Saturday, September 29, 2012

Analysis: Leon & Aqua Force

Ride 90 raised a number of interesting points about the Circuit's current mystery man, Souryuu Leon. Like Ren before him, Leon arrives at the center of a general arc shift that leads towards the answers to this season's questions. His introduction bring with it a number of important points from which we can glean clues toward this season, most tellingly the history of the Souryuu line.

Spoiler warning: Season 1 and Asia Circuit spoilers follow.

Leon phrases his family history as "a fairy tale." This is an important point to take note of, because it points out that the history of the Souryuu family is just as legendary as Aqua Force itself. The tale's basic narrative describes an event that actually happened, but the specifics of how it happened may differ significantly from reality. The entire text of the tale is given below.

"It's a story that took place long, long ago. There were rivalries between several clans here on Cray, and history told the tales of their conflicts. But then their longstanding state of chaos came to an end.

A clan with the mighty power of righteousness appeared, overwhelming the other clans, taking over Cray, and enforcing strict discipline. This absolutely invincible armada was Aqua Force. Because of Aqua Force, the now-orderly Cray entered an age of peace.

And then, my predecessors, the Souryu people who wielded the Aqua Force power, gained power in our world, until they controlled the Seven Seas.

However, these days of glory, which they thought would last forever, suddenly came to an end. All of the Aqua Force soldiers disappeared. No one knows the details of what happened.

The repercussions of the disappearance of that clan extended to this world. Aqua Force's power was lost. As a result, the Souryu people were driven away from the Seven Seas. Somewhere along the line, the very existence of Aqua Force became a legend. Only my family, the last of the Souryu, knows the truth about Aqua Force as we pass it down through the generations."

Several key points are made within Leon's "fairy tale." First, the Souryuu family itself is just one group of remnants of an entire ethnic group, the Souryuu people. And second, this is "ancient history"--old enough that Doctor O points out that he never even saw Aqua Force within his own lifetime up to now, old enough that Leon spent his entire life with Aqua Force sealed. And the style of ship shown in the flashbacks is even older than that, being a Chinese junk rig that dates back from the Han dynasty, opening the possibility for the Souryuu-Force dominance to have taken place as early as 2000-1800 years ago. While this is a far cry from how Aichi explained Vanguard in the first season as being just the game that gets the most of their attention right now, it does provide some sense of scale for how far back the Souryuu line is intended to go. Thematically their history is a classic exodus of an ethnic group, similar to how the Ainu inhabitants of Japan were driven north by the South Korean immigrants that would become today's Japanese, or to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

Third, statements regarding the state of Cray. Leon notes that before Aqua Force's first control of the planet, rivalries between different clans had arisen. Although the anime does love to go on about clan-based clashes, most of the conflicts seen in the card lore are between nations, and the flashbacks accompanying Leon's narration seem to reflect that. The units fighting all belong to the Dragon Empire, United Sanctuary, Star Gate, Zoo or Magallanica; their individual conflicts in these scenes also line up, with Megacolony units fighting the Nova Grapplers (some of whom have ties to the Dimension Police, Megacolony's extradimensional enemy), the Megacolony fighting Granblue (border nations, although Magallanica's status as a physical "country" is dubious) and the Dragon Empire fighting whomever is available (how they are breathing underwater is an open question.) This is interesting because after the Force was sealed but before the Royal-Shadow civil war came about in BT04, these nations were in similar political positions. Dragon Empire was seeking to expand its borders (primarily into the US that they were rammed up against), the Dimension Police and undercover-Police-in-Nova-Grappler that turned up in BT03 and 02 were fighting Megacolony, and Zoo's only opponent was once again, the (at the time) two Magallanica clans. It seems that these conflicts are Cray's natural state, and without any governing force to stop them, the different nations go right back to fighting one another.

Now, what did the Aqua Force accomplish? Nation-clan unity. All of the different clans, and nations as well, obeyed Aqua Force's concept of justice and strict discipline, organizing the entire planet of Cray under one banner. And what did the Royal-Shadow-Kagerou coalition force accomplish? The very same nation-clan unity. As Takuto observed in ride 66, "You'd think this army would be able to fight and vanquish any enemy." Both unifications ended with an outside party sealing the clans responsible for leading Cray. Yet this force made no immediate moves after breaking the armies apart, seemingly satisfied that the planet was once more divided. The outside party that created these seals seems to wish only to preserve Cray's perpetual war between the divided nations, possibly out of fear for what a united army could accomplish against them. The mass invasion seen toward the end of the first season, and the subsequent sealing of the Royal Paladins, Shadow Paladins and Kagerou seems to be a drastic measure taken in response to the clan leaders becoming too powerful--both the Royals and Shadows were seeking to unite the world, only with the Shadow Paladins operating an autocratic society over a federation, so had the outside party merely sealed the Royal Paladins, Blaster Dark's faction would have stepped in right away to fill the power vacuum. And had they both been sealed, it would create a power imbalance between Dragonic Overlord The End and the rest of the world, letting the Dragon Empire (easily the largest of any individual nation) unite Cray in the same way as Aqua Force.

Aichi's conclusion is that Aqua Force disappeared in the same way that the Royal Paladins did. Along with the previous idea, this point clears Aqua Force's name. In the months leading up to BT08's release, Aqua Force was--based on its card lore as a once-sealed set of heroes suddenly returning without explanation to impose their "justice" on Cray--speculated to be the invaders from rides 63-66 that the Royal Paladins led Cray's coalition force against, and were subsequently sealed by. The idea was that AquaFo had somehow unsealed itself by trading the other clans' heroes in. In addition to their lore and the timing of their release coinciding with three other clans being sealed, it would naturally make sense for a new antagonist's clan to be the culprit.

However, since AquaFo was sealed in the same way as Kagerou, the Royal and Shadow Paladins, then there is no room for them to be the culprit as the means of sealing is clearly not in their hands. Furthermore, for AquaFo to also have been sealed by this means and be sealed by it beforehand requires more "masterminds" than if the same group sealed all four clans. Ride 63 clearly posits this mystery antagonist as a solidified, united front rather than two warring factions. Trying to integrate two masterminds makes the theory too complicated.

The trouble with ruling out Aqua Force is that they were the strongest candidate until now, especially given the importance given to the dragon silhouette in OP03 and Aqua Force's introductions of Navalgazer and Blue Storm Dragons. In terms of other Ito productions, on first viewing the silhouette in my mind immediately recalled the Wicked Eraser from Yu-Gi-Oh! R, much in the same way that Phantom Blaster Dragon evoked The Wicked Dreadroot or The Wicked Avatar's Obelisk/Dreadroot forms. Closer examination reveals prominent horns and legs on the silhouette more in line with a traditional Chinese dragon, putting the validity of this comparison into question. Put simply, the best mysteries have their answers in plain site. Cardfight's previous season relied on that model for conveying information about Suiko, but its overarching storyline required less digging, as answers to questions like Takuto's initial appearance were instead squirreled away in subsequent episodes. In all likelihood, we're back to the sealing party being a clan that we've never met, and will still not meet until later episodes.

Point four is the added stress on Earth and Cray being connected. Suiko wanted to manipulate Qualia bearers into synchronizing Cray and Earth in the first season, to cause the cardfights on Earth to permanently shift the power balance on Cray, although she did this without a particular favorite as to who the balance would shift towards. Leon's narrative however, describes the Souryuu people from falling into decline after Aqua Force was sealed, going from unrivaled dominance over the seven seas to a fringe island people shrouded in legend. This is the first time that we hear of Cray affecting Earth on a large scale, as opposed to Earth affecting Cray, and establishes that the connection runs both ways. Leon seems to be manipulating this principle in the reverse of how Suiko did--to bring his family back into power over the world, he cardfights with the Aqua Force clan that they are connected (possibly synchronized to), so that the Aqua Force on Cray will become unsealed and rule over Cray once more. If Aqua Force dominates Cray, then it follows that the Souryuu family dominate Earth.

As a closing point on Souryuu history, Leon does not actually make reference to "cards" in the history. The way in which he talks about Aqua Force as wielded by the Souryuu people refers to it as "the Aqua Force power" suggesting that rather than their dominance coming from a card game, the Souryuu people had some other means of connecting themselves to Aqua Force. Given that the series openly mocked the idea of an ancient card game back in ride 84, it's unlikely that Cray's previous interactions with Earth were in the fashion of a two-thousand-year-old TCG.

Note that Leon is lying in paragraph 4. First he states that "no one" knows what happened, but when explaining his motivations he references a "seal," suggesting that there is an unstated portion of this "fairy tale" that refers to the Aqua Force being sealed, which as mentioned is a fact already corroborated by the card lore. In paragraph 5 he says "My family [...] knows the truth about Aqua Force" expanding the scope of knowledge to the entire Souryuu family. All we can really conclude from this is that Leon is not an exclusively reliable narrator. In addition to this, the Souryuu people have a prophecy regarding Leon himself, recorded here for reference;

"When a star in the eastern sky glitters, a Souryu child shall come. From infancy, that child will be embraced by the wind and proclaim justice throughout the world. All nations will witness the second coming of the Souryu. That's a prophecy passed down to my people, the Souryu. And I am that Souryu child!

I will be victorious at this VF Circuit and make it known to humans all over the world...that Aqua Force has come back! That's when the seal will be lifted, and the day will come when my family once more holds sway over the world."
The star in the eastern sky may be a reference to the end of season 1, which does indeed have a "star" (actually "His" inner circle) rise up in the eastern sky (the sky of Japan.) Confusingly, the part stating that a Souryu child "shall come" does not seem to refer to the birth of the child, but instead to them coming to the land of that eastern sky, Japan.

The verb used in the prophesy itself is 来る kiru, which in Japanese usually refers to the direction of coming or approaching to a place, not to coming into existence as is common in English. Interestingly, the prophecy itself is chronologically the first Earth-recorded mention of contact with Cray and of PSY Qualia, which the Souryuu family knows as "the wind." Compare Cray's legends from ride 64, in which Qualia is only implied through mention of "vanguards" that would determine the outcome of conflicts on Cray.

"When those two activated their Psyqualia for the first time, they became the Vanguards told of in our legends. The ones who will deal with the chaos on our world and lead us down the correct path. The true power of Psyqualia involves synchronizing those who possess that ability with our world. [...] Similar situations have happened in the past. But each time, the former Vanguards were leaders..."
In these last two lines, "He" made the first known mention of the Souryuu family in the series, suggesting the connection between a human vanguard becoming a leader on Earth coinciding with a clan's wartime dominance on Cray.

Unlike Aichi but more similar to Ren, Leon is able to use his Qualia outside of a fight, visually represented by a clouded blue sky--even in indoor locations. Leon is repeatedly framed with these representations throughout the episode, even when his Qualia isn't otherwise indicated as active, and he uses the wind not just to guide his cardfights but also to determine who his partner in battle will be, and to thrust Aichi into a vision of Cray similar to the one that Takuto brought him into back in 66. This use of a backdrop visual is the first time that the Circuit has used other indicators to signify a use of Qualia; back in season 1 a gathering of flames had this position. This implies that Leon's Qualia is in some way on the same level as Ren and Aichi's once were, building up his power and reinforcing the Messianic imagery that the Souryuu legends characterize him with.

This is also comparable to how OP03 frames Aichi in a similar sky toward the end, making these two out as rival counterparts.

Leon says that he's going to test Aichi to see if "it"--presumably the Qualia he sensed from Sendou--was real. Why does he want to know? Why is it important to Leon that Aichi have PSY Qualia? What we need to keep in mind is that in a fight between cardfighters with PSY Qualia, Earth and Cray become synchronized. This was Takuto's reasoning behind distributing Qualia to Chris, Aichi and Ren, but we aren't entirely clear on what Takuto's long-term goal is. Leon's known goal is the total revival of the Souryuu family's rule, and by necessity the revival of Aqua Force. Synchronizing their fight will therefore allow the Force to defeat the Gold Paladins, giving them considerable weight as a faction and solidifying their strength by showing them to the inhabitants of Cray as stronger than the inheritors to the Royal-Shadow coalition. It's important to Leon that Aichi's Qualia be active because without it, this is just another cardfight.

Also note that because both Kamui in 83 and Leon in 90 identify Aqua Force as being used exclusively by the Souryuu family, Gillian and Charlene are most likely either Leon's sisters or cousins, as they would have to be of the Souryuu family line themselves to have access to the clan. Their presence in flashbacks to Leon's childhood backs this. The Souryuu history implies that the once-massive population of Souryuu people has now dwindled down to a small family, but based on the actual size of that family, the sisters may either be very distant cousins created through selective marriages to guarantee "Souryuu purity" across generations, or direct siblings intended to assist him in revival of Souryuu power. The direct siblings case is less likely due to their differing surname (Chen) but the girls being cousins or half-sisters to Leon is possible. The emphasis on "strict discipline" and the general Naval theme of Aqua Force, taken into account with their connection to the Souryuu family, suggests that Souryuu children were brought up in a strict environment that emphasized obedience to senior "officers" or family members, with Leon and his sisters/cousins being raised for the sole purpose of fulfilling the Souryuu legend. And Leon's determination to fulfill this legacy can be glimpsed from a young age in these flashbacks, making him out as someone who believes wholeheartedly in the revival of the Souryuu.

On closing notes, Leon uses the phrase "my" Vanguard, putting him more in line with the manga cast, and also separating him from characters like Aichi, Kai and Ren, who were presumebly influenced by Daigo.