(Warning: Spoilers for the anime Kaiba)
Once you’ve seen it, the anime Kaiba is unforgettable. It came out in 2008, produced by Madhouse and directed by Masaaki Yuasa, who was also the creator of the original story. The art and animation style remind you of something seen on Cartoon Network in the 2000s– simplistic, colorful, and “trippy.” It’s one of those anime where you wonder, “Am I on acid?” Being created by the weird genius Masaaki, Kaiba is actually a dark, adult, and thought-provoking story, though it has its share of silly comedy, too. What follows is a list of eight major themes in the anime.
1. The Nature of The Mind
What is the nature of human consciousness? The whole series of Kaiba makes us wonder. In the anime, memories are stored in small chips and exist completely separate from a brain. When that memory chip is inserted into a new body, the person in that new body is the same as the one from the old body, because he has all the same memories. People have debated the nature of the mind and consciousness for centuries. Do you think humans are made up of memories? Can you start over and still be the same person if you lost most or all of your memories?
Based on my readings about the brain, I believe the human mind is made up of more than stored memory. There is also the consciousness that accesses those memories. Consciousness is difficult to explain and still being studied by neuroscientists. Basically, it’s spread through many parts of the brain in a network, a pattern of interwoven signals (neurons firing). On top of that, a human’s personality is also influenced by individual neurochemistry, hormones, and genetics.
Since personality and consciousness are so complex, Kaiba touches on the theme that maybe the mind and personality is more than memory alone. To Warp, it seems at first that consciousness and personality are completely dependent on memory chips. However, Warp himself has no memory. That’s the premise of the series. Is he not an individual with his own personality, then? Who is he? Warp’s quest is to find out. And over the course of the journey, he discovers that identity is not entirely decided by memories. We can start over even without memories.
Although the mind is more than memories alone in a literal sense, memories are still a huge part of what makes us who we are. Especially in the second half of Kaiba, a significant motif is how we are influenced by our memories. Neiro’s memories were manipulated, and even the one she felt sure was real– that of her parents being executed–was false. Popo had memories of growing up together with Neiro and Cheki, and he was distraught when Cheki’s memories were wiped and she was made into his slave rather than his friend. Warp treasures his faint memories of Neiro; they are what drives him forward. All the characters are spurred on by memories, whether they are real or fake.
3. Appearance and Body
In a universe where body-swaps are common, Warp learns that identity doesn’t depend on physical appearance. However, people still tend to judge other people based on body. For example, Vanilla only stops trying to arrest Warp when he uses Chroniko’s body and acts like a girl. When he’s in his large white Hippo body, people tend to assume Warp is a threat. It’s sad that so much in our real world is still based on how we look or our bodies; there is still so much sexism, racism, bigotry, and stereotyping. There would probably some be issues with this in any society, since it’s part of human nature. Even in the futuristic universe of Kaiba.
Tied in with assumptions based on appearance, there is the theme of bodies being short-lived and limited compared to the nature of the mind. However, that’s not to say bodies are superficial and something we should transcend beyond. Everyone should love and treasure their bodies, and much of the tragedy in Kaiba happens because people don’t. Then again, there are people like Kichi and Popo’s father who would have been cured of illness or disability with a body change. One thing is for sure: the issues of body changing are complicated.
It’s hard to talk about living things and their bodies without thinking of the sexual needs they have. Sex. It’s everywhere. Most people and nonhuman animals want it. It’s a desire deeply ingrained in most living things. And it’s a theme in Kaiba. Various episodes suggest there is still a lot of sexual crime going on. In episode 2, we saw how that lady on the ship manipulated a clone of herself and Warp’s body to have sex, and one of them died because of how overboard they went. Vanilla is strongly sexually attracted to Chroniko starting in episode 3.
In episode 6, we learned about how the old lady singer cheated on her husband because she craved sex with young men. Also in episode 6, we have Neiro stuck in a male body (Gel), and Warp stuck in a female body (Chroniko). Neither of them know how to handle their sexual drives or impulses in the bodies they’re currently stuck with.
5. Technology and Human Nature
Despite advanced techology and apparent “utopia,” human flaws still exist: corruption, pain, murder, and dystopia. They not only exist: they’re more common than integrity, freedom, altruism, and fairness. In episode 1, we hear about how the tyranny on Lala, and how only the rich can afford new bodies. In episode 2, we see a person who misuses chip-copying technology, putting a copy of their memory chip into an attractive body and using it for sex. The aunt in episode 3 essentially killed Chroniko by deciding not to sell her body but not keep her “mind” in chip form. Healthy people forget about their own precious and unique bodies and trade them out for whatever body is “trending,” as we see in episode 5.
Human nature will always have some darkness. That won’t change regardless of techology or the ability to manipulate minds and bodies. In fact, that technology can be used to erase memories or kill people en masse when the wrong people have it.
The three incomplete Warp copies that posed as Dada-sama show the theme of greed, and so does the human Mantle who tried to conspire with them. They were both after power and influence and the guaranteed protection of the king. Popo is also greedy, hungry for power. He wants to become great because he thinks that’s what his mother wanted. Really, his mother telling him to be powerful was a false memory. Once he believes Warp is dead and he takes over the palace, he is driven mad. Part of that madness is caused by the loss of his mother and his childhood friend. However, part of it is also because of greed and the idea of ruling the universe.
I don’t think greed or desire are bad things in and of themselves, and I think that all people, including myself, are greedy. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that we all want good and happy lives, enough to live comfortably plus ideally a nice surplus for our personal interests. In a sense, clinging to life in any way is a form of greed. That’s why all the characters in Kaiba who try to prolong their lives beyond their natural lifespan are greedy.
7. Fragility of Life
Even in the universe of Kaiba, where people supposedly can be immortal, every person is still fragile. Many of the characters’ actions are driven by the fact that they’ve lost someone dear to them. Vanilla’s mother. Popo’s parents. Neiro’s parents. The gramda’s husband in episode 4. Death is everywhere in Kaiba. There are millions, perhaps billions, of people and lifeforms who died without having their memories turned into chips; the memories now float and flow together as a golden river in space. They are mixed and degraded, and cannot be saved. Many characters followed closely by the story also end up dying, though I won’t say which ones.
In some ways, Kaiba is a story of romance. Throughout his journey, Warp tries to remember and find Neiro. In the past, they fell in love with each other. Warp loved Neiro so much he even brought her back to life after she died once. Even after Warp recovers his memories of being King, and leaves Neiro, she pursues him. It’s just to change how the universe and planet Lala are ruled; it’s also about telling Warp how much she loves him.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Thursday feature, Thoughtful Thursday, where I put up a post about a theme, character, or series written a way that makes you think. This is 7mononoke of Anime Rants! Thank you so much for reading! Ja ne!