Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > No. 6 Episodes 1, 2, and 3 – Dividing Line

No. 6 Episodes 1, 2, and 3 – Dividing Line

Both bear and I are big fans of the noitaminA block, so when we heard last year that it would start airing two shows per season rather than the usual one, we were thrilled. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have two great shows like Shiki and Princess Jellyfish airing simultaneously, even if the two are completely different in genre and tone?

For 2011, however, this double offering hasn’t been quite as solid. Sure, we’ve had Wandering Son, Anohana, and now Usagi Drop in the “deep character drama,” and antiotaku has found praise for all of those. But we’ve also had thinly veiled political allegories in Fractale and [C], and while the shows have differed in tone from their respective partners, they’ve also differed in quality. Frankly, noitaminA hasn’t been able to justify its expansion into two slots with what we’ve been offered this year. No. 6 is no exception.

Another day, another loyalty oath

Like Fractale and [C], No. 6 is a political work, or at least a work about politics, society, and human nature. Set in a near future where a post-war population is divided up into several mega-cities (each labeled simply with a number), it presents a classic seeming-utopia-actually-founded-on-oppression-of-the-have-nots-and-thought-control-of-the-haves.

The plot centers around a run-in between a have (Shion) and a have-not (“Nezumi,” Japanese for mouse or rat) in city No. 6. The two meet when they are twelve, when Nezumi is on the run from the authorities and Shion helps him, despite the knowledge that being caught, as he is, will spell misfortune for his family. They remeet at age sixteen, when Shion gets in trouble with the authorities for daring to voice a suspicion against the government, and Nezumi stages a rescue as payback.

Shion's punishment for helping Nezumi is being exiled from the elite, which means his mother has to work for a living and the two of them have a much smaller house above their shop. In other words, they are punished by being downgraded to a lifestyle approximately like the blue collar middle class

As of the third episode, the basic plot is twofold. As an external threat, Shion encounters a bug that incubates in human hosts, killing them when it hatches. Once winter passes and the numbers that are likely hibernating come out into the open, Shion calculates, the resulting casualties could destroy No. 6. Of course, there’s the personal conflict between Shion and Nezumi, as the two try to maintain a precarious friendship despite radically different goals and ethical systems, particularly as Shion wants to save the city that disinherited him and Nezumi wants to watch it die.

Strangely enough, the bugs themselves were not created through government maleficence. This is what I would expect, but Nezumi, who knows all about the evils of No.6, doesn’t seem to think they know about it. And yet the government is acting as if they do know about it and are responsible for it, erasing all evidence of the bugs and its victims. (Hence why Shion got in trouble in the first place.) It’s implied that they just can’t accept there are any flaws or weaknesses in their perfect city—at least, they can’t let it get out among the rank and file. That seems a rather difficult reason to accept at face value; someone has to make sure the city runs properly.

A bug infects Shion as well, and despite having it cut out, Shion still has his hair turn white

But then, there’s a lot the show expects us to swallow at face value: that the cities formed so quickly after the war and imposed a radical new order on everyone, still comparatively recent, to which no one thinks to object; that Nezumi would be such a skilled survivor and combatant even at a young age; that despite being on the outs of society he’d have access to so many books and advanced miniature robots, etc. There’s a lot of stuff about the setting and the characters that occurs basically on the say-so of the author.

What’s worse is the characters themselves. The young Shion bends over backwards to accommodate the fugitive Nezumi, despite having the ability to betray him multiple times, for no discernible reason (and despite the fact that Nezumi refuses to explain anything). Nezumi delights at the prospect of seeing No. 6 and its denizens suffer, but manages to avoid killing anyone when rescuing Shion, presumably to keep him sympathetic to the audience.

I don't know what's less realistic: that Nezumi would be a (seemingly self-taught) expert in close combat at a young age, or that Shion would be more curious than afraid about having his throat torn open

For that matter, the city itself seems a caricature rather than a real dystopia. The powers that be are cruel on a seemingly sporadic basis, only downgrading Shion and his mother to working class status for aiding a dangerous fugitive, but threatening to kill him for being concerned about a dangerous threat to the city. For that matter, the mere fact the authorities don’t seem to be taking said threat seriously, and need Shion to warn them about what they should do, makes me wonder how they are competent enough to keep the city running in the first place.

It’s hinted that the city is engaged in even greater evils, which Nezumi knows about (and has likely experienced), but refuses to share with Shion for some reason. Why? It would make sense that the twelve year old Nezumi won’t tell the twelve year old Shion; Nezumi even gives a reason for not doing so. But, after Shion has been forced to cast No. 6 aside, why would Nezumi still withhold the truth, particularly if revealing that truth would drive Shion closer to Nezumi’s world view?

Instead of leveling with his friend, Nezumi reverts to threats to keep Shion from warning No. 6. Given he's saved Shion's life twice so far, I would think killing him now would be counterproductive

The answer, of course, is because the show wants to save its big plot reveal for later, and so it’s going to hold back on the audience reveal until it feels like doing otherwise. In other words, it feels like being annoying. But then, Nezumi is just an annoying character. Shion is an annoying character. Everything about the show is annoying and forced, with what makes sense taking a back seat to establishing the hamfisted setting for the inevitable moralizing.

The oddest part is that, as allegory or political fable, it’s not particularly resonant. Fractale’s “there is life outside your apartment” undertones and [C]’s more overt anti-deficit spending, pro-natalist message have a direct application to otaku and to Japanese life as a whole, respectively. But as much as I might like bashing on secular, socially stratified, quasi-scientific totalitarian states, I’m hard pressed at the moment to see a connection between any part of No. 6’s setting and plot and modern Japanese society.

The closest connection I can think of is the school system, which places Shion and his family in the upper crust of society because of tests results from when he was two. It might be a complaint about how much success in Japanese society comes from getting into the right schools by placing high on national rankings, but it's so tangential to the plot as to be scarcely worth mentioning

And if the show is not an allegory, that makes the horrible dialogue and poorly developed dystopian setting the fault not of letting the message get ahead of the story, but of sheer incompetence. Fractale and [C] were not good shows, but they weren’t actively bad, either. No. 6 is actively bad, and it doesn’t even have a positive political message to offer as quasi-justification.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention you can watch the series here. I just don’t see why you would want to.

To show how sophisticated Nezumi is, he has access to hundreds of classic books and musical scores, which he somehow found in the middle of a desiccated wasteland. Gee, that makes perfect sense

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