The Sobreity of Self-Doubt in the Politics of Concrete Revolutio

The only righteousness which we can truly claim is to understand the fallibility of our own humanity.

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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 CrowdsThat 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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3 thoughts on “The Sobreity of Self-Doubt in the Politics of Concrete Revolutio

  1. I’ve read this post on the date it came out, and I wish I could say I’d been thinking through my response until now, and that’s why it was late, but the truth is I had trouble sleeping and was grumpy and my focus was off, and I couldn’t have done this post justice. I like Concrete Revolutio quite a bit, and I wish more people would watch and appreciate it, but I’m not as positive about the ending as you are, and I think this is where the difference between our outlooks comes into play quite a bit. Take this line:

    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.

    As a social relativist, I instinctively find this idea very… banal? I can’t connect, precisely because it’s so… obvious. That’s my instinctive reaciton, and it was the reason why the ending disappointed me. I felt the first season was fairly good at setting up a complex and authentic if fictional world, and then the second season came along and streamlined things too much. We spend way too much time in Jiro’s head for the finale. They’ve set up this situation where a lot of people have trouble figuring out what’s the right thing to do, and that you have to live the fall-out of your actions either way, and then they sucked all this down the black hole we call “justice”.

    It’s not that bad as an ending for a single arc for Jiro; as a season finale? Many other points of view are reduced to playing foil to that. Add to that that Jiro’s the personified power of The Bomb, and you end up with some a variation on “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that was probably fairly cliché when Spiderman was new.

    I do need to re-watch Concrete Revolutio one of these days. The first season is a master piece; the second season is still pretty good. But I simply don’t connect to the ending. I probably should have seen it coming, but I suppose I just didn’t want the show to have a protagonist-centric ending.

    Politically speaking, democracy means that everyone gets a vote. If you think this through, this means that you have to live with results you don’t like, but at the same time it means that you’re expected to vote as you see fit. That’s a formal context for what we believe. Above I said that I’m a social relativits. What does this mean? It means that we are who came to be in our contexts, and if things had been different so would we. An individual is a social vortex, a bundle of sympathies and antipathies and apaties to all the things we encountered. So even before we get to understand the formal context of living in a nation state, we have incorporated a lived, organic sense of morals into our life, and that’s been shaped, from the outside, by all the people we ever met. The process is never finished, but it’s most formative when we’re young. So then, eventually, we encounter laws, we see the people who make them, and those who enforce them, and we react to that, and so do others, and we see them, too, and there’s a range of acceptable things to vote for.

    Eventually, you might end up working for a bureau that’s supposed to protect superhumans, and it doesn’t tend to be what you expected. Do you quit? Why? Is there a misunderstanding? Outright deceit? Do you get along with the people you work with? Is the bureau’s operation what people in general (your peer voters) want it to be? The nature of the problem is very complex, and quitting is only one way to deal with it. Can you do good in a corrupt office? Can you do better elsewhere? Are you orienting yourself based on the expected outcome of your actions? Do you have to do things you simply can’t stomache?

    So, here, Concrete Revolutio chose to focus on Jiro, make him a staunch idealist, isolate him institutionally but not personally. The direction the plot can take once I know the plot is centred on Jiro is pretty limited. I had a similar reaction to the ending of CR as I had to Death Parade: we end with a conclusion that I thought was the starting situation. It’s a sobering experience, and I have the feeling I wasted the run time. It destroyed what little interest I had in Death Parade, and I remember this show as one of the most dreary anime experiences I ever had (except for the stylishes visuals and some isolated scenes). Concrete Revolutio? It’s a testament to just how good the show is that the ending (and the second season in general) could not really taint my good memories of it. Yes, the ending disappointed me somewhat, but it’s still a very good show, and if it ever finds it way into shops around here it’s an instant buy. (Hey, it can happen. This autumn, we finally get Usagi Drop. A bit late, but I won’t complain. Excited)

    After having finally admitted to myself this season, that I don’t like My Hero Academia as much as I’d like to like it, and after this post, I think it’s time for me to finally realise that I just don’t like the concept of “heroes” in fiction all that much. And I think that is also why, in the end, my favourite anime of the year 2015 ended up Rolling Grils, a gentle take-down of the fictional heroes priviledged status. If I had a blog, that would probably be worth a post. Heh.

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    • Hmm… perhaps it’s because of how obvious the ending is that I like it? I find that many of my favorite shows don’t necessarily teach me new truths (although Conrevo did, in fact, do that for me), but simply affirm in a powerful something that I’ve believed. In any case, despite how obvious the lesson is, it is even more painfully obvious that a great number of people have not learned it, or perhaps have learned it but think it only applies to people outside themselves. Jiro’s self-reflection and, even, self-criticism, are a signal that even those with the best intentions must be wary of their own self-righteousness.

      But that could be because, ultimately, I appreciate that Conrevo offered an answer of its own. I don’t think I would have cared for the show as much had it simply ended by shrugging its shoulders and going, “Welp, it’s tough for everyone. Good luck figuring it out.” By putting Jiro in the center, it affirms his decision to continue to seek out the right answer – and I’d argue that Satomi’s perspective is the only one that is truly cast against Jiro’s in the end. Emi and Kikko’s stances get more brushed to the side (which I agree was disappointing), but I wouldn’t say they get “invalidated” per se in the way Satomi’s is.

      I wish Rolling Grils (:P) had been a bit stronger narratively so back up the cool “mob” theme it had going. I just never felt the show came together the way I wanted it to.

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      • I’m often out of touch with the mainstream when it comes to narrative. To summarise, I don’t care much for stories that want to make me root for a protagonist. That sometimes works well enough for me, but it’s just not what I’m looking for. The vast majority of shows, though, tends to have that structure, and when a show (say, Rolling Girls) doesn’t have that structure, people are quick to cry “bad writing”. The thing is, while the writing for Rolling Girls isn’t perfect, it’s a big reason for why I like the show so much. So a “stronger narrative” has a good chance to lose me, or rather: to stop the show from being special.

        Conrevo‘s narrative is basically the flipside of that. After season 1, I expected a different kind of narrative (one that’s rather rare, so I got my hopes up). As a result of that I might have paid attention to the wrong elements. It’s not that I think the ending doesn’t make sense; it’s that I feel the bigger story has been reduced to a single character arc. I understand where you’re coming from (your post excellently makes the point). It’s just that the focus on Jiro reduces the scope of the show for me. I have basically two options: (a) I can re-interpret the entire show as the psycho-social environment for Jiro, ending up with a more complete picture, but one I’m less interested in, or (b) I can stick with my own take, but that would mean dealing with a disappointing ending. The two options aren’t mutually exclusive: (a) is fairer to the show, and (b) is the one that has me end up with a more enjoyable (even if more flawed) show. If I were an official reviewer, and reviewing anime were my job, I think (a) is the responsible thing to do. But in a comment section on a blog, I’ll always go for (b). On my own blog (if I had one), I’d be ambitious enough to go for both and maybe work out an integrated model.

        With Rolling Girls there was never such a confict for me. It’s interesting. As everyone was losing interesting, I was getting more excited. I still remember the scene that made the show click for me. The girls were wrongly accused of something, and someone offered to let them escape. Nozomi didn’t want to run, since they haven’t done anything wrong. As a result they had their first fight, that went something like this:

        Ai: Let’s run and come back when we’re stronger.
        Nozomi: What if we never get stronger.
        Ai: You don’t believe in me!
        Nozomi: So why can’t I believe in them?

        That’s when the show clicked for me, and pretty much everything from then on made sense. The narrative, in my view isn’t weak; it just doesn’t run with the protagonist model. Stories like that do seem to be a harder sell, though. Which is a pity, since that means I don’t get many.

        There’s a sense that heroes are sometimes like over-protective parents who solve too many problems, leaving complacent and selfish children behind. Meanwhile, the Rolling Girls blunder through the mini-arcs with enthusiasm and ineptitude, inspring people left and right to solve their own problems, and leaving a lot of good will behind, until in the finale they get to shine in their own story. It’s beautiful. The writing’s fine the way it is.

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