And so we keep marching on with the series of posts. This one revolves around the show’s premier mask-wearer, Ninomiya Rui, the show’s would-be-utopian benevolent dictator, and one of the show’s many unsure characters. Two small write-ups, the first focusing on his uncertainty (and on using “he”), and the second on the nature of the world, as he sees it, and wishes to reshape it.
This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that rose in my mind as a result of watching the show. There will be spoilers for the entire first season of the show.
Rui and Protective Masks, The Battledress of Make-up:
Man, I’m entering this one with trepidation. So, a couple of notes beforehand. I’m not interested in discussing whether Rui is a man or a woman. I can see arguments for both sides, and I don’t have qualms and won’t argue against anyone who wishes to call Rui a “he”, nor against those who wish to call Rui a “she”. I’m sure there can be fascinating discussions on the topic, and how it relates to presentation of gender and cross-dressing in anime in general (usually quite awfully, but another great show from 2013 that did this mostly very well was Genshiken Nidaime), but it’s not the discussion I wish to be having here. I’m referring to Rui as a “he” because that’s how Hajime did, and because that’s how he first appeared before us, and for a number of other small characterizations.
This is where I move from caveats to actual discussion. These “protective masks” are something Joe has as well, and Umeda sure wears a mask, and even Berg Katze hides his true nature behind a mask, of someone else, of invisibility. Pai-Pai and the mask of the leader? But it is through Rui that the show speaks of the matter as over-text, rather than sub-text. Hajime clearly says he’d look better without make-up, which is her saying she sees through him, and that she’s aware he’s hiding.
Rui doesn’t meet with people directly without his make-up, wig, and dress on. The dress in particular looks almost like a piece of armour that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Fate/Stay Night’s Saber, bristly as it is. He’s only “simply Rui” when he only talks to people on the phone, or alone with X, his one friend, his creation.
This is because Rui doesn’t trust people. He doesn’t trust them to be kind. He doesn’t trust them to be altruistic. He doesn’t trust them not to hurt him. There’s one other spot where we see Rui without any masks on, which is after Berg Katze beats him up, and Utsutsu comes to heal him. Here is the moment where he agrees to reach out, or to accept others reaching out for him, as himself.
Is Hajime against make-up? That seems like a foolish read, especially when just after the meeting she literally explains to Sugane that indeed, Rui is hiding things from them. A mask is about hiding, it’s about secrets. If people don’t know it’s a mask, then it’s not the sociological aspect of a secret, because as sociologist Georg Simmel pointed out, a secret performs its social role of denoting distance (and closeness). If you know someone has a secret they’re not sharing with you, then it marks a boundary between you, and marks the distance between you two.
To Rui though, the secret is so secret that he doesn’t even let out that it exists. Unlike armour which all can see as a sign of distrust when one wears it to a negotiation, Rui’s most secret self can’t be trusted to anyone. Hajime is the opposite. She believes in closeness, she believes in immediate and unmediated relationships, and thus preaches against masks. To her a relationship should be founded on trust and acceptance. It sounds trite to even say so, but Hajime is there to teach us we can be the better us.
And she’s still fine with us wearing masks. She knows sometimes we have to do it. But she’ll keep reaching out. She knows this world can hurt, but she’ll offer us acceptance, until we’re fine with ourselves, fine with being ourselves with others.
Rui’s make-up is a symbol of distrust born out of fear of being hurt. It’s the scar-tissue we adopt for living in the world, the one called a “mask”, the one that others call “us”.
Rui and Galax – Between Revolution and Evolution; Between Utopias and Dystopias:
Most utopias presented in fiction are dystopias, as far as the viewers are concerned. There’s always something you have to give up for the utopia to work, such as free will, freedom, or just the lives of half the population. In other words, utopias work, until you have to account for the people that inhabit them, and then, to make sure the utopias keep on working after you insert those people, you have to make them ever so slightly less, of people, less than human. At least as we define what it means to be a human in today’s modern, post-Enlightenment era world.
Rui is presented to us as an idealist on a quest to create an utopia, one where people will take responsibility, help one another, and be good. They won’t be ruled by incompetent people, they won’t look for anyone else to save them, and they won’t stand around letting the diffusion of responsibility (the “Bystander Effect“) stop them from stepping in when they should.
So of course, the way to get people to stop relying on heroes is to create an elite cast of 100 people with super-powers, who can rescue others in ways normal human beings could not. Of course, the way to get people to act out of the goodness of their heart and not through an external validation and recognition of their effort is by gamifying every situation, and handing out points for people who participate and help others. And of course, as a way to recognize people’s self-agency and motivation, he removes from his Hundred any who do not act according to his decisions, and will only let them exercise their power when he wills it, making it in effect his own power.
Here’s the thing. Rui is dreaming of a world with kind, altruistic, self-motivated people. He’s dreaming of a world filled with people he can trust. But he doesn’t trust the people in our world. As I intimated earlier, the only thing stopping him from achieving his utopia filled with perfect people is, well, the people. And so, without trust, he doesn’t give them the tools, or the trust, required to actually realize his own desired world.
I believe Gatchaman Crowds’s 5th episode write-up is where I first made this observation, which I more recently made in my Shiki write-up, but the thing about revolutions is that you end in the same place. It’s part of the word. It’s only after Rui gives up the reins, when he follows Hajime and trusts others, that the revolution can be switched with an evolution, with an updating of the world.
Reader question: Do you feel Rui’s quest was in order to make a world he controlled, where he could feel safe? Do you feel the distance between dystopias and utopias in fiction has to be this small?