Just who is that masked person, anyway? Exploring identity in World Conquest Zvezda Plot.

renge komadori, sekai seifuku, world conquest zvezda plot, white robin

Jimon Asuta’s adventures with the secret society of Zvezda begin with a mask. The mask is not to hide his identity, but to welcome the individual, Jimon Asuta, into the Zvezda fold. As a member of Zvezda, Asuta will wear a mask to show allegiance to the group as a whole, making his existence synonymous with Zvezda. When Kate Hoshimiya offers Asuta a place within her organization, it comes with the erasure of his current social position of transient high school student.

However, Jimon Asuta is not simply a teenage runaway. He is the son of the governor of Tokyo, and someone who would presumably have a great deal of social weight, were he to accept that position.

Masks are used in two ways throughout World Conquest Zvezda Plot. The more well-known role of the mask is to hide one’s identity from others, or the general populace. This is most often seen in the White Light organization, as the publicly-funded White Egret and White Robin must hide their everyday identities, per the general superhero standard. In the fifth episode, Renge Komadori, also known as White Robin, is shown to wear two masks, one mimicking a human face in case her White Robin mask is forcibly taken from her. Distinguishing the ally of justice, White Robin, from the ordinary student, Renge Komadori, is something that is important to her. That being said, her values remain the same, regardless of whether she is Renge or White Robin.

Renge, and the aforementioned Asuta, additionally use their masks to define which group they belong to within the series. The mask becomes shorthand for identifying who belongs to what group, be it Zvezda or White Light. With the two groups wearing neutral masks in episode nine, they cavort with each other at the masked hot springs until the time comes for them to fight each other. Then, the lower-level lackeys on both sides of the argument transform into their respective masks and uniforms: the dark gas mask and skin-tight suit for Zvezda, and white costume masks with riot uniforms for White Light. This allows us to easily translate who is on which side.

white egret, white light, zvezda, miki shirasagi, sekai seifuku

However, the mask as a means of identification and belonging to the ideals of a particular group begins to break down in the ninth episode with Yasu’s presumed defection to White Light, and Miki Shirasagi revealing herself as White Egret to Asuta. Knowing that, as Miki, she can overpower him much more easily than as White Egret, she chooses to remove her mask en route to removing Asuta. Asuta does not threaten Miki as a member of Zvezda, but his existence as Asuta/Dva along with his developing relationship with Renge/White Robin, is the threat that Miki perceives. Therefore, she takes off her mask to become more intimidating, as Miki Shirasagi, one who has already proven her superiority over the wishy-washy likes of Asuta.

“I believe it’s the good in every person’s heart!”

-Renge Komadori, when asked for her definition of “justice,” World Conquest Zvezda Plot, Episode 10

In comparison, Renge reveals herself willingly in episode 10 to show solidarity not with Zvezda per se, but her own ideals of justice. Shedding the persona of White Robin does not change her outlook or her attitude of goodwill towards others. In that moment, Renge forgoes the unifying power of the mask, refusing to identify with the current actions of White Light and her once personal heroine in Miki Shirasagi/White Egret. She stands her ground against what she feels are improper actions, in spite of the fact that they are technically coming from her superiors. There is a sense that White Light had wanted to take Renge’s optimistic outlook and turn her into a figurehead of sorts. In contrast, Zvezda offers us the leadership of Kate Hoshimiya, one who constantly inspires those around her even if her ultimate goal of world conquest is considered morally wrong. As Kate is carried off by Plamya, she tells Renge not to succumb to despair. The world, Kate says, is still shining.

jimon asuta, dva, world conquest zvezda plot, asuta surrenders, renge komadori, white robin

Returning to Asuta, it remains abundantly clear that he has no idea who he is or what he wants from life. That being said, he makes the choice to stay with Zvezda, finally having found a place where he believes that he belongs, in spite of his self-proclaimed uselessness. When he tries to leverage his position as the governor’s son – a position that he has eschewed for the entirety of the series – he finds that the option is no longer open to him. That piece of his identity is now wholly controlled by others. In his failed attempt to surrender, Asuta removes his mask to reveal his face, but keeps the Zvezda mask close at hand. In the face of danger he remains a Zvezda member, and only reveals that he is Jimon Asuta, the son of the governor of Tokyo, in order to protect Kate and Zvezda.

6 comments

  1. Many years ago, when I first began watching anime, I would wonder why something like mecha was such a popular genre. While I’m sure there are historical and other factors which help explain the reasons for its enduring favor (which I’m too lazy and uninterested to research), it seems to me that there is one particularly important factor for mecha’s continuing popularity: to fully utilize a visual medium like animation, you want to create images and tell stories that just wouldn’t work as well using live action – even in this Hollywood era so reliant on creepy and still-unrealistic-looking CGI.

    Hence, if you want to tell a story involving fantastical robots, what’s better than animation?

    Of course, I’m not arguing that animation can’t be used to tell quotidian tales. For example, I’m firmly of the (probably very unpopular) opinion that Hyouka is the best anime ever made. While I won’t waste more space here justifying that opinion, I’ll note that Hyouka told a very real and human story, yet brilliantly used the art of animation to accentuate the storytelling, the simplest example being the heart-shaped pendulum that switched back to an ordinary pendulum once it was clear that the pretty girl wasn’t going to confess her love to the anxious boy.

    Yet too many anime DON’T take advantage of the medium, at least not sufficiently to matter. Obviously, the low-hanging fruit in making my case would be any of the various “incest” animes out there. Did being animated bring anything special to OreImo?

    Heck, even in this current season, something like Witchcraft Works (excepting its wonderful ED) uses animation in such a desultory and ham-handed fashion that who couldn’t see it being just as effective (or ineffective!) as a live-action Harry Potter-type tale?

    All of which is my incredibly verbose way of getting to why I love Sekai Seifuku so much. It’s just a beautifully told fable using animation in the best way possible: by telling a fabulous and fanciful and absurd tale with humor and poignancy, one that simply couldn’t properly be told visually in any other fashion.

    Whether the show ultimately ends with a bang or a whimper, the marvelous animated journey of Kate and friends has been really great, and I hope it does well enough in sales that more whimsical tales like this are unmasked in the seasons to come.

    1. Most of the first robot anime were adapted from manga, i.e. Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z pops to mind, although there may be others that were released prior to it. This is purely speculation, and far less romantic of a thought, but another reason mecha anime were/are so popular is probably due to toy sales. ^ ^;

      Not-so-coincidentally, this ties in to the use of anime as a visual medium. Unfortunately, a lot of anime series are produced simply to promote something else (toy sales, manga, an idol group). They don’t have to put in the effort because an average amount of work will do the trick in terms of promoting whatever they aim to highlight.

      That being said, it doesn’t mean that one cannot put an immense amount of effort and creativity into something that is also a commercial. For example, AKB0048 shamelessly promotes the music of AKB48 but is a fun, over-the-top, colorful, and somewhat incisive look at idol culture (the very thing it promotes).

      Sekai Seifuku is doing a wonderful job in both being entertaining while additionally getting in its digs and jabs when it can. The costumes, the kurukuru, and the overall grandiose idea of taking over the world – as seen by an elementary-aged child, no less – would be far more difficult to execute in a live-action format.

      Additionally, I’m happy to find another Hyouka lover. ^ ^ I enjoyed watching and writing about that series so much.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I am absolutely fascinated by the uses of masks in fiction. I vaguely recall a play I wrote in high school, it was called Miranda’s Mask, and it was about a girl in high school who figuratively wore different masks based on the needs of a given social circumstance. The need to constantly switch between one and another eventualy takes a toll on her, particularly when she wears the wrong one in a romantic situation involving her love interest; wearing the wrong mask effectively ruins their relationship with him, and it topples the tower of different relationships that she builds throughout the course of the play. Miranda places such importance in wearing these different masks that she herself is unable to discern her true self from the varying outward personae that she employs in the presence of others.

    Despite not having watched Zvezda at all this season, I can really appreciate what they’re trying to do with the use of masks in a more literal sense, as you outlined here in your post. It seems like Asuta is going through a similar situation in which, given a number of different masks that he is capable of wearing, he is not only trying to figure out which mask he wants to use, but through those masks, he is also trying to figure out which mask is essentially him.

    Masks are such such a fantastic device for exploring character in fiction, and I’m incredibly happy that you’re able to touch on it the way you do. I may not be able to watch Zvezda in its entirety, but I’m taking in the best parts of the show just from reading your posts. Please continue to write, so that I can live the anime-viewing experience vicariously through your love of the written word. Excellent stuff, I expect more of this in the future ^ ^

    1. I feel like people daily do what your Miranda did, only without the masks as a figurative stand-in for behavior. Zvezda does use them metaphorically and it really works as they are also riffing on the superhero genre a bit. It’s established from the get-go that Asuta has no clue what he wants to do, who he wants to be, or even what he cares about. He’s a hapless blank slate, much like a harem archetype, but is made infinitely less obnoxious by the trappings of the series and his character narrative. The other cool thing is that Zvezda doesn’t spend all that much time on him, which means that his development is often occurring in the background while the series focuses on more colorful characters like Kate or Natasha.

      Watch Zvezda when you have more time. I think you’ll enjoy its whimsical nature, along with the way it plays with superheros and fairy tales.

  3. Zvezda’s script is written and supervised by visual novel writer Hoshizora Meteo, known for incorporating whimsical, fantastical elements into his plots. Perhaps this explains the somewhat surreal, almost fairytale-ish elements in some Zvezda episodes. (^v^)

    Although Zvezda’s characters wear literal masks to hide their identities, I find that in life we all wear metaphorical masks when going out into the outside world to deal with people. Like a different personality we project to others to make ourselves more socially accepted.

    Interestingly, Yato of Noragami could be said to be wearing a mask of sorts, where occasionally his goofy demeanour slides off to reveal a sombre, if somewhat darker personality. I’d like to discuss this in more detail, but I’m not sure on how far you have caught up with the anime(or source manga).

    1. I am not caught up with Noragami at all, so thank you for your discretion. ^ ^ IEM Katowice took up much of my time last weekend and now I’m behind on nearly everything but Zvezda (and Nagiasu as of tonight).

      I agree that we all call upon different masks in different social situations. Zvezda does a great job of meshing this with both Asuta’s lack of confidence and the superhero genre.

      Thanks for commenting. ^ ^

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s