If you had to convey freedom in one symbol, in one motif, in one theme, how would you do so? Would adulthood represent freedom, the ability to make your own decisions? Would it be represented by a car, making it possible for you to go wherever you can on land? Or would it be an open field, where you can continue running in any direction? All of these are totally valid ways to portray freedom. It only makes sense that such a nebulous concept can be seen in a million different manners.
That said, there are a number of common ways to demonstrate the idea, and I think my favorite has to be the sky. The sky represents all facets of freedom. It’s unbounded, allowing you to go virtually any direction. It’s massive, leaving plenty of room for travel. And it’s a valid way to get anywhere, allowing you to make your own decisions. It’s these concepts that Simoun — a 2006 yuri anime — accepts in its portrayal of the open air, something which is pivotal to the show’s plot and themes.
In Simoun, every character is assigned female at birth, before eventually making a pilgrimage to ‘The Spring’ at 17, a holy land where everyone must decide which gendered body — and thus which gendered role — they will be living in for the rest of their lives. The sole exception to this is the Simoun Sibyllae, priestesses turned warriors who are allowed to put off their decision as long as they serve a religious — and now, militaristic — function by pairing with another person to pilot a Simoun. While everyone in this world may be considered female up until 17, it’s still quite restrictive, and modern gender roles for men and women clearly exist once the decision has been made.
To be sure, the country where Simoun is set, Simulacrum, is better than its neighbors in many ways. The entire human race of this planet is assigned female at birth, but reproduction is necessary, and in absence of the Spring, other countries have settled on other methods. The nation of Argentum uses medical technology to forcibly make the choice shortly after birth, removing any freedom. But while those of Simulacrum are free to decide for themselves, that option is not all its cracked up to be.
Not only are the choices restrictive, constrained to a binary that not all wish to follow, but the decision itself is forced. It’s both socially and legally necessary to go to the Spring at 17, and only becoming a priestess, which at this point is nothing more than a soldier, will get you out of it. Not everyone has made their decision by the time they turn 17 and some characters are forced to make the choice once they’re already at the Spring. Sure, it’s better than our world, where that choice is never an option in the first place, not meaningfully. But to the characters, it’s no more than an enforced dilemma, one they did not ask for or desire.
It’s fitting then, that the Sibyllae, those who fly through the sky, are the ones who are allowed to postpone the choice. As I said, the sky is a supreme representation of freedom. Of course, to obtain that freedom they have to continue to fight and actively risk their lives, alongside being forced to partner with other girls in an often restrictive environment which is ripe for interpersonal conflict. But that’s more than a worthwhile trade-off to most of our leads. After all, they could leave for the Spring whenever they’d like. It’s the freedom afforded to them as Sibyllae that makes them continue to pilot the Simouns, even if that wouldn’t be their first choice.
Simoun is easily one of the most overtly feminist anime I’ve seen, comparable to Revolutionary Girl Utena in that respect. Not only does it comment on gender and sexuality in society, it makes an active attempt to focus on girls and women. The Sibyllae are all treated as girls before going to the Spring, yes, but the show goes beyond that. Every character in the entire show is voiced by a female voice actress. Certainly, that could seem odd to some. But it’s quite important to the show’s aims. This is an anime focused on true liberation from the forced gendering of society.
Even in this world, where gender roles could easily be abolished due to the fundamentally different biological structures at work, men are dominant in society while women are submissive. And I think the point here is clear: a feminism which merely focuses on putting women into power will only reproduce the gendered inequality of the present through a new framework. Rather, the gendered divisions need to be destroyed as much as possible, such that no one is forced to make the oh so repressive choice if they don’t want to.
Of course, as I said, Simoun is a yuri anime, and it approaches that genre from a feminist framework as well. Most notably, it questions the, at the time all too prevalent, Class S inspired narrative. The girls are actively encouraged to pair together, as it’s necessary to pilot the Simouns, and a mutual kiss is required to get them running. But this is, like in Class S series, meant to be somewhat temporary. Certainly, relationships forged by Sibyllae can continue. But if they’re to do so, it’s expected that it’ll be in a heterosexual manner. If one partner chooses to be male and one female, there’s no problem. But any other arrangement is, if not criminalized, looked upon as unnatural.
This is yet another imposed binary upon the characters, one that many of them do not take kindly to. Some characters believe they should decide on one gender for the sake of their beloved, only to later realize that wasn’t the choice they truly wanted to make. Again, there’s more freedom here than in our world, but that doesn’t mean the world of Simoun is perfect. Rather, the fact that our characters struggle against situations which are far freer than those we live in, demonstrates how far we, as actual, real people, have to go.
Fortunately, the cast is able to reject much of this, in a fittingly ambiguous way. The Sibyllae ultimately reject the false freedom of choosing your role. Those who ultimately do go to the Spring do so willingly, and truly make lives for themselves, ignoring the binary heterosexual standards which their society encourages. And many actively deny the choice altogether, refusing to go to the spring. Yun becomes the high priestess, not making the choice but allowing others to do so if they wish. Rimone and Dominura travel to the past, a world where they aren’t forced to make the decision.
And most importantly, Aer and Neviril fly into the sky, to who knows where. They go beyond Simulacrum, to a new world. The last we see of them, they’re flying through the air, unbound and free, never to be forced to make the choice which plagues this world. They have achieved self-liberation.
In many ways, this ending reminds me of a work by Ikuhara. Like in his shows, this does not end with a total shift in social structures, as that’s not something one person or even a small group is capable of. We can all carry out our own small revolutions, but large ones require a mass of people. That said, our struggles can empower others and someday, eventually, cause change. As far as we can see by the end of the series, Simulacrum has not totally shed all of its repressive traits. But with Yun as the head priestess, the knowledge that living beyond the Spring is possible, and the fact that a number of former Sibyllae are rejecting their gendered roles, it’s clear that someday in the future, things will change for the better.
One day, down the line, it’s possible that all can use the Simouns, or at least all who want to. The choice that must be made at 17 is a false dilemma. You always have the ability to reject it. And while biology might not be that simple in our world, the point remains clear. We can indeed reject that oppressive choice, gaining true freedom and liberation in the process. We can all fly in that unbounded sky, as long as we put in the effort to get there and work together like the Sibyllae.
2 thoughts on “[Script] Yuri’s Gender-Defying, Freedom-Focused, Sci-fi Anime”
I had only heard about this anime in passing, but I didn’t know what it was about.
Sounds like a show that took a lot of chances in making it.
1) I noticed your narration has improved a lot from your first video. You sound more natural, no longer ending your sentences with the same intonation.
2) I had originally perceived Simoun to be about those who resist change. Like the theocracy resisting technological advancement, the priest class resisting the military use of the Simoun, and the girls’ resistance to graduating to adulthood. I figured Aaeru and Neviril , in their running away from growing up, became a symbol for the others. But I like how your take spins that in a more positive light.
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