Image source: 「正解するカド」公式 on Twitter
Many have called Shin Godzilla and Evangelion director Hideaki Anno’s 2016 politically-charged masterpiece of a creature feature “realistic.” Certainly, if you take the fantastic idea that a giant dinosaur is rampaging around Tokyo as a “given” just for a moment, then imagine how the Japanese government would actually react—i.e., what the role of the military would be, how conferences would be handled, what the role of the Self-Defense Force would be, and how the United States would intervene—it was a thought experiment played extremely straight.
But if you lived in Japan in 2011, it was hard not to notice the similarities to the government’s handling of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in March of that year. The film echoes the very real events through the lens of objectivity as we replace the natural phenomenon with Godzilla himself.
KADO is similar in some ways to Shin Godzilla, in that it uses some very fantastical anime elements to then give us a look at what Japan’s position is in the real world of international power play and illustrates where their jurisdiction lies and what they are and aren’t allowed to do.
[This article contains spoilers for KADO: The Right Answer]
This is not the first time anime has tried a form of social commentary using a fantasy element. I have already talked rather in depth about Mobile Police Patlabor in an article last year, and how (in particular the first and second movies) the robots are an excuse to give us an objective view of the Japanese nation’s struggles with the reality of their scrap-and-build society and their Self-Defense Force’s involvement in peacekeeping operations in Cambodia.
So here is a good opportunity to explore this “genre” of anime—the hypothetical social phenomenon that could affect all of us in a country, or even in the world. The hypothetical element of the “Wam” brings to light some issues such as Japan’s relationship with the United Nations, and the US. It’s interesting how Japan acts out of its own accord in the show, subverting the will of the UN without actually disobeying any orders explicitly.
In the show, the extra-dimensional being known as Yaha-kui zaShunina has come to this world for the purpose of helping the human race evolve, according to his own statements before the Prime Minister of Japan.
In my previous article, I described how the real negotiations that the show is trying to depict are between humans with differing ideologies, rather than between the human race and zaShunina. When zaShunina presents the country of Japan with dozens of “Wams,” small spheres with a seemingly infinite energy supply, capable of serving as batteries to power anything from a small light bulb to entire cities, he causes an international uproar.
The United Nations, concluding that a single state wielding such potential power could easily upset the balance of power in the world, is unanimous in its decision to demand that Japan surrender all of the Wam in its possession to them for safeguarding. Japan is given a deadline to mull over their response, but is warned that there will be repercussions should a failure to comply—namely economic sanctions and even possible military intervention.
In a specially-organized press conference, Japan’s answer was to announce publicly that they would, as ordered, cooperate and submit all of their Wams to the United Nations. This came as little surprise to the disillusioned reporters present, who were not impressed by their government, once again, predictably showing little defiance to the powers-that-be, or doing anything to upset the status quo, at the expense of their supposed autonomy as a sovereign state. But that would not be the only content of the conference.
The Prime Minister then reveals that Japan has used its time to set up a makeshift research laboratory investigating what makes the Wam tick—and have, after many trial-and-error experiments, managed to crack the code. A scientist then explains that the shape, not the material is what is important as she makes her own working Wam by folding paper live on TV. It is this recipe for making one’s own Wam that they have announced to the world—effectively making the formula reside in the public domain.
Image source: 「正解するカド」公式 on Twitter
That means, basically, that now—in theory—anybody in the world can make their own limitless power source. The move was a smart, tactical one politically, as it guarantees Japan avoids being treated as a rogue state, of sorts, by playing nice and doing what they are told, while at the same time making that very affirmation a pointless exercise. If the secret is out and now everyone has access to their own Wam, the act of surrendering the ones Japan is holding serves no practical purpose anymore.
However, it remains to be seen whether it was a wise choice in the long term. The qualms some had about the Wam and the power they have are genuine causes for concern: How can we expect to trust that everyone in society is responsible enough to ensure their proper usage and not take advantage of them in some way, creating chaos for society—or worse, cause unimaginable destruction?
There is a lot to explore here in the series in terms of a single hypothetical being the impetus for a fairly serious recreation of what sorts of interactions would be seen as a result, within the framework of international relations. In other words, many things we see here are fairly true to life, other than the actual alien cube “KADO” and zaShunina himself.
Image source: 「正解するカド」公式 on Twitter
Indeed, there are many controversial issues concerning Japan’s place in the modern world—and many reasons why the citizens would not be surprised to see their leaders hesitate to show too much defiance. The United Nations has never granted Japan a permanent seat on the Security Council. The United States still harbors several military bases on the various Japanese islands for strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Only recently did Japan manage to officially accept the terms to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement after years of negotiation and heavy pressure from the US (although in the past few months, due to the administration change, the US has flipped its stance on the trade deal and may now not be joining at all).
This is the background that the Japanese viewers of the show likely approach KADO with, and so the repercussions seen in the episodes ring true and appear as natural as the day-to-day headlines. The show is therefore very smart as an exploration of how to present reality in an objective way, without necessarily being too partisan, through the introduction of this alien phenomenon.
With the fantasy element at the center, the surrounding depiction of social systems can be looked at from a new perspective, and we can learn about the way we live in a fresh light. Much in the same way that Shin Godzilla and Patlabor were using monsters and robots, respectively, to simulate the social interactions that would reverb around their impact, so too KADO falls in line with them to present a simulation of society’s current struggles through the use of clever metaphors.