At arm’s length

Episode 6: Ten HUT!

Isako isn’t a nice character; you might even say that she’s mean, but mean to who? Her lackeys are hardly willing collaborators and would leave as soon as they felt they had learned as much as they could. It’s not the only one out there, but the iron fist is one form of leadership. With her episode 8 remarks about trust, she might as well be quoting from Patton.

Although it’s a trivial claim to make now, I never considered Isako to be the usual cutthroat, take no prisoners brand of villain. Yes, when people crossed her with intent to harm, it was an opportunity that she didn’t hesitate to seize, but it wasn’t as if she was actively looking for help at the time. She prefers to leave other people alone in a “I’m not stepping on your toes, so don’t step on mine” attitude.

Isako wanted it both ways: to save her brother with the least number of parties involved. Her actions have repercussions – physical, virtual, both – and people involved in any of the three are bound to get hurt. There are those who are simply asking for it, but neither the bullies nor the innocent have a solid grasp of the murky foundations with which their glasses are built on. The shadows and the forces arrayed to oppose them don’t discriminate.

Episode 21: Isako with X_X Mojo in hand

Her unwillingness to get others involved is a major differentiating point between her and Megabaa, who isn’t above roping others in with threats and offers that can’t be refused. Even Tamako takes a page from Megabaa’s book and forcefully recruits help later on. If anything, the ending came about because Isako let herself get dragged into saving a virtual pet.

A series about distance hits close to home for me. Not because it speaks of the ways we insulate ourselves — and others — from loss or pain although there’s that as well. Sitting at the top of the protocol stack is Isako’s observations on relationships. It’s a cynical perspective, or perhaps a worldly one, but nevertheless one that shouldn’t be held by someone only 11 years old.

Then again, I never considered this to be a kid’s show.

There are many ways to frame distance, like the generation gap, or the learning curve that we climb alongside some of the characters. And then there are doors. Most of the time, we see the actions of hedgehogs separated by locked doors and elusive keyholes.

Episode 24: Mayumi's last messages to Yasako

I lament the definition of “friend” as popularized by the likes of Facebook. What was once merely a list of contacts has been rejigged into some metric of popularity. The dev team is in on the game, too: there’s a “I don’t know this person” option in the “How do you know this person?” profile entry.

Beyond the questionable connections that the world seems bent on promoting, most people that we consider to be more than an acquaintance are just people we see most days of the week. In a Honey and Clover sense, you were there, I was there, drawn by a common point of gravitation, and we revolved around it as satellites are wont to do. Maybe we were a circle of children, or a circle of l33t h4x0rz, or a circle of students trying to survive our lab instructor, but we just happened to be in the same boat at the same time.

That’s not to say that everyone is a comrade, it just means we have something to commiserate over. Fumie is to Yasako as Yasako was to Mayumi: neither is the lesser for not wanting to get involved. Mayumi reacted poorly because she thought that Yasako would stick up for her, but she indirectly addresses her own anger in a later observation. Yasako was not a friend in an ally sense, she just happened to be a nice person in Mayumi’s school, in Mayumi’s class.

Episode 7: Lending a hand

I’m fortunate to live in a place where the greatest test of a relationship is usually not adversity, but time. Doors tend to gently swing shut with an angular velocity of 5 radians per second. When the battle is eventually won or lost, when the last final is over (you passed, right?), we disperse on tangential paths.

Sure, through the power of technology we can maintain some semblance of communication for a while, like “friends” lists. But progress has also created the social conditions and technologies that enable people to be increasingly mobile. One day, new encounters and new experiences come to the fore, and everything prior simply fades below the noise floor.

It would be so much easier if we were connected through a common encode reactor, at least for the first few minutes. In that time, either a unified consciousness would emerge, or we would format each other. At least the decision would be a bit more democratic than leaving it to one Shinji Ikari.

An encode reactor isn’t the ideal solution, though. For one, it would negate all the progress information technology has made. Who would want to give up their cloak of pseudo-anonymity and multiple online abstractions in exchange for total transparency? Even as communications networks smash entry barriers, they allow us to raise personal ones, and that’s precisely the way we like it. Maybe we have to look for a more primitive solution.

Episode 26: Pulling Isako back from the abyss

Breaking the ice sounds absolutely terrifying. Who knows what icy depths await beyond the keyhole? A digital purgatory? Forgiveness? Or the grace of a kind heart? Yet time and time again, we’re told to push through the pain, to chip away and take the plunge, because on the other side there is a wandering soul in search of salvation.

It’s not the kind of connection made with a handshake, but with desperate brute force. And while it can save a life, it may not cement a friendship. I accept that, though. A victory is sweet and bitterly transient in equal proportions.

Still, the first step is to take a first step. And then another. And another. And keep walking, because a circle of friends does not orbit a central mass. They revolve around each other.