by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
“My job and your job are both pretty simple when you compare them with all the other jobs out there”. This is what Shinobu says to Zen as they sit mulling over Detective Tsutsui's death, and their failure in coming even one step closer to pinning Kaika Itsuki with any kind of criminal charge. Zen, as stoic and composed as he is, is clearly being pushed into territory he cannot cope with using his traditional procedures, his well-worn methods of navigating a chaotic world. Shinobu's approach is to break things down into their simplest parts, and to him, their job is as clear-cut as it can possibly be: “We just have to catch the bad guys”, he says.
Later, as Ryūichirō Nomaru prepares to take the stage along with some other contenders in Kaika's televised debate over his suicide law, Zen gets a similarly deconstructed breakdown of an impossibly complicated process. “In politics”, Nomaru proclaims, “the side with the fewest numbers loses.” It's that easy. Eighty-eight percent of the population is against Kaika's proposal, the man has no party affiliations to support him, and he's being publicly investigated for the suicides of at least sixty-two people. For seasoned professionals like Nomaru, there really isn't any question of whether or not the old systems of logic and order will prevail. No matter how deluded he is, one man can't possibly shake the foundation of a country like Japan to its core, can he?”
Zen might disagree, as this week is where he makes his boldest and most dangerous move yet, though it is presented in Babylon's typically and charmingly low-key fashion. Realizing that he is unable to properly charge Kaika with a crime before his debate goes live, Zen dissolves the Kaika Itsuki Investigation Investigations Team. The others are shocked, naturally, and they refuse to believe that Zen would allow Detective Tsutsui's death, along with all of their work, to go to waste. Zen does have a plan, and runs so directly against his previously steadfast morals that even speaking it out loud puts his friends in a major dilemma. In order to keep more people from dying, Zen is going to straight-up kidnap Kaika, and figure out what to do from there. Since he's acting as a civilian, and not the head of the squad, Shinobu, Hiasa, and everyone else has a choice to make: Do they arrest their former leader and avoid being labeled accomplices to a major crime, or do they follow Zen into completely unknown territory for the sake of justice?
It's of little surprise that they all immediately catch on and choose the latter option, and though I wouldn't have minded if the scene felt just a little more spirited, or if we'd had more time to develop Zen's relationship with his colleagues so that this gesture would land with more gravitas, it's a satisfying development all the same. Whether it all blows up in Zen's face remains to be seen, because the latter half of the episode is devoted to the debate itself, and it's a scene that sparked a flood of inquisition on my part, both for what the show isn't telling us, and what I fear I might not understand due to my own lack of knowledge regarding Japan's culture and politics.
First things first: I am having a hard time grasping what the full scope of Kaika's plan to legalize suicide would mean, both for his own agenda and for Japan as a whole. Based on my limited research and understanding, as well as some of the details brought up in this episode's debate, the function of making suicide illegal in the modern day is dubious at best. It feels like the show is partially attacking the notion as a criticism of Western ideology's influence on Japan's development as a culture; after all, the European countries that brought such legal influence to the country had views on suicide that were largely influenced by their religious attitudes, which Japan obviously did not share. As far as I can tell, there is virtually no point in making suicide legal as punitive measure, as successful suicide victims will obviously not suffer any further ramifications to their actions, and as Kaika rightly points out in his speech, it seems cruel and backwards to stigmatize people for surviving an attempt on their own lives, rather than helping them recover.
So, it would appear that Kaika's point is largely a semantic one, meaning that Japan as a country needs to legalize suicide as a means to talk openly and honestly about the reasoning and means an individual might pursue in ending their own lives. What complicates this issue, both within the universe of the show and in the discourse it builds around itself, is the muddled way in which it is blurring the lines between assisted suicide for those who would usually be seen as benefiting from euthanasia laws – the terminally ill and elderly and so on – and those citizens who suffer from more psychological malaises. In other words, I want to know whether Kaika, and Babylon at large, thinks there is a substantial difference between helping people die for medical reasons, and helping people kill themselves simply because they want to die.
Given that this entire movement was kicked off by dozens of seemingly healthy people leaping off a building on live television, I suspect Kaika would argue that there isn't much of a difference between the two conditions. What I think Kaika Itsuki is establishing as the cornerstone of his mayoral platform is that, if someone wants to die because their body is irreparably broken, or because they feel psychologically incapable of escaping self-annihilation, or for whatever other reasons they might justify, they ought to have the unequivocal right to do so. The dissenters argue that this would make suicide even more of a problem than it already is for the Japanese populace, but Kaika counters that destigmatizing suicide and teaching Japan to openly discuss or even embrace the possibility of controlling one's own death would actually make suicide less prevalent. It's the same thing as when marijuana is legalized in countries like Canada – when it's no longer seen as a taboo, as an act of defiance that works as a statement of control in and of itself, its power is taken away. It becomes simply another means of self-medication – albeit, a permanent one.
I want to make it clear that I am not personally advocating for this approach to discussing mental health issues, necessarily – as an educator, I have plenty of personal experience with young people who suffer from mental illness, and I don't think making suicide pills accessible as an over-the-counter drug would be any kind of solution for them. However, in so tackling a real-world problem that has plagued Japan for decades so openly and so ferociously, Kaika is making a statement that even I as a cultural outsider can at least appreciate on a theoretical level. The old ways of dealing with the problem haven't been working, so it makes sense that a smooth talker like Kaika would show up to ask just what might happen if someone were try something radical, and terrifyingly dangerous.
Babylon is treading unique territory for me as an anime critic because it reckons with very particular kinds of politics and discussions that I feel would resonate with me on a completely different level if I had been born and raised in Japan; improving our ability to care and empathize with people who suffer from mental health issues is obviously a goal that all cultures should pursue, but Babylon is clearly tackling that conversation from a uniquely Japanese perspective. It's utterly fascinating, and more than a little unsettling, and I can't help but feel a little out of my depth in even trying to break it down into more manageable pieces. Author Mado Nozaki also wrote KADO - The Right Answer, and we need look no further than that show for an example of what happens when his grand narrative ambitions aren't quite able to stick the landing. Babylon is asking some very I have absolutely no clue, and I'm equal parts excited and terrified to find out what the answers are.
Odds and Ends
• Another development that I barely have time to go over: The sad Sentai-mask boy from the viral video is A) Running his own campaign for parliament somehow, and B) Kaika's son. This is a development that is so strange and ridiculous that it could very well derail the show entirely and, since it is tossed off as a cliffhanger, we'll have no idea what the hell it's all supposed to mean until next week.
• Speaking of “What the hell is it all supposed to mean?”, my mind is twisting itself into a pretzel trying to figure out how any of this will relate to the story of a shape-shifting, mind-warping psychic sexpot with Mysterious Anime Villain ambitions. I'm afraid that it can only end in an absurd, thematically incoherent mess, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
• We finally get to see Zen's wife this week! This can only mean that she is utterly doomed, and will be dead/divorced/Ai-In-Disguise before Babylon is done.
• Further evidence that Zen's idyllic domestic life will be ruined: Hiasa makes a point of Zen using her first name from now on. Between this and all of the blatant wedding ring shots we got last week, I think Babylon really is trying to sow the seeds of some kind of affair between the two, which...would be something, I guess.
Babylon is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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