Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mai Otome: The Rambling Essay Part 1



Speaking of series that I care way too much about, let's talk Mai Otome. Again I'm going to presume that people reading this know what the series is about and what's been happening. For screencaps, episode summaries, and commentary see Zyl, Random Curiosity and, especially, Mentar. So SPOILERS AHEAD and all that.

I'm going to start with a speculative history of the Mai Otome world, based on what I know up to Episode 13, and work my way forward. (So I may learn something in subsequent episodes that renders all of this just an exercise in futility. It all makes sense in my head, let's see what happens when I have to articulate it. ;) WARNING: This is extremely long, so put on some coffee, you're going to be here a while.

NOTE: I decided that I had to probably split this post up once I reached 2500+ words and still hadn't reached the point where the series actually started. So here's Part 1, discuss amongst yourselves.)

At some point in the undetermined past, this planet, named Earl, was colonized by Humans. In a typical sci-fi story the colony ships represent a united mankind embarking on a bold new adventure, usually. Let's presume that this was the scenario. (I don't know if there is a scenario in which our nation/state system is transposed to a space faring future. I think even in the dystopian scenarios government is not very influential, unless it's tyrannical. But, I digress) at some point after landing, instead of working together to build a new world, balkanization occurred and the colony fractured into nation states that resembled those of the homeworld.
Why? Well, if we suppose that the planet was devoid of human life and we suppose that the number of colonists is only a very small fraction of the homeworld's total population, and given the pioneering and bold spirit of people necessary to colonize and populate an entirely new planet, then it seems likely that several groups would branch out from the landing site to stake their own claim, make their own way, especially given our own historical precedents. (Going back to the parenthetical above, if more than one colony ship landed each representing an existing nation/state then we'd have our international tension transplanted quite easily.) If we suppose that Earl is roughly the equivalent size of Earth, then even a million colonists would be able to put enough distance between them and their nearest neighbors for differences to arise over time.
Given that human irrationality and competition for resources are some of the sources of international conflicts today, that doesn't appear to change when the species is transported to a different planet. Though, I imagine it could be several generations before the cooperative pioneer bond disappears from the general population, perhaps even a bit longer if the technology remains to shorten the distance between settlements. (or it could be less, human nature can be unpredictable.) Which it appears to have been the case, given what we know of the more recent history of the planet.
Which actually leads me to think that either there used to be support from the homeworld or other colonies or that it wasn't a colonization it was a migration, because the level of technology seems to be a bit too high. Going back to the typical sci-fi story, even if there was sufficient technology to overcome the problems of the speed of light, the astronomical distances, and the fundamental physics and economics of such a venture, there's still the problem of trying to transplant an entire society on a single ship, or group of ships, which are a fraction of the size of the planet. You just can't bring everything with you, you only take what you need. If it's a colonization with pioneers, they usually understand that they'll be forgoing the comforts of the civilization they leave behind to make a new world, and most usually relish such opportunities. A migration implies an emergency of some sort, and in most emergencies you only take with you what you need, especially as space is usually a premium.
OK, getting back on track, let's suppose, instead, that it was more of a migration than a colonization, this would account for the seeming isolation of the planet and the references to the homeworld, and also account for the initially high level of technology and, most importantly, the balkanization of the planet into nation states. Typical of human nature, we band together in emergencies for survival, but once the crisis is over and some semblances of normality return we slip back into isolation and distrust. (When will we ever learn? ;)
Now we have our nation states, competing on a brand new world for resources, influence and power. War, unfortunately, is inevitable, as history plainly show us. Diplomacy only really works when both sides are rational and reasonable and willing to compromise to achieve a peaceful solution, otherwise diplomacy is just the art of saying "nice doggy" while you reach for a big stick. So, while some of these transplanted nations will start trading, form alliances, and general behave civilly toward each other, others will not. Thus, war breaks out.
So, supposing that humans have a very high technology level shortly after colonizing Earl, and presuming that they've brought with them all the national identities, and the resultant tensions, resentments and hatred that's endemic to human nature, war on this planet has a very high destructive potential. Now, supposing that the higher the level of technology means the higher the precision and accuracy as well as the destructive force of weapons, then I speculate that initial skirmishes on this planet may have been very surgical in nature, with very low collateral damage and low loss of civilian life.
However, this presumes short, quick battles (wars measured in hours, days and weeks, rather than months, years or decades); any protracted conflict, especially among military equals, will see civilian casualties rise for various reasons (siege-ing or blockading contested regions, insurgencies, ethnic conflict, etc) as the conflict rages on, and each side seeks an edge.
Let's skip ahead a bit, and presume that a few wars have marked the passing of time on Earl and get to the War of the 12 Kings that sets up the current situation on Earl. We can only speculate as to why this particular war started, but I imagine a situation much like the one in Europe prior toward World War I with tensions between nations at the brink, a powder keg ready to explode waiting for the littlest spark. Then much like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand sparked the First World War, there was a similar event at this time, and 12 nations of Earl were plunged into what I imagine was a long and devastating war.
Here's where we start getting to the meat of things. Let's suppose that technology and industry on Earl were at their peak, and every nation's economy was geared for war. We know that Science and Technology often make great leaps during war time, especially during a protracted conflict as each side works on developing a weapon or technology that will turn the tide toward victory in their favor. This is when the technology that led to the Otome's robes, Slaves/Childs was developed presumably, alongside other "lost" technologies.
Let's presume that the initial battles were incredibly brutal and horrifically devastating as each side tried to bring enough force to bear to insure victory, but since no side prevailed initially, we can presume near equality in terms of military strength on each side. So, now we have a protracted conflict and human suffering naturally rises (I don't really know, but I think exponentially is the right qualifier here especially for dramatic purposes, though geometrically might be more accurate) as it drags on.
Now, let's get to Fumi Himeno. Let's presume that this protracted War of the 12 Kings was a very long and extremely brutal war, long and brutal enough so that it gave rise to a general desire throughout the world to end the war. (I imagine it was more of "Please, just make it stop" sentiment than a desire for a particular side to win, as that attitude will become necessary for the premise of Mai-Otome to take hold.) Born into this world of war and despair, comes an idealistic, young maid presumably serving one of the 12 Kings. Extrapolating from how current Otomes serve their masters, we can presume she was also advisor, confidant, bodyguard, and probably friend. (In short, I imagine she's not very different from Mai-HiME Fumi.) Her devotion and love for her master is her raison d'etre and given their roles and stations she can only love him/her in this capacity, though I imagine they are close as two people can become platonically.
Let's now presume that Fumi's country (probably Windbloom, I can't imagine it being anywhere else, why else would Garderobe be there?) develops the nanotechnology that becomes the precursor to the Otome's robes as well as what I suspect is the true purpose of the Harmonium: the limitation and disabling of other technologies. We can safely conclude that this development would end the war, presumably in Fumi's country's favor, since, as history shows, when one side gains an edge, there will always be a victor and a vanquished. The characters in Mai Otome make reference that Fumi ended the war, implying single-handedly. Since, we don't know any further details than that, let's take that at face value. (Though, if we wanted to make an analogy, we could liken it to Truman ending World War II, but I don't think it works very well based on what we know, so I'll just take it literally.)
Presuming a young, idealistic Fumi who lives for her master's happiness makes more sense if we presume that Fumi's master was a kind, loving person, who wanted the war to end to stop the suffering of not just his/her people but all the world's suffering. So, let's project the same kind of idealism on Fumi's master.
Now, let's imagine that research scientists present to Fumi and her master this technology that they've developed that could not only end the war, but, potentially, prevent future wars. Or we could say that this technology was presented to Fumi and her master in such a way as to lead them both to conclude, naively, that they could potentially eliminate the capacity to wage war as they knew it, and everyone can live in peace. (I'm pretty sure that their intention was to prevent future war, especially after a long, protracted one, but I imagine setting up the Otome system was a compromise or concession to the possibility a war might happen in the future, however inconceivable it was to them at that point. **1/16/2006: In 14 it's mentioned that Otome are peacekeepers, and specifically not weapons, so we can draw a parallel to UN peacekeepers who are soldiers. And we all know how effective the UN is at keeping the peace around the world, but I digress, yet again.**)
We don't know exactly how Fumi ends the war, but we can speculate given what we know about Otome's and their power. Fumi is the first Otome, because her devotion to her master would, I think, compel her volunteer. (A "I will do anything to make your dream come true" sentiment) so, she was the prototype. I'm going to presume that Fumi could materialize at will, because of the nature of Fumi's relationship with her master, there was no need to limit her powers in that way. Why would there be, she was going to help her master realize their dream of making world a peaceful place without war.
So, in order to realize their dream, they would have to limit everyone's capacity to wage war and that would mean disabling technologies and knowledge of those technologies. Because, given human ingenuity and human nature, reverse engineering or industrial espionage would quickly eliminate their advantage and nothing would change. So, they would have to impose their dream on the world, but it's perfectly OK, because the war will end and everyone will live in peace. Hence, we get the Harmonium, which I think is a control computer for nanomachines, particularly the ones that limit certain technologies and the Forbidden Library in which all knowledge of dangerous technology was placed.
To end the war, they would have had to release the nanomachines all over the world before activating the Harmonium. (Why nanomachines, because not all technology was lost or disabled, only some, that kind of specificity can be easily achieved with programmed nanomachines I think.) I imagine that several warnings were made before the Harmonium was activated the first time, because Fumi and her master are probably the type of people that believe in the people's better nature, but their warnings fall on deaf ears. So they activate the Harmonium, and suddenly the more advanced technologies around the world stop working, and Fumi as Otome suddenly becomes the equivalent of having Fat Man and Little Boy.
There would be probably need to be a few demonstrations of Fumi's power as some countries would undoubtedly take some convincing, but eventually we can conclude that negotiations took place after the end of hostilities. Especially, if we consider the general fatigue for war among the people. Fumi's country has the clear advantage in the negotiations, and could have probably set themselves up to rule the world. But being idealistic and magnanimous, they instead create Garderobe, the Council and Otome to protect the peace. (Here I imagine the idea of giving each country its own Fumi is probably volunteered by either Fumi or her master, since they work so well, and would never act as aggressors, why shouldn't it be the model for the future.) The master activation limitation is agreed upon at this time, (just in case) as well as the creation of the Pillars who would protect Garderobe. (also just in case, you know, checks and balances for the future.)
So, now we have our new world order and I imagine it worked beautifully while Fumi and her master lived, as no one had a desire to engage in war again so soon, and Fumi's country dominance went unchallenged for a while. I imagine things were peaceful for a generation or two after Fumi. However, with certain technologies disabled or "lost" and the ability and knowledge to create new ones forbidden, this would have small economic impact during Fumi's lifetime, but an exponentially larger impact in subsequent generations as the knowledge and know how died out with each generation. Given that most people were eager to shift from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy the folly of banning knowledge and technology wouldn't become immediately apparent or a concern. Loss of technology probably hit the Information and Service industries hardest first, followed by Transportation and Manufacturing, and as all industry shrank to adjust to the new technology level, inflation and unemployment grew conversely, reducing overall quality of life. In essence, the artificial limits on technology, science and research really prevented world economy from completing a successful transition from wartime to peacetime and led to a great worldwide recession.
So, the peaceful and war weary attitudes prevalent in the immediate aftermath of Fumi's intervention and the creation of the Otome soon gave way to resentment and anger, as things seemed to get worse for subsequent generations. And, given the way in which peace was imposed upon the planet and it's price, it's only natural to presume that Fumi's good intentions would come back to haunt her descendants.
You can't fiat peace, people just aren't wired that way. And they wouldn't be people if they were, they'd be sheep. (Kira verbally stumbles his way to this same general point at the end of GSD.) There has never been a period of total peace in the history of our world, there's always some conflict going on. And until humanity evolves into a more rational and reasonable being, I don't think we'll ever be conflict free. (But, judging from the state of things in Mai Otome, it looks like we didn't.)
So, here is where Aswald and Schwarz come into play. The price to end the war was essentially the loss of knowledge, specifically science and technology, and by extension a certain amount of freedom. The Otome system seems to discourage representative democracy as a form of government, since Yukino seems to be the only elected head of state in this world. Would you vote for the guy with the Otome or the guy without? (I'm pretty sure that even a inept democratic government riddled with corruption is freer than benevolent monarchy/dictatorship, but I can't say for sure, since I've never experienced the latter.) So, while I'm sure it wasn't their intention, the Mai Otome world is a very oppressive one.
And oppression leads to desire for revolution and change. Midori's ancestors probably realized early on that the price for peace was more than they willing to pay, and refused to go along. But, since it was an all or nothing proposition, they couldn't say no and be left alone. Everyone had to play by the new rules or the new system wouldn't work and that probably meant forcible subjugation. Totally justified though, because if they weren't for this new chance for peace they could only be for war, since war was the direct result of all that knowledge. And this spin probably allowed for the violent suppression of Midori's Aswald ancestors. Hence, Aswald's hatred of Garderobe and the Otome. Essentially, they argued that the solution was a bad idea, too high a price, and were punished for not going along.
Schwarz, I'm not entirely sure about, but I sense their desires seem to lie in acquiring power and the Otome system is a burden that prevents them from using their power, so it must be removed. But, both groups essentially have the same ends, the destruction of the Otome system, and the return of the knowledge locked away in Garderobe, for good or ill.
So, ultimately the Otome system instituted actually starts to create conditions that will again lead to war, so in that sense, it fails, but it perpetuates in subsequent generations because it has momentum and the bureaucratic instinct for self-preservation and immutability that naturally arises.
Which I think brings us to the last Otome war 50 years before the start of the series. Taking my supposition that international peace only lasts a generation or two at the most, and given how the state of world starts to devolve because of the limitations on technology and forbidding of knowledge and the resultant economic impact, war again becomes inevitable. And while I'm sure the idea between the bond between master and Otome was intended to instill a certain amount of responsibility, based on the instinct of self-preservation and a person's better judgment, not all people will live up these ideals. (I can imagine the Fumi/Master ideal was akin to being a Saint, a living Buddha, etc., i.e. beyond the means of ordinary people, but something, nevertheless, to aspire to.)
War with Otome breaks out, but while war is now more formal, and less deadly, for those not directly involved, the artificial restrictions placed on technological and by extension economic growth still remain. So, essentially, things continue to get worse, (as evidenced by the seemingly epidemic poverty in Windbloom, supposedly the most advanced-read: prosperous- nation on Earl) and people fight more about it, or try to.
Let's suppose that the end of the last Otome War 50 years ago, was an agreement to restrict Garderobe and the Otome system to alleviate some of the pressures that were leading to conflicts. The requirement that 3 council members must approve Garderobe interfering in a country's affairs is introduced at this time, as well as council approval for any action they take. This helps to defuse tensions a bit, but still the underlying problem remains, the Otome system and Garderobe. And while some people may realize this, it is not something that can be changed overnight, but organizations like Schwarz and Aswald begin to gain more support, because in order for anything to get better things have to change, and these organizations are the only ones advocating change.
This brings us to the incident in Windbloom 14 years ago and the start of the series proper, which I'll discuss in Part 2

**UPDATE 1/16/2005: Fixed some grammatical errors, completed some sentences and added a couple of lines to clarify some arguments.***

1 Comments:

Anonymous Mellow RG said...

That was a bit verbose, but I think you nailed all the points well.

I'll just add one more comment:

Mai Otome == Turn A Gundam
Advent of Otome == Black History

Sun Jan 15, 04:26:00 AM EST  

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