Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chikane Himemiya - character notes

Episode 8 Chikane laying down the LAW
Episode 8 Chikane laying down the LAW. She's actually saying How rude! Kneel! to Souma's mech, while Souma is currently doing the kneeling.

Chikane is a polarizing character, sparking her own share of disputes even among fans of Kannazuki no Miko. Still, chances are that if you don't feel strongly about Chikane, then you can't get into the rest of the series. Love her or not, her presence defined each episode, as well as all related KOTOKO songs. What follows is essentially my shrine to one Himemiya Chikane, the tragic figure who deserved, if not a happy ending, then at least more than 12 episodes of fighting robots.

Spoilers will follow, obviously.

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Before I start out at all, I make reference to a TV Trope below, one that deals with the actions of episode eight, and the trope offers two ways of viewing rape. At this point in time, I continue to sit on the fence. I don't support what happened, it's not okay, and yet I have to accept it because the scene is there, sitting on my DVD. You just don't look cover your eyes when there's an 800 pound gorilla or elephant (take your pick) in the room, beside you, taking up your oxygen and possibly stealing your tunes. So let's talk about it, and what does it say about Chikane. How you feel about the whole thing says more about you than anything else, including the series.

Chikane is in an awkward position. In a lot of stories involving mystical elements or just combat of any sort, the lead characters are gifted with relevant abilities right off the bat. In Kannazuki no Miko, the most immediate powers are in the hands of the evil doers and one good guy, at a ratio of 7 to 1. I'll overlook the fact that the good guy was supposed to be an evil doer.

It's made clear that Chikane and Himeko should be the most important characters in the second episode, but in the overall scheme of things, other characters — the evil doers — continue to carry the initiative until the eighth episode. In each encounter, Chikane and Himeko are no match for the Orochi, and have to be bailed out by Souma, in possession of powers that (more than) match those of the Orochi members.

While Himeko has no distinguishing abilities, Chikane does. Himeko is nothing but a normal high school student with the ability to summon a giant fighting robot, which passes as the currency of power in this series. She lacks any athleticism, which might aid her in fending off an attack (but not by a giant robot) and if nothing else, in running away.

Chikane, on the other hand, has demonstrated athleticism and a sense of marksmanship. It's just that these abilities are totally irrelevant against superhumans and robots alike, and episode after episode demonstrates that no one feels this more acutely than her.

As noted by Souma in episode eight, Chikane is competitive but not for the sake of winning. I should clarify that statement; there are some things that one can be good at with a bit of practice and discipline, but I think what the scenes during Souma's passage wanted to make clear was that in other activities, she would succeed at cost to her own well-being. There are battles that are chosen for her, all of which are in a school setting and only do require some practice and discipline, and then there are battles that she chooses to fight.

This dedication plays into a sense of chivalrous love for Himeko. Chikane pictures herself as what can only be the idealized image of a knight: protecting her loved one, not only physically but guaranteeing her happiness, even if that means Chikane would forever sit on the sidelines, at best a good friend. You could argue that she's not being totally honest with herself, given her various actions (the stolen kiss, the hairpin), but I will give her the benefit of the doubt.

See, Chikane always operates alone, away from others, in the dark, in situations of uncertainty. I think in her pre-episode seven mind, which was unaware of the consequences of defeating Orochi, Souma's and Himeko's relationship would be official and in the open, denying her of the unofficial (read: uncertain) environment. She could live with that; she is aware of her actions in public. As a side note, it's only in episode eight that she loses her sense of social propriety, or actively disregards it, and only in the archery scene.

Chikane isn't quite Batman, and I'm not about to get into a pissing contest as to who would beat who in a fight, but Chikane does approach something like a dark knight.

Against Chikane's sometimes desperate desire to be the protector crashes wave after wave of humiliating failure. What was probably once a spotless record of success is now marred by numerous defeats. She deals with the adversity with much grace, allowing Himeko to cry enough tears into Chikane's shoulder for the both of them. Inwardly, she grows that much more desperate until, well, the end of episode seven.

Chikane's penchant for acting independently, in the shadows, gets her into a lot of trouble, but her actions are commensurate with her motivation. By doing what she did in episode eight, she accomplishes a number of short-term goals:

  • Clearly power flows from the joints of a giant fighting robot, and only incidentally through the barrels of some robots' guns and cannons should they have them. Chikane has no such robot, but obviously the next best solution is to take someone else's, and since of none of the evil doers appear unless it's to kill her or Himeko, Souma will have to do. She could track down Souma and defeat him with ease, as is demonstrated, but her actions have the indirect effect of drawing him to the mansion.

  • Chikane works best in the shadows, and the Orochi power base is not sun-kissed.

  • This is something she has to do alone. Chikane attempts to cut ties with the only person who can summon an answer to Orochi, although we know how that turns out. She also really cuts ties with the only guy who would and could protect them, and takes that power along with her, fused with whatever was gifted to her as Priestess of the Moon.

At some point in time, Chikane should also have turned Souma into stone. This could have the effect of obliterating any faith left in Himeko. Then, Chikane and Himeko could have had their confrontation without the initial robot fight. Why didn't she do it? Perhaps because Souma was not really the enemy, not in the rather short timeframe of the story and not in Chikane's mind, either. She didn't need to protect Himeko from Souma but those out to kill her. In a tragic twist, that group included Chikane, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

There's no defence like a good offence, so what better way to protect Himeko from her attackers than to kill them all? The outcome couldn't have been better, for then she would be the lone evil doer, her working environment of choice. On top of that, since Chikane was out to kill Himeko herself, she was going to have to die as well. The pieces of the puzzle come together in this neat and ordered fashion, completely aligned with Chikane's perception of herself, and the idealized role she was to play in Himeko's life.

KnM is unusual in that the lion's share of screen time goes to Chikane, when it can be argued that the character who changes the most is Himeko. Coincidentally, there was a recent thread on the Yuricon Yahoo group about why Strawberry Panic was being given such a bad rap, and one message compared both SP and KnM to MariMite. Chikane got compared to Sachiko, and obviously Sachiko is a better(?) character because she develops over time, especially, apparently, in the OVA. Sachiko gets three seasons to evolve, but I digress. I think the big picture view is, Chikane is a tragic character, and her flaw is a fierce independence that is only conveyed in her actions.

Tragic characters don't change, which is the point. Their flaws directly bring about their own demise, which they realize only when it's too late. In a variation on this premise, Chikane, quite aware of what it means to be alone, and to act alone, plots her own demise. This kind of self-awareness and discipline is generally regarded as a good thing, but really it is only strength of character, and strength can either help or harm. Chikane has done both, but what we see most viscerally is her ability to harm.

Because one can generally argue any point by heaping on sufficient support, I conclude with this one: Chikane personifies the moon. It isn't so much that she looks the part, which she does. In episode eight, chibi Chikane sits on that tree, reading, quietly observing the world alone. She is that solitary beacon in the darkness, and people do not hang around her to bask in her warmth, as the moon doesn't illuminate the land like the sun does. People look up to her like they look up at some towering figure. Himeko, despite treating Chikane as normally as she has ever been treated, continues to view her as the voice of reason up till the end. It is in that end that Himeko finally places herself on equal footing with Chikane, essentially climbing onto the pedestal that she continued to place Chikane on despite the latter falling back to earth, and then some.

Is Chikane a beautiful character? Of course. Her story is beautiful just like puzzles and tragedies can be beautiful. I hope I've gone some way to argue or re-affirm that for skeptics and fans alike.

If nothing else, there's beauty in the breakdown.


laurie said...

Hi! I read your mini-essay on Chikane and I think you're right, she's a tragic character and she must not be judged until she's understood on the reasons behind her actions. And it's more difficult to sacrifice your love to protect the one you love. It reminds me of the song that goes: "and so I say I don't love you, though it kills me, it's a lie that sets you free.."