by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Kotoko lays down the details of her plan for dealing with the Steel Lady, and sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, poison with poison, and fiction with fiction. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of stories reinforcing the moral clarity and raw power of “the truth.” Falsehoods may gain temporary ground, but ultimately the truth will always prevail, as it were. It's a nice idea, simple and binary, and it makes sense to drill it into the minds of children. Even well into adulthood, I think a lot people want to believe that truth—or at least the pursuit of it—is inherently edifying enough to overpower bad actors and deliberate attempts to spread disinformation. Science can win over skeptics. Lies, once exposed, collapse like a bad soufflé. Progress is always attainable so long as we ourselves are honest and hold each other to that same standard.
Of course, anybody who's been around for at least a couple decades should know that people are neither that binary nor that rational. Lies and truths aren't weighed by their own merits; they're weighed by our own merits, and whether or not they agree with our worldview. People can certainly change their minds, or have their minds changed, but it is rarely as simple as the light of truth banishing the dark specters of misinformation. Naturally, this applies doubly for online interactions, where the depersonalization of communication can cause catastrophic spirals of both antagonism and cronyism. In short, it's bad out there.
In/Spectre is all too familiar with the modern toxicity of online discourse, and it smartly applies that knowledge to Kotoko's proposed resolution to this arc. Most important of all, it does not have to do with exposing the truth. That's Saki's goal, but Kotoko correctly rebuts that there's approximately zero chance that the majority of people will stop believing in the Steel Lady just because the cops come forward with evidence disproving the current narrative. The existing story has power because it is compelling; it has nothing to do with it being true or not. The details are just too juicy. Even I was caught up in the possibility of a conspiracy about Nanase somehow faking her own death by swapping places with her sister. This is how human brains work!
Kotoko's aim, then, is to craft a better and more compelling narrative, “inspired” by the truth, which will neuter the Steel Lady's power to a more manageable level. That's a lot easier said than done, and Kotoko herself admits that she doesn't know the exact details of how she's going to weave her story together. Even after they confirm the truth about Nanase's death, she doesn't trust that the girl's tragic pseudo-self-destruction will be spicy enough on its own to overpower the current rumors about a hot murder ghost idol. In essence, this is the same problem she encountered with the belligerent snake god, albeit on a grander scale. She needs to incorporate all the known details into something that will satisfy her audience. That, not the truth, is her primary concern.
I've already waxed plenty on why I find In/Spectre's writing charming enough to sustain an almost exclusively character- and dialogue-heavy series, but another reason why I've been such a fan is how it uses its fantastical elements to engage extremely contemporary issues and ideas. This arc revolves around how disinformation spreads online, and this episode in particular possesses In/Spectre's most blatant commentary on it to date. And whether by fortune or by chance, events on Twitter on this exact weekend provided an exquisitely-timed example of exactly the kind of narrative the Steel Lady arc is dealing with.
The details can be read in this article by Ashley Feinberg, one of the online sphere's premiere investigative journalists. In short, for several hours on Sunday afternoon, a large swath of Twitter (myself included) was convinced that Pete Buttigieg's senior communications adviser had been exposed using a sockpuppet account where she posed as a Nigerian man who really loved her employer. This was, ultimately, debunked by the aforementioned article, but I want to dig into how this ties back to In/Spectre. Namely, even though this story wasn't true—and was in fact borderline conspiratorial—it spread quickly because it fit a pattern of past behavior and reinforced an already-established narrative of desperation and deception within the Pete campaign. It was plausible enough, and enough people wanted it to be true, so in essence, it became true for a period of time. This is hardly the only example of something like this happening, nor is it anywhere near the worst example, but its proximity to this particular episode means I couldn't help but draw connections to its portrayal of the rumor mill.
I'd also argue that, like Kotoko's proposed solution, the resolution to this story had less to do with revealing the truth and more to do with the story conforming to a different, more believable narrative. Feinberg holding an interview with the Nigerian man in question is surely enough to dissuade all but the most fervent conspiracy theorists, but the facts on their own hold little power. For me, anyway, the portrait provided by the article—that there is a cabal of international English-speakers who have nothing better to do all day than tweet sassy gifs at each other about how great Pete is—ended up feeling a lot more likely than the alternative. It is arguably a more depressing portrait, but that in itself is also a point in its favor. In a way, it still ended up confirming a worldview of mine—just a much bleaker one.
Jumping back into In/Spectre itself, Kuro's power also occupies this grey area between fact and fiction. In a flashback, he explains the mechanics of how his kudan side works, which isn't predicting the future as much as it's choosing a desired branch of the future to follow. There are caveats, and it costs him his life each time, but essentially he's picking one "truth" out a technically infinite set of possibilities and fixing our world onto that one. Again, there's the argument that the "truth" isn't an immutable thing, but rather something we each decide for ourselves (even though those of us who have eaten yokai meat have a flashier way of doing so). We cannot be passive, objective observers of the world around us, and thus we have a responsibility to be cognizant of that. We also have an opportunity to use that to our advantage.
Kotoko hopes that her “logical fiction” gambit will prove effective, and I'm quite eager to see how In/Spectre progresses with it, especially with the cop-sized wrench thrown into her plans at the end of the episode. I truly do doubt the power of truth to overcome lies on the internet as it exists, but I do think there's potential in using truth to shape truthful stories that arrest and compel people the way conspiracies do. In/Spectre correctly doubles down on storytelling as a weapon to be reckoned with, and now it's up to Kotoko to be as sharp as she can be.
In/Spectre is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve loves two things: writing about anime and retweeting good Fate GO fanart on his Twitter.
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