Kaiba – How to do a Dystopia Correctly

I was baffled by how much my father praised the movie Blade Runner after we watched it together— it’s not a bad movie but there’s a reason it didn’t win any Academy Awards. I was also baffled by how praised George Orwell’s 1984 is in the realm of English literature. Again, it’s not bad, but I’d never consider it my favorite book. While Kaiba is largely building off of these giants in its dystopic society, it did it right. That’s because it focuses on the humanity of a dystopia, rather than the society itself.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 16.30.13.png

One of the first things we see in the show is the machine memory chip-sucking flying things that absorbs the chips of a couple of random guys on a natural-looking bridge. We don’t know anything about these guys, but we can assume from their reaction and physical appearance that they’re pretty ordinary working-class people, and through this we can immediately get that this is a futuristic world with a government or society that is either oppressive or neglectful. These few seconds let us infer everything that 1984 and Blade Runner spend significant portions of their time to establish and analyze.

From here, Kaiba takes time only to look at the human effects of this dystopia. Later in the episode we see the squalor most citizens live in— small gatherings of people with scrap equipment and innumerable memory chips and nothing to do with them. This only preps us for the tearjerker in episode 3 with Chroniko’s Boots (as I discussed the other day). The episode effectively highlights the corruption and apathy of the society in Kaiba, but the focus is put on Chroniko and what happens to her. Contrast this with 1984— sure, there are other relevant characters besides the protagonist, but it only marginally exposits how society is corrupt through the events regarding a particular character. We do see this in one character, Julia, but she tells us very little about the world of 1984 that we didn’t already know.

Listen to the music, too— one of the first songs that is played is “Catch it up!” It’s an action-y, heavy synth song that instantly reminds me of Tron (the original Tron, mind you). And, lo and behold, Tron is another futuristic dystopia movie! Immediately after this tech-y sci-fi song, we’re brought back to the humanity of this world in Planet (laughing version) which is characterized by its bizarre sound that feels down-to-earth and alien all at once. Even here the focus remains on the people, and how they interact under these circumstances.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 16.50.48.png

This establishment of the extraordinary before giving the audience something to empathize with is how Kaiba conveys its dystopia. It goes a step further in “show don’t tell”— rather than letting the audience see the corruption in the society and how X government official gets assassinated, we see the personable side of it and where we would stand in the shoes of others. And, more importantly, we see Kaiba standing in the shoes of others. The show gets away with expositing what the world is like by making it Kaiba who is watching this unfold. This further establishes Kaiba’s relatability to the audience, which makes us root for him just that much more and be even more surprised when we realize he’s supposed to be the evil king of this world. How can a boy so empathetic be a cruel ruler? And, mind you, all of this is to facilitate the arc of the show. The dystopia isn’t simply a setting in Kaiba, it functions as an influential part of the narrative. And, as such, the expositing of the dystopic setting is all part of the story of Kaiba.

Advertisements

Chroniko’s Boots – How Kaiba Portrays a Corrupt Society

Episode 3 of Kaiba, Chroniko’s Boots is brimming with pathos, to a nearly jarring extent from the preceding episode. It portrays how family and society both have taken advantage of an impoverished girl and then analyzes how riddled with guilt the aunt, Negi, is who encouraged Chroniko to sell her body. Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.45.25.png

So, I’ve seen others interpret this differently, but I assumed that when or before Chroniko was sold, Negi knew it would mean her death (or effective death— we can assume that spending an eternity without a body as a collection of fractured memories is pretty comparable to death). That explains why she was crying and felt so much guilt over the affair— she had participated in the death of the girl she had raised as her daughter. This cruel and unjust action is then spun on its head, as we see the events prior to Negi turning bitter and preferring her own children to Chroniko.

Chroniko is clearly the representation of innocent youth— she is a young girl who openly brags about a gift from her aunt in spite of it being one of her aunt’s only demonstrations of love toward her. Beyond this, she is willing to abandon her own body for the sake of her family. While she did not know this was a death sentence, it was established in the first episode how miserable life can be stuck in a collection of body-less faces or how many people remained trapped as tiny memory chips for years and we can assume she resigned herself to this fate knowingly and willingly. Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.42.46.png

In Chroniko’s Boots, society continues to be affirmed as corrupt by having bodies sold for cash— specifically how Chroniko’s body is sold to a pedophile. No, really, they say that in the show—Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.48.47.pngThe society in Kaiba here is portrayed as the corruption of capitalism with all of the wealth and power belonging to a tiny number of rich people and none of the wealth or power belonging to anybody else. While Chroniko did sell her body of her own accord (though she didn’t expect it to entail her memories being released), the blatant message is that it is wrong of society to allow such things to happen and if society had a higher bare minimum for the standard for living, the tragedy of Chroniko being sold for money would never have happened in the first place.

We see that Negi wanted Chroniko gone since she was unwanted and a burden on the family— a sentiment which initially puts her at the forefront of blame over the whole society. This is immediately subverted with an ultimate re-emphasis on society as the one to blame as Kaiba steps into her memories to find how Negi was once kind and loving but with the loss of her arms and death of her husband she became cynical and jaded toward the world and ultimately grew to despise Chroniko as “one more mouth to feed” as she expresses initially. The reassignment of blame and then subversion thereof serves to strengthen the message of society being at fault for this happening.  Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 22.28.18.png

When it is revealed in episode 6 that Kaiba is definitively supposed to be the king, Warp, (we already knew Kaiba was Warp, but we didn’t know for sure who Warp was until now) there is a sudden disconnect as viewers consider this episode— Kaiba is demonstrated to be kind and empathic, so how could he have let society come to a point where the masses consider him an oppressive dictator and selling the bodies of children to pedophiles is acceptable?

As a side thought, perhaps part of the reason Kaiba empathized so thoroughly with Chroniko is that he felt he had experienced the same thing? After all, he felt as though his mother had betrayed him by poisoning him. Just something to consider.

The Temple of I & I

Now, I’m aware The Temple of I & I has received some critical reviews for misappropriating the sound of Jamaica. I’m not Jamaican, nor have I ever been strongly invested in Jamaican music, so my opinion my fall secondary to someone more familiar with the culture Thievery Corporation is incorporating this album. Just a heads up.

I was already in love with Letter to the Editor, the first Racquel Jones track to be released, but after hearing Road Block too I can definitely say that she is the star of this album. She has great rhythm and it’s pretty clear that she’s well-versed enough to sing well in a slower, more reggae-style song like Road Block as well as the faster hip-hop influenced Letter to the Editor. Having gone back to listen to the music Jones has released apart from Thievery Corporation, I must say I prefer the Thievery Corporation sound backing her singing, but I’m a fan of all of it. I am excited to see more collaborations with her and Thievery Corporation in the future.

Notch, who has worked with Thievery Corporation for quite some time, certainly performed on the most songs this album. I’ve never felt strongly about any tracks he has done before, but here I loved listening to True Sons of Zion and Drop Your Guns. His performance across tracks tends to be fairly uniform in sound and my preference of them, but I think he and Thievery Corporation are able to bring out even more in one another in ways not experienced prior to Temple of I & I.

Conversely, I found Lou Lou Ghelichkhani, easily the star of Saudade, to be a bit tired here. Admittedly, her placement in the album is rough as the first song of the middle portion with the slower, more Saudade-esque songs separated by Temple of I & I and Let the Chalice Blaze, but Time + Space struck me as “just another Lou Lou Ghelichkhani song” as opposed to the distinguished Décollage we heard in Saudade. Perhaps I’m disappointed in her performance here precisely because of how stunning she was in Décollage, but Time + Space struck me as uninteresting and more bland than her past performances.

I do not dislike Mr. Lif’s music as a whole, nor do I dislike all his performances with Thievery Corporation— Unified Tribes is a phenomenal track and Culture of Fear was also strong. However, I couldn’t particularly get into Ghetto Matrix, which struck me as a weaker version of Culture of Fear, and Fight to Survive, a track I sense was supposed to be inspirational and a call to action, was the least inspiring song on all of Temple of I & I. I do hesitate to call this criticism entirely fair, for while I did enjoy his performance on Culture of Fear, that album did strike me as one of Thievery Corporation’s overall weaker albums, so by comparison I may have appreciated the song Culture of Fear more.

This leaves the singers who were just on a single track, none of which I feel strongly about. Thief Rockers I thought made a good but not wowing (as in Décollage) introduction and felt slightly better than 33 Degree. Love Has No Heart was a strong performance by Shana Halligan— I thought it was better than Depth of My Soul, but I also wasn’t impressed by Depth of My Soul at the time. Lose to Find was neither impressive nor disappointing, and felt simply average. I feel bad saying this since Elin Melagarejo’s performances in Saudade were already overshadowed by Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s, but no recent appearance of her has particularly excited me. Puma, while also overshadowed by Notch on Temple of I & I, did well in Babylon Falling. While not the most gripping song in the album, I thought it was both memorable and welcome.

I feel like I’m missing something in all of this… I covered all of the musicians, right?
Oh yea, I have barely touched on the duo who actually IS Thievery Corporation. For their no-guest tracks, Let the Chalice Blaze was so-so, but The Temple of I & I was engaging and interesting. Pretty sure I got goosebumps the first time I heard, “This is the Temple of I & I” after having been wowed by True Sons of Zion. Speaking of True Sons of Zion, I must stress that while I did like Notch’s performance alone on this song, it’s the Thievery Corporation duo that enables Notch to leave such an impact.

This is similarly the case with Letter to the Editor. Part of what made Mr. Lif’s performance on Unified Tribes so excellent was how well Thievery Corporation adapted their style to fit rapping. Letter to the Editor has so much pop and effect because of how well Thievery Corporation fit their style to Racquel Jones. It is a risk with any guest musician in any work that the guest won’t fit with the classic style of the other artists, but Thievery Corporation has repeatedly shown its strength is making their sound fit with the guest’s performance over the other way around, and Letter to the Editor is a shining example of this.

I think Saudade still slightly edges out over Temple of I & I, but another strong release by Thievery Corporation has left me eagerly waiting for the future as they continue to evolve and explore the familiar genres they pull from in greater depth. And, you never know, Temple of I & I keeps growing on me. Thievery Corporation has mostly improved with every album (I prefer The Cosmic Game and Radio Retaliation to Culture of Fear) and I don’t see Temple of I & I as being an exception to this.