December 23, 2010

Demon City libertarianism

The most interesting things about Yashakiden arise out of the nature of the city itself. Two of them include a supporting character and an innovative riff on an old political philosophy--more popular in movies than in real life (watching The Road Warrior is one thing; living it quite another)--that sneaks in the back door through the setting.

Hideyuki Kikuchi's Demon City Blues series posits that the "Demon Quake" physically and metaphysically severed Shinjuku from the rest of Japan. The only access is via bridges and gates (Dance in the Vampire Bund owes a lot to Kikuchi for this conceit). As a result, Shinjuku exists as a semi-autonomous city-state within greater Tokyo.

Now, manga and anime writers riff on this theme a lot, whenever they need an excuse to disrupt the social order, and stipulate, for example, that everybody runs around Tokyo packing serious heat. Two good representative anime series are Burst Angel and Witchblade.

But Kikuchi doesn't simply present an anarchic, libertarian society and move on. Through the character of the Mayor Kajiwara, he presents the pragmatic politics underpinning it. Not anything-goes alone, but with checks and balances that make a dangerous life worth the dare. I would seriously like to see Kajiwara in his own series, a kind of Demon City West Wing.

Here are a few illustrative excerpts:

Volume 1

In the beginning, when the whole vampire "issue" first arose, a petition was delivered to the ward government by two thousand signers. It read: "We defend the right of every kind of being (including the supernatural) to live in this city to the best of his or her abilities."

The decisive judgment of the ward authorities to let them in and sell this abandoned city block to the vampires as a "special housing project" would long be remembered by its inhabitants.

But if the vampires ever came to threaten the "normal" lives of the city's other's residents, they were also allowed to take retaliatory measures "to the best of their abilities." If the truce was ever broken, two hundred wooden stakes pounded into two hundred chests at noon would ring down the curtain in half an hour.

A city where life was lived and death was dealt without regrets--that was Demon City.

Volume 2

Kajiwara answered without even the twitch of an eyebrow. His chair was his throne. And he was the mayor of Demon City.

"I don't know what your superiors are thinking, but Demon City is home to living human beings, living in whatever manner they see fit. I'd be the last one to deny that we might have a few oddballs among us. But as long as they reside here, we count them as residents. Let me hasten to say that I'm not drawing lines in the sand here. There are plenty of individuals here without papers, valid ID cards, or passports. Perhaps even more of them than us. Those who acknowledge the rights of people like them--no, let's call them living beings--to be here are none other than their fellow burghers. I rather take pride in that."

Volume 3

A long moment of silence followed. The Welfare Minister said, "Mr. Mayor--you do know there are vampires--"

"I know, I know." Kajiwara nodded his head emphatically. "Everybody in this city knows. I would like to tell you I know all about their characters, their abilities, all aspects of their lives. But that would be a lie. This government collects no such information."

"How irresponsible!" The Cabinet Secretary thumped his fist on the table. "I cannot believe what I am hearing! You are the highest executive in this city. Isn't it your job to find out what these monsters are made of, and where they're headed next? Should that ignorance lead to the death of one innocent citizen, it would be unforgivable."

"Excuse me, but in the ward where you live, are there not murderers living among the citizenry? Do the mayor and the authorities comprehend the personalities and the predilections of the victims and the perpetrators with anything approaching absolute certainty?"

"They're human beings."

"I am taking about the citizenry," Kajiwara said crisply. "I don't know about anybody else, but here in Shinjuku, a citizen can be something other than a human being. Well, that's this foul and accursed place for you. Submit a change-of-residence registration, and with the consent of the ward council any living thing may call himself a citizen. To tell the truth, the consent of the ward council is not technically required. We don't assert the authority to refuse entry. Aside from a mailing address and the census information, it's none of the ward's business anyway."

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