Of Sky Crawlers and Change

I finally watched The Sky Crawlers (from a source I will not name), and it left me with mixed feelings. It has been a long time since I have thought about so many things after watching anime, so I will pen some of them down.

First, a warning to readers: No, I did not have an outline of this written on a sheet of paper, nor did I plan an introduction, body (replete with elaboration) and conclusion, so I am afraid you will have to suffer some of my brain diarrhoea. Any academic body would tell you this is bad writing style, so do not emulate this. But for a blog … whatever.

Without revealing too much of the story and plot, The Sky Crawlers is a story about Kildren: adolescents doomed (or perhaps blessed) to live the prime of their youth over and over again, in an unchanging landscape. Like with other Mamoru Oshii works, this one is a thinker. What makes this one different is that it’s boring, absolutely boring, but intentionally so. Here I should immediately clarify that I do not use the word “boring” with the intent of insult.

Truthfully, the film piqued my interest only after I read Justin’s review of it (scathing look at the anime industry? Ooooh…) I don’t fully agree with him. As one of the posters on the ANN forums says, the theme of this movie is so general that it could apply to almost anything. It could be a scathing look at anime… or at engineering, or business, photography, or any number of fields and disciplines that have fallen into the rut of wash-rinse-repeat. From a general perspective, Sky Crawlers is the embodiment of pretty-but-boring; lovely textures and lighting, sharp CG, but flat textures on flat characters, and bland voice-acting. I wonder if this is Oshii’s way of making his point that invariability is an undesired result we should not be aiming for.

As a teenager I sometimes thought to myself, “How nice things would be if they could stay the same so I would never have to grow up”. Now the irony of that statement comes back to bite me. It’s triflingly amusing because at that moment in time, I was looking forward to an eternity of constancy; the preservation of a state that includes my preference for an eternally unchanging state of constancy. If that state could have been perfectly preserved maybe I would have been in frozen, time-preserved bliss. Wouldn’t that be a dandy state of things?

But in retrospect, perhaps invariability is desirable only in the context of an inevitably changing background. In a world where things are changing slowly but surely, constancy is the flip side of the coin, the greener side of the field. I As a teen, my thoughts aligned with dreams of never growing up or graduating, because growing up and graduating is the de-facto state of things I could not avoid. I wonder what I would have said in an alternate reality where ideas such as graduation never existed.

In the first chapter of The Nature of Physical Reality, (part of) a paragraph reads “Professor William Lyon Phelps, in his charming informal lectures to the undergraduates at Yale, insisted that physics had far less to say about truth and reality than did poetry. and to prove his point he asked them: ‘Would you now read a physics text that is 100 years old? Of course not. But you still read Shakespeare!’ ”

So much for truth and reality then, as convenient and useful constructs of the mind. Maybe they are not constant either, changing as our perceptions and collective ideas do. Perhaps, as the cliché goes, the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. And if change is the only thing we can count on, then it’s probably time for me to grow up and stop getting too comfortable in my little academic pigeon-hole.