The Power of Two: Saki and Satoru

I don’t like to work with relatively obscure works since no one’s seen them, and if no one’s seen them no one can tell me how badly I’ve screwed up. And it’s important for me to know I’ve screwed up, because otherwise I’ll never get any better at this stuff.

Is From the New World pretty obscure? I mean, I don’t hear anyone else talking about it.

From the New World is a sci fi story set on Earth in the relatively near future so far as the history of humanity is concerned. I mean, it’s set in like the year 3000, but when you look at 150,000 years of human history, a stinking millennium here or there ain’t all that big a deal.

ANYWAY, at some point humanity developed psychic powers and that crashed human society and sent us all back to like the iron age, so now the psychic powers are heavily constrained by social norms and mores since no one wants that to happen again. And in the future we share the Earth with another intelligent species, the Queerats, who outnumber humans but are generally subservient except when they are trying to overthrow Humanity.

If that sounds to you like some sort of colonial set-up with human masters controlling the indigenous population, you’ve got it in one. It’s a pretty heavy-handed social commentary in which the Queerats rise up against their colonial oppressors and get their tushies whupped.

But that’s just the setting, and the theme. What’s important here is how they used the two main characters, Saki Watanabe and Satoru Asahina, to define the essential conflict within the colonial overlords.

Asahina? I wonder if he’s related to Mikuru Asahina. They don’t look anything alike, if that means anything. But she IS a time traveller. She could be from a thousand years in Haruhi Suzumiya’s future. She could be Satoru’s mum! And we know how Kyon feels about Mikuru … wouldn’t that be an exalted parentage!

Ahem. Got a little carried away there.

Okay, as you would expect when a boy and a girl are the central characters of a story that covers a lengthy period of time, they start out as enemies. All the psychic kids end up in the same school, where Saki is behind the others and not good at using her powers. Satoru is contemptuous and dismissive of her, thinks they should ditch her; frankly, at age roughly 12 he’s a real jerk.

Ain’t they sweet? Saki (left) and Satoru

But eventually they have adventures together and start to appreciate the other. That’s both expected – since they are the central characters – and good – since they are displaying character growth.

All this goes on in the context of what amounts to a sort of undeclared war between humans and Queerats. Slowly they lose their other friends (including lovers for both of them) in various ways (not all of them deadly or violent) and what that does is push them closer and closer together as it begins to narrow the focus down to just the two of them.

The problem with that structure, though, is that there’s no inherent tension between them. There is tension ON them, from the actions outside the two of them as a pair, but to keep things interesting there needs to be something between the two of them keeping them apart as well.

Tension, right? The essence of drama is conflict, right? Okey dokey, let’s get some conflict up in here.

In one of my classes I like to talk about the history of language a lot, because I think it’s cool and it’s my class so I can. So there. Ptttt.

So, what happened is that if you go far enough back human society consists basically of hunter-gatherer clans. Hunter-gatherer clans need to stay WAY far apart, because they can only grow as large as the land around them can support. Consequently they start to develop idiosyncratic languages: if they stay far enough apart for long enough, they will not be able to talk between clans, okay?

Eventually people figure out that agriculture is more efficient than hunting and gathering, so they settle down, grow crops, domesticate animal, etc. etc. Populations grow, from village to town to city.

In the fullness of time, they start to have contact with other city-states … who speak different languages.

There are two ways to manage this problem. The kind we like is for the two to see the advantage of cooperating and to figure out a joint language, called a pidgin, that allows them to have trade. Eventually the pidgin expands into a full-blown third language derived from the first two called a creole. (A creole has a full vocabulary and people who are raised speaking it.)

Of course, the other solution is for one people to conquer the heck out of the other and exterminate them and their little language, too. That happens, dude. You can ask anyone who speaks (for instance) Phoenician – oh no you can’t, because they got conquered and exterminated.

You see it now? We have two choices in dealing with Other People: we can cooperate with them or we can fight them. And look, we have Other People: the Queerats.

Saki wants to cooperate with the Queerats.
Satoru wants to fight the Queerats.

BOOM!

That’s not completely accurate. Saki thinks they need to cooperate and Satoru thinks they need to fight, which is not quite the same. But either way, see what happens? Each of the two of them represents one of the two sides in the debate. That gives the creators two narrative tools to use.

Since they represent the two viewpoints, they as characters can be used to debate the merits and meanings of their opposing viewpoints. Morality is something hard to talk about in anime unless the characters literally TALK about it. So we have the hawk, Satoru, and the dove, Saki. Being essentially pair-bonded they have to stay together but being in disagreement threatens to force them apart. THAT’s conflict! Will they break up or overcome their differences? THAT’s tension!

They are a complementary couple, but instead of the usual sort of complementarity where the strengths of one compensate for the weaknesses of the other and vice versa, they take competing philosophies and represent those positions to the audience. And if the writers are true to the characters, the positions are treated with equal respect, so the characters are treated equally as well.

Of course, they can get pretty preachy at times, too. Just sayin’.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Two: Saki and Satoru

  1. This is interesting for a couple reasons…

    Yes it is social commentary, woven into an anime, and I am thinking of other examples like Grave of the Fireflies, or Princess Mononoki, or Princess and Pilot, or Gate, and how they incorporated social commentary into the plots, but also we just passed a milestone where large scale DNA manipulation of a population has been done, which, of course, is the major plot twist of the “From The New World”.

    That the Queerats are human, but have been genetically modified, so that the psychic humans may kill them without ill effect…. Up til now we have had to use propaganda for that, but progress is progress, I guess. Imagine if the slaveowners in the US in 1840 could have modified their chattel so they no longer looked human. Would we still have had a Civil War? Or was the driving force for the war economics, as some suggest?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! My intention was only to show how you can use characters to display controversies of that sort, but you’re right, the story is much deeper than that. To have the courtesy to answer your question, I suspect that slaves that were genetically modified to not look human but were still as intelligent as Queerats would lead to a hard drive for emancipation, and that would drive a lot of conflict as slavery-dependent economies were threatened. But that’s just an off-the-cuff guess.

      Like

  2. The question was somewhat rhetorical. I’m sure you are familiar with speculative fiction like Guns of the South, which concluded that the antebellum style of slavery in the USA was ending, with or without a war. The British were bringing India and Egypt online as cotton producers, so the economic demand for slaves was over. That just leaves the practical emancipation of the slaves, which is the issue FTNW deals with: Can their humanity be recognized? How much of that recognition is dependent upon looking human? I would tend to believe that looking human is very essential for being recognized by most people as such. That isn’t fair, but society isn’t fair. It is a collection of myths and prejudices that hopefully serve us better than others. Makes a story though.

    Liked by 1 person

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