July 21, 2009

Simoun


Another compelling entry in the "non-traditional sex/marriage models in fiction" category: the anime series Simoun. In the world of Simoun, everyone is born female. One's permanent sex is chosen at the age of seventeen in a religious ritual that looks a lot like baptism.

This puts a whole new spin on the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

What makes this metaphor work better than the similar (but heavy-handed) Star Trek: TNG episode is that the "agency" issue is not the point of the show, but an aspect of the society. And the emphasis is on the weight of having to make a choice rather than the choice itself.

We are told that some of the "less advanced" societies on the planet do insist on the equivalent of a "prearranged marriage." However, the "freedom to choose"--or the choice to leave things to chance--can be just as overwhelming to the psyche. Freedom is good, but it's not easy.

The religious aspects of the story are similarly compelling. The "Simoun" are fighter aircraft piloted (in squadrons of twelve) by the "Simoun Sibylla," young women who haven't been "baptized." Although they know how to fly and maintain the Simoun, nobody knows what makes them "go."

Anthropologically speaking, a complex cargo cult has arisen to explain the existence of the Simoun and why only a select number of young women can fly them. The "Simoun Sibylla" are ordained as priestesses and the Simoun are treated as instruments of the divine.

The result is a theocracy with super-advanced military technology it doesn't understand at its fingertips, surrounded by and increasingly threatened by secular regimes armed with the steampunk equivalents (that they do understand), and getting stronger and more belligerent by the day.

When war breaks out, the priestesses must turn their "divine instruments" into killing machines. Some suspect that the Simoun are comprehensible mechanical devices, but this is heresy. Unable to exploit this technology, they risk being overrun and conquered, if only by sheer numbers.

Perhaps most interestingly, Simoun is ultimately a story of failure and the inability of a religious culture to adapt in the face of radical change.

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