Kaiba 04 – all the unfinished business that you left behind

This entry is also cross-posted on my own blog: http://itsubun.dasaku.net/

Before I start, I would like to thank all of the people who commented on my KnJ post. First time trolling on my part and it was awesome. You guys have given me much to think about and had me going “Woah!” in response to some of the strong reactions that I got. Thank you for taking the time and care to comment, even if you disagreed with my views and convictions, because it lets me know that at least people are reading my work and acknowledging it enough to form their own opinions on it and get back to me about it =]

So… It’s been a long, long time since an anime has gotten me this emotionally attached to it. The last time this happened was circa summer of 2006, when I, in an attempt to escape from RL issues, marathoned through H&C and used up a whole box of tissue crying my eyes out at every twist and turn. Now every time I sit down to watch a Kaiba episode, I do so knowing that I’m going to get some masochistic pleasure out of getting my heart mutilated and broken by this fantastic monstrosity. Regardless, I know that I will keep coming back for more abuse because it IS that good.

It was unquestionably the grandmother character that got to me. Poor little, old grandma who waits in that little, old lighthouse for grandpa to come back. Except he’s dead. And whenever anyone mentions this fact, she falls into a deep, deep sleep.

Her mind is a library of memories, with books lining the shelves, books that are probably full of so much happiness and pain and wisdom and loss. There is one book held close with a clamp and it trembles every time grandpa is mentioned. Besides the books, there is the incomplete ship model and a broken blue door. These are all the unfinished business that grandpa left behind when he died, that she still keeps locked away in her mind, still holds close to her while she waits for him to come back. And fuck, THIS:

Broke me. Made my throat go dry, my breath catch, my chest hurt. Because I can’t… I can’t even dare to imagine what that must be like. That kind of loss and loneliness. All that time spent waiting inside of her memories for someone who [didn’t die didn’t die] will never come back. She sleeps so deep because she doesn’t want to remember that stupid little fact that messed up everything, she sleeps because she wants to remember life as it was before THE FACT. See that, the act of remembering and not remembering, of sleeping and dreaming, see how it works and how it doesn’t. Really? Because I don’t. Shit, what a fucking mess it’s made out of my head.

And maybe it would be all well and good for her if her greedy grandsons hadn’t come looking for the treasure inside of her pain. Here, we are presented with the question of value and worth. Which memory constitutes as a treasure, and to whom? The ungrateful bastards want info, they want a map to a treasure chest, anything else is disregarded because they have not attached any meaning to the past. They are simply looking for a one-way ticket out of what they perceive as a shithole. If there is no monetary appeal to a memory, then it is worthless. So apparently this makes it okay for them to exploit Grandma’s memories, to dig up her grief and turn her loss inside out to see if they could scavenge anything from it.

Grandma isn’t very happy about this. Big surprise. She more or less tells them to fuck off by directing them to an old shoe box filled with mementos from the past. For her, that IS the true treasure. Because all she has are her memories, and they are so much more than just fuel for bitterness or resentment. To her, they are everything:

Even on that shitty planet with the weak ass gravity, she was able to find wonder and magic and love, and she was happy. So maybe the bigger tragedy here are her grandsons, both of whom resent their literal and figurative place in life. They dream instead of leaving and traveling the world because they can’t find any kind of meaning where they are now. They don’t see the little worlds that they have created or any of the great things that are possible for them still. And maybe there’s a big message being conveyed here. A big message that I’m too fucking lazy to elaborate on so I will it sum up as: Life sucked and then they died. To avoid said fate, have a little care.

all the strange wonders

While all of this is going on, Kaiba is once again the onlooker. So far, he has merely been the spectator, the one that takes us all over the universe and shows us what it means to exist and to be human in that specific time and place. But with each passing episode, his character gets more and more twisted up in the actual plot, so that he can no longer just watch things unfold from a detached distance. For Kaiba, someone without any memories of his own, it must be painful to see other people exploit each other’s and their own memories. He’s getting entangled within the discourse of memories and if the flashbacks in this episode are anything to go by, soon the plot demons will eat him alive. Something that I am quite looking forward to because I’ve been “WTF, where’s Neiro? Go find Neiro!” for the longest time.

So while on the topic of assigning meanings and emotions… Maybe I am stupid for getting so attached to something that isn’t real, for crying over something so inconsequential as moving pictures and words spoken by 2-D characters. But I think it’s because anime is… well, animated that I am able to put so much of my emotions into it. Because it’s so far removed from the reality that I live in and I know that these characters have no intrinsic values to them, that they’re just polished elements of some guy’s dreams, trapped forever in their plight. But because they are art, and art is the work of conveying human truths, they are like open vessels where I can store all of my little feelings that would otherwise have no outlet for expression in society, in the different social spheres that I move through as I go about my life trying not to fuck up or embarrass myself. Because these characters aren’t real and they can’t hurt you so you don’t have the same reserves that you otherwise would towards other human beings. Ergo, you’re free to put as much stock into them as you want because they won’t complain or bite you in the ass for it later on.

So I guess in this way, anime is cathartic for me, wherein the characters go through hell and back and I’m just trying really hard to pick up on the lessons that they’re teaching me and hoping that I won’t fail. Or maybe I’m taking this too seriously. Maybe I do need a new hobby.

Is anime serious business?

Well, that’s really up to you and what you put into it. Now excuse me while I go try to buy back my soul from Masaaki Yuasa.

Anyway, thank you for reading and do catch Kaiba if you get the chance. It hurts so good =D

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  1. Posted May 11, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Indeed, Kaiba is definitely a unique one.
    I watched the four episodes that are out now, and I must say, I am entranced.
    I didn’t have the emotional response that you had, but the emotion was there.

    I believe Kaiba’s strong point is the setting: it’s creepily real and surreal at the same time.

  2. taka
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    I didn’t get as emotionally attached to this episode as I did to episode 3 but it was still very good. The younger versions of herself telling her that he’s gone was the the part that “broke me”. It was physical manifestation of her mind torturing her. It was also interesting how just by crossing over to the side her husband was on meant her death. Whether this was just a metaphor for people dying from grief of a lost loved one or some actual facet of the Kaiba universe it was interesting.

  3. Posted May 12, 2008 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    taka: Seems like there are very few literal facts presented to us in Kaiba, at least when you’re inside someone’s head.

    As for this:

    For Kaiba, someone without any memories of his own, it must be painful to see other people exploit each other’s and their own memories.

    Possibly, but as he has no memories you have to wonder if he even has the internal gauge that measures what’s good or bad. Can he connect his situation enough with these people to empathize with them? I’ve often thought (and this is no new way of thinking) that memories are what define our sentience — even if a dog were capable of higher level thought, the lack of useful memory is a hinderance keeping things like morality from ever surfacing.

    But that’s getting a bit away from the point. Some people are analyzing the crap out of Kaiba, which will happen with any sci-fi with a brain, but I’m with you — the strongest appeal is in the heart, not the head. And from the music to the style, it seems obvious to me that that is the intent of Kaiba, not just a side effect.

  4. Posted May 12, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    As always, thank you for taking the time to read and respond. Sorry that I haven’t been very punctual with my own comment-backs.

    @korosora: Good mention on the setting. Kaiba’s setting is literally out of this world and I think the dissociation is a technique used to distort the viewer’s perspective and equilibrium in order to make them more receptive to the heavy ideas and themes being conveyed.

    @taka: I think the scene of Grandma’s death is very interesting in that it can fulfill both purposes as a metaphor of death and also as an actual rite of death that may be distinctive to Kaiba’s world. Such is the brilliance and multi-faceted narrative of Kaiba. *swoons*

    @otou-san: LOL. Addressing you as such makes me feel like a scared little school girl about to be punished. Or maybe I have too much late night hentai in the bloodstream. Anyway, I think you bring up an interesting inconsistency in Kaiba. At the beginning of the show [and in the wiki summary of Kaiba], it is stated that the protagonist has no memories. And yet in ep 04, there are manifest flashbacks to the time that he spent with Neiro. What does this mean?! Perhaps Kaiba did not get his memories stolen, but they are simply repressed or locked away inside of him — as hinted by the cat-and-mouse scene with Vanilla inside of the vault-like manifestation of his mind. I guess we will have to wait and see. Oh, and I am all up for HxC analysis of Kaiba because I find them very enlightening for the most part. But I’m also very glad to see people [like yourself] acknowledging the “heart” of Kaiba as well. And I agree, the music and style are gorgeous.

  5. Kirsten-kun
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    who is kaiba

  6. Posted May 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm | Permalink


    This is the wiki entry for Kaiba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaiba

    And this is Kaiba [titular character] himself:

    Although, your question is complicated by fact that Kaiba been changing into different bodies during the past two episodes. That and he himself supposedly has no memories of his own, so his identity still remains a mystery to the viewer. Currently he is using the body of Chroniko, a girl whose memory has been removed because she sold her body off for teh moniez. Err… I think I’ll only confuse you more if I were to go on explaining, especially if you haven’t seen any of Kaiba yet. So I’d recommend getting your hands on the ureshii/f-b subs and watching it for yourself =]

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