The only righteousness which we can truly claim is to understand the fallibility of our own humanity.
I’ve been wanting to write this post ever since Concrete Revolutio finished airing, but never had the words to put exactly what I thought and felt about the series to digital paper. What I knew for certain was that I really believed that Concrete Revolutio, despite its 1960s setting, is the most relevant political anime of the last decade – even more so than similarly excellent productions like Gatchaman Crowds. That belief has only grown stronger in the year since, a feeling perpetuated not only by my frequent mental returns to the show but also the deteriorating political situation across the globe.
Whenever a particular piece of news ends up sitting in my head for a while, I always somehow seem to return to thinking about Concrete Revolutio. I’m not especially proficient at political analysis, even so but I think I can offer my take on Conrevo‘s ideas effectively. After all, although Conrevo uses interpretations of real historical events as allegories by which to communicate its ideas, it ultimately speaks less to specific political moments or ideologies than it does to the universal failings of the human heart that lie at the center of it all.
Jiro is both the question and the answer in Concrete Revolutio, a conceptual struggle embodied in a very literal way – something that makes him, at least to me, one of the most iconic anime characters ever put to screen. Throughout the course of the show, he battles with the ugly realities of the Superhuman Bureau he once called home as well as his doubts about his own actions. In fact, the best way to characterize Jiro is to say that he is defined by action within uncertainty. He believes unwaveringly in the existence of Justice, but lives in a state of perpetual self-doubt about his own ability to enact that justice. The “one righteous thing” he pursues, finds, loses, despairs over, and eventually finds enduring hope in is both his greatest inspiration and the cause of his suffering.
However, were Jiro to be defined solely as someone who moves forward despite his doubts, he would be little better than a lost man in the mountains – something contradicted by the purpose with which he usually (although not always) acts. This is because Jiro’s certain belief in the existence of Justice coupled with his uncertain experience with it in his world means that he is constantly engaged in the act of self-reflection. Beyond action within uncertainty, Jiro is also defined by this, by his constant questioning of whether the justice he seeks can ever be truly realized and whether the justice he attempts to enact actually lives up to the Justice of his ideal.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Jiro, though, is that his doubts are often precipitated by the failings of others rather than himself (although, as he learns more about his past, his own actions and identity increasingly dominate his concerns). When he learns that the Bureau, the place where he was more or less raised, is little more than a hypocritical (“We protect and manage superhumans”) government-controlled shell, he doesn’t just become disillusioned with the institution. He also becomes disillusioned with himself, both for his role as an enforcer of that hypocrisy and his failure to see through it.
This, I think, is a key point – that the monstrousness our institutions perpetuate is not something we can simply wash our hands of by simple rebellion, but something that demands a degree of doubt in ourselves as well. Perhaps we are not as complicit as Jiro was, but the need for self-reflection remains.
The most demanding challenge for Jiro, though, is that of his only true foil—Claude. Where Jiro is unsure, Claude is terrifyingly – and, as the show very clearly demonstrates, mistakenly – assured. He believes he has found Justice and is capable of wielding it true, but the events of the Shinjuku Riot at the end of the first season show Claude to be “wrong” even though he may be “right.” The lesson of Claude is that the moment we allow ourselves to believe in our own righteous is also the moment we give ourselves permission to do anything, even the most horrendous things, in pursuit of our beliefs. Jiro fears this more than anything else; after all, he carries inside him the force of an atomic bomb – and what clearer symbol of violence begot by righteousness is there in modern times?
This may sound odd coming from a Catholic like me, who believes in an objective Truth, but I think Concrete Revolutio‘s criticism of self-righteous ideology is deeply wise. Or, perhaps it’s more correct to say that Conrevo condemns belief in Rightness without constant reflection. One of the most valuable themes in Concrete Revolutio (and the one I found personally most impactful) is the truth that doing the right thing, even if you know what is right, is really damn hard. This is something I’ve struggled with oftentimes in the last few years, as my deeply held religious beliefs (simple in theory) have ground up against the incredible difficulty of applying them to the complexity of the world I inhabit.
This was something I knew before watching Concrete Revolutio, but to me the show is a warning against extreme reactions to this dilemma. Claude is one such extreme, a decision to prioritize ideology above all else. His fall is perhaps the one I see myself most inclined to succumb to, as “knowing what’s Right” leads to the temptation that all else is enemy. Claude’s certainty, his righteousness becomes ugly – and the only antidote is Jiro’s struggle. The constant self-doubt that forces Jiro to be always reflecting about his actions, what he believes, and what he should do is something that’s perhaps even more necessary for people me who profess adherence to a certain Truth – lest I become like Claude and be swallowed up by the force of my own righteousness.
But Claude’s response is only one form of lack of self-reflection. The people who suffer most in Conrevo are those who are by nature unable to self-reflect. Earth-chan, who is programmed to help people who cry out for help, breaks down in the face of the contradiction between programmed mission and the reality of the world. Raito, likewise, suffers a complete mental breakdown against the nuances and ambiguities of justice – a situation that concludes with his tragically certain line, “I am justice.” Their certainty makes them fragile, and without the ability to self-reflect they each crumble.
It’s worth noting that the only response Concrete Revolutio paints as truly evil and without some merit, is that of media mogul Satomi, who holds that in the face of all this uncertainty, the only answer can be that there is no answer and it’s not worth trying to find one. Instead, as his actions prove again and again, he believes all that remains is to act for one’s own selfish interests. The cynicism of Satomi is poison. It is as monstrous as the worst institutional hypocrisy and as damaging as the failings of Claude the ideologue. It is, at its core, hopeless – and the violence of the result as damaging as anything any of the show’s other antagonists do.
But even Satomi falls. Hope reigns. In the end, the answer Jiro comes to, and the one Concrete Revolutio asserts as its final message, is that all we can do is continue to search. To continue to believe in Justice knowing that we may never achieve it ourselves. The impossibility of realization is not a proof against the existence of Justice, but rather a call to be mindful always of our actions. It is this that I find most inspiring about the show, that despite the difficult of doing right, if we believe that it can be done and are willing to hold ourselves against the unforgiving microscope of the ideals of Rightness we profess (in our personal lives, in our religion, in our politics), hope will carry us through.