Anime Examiner – [C]-Control (Episode 1)

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I swear to god, it’s actually about economics…

Welcome to Anime Examiner  –  my new regular articles series for this site. The goal here is to have an in-depth look at various works of anime that have a lot going on under their surface: allegories, socio-political commentary, and other subtly hidden depths. This will be both a critical and hopefully educational series, and I hope you enjoy it. So to kick us off, we’ll naturally start with the show that gave me the idea.

It’s a critique of modern political and economic policy disguised as a Mons action series. With just a touch of Lovecraft.

And I’m sure a bunch of you just tabbed out after reading the words “political” and “economic”, but bear with me. This is way more interesting than it sounds.

[C] – Control – ‘stupidly long sub-title you can safely disregard because it lacks grammar or logic’, is a 2011 anime by Tatsunoko Productions which aired on Fuji TV in Spring 2011.  It revolves around the existence of an alternate dimension called ‘The Financial District’ where one’s financial wealth translates into combat power, where the movers and shakers of the world’s economies battle in secret for fortune with unforeseen effects upon the real world and the mysterious “Bank of Midas” that runs the fights.

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Yeah… if I know anything of anime, this guy it too boring looking to live long…

We open on this poor fella, having a panic attack in front of an ATM. Between his sweating problem, shaking and scattered bank cards everywhere, we can safely assume he’s at the end of his financial rope. He hesitantly pulls out a black bank card… which we know is supposed to be menacing because a scare-chord plays when we cut to a close-up of it. Also, the fact that swiping it appears to overwrite the ATMs software in creepy fashion. And he enters a pin code of 666 before a creepy voice offers him a deal.

Leaving the ATM, the man holds the card aloft and it glows, summoning from apparent thin air a black taxi cab. He pays the driver 666 yen faire for transit to “The Financial District”. The taxi accelerates and drives into a wall as if it were platform 9 and 3/4, disappearing in a flash of light.

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Don’t mind me, just giving a soliloquy on the nature of fiat currency. Perfectly normal.

Welcome to the Financial District, a creepy alternate dimensions with golden roads, blood red skies and this bishounen looking guy giving a rousing soliloquy to his familiar about the philosophical nature of money, whilst leaping from tall buildings and teleporting around using a bank card of his own.

He’s interrupted by the arrival of Masakaki, a pink haired, mad-hatter looking fellow who informs Mr. Mikuni he’s being summoned for a “deal”. And by “deal”, he means “duel”, and not the Yu-Gi-Oh! Kind. His opponent, the desperate man from the opening, and Mikuni asks if its his first match. When he says yes, you can hear the pity in his voice… picked the wrong fight there pal. They both summons monsters using the bank cards and engage in combat, the desperate man manifesting a freaking lightsaber from his bare hand to take part in the fight… but it’s extremely short lived as Mikuni’s monster one-shots his and no-sells the energy blade, before Mikuni impales him with a blade of his own.

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Lightsabers are apparently made out of cash, which explains the Disney buyout…

And smash cut to a college lecture hall of meet our protagonist, Kimimaro Yoga, who is disregarding the college lecture to study for an exam for a government job. Over some brief exchanges at lunch (along with telling quick cuts showing the price of his cheap food compared to what his classmate is eating), we find his classmates consider him anti-social, after he rejects an invite to a drinking party. We see him at an ATM shortly thereafter, where his bank balance is a paltry 8760 yen ($113 based on 2011 exchange rate) and he laments not being able to afford to be social.

After the opening credits, we see the man who lost his match commit suicide by jumping in front of the commuter train Kimimaro is riding. Shocking as this is, his fellow commuters comments that’s it’s happening more and more as of late. We learn Kimimaro is a full-time student working two job just to keep himself and a tiny apartment afloat, living paycheck to paycheck like so many young people the world over. It’s no fault of his own, we learn he’s an orphan and just a victim of circumstance, yet his classmates, most of whom are implied to come from wealthy families, ostracize him for being anti-social, not even considering the economic reasons for his behavior.

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Would you trust someone who looks like this for financial advice?

While cramming for a test after his second job, Yoga gets an unwanted visitor, Masakaki. He wants to talk to him about an investment opportunity, and won’t take no for an answer, teleporting into Yoga’s apartment after being denied at the door and transporting both of them into what he calls “limbo” to get his attention. Yoga is remarkable calm about all this, I assume he thinks he’s dreaming or something. Masakaki tells him there is an opening for an “entrepreneur” position in the Financial District, presumably vacated by the desperate man’s suicide earlier.

His offer breaks down to this: his organization, The Bank of Midas (a name to run away from… fast!), will give him a significant sum of cash, as well as the opportunity to use that cash to make exponentially more… but will hold “his future” as collateral. He’s intentionally vague about exactly what that means and the terms of the agreement, but Yoga’s smart enough to refuse, despite constant temptations by Masakaki. He could go those parties. He could stop working triple shifts. He could even get that girl to like him… Kimimaro is mum but Masakaki seems confident he’s on the hook… but then Kimimaro wakes up from an apparent dream.

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CASH MONEY

But when he goes to the ATM to get some cash out, he finds his account is up HALF A MILLION YEN (About $6,500) in an apparent bank error. He spends his day debating the morality of whether or not to report the error or keep silent and keep the money to finally get a little leeway on his finances. His co-workers advise him to pocket the money, and despite his moral misgivings, he hesitantly withdraws a small portion of the money in order to attend that party he couldn’t afford before. And that’s when shit gets real.

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YOU DUN GOOFED SON

Deciding to withdraw the money apparently passes as consent to a contract as far as Masakaki is concerned. When he instantaneously turns up right after the withdrawl, he taunts Yoga a bit, “see, I knew you couldn’t resist”, and throws some shade his way about maybe buying the affections of his lady friend, as well as an ambiguous taunt about how maybe his dad would have stuck around if he’d only had the cash. Daddy is apparently a sore spot, since Kimimaro tries to punch his lights out, but Masakaki displays the power to stop time and defy gravity as he presents Kimimaro with a Midas Bank card and welcomes him to “the financial district” before being spiriting him away in one of those teleporting taxi-cabs. Oh, and for a split second while the card has him entranced, we see a split second shot of that red-haired demon girl from the opening calling his name. More on her next time.

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Hmm… just couldn’t do it Japan. Couldn’t do a show without a skimply dressed female character…

If it wasn’t apparent, money and people’s relationships with it are central to the show’s themes. The business man was obsessed with money, and we can infer he dug himself into quite the financial hole before resorting to the Midas card. Yoga is in a bad financial place through no fault of his own, but people think less of him because of it, the same way society tends to mock minimum wage workers and under-employed young people as lazy, despite the lack of better opportunities. Hanabi and Yoga’s other classmates seem flippant to the whole thing and take their money situation for granted, they attend the Heisei College of Economics, paying who knows how much tuition, while Yoga is the token-scholarship charity case. And from our opening, the suave and mysterious Mikuni not only gives off the aire of a very wealthy man, he’s aloof about it and views it more as a concept than a concrete possession, and is so rich he’s free to muse about the rat race as he watches from afar.

What the district truly is and mechanics of how this whole thing works will be elaborated on next time. And it gets dark. I’d normally chide a character for failing to read the fine print, but it’s not like he had a chance to. And you can’t really sue extra-dimensional money demons….