there haven't been any explicit laws put in place that make suicide – or the promotion of suicidal ideation – illegal.
Given that Japan is so affected by high suicide rates in the first place, it's impressive but unsurprising that an anime would deal with the problem so directly, and there are very interesting conversations to be had regarding the show's take on the topic. As is pointed out repeatedly, plenty of nations all around the world already have systems in place to support euthanasia for the terminally ill, and thousands of Shiniki's citizens already support that. If 3.4 percent of the 2 million Shiniki voters are already that open to the idea of letting people choose when to end their lives as a result of physical illness, well then who is to say they couldn't be persuaded to have the same amount of empathy for someone who wanted to die for psychological or even spiritual reasons? Zen's job is to catch a seemingly evil man who is preaching a seemingly evil ideology, but it's becoming clearer that it won't be so easy as finding a loophole or some fine-print that can allow Itsuki to be arrested. After the initial 64 tossed themselves from the top of that building last week, it is revealed that over 200 citizens from all over Japan followed suit. A viral video sees a young boy wearing a super-hero mask choking on his tears because his dad wants to kill himself, and there's nothing that can be done to stop him. There is a sickness spreading across Shiniki, and it's very likely that men such as Kiaka Itsuki are merely a symptom.
Still, it doesn't help that the laws in place are so fractured that Zen has to assemble an entire team of prosecutors and investigators just to handle the mess of the operation. The most significant new addition would be the niece of the Minister of Defense, a standoffish but fiercely professional woman named Hiasa Sekuro. She doesn't get much to do outside of silently judge Zen and his friends while she makes headway in the case, so it is difficult to say what exactly she will be bringing to the ensemble.
After the details regarding Ai got thrown into the mix last week, I was dead certain that Hiasa would be revealed as just another of the face-changing woman's aliases; that didn't come to pass, but it's an impossible theory to completely abandon when the show goes so far out of its way to express how every single woman we've met so far should be treated as an untrustworthy suspect until proven otherwise. Honestly, I hope the show doesn't go for such an easy ploy, because the potentially messy thematic threads of Ai's whole existence are my least favorite thing about Babylon so far. The conversations it wants to have about corrupt bureaucracy and the nuances of the mass public's will versus truly ethical lawmaking are interesting enough on their own. We really don't need the show to throw in its two cents about the fundamental mysteries of womanhood, especially if said takes boiled down to “Man, women sure are good at lying and stuff, aren't they?”
Odds and Ends
• Other peculiarities of Shiniki's legal system include a complete lack of minimal voting age, as well as a disregard for any qualifications of “citizenry” aside from the voters having lived in the city for literally any unit of time. That means that, in theory, a baby that just so happened to be staying in Shiniki for a month while they waited for their swanky country playhouse to be built could vote in any of Shiniki's elections. In practice, it means that parents with children who vote online get multiple votes, which may make the city to be a less fundamentally silly place, but it's still broken as all hell.
• Is it weird how easily Zen and Shinobu are able to laugh off Fumio's death and joke about how worthless he was compared to Miasa, or is that just me?
• The only other woman of note that isn't Hiasa or some confirmed alias of Ai's is Zen's wife, who only exists as a mute, off-screen presence that Zen talks to on the phone sometimes. I'm sure this will end up being important later, but it still has me worried when Babylon feels like it's making deliberate yet inscrutable choices in how it depicts women.
• Zen specifically asks for an investigator from the Police's sex crimes unit to join the team, which can only mean that we're in for the most bizarre Law & Order: SVU crossover imaginable.
Babylon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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