Perfection is never quite perfect.
What They Say:
In a near future world after the last great war, most of mankind now lives in a handful of city states. There, for the privileged elite, life should be perfect. But for young Sion, the only thing perfect has been the nightmare his life has become since letting a strange boy called Rat spend the night in his apartment. Banished to the outskirts of the city and stripped of all privileges for helping the mysterious stranger who has since disappeared, Sion now finds himself in even worse danger as his inquiry into a new series of mysterious deaths results in his being arrested on suspicion of murder! But even as Sion is being sent to the city’s Correctional institute, the long missing Rat reappears to rescue him! Now, on the run, the two young men have only one chance at survival: uncover the mysterious secrets that lie at the sinister heart of No. 6!
The show was presented in English and Japanese 2.0 stereo language tracks with English subtitles. The majority of the plot is dialogue-driven, so the lack of surround sound didn’t affect the experience. There were a few times when the background noise overwhelmed the dialogue, but that’s an issue that’s practically universal. Other than that, there were no issues with the audio tracks.
The show was presented 16:9 anamorphic widescreen and it’s very pretty to look at. The colors are sharp and bright and the action was crisp.
No. 6 comes in a standard DVD case with a plastic insert on a spindle housing one disk and a base built into the inside of the back cover for the second. The majority of the front cover is taken up with a picture of Sion and Rat standing in a street in the slum they live in outside of the city. No. 6 looms behind them, hazy and oppressive. Sion stands in front, looking thoughtful and sad, while Rat stands behind him and just off to the left, arms crossed, ready for anything. No. 6 is printed on the bottom left-hand corner in thick, smudged letters, as if it were painted on there. To the right are the Aniplex and Sentai Filmworks logos and centered at the top is “Complete Collection.” The spine is divided between the images of Sion and Rat, both smiling, and the show’s title, which is block, but in the same font style. The back cover is roughly divided between text and pictures. Written at the top is: “In a city built on the ashes of our world what you don’t know…Will kill you!” Underneath that, framed in a rough hexagon of light gray, is the plot synopsis, and underneath that, in three rows of three, are various images from the show. Flanking the images are Sion on the left and Rat on the right. The show’s specifications are listed under that and take up the final portion of the case.
Disk one features a picture of young Sion standing on his patio during the rainstorm. The wind blows his hair and his eyes are wide and his mouth open. The show’s title is written in large font in the upper left-hand corner. The episodes are listed on the right side of the screen with each one segregated into its own hexagon. Underneath that in a yellow box are the language and special feature options. The opening theme is played on a five-second loop. Disk two is set up the same way except that instead of Sion we get a picture of Rat singing.
There aren’t many extras for this series, which may be a sticking point for some fans. I found the Japanese promo spots to be interesting and the Japanese commentary tracks were pretty cool, although you have to read them in subtitles (unless you speak Japanese), but there’s nothing here that I would go back and watch again.
One of the key differences between science fiction and Fantasy and other genres is the amount of world building required. The created universe is just as important—if not more important—than the other elements, such as plot and character. The popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is due in large part to Middle Earth, which explains why so many (myself included) can forgive its less-than-stellar plotting or characterization.
The point is that a unique, fully-realized world can save a work from its lesser elements, and that’s the case with No. 6. taken as a whole, No. 6 is an interesting, if under-realized, dystopian Romance that introduces interesting concepts but never adequately explains or uses them. However, the world it builds, and even more importantly, the relationship between the two main characters make this worth watching. No. 6 has one of the best, most honest depictions of a homosexual romance I’ve ever seen. If it can even be classified as such. Before we get into that, though, let’s dive into the plot.
Humanity nearly annihilates itself in a series of nuclear wars. The few that survive band together and form the Babylon Project, resulting in the creation of six “perfect” city-states. Sion lives in No. 6 and is on the fast-track to a bright future. His scores place him within the elite class. Along with this classification come certain privileges for Sion and his mother: a beautiful house, plenty of food, and general security. While this seems to be a dream situation, Sion isn’t happy. He doesn’t act out or bemoan his situation, but it’s obvious that he feels trapped. He daydreams in class, and when a rare storm passes through the city, he throws his patio doors open and screams in the wind.
Perhaps this dissatisfaction is what prompts him to save the wounded boy that walks into his room through those same patio doors. Rat had just escaped from a group of hunters that had been stalking him through the sewers. It wasn’t a clean getaway, though, as one of them managed to shoot him in the shoulder. Sion treats his wounds and shares his food and the bond between the two boys is powerful and immediate, but the moment doesn’t last. Rat runs away in the morning, leaving Sion to face the consequences of harboring a fugitive. His elite status is revoked and he and his mother must move to a less affluent part of town where she runs a bakery and he works as a park custodian. It’s not a bad life, but it’s tragic in that Sion isn’t living up to his full potential.
Sion’s life changes again when he comes across a corpse in the park. The body is desiccated—withered like a mummy—and a bee erupts from the body like a burst pimple. The next day Sion’s co-worker rapidly ages before his eyes and a bee emerges from him as well. The authorities quickly arrive and accuse Sion of murder. They haul him away to the Correctional Institute, but thanks to Rat’s timely arrival, Sion manages to escape the city.
From that point on No. 6 rules both boys’ lives: Sion wants to solve the epidemic of the parasitic bees, and Rat wants to destroy the city and everyone within it. Their desires come to a head when they discover the true secret behind No. 6: that the city was built around an alien intelligence and every citizen within the city’s walls is a potential test subject in a grand experiment to awaken and control it.
The mystery behind No. 6 is interesting and it certainly helps keep the plot interesting, but it falls short at the end. The concept of the parasitic bees is odd enough to be intriguing, but their origins are never adequately explained, and the alien intelligence is never explained at all. It could be something primal from the Earth that had been hidden and worshipped by people from time immemorial, or it could be something else. The explanations are never given and the audience is expected to just accept it. Under normal circumstances this would be difficult, but given that the thrust of the series was uncovering the secret of No. 6, it’s downright frustrating. Even worse, the intelligence serves as a deus ex machina. As an ill-defined entity, it possesses ill-defined powers, and it brings down the walls of No. 6 in one fell swoop, drastically changing the social and political dynamic of the society and doing so in a way that’s far too easy and unsatisfying.
That said, while the payoff is a letdown, the characters do not. The relationship between Sion and Rat is complicated and seeing it unfold is highly entertaining. They complement each other. Rat is physically strong and streetwise, while Sion is intellectual and naïve. Rat is constantly guarded and professes to look out only for himself (although he contradicts himself time and again when Sion’s involved), and Sion is open and selfless. Their attitudes are perhaps best exemplified by their approach to No. 6: Sion wants to save its inhabitants while Rat wants it and everyone in it to burn.
Their relationship sounds like the standard Odd Couple setup, but despite their differences, the two boys respect and care for each other. There are times when Rat can be condescending and overbearing, but it’s clear that he acts this way because he doesn’t quite know how to handle Sion. He wants to protect his friend, but in doing so he ends up at times treating him like a child.
Over the course of the series their respect and mutual affection blossoms into a real love.
I said before that I wasn’t sure if I could call this a homosexual relationship. Naturally it fits the definition, but (and here’s the academic coming out in me) labeling it as homosexual positions it as being “other” and their love is never treated as something different. No one—the boys included—act like it’s something outside of normal societal mores either inside No. 6 or out, and there’s this feeling that it exists in and of itself, almost like there’s this bubble surrounding them. It may not be that Rat and Sion are attracted to their own gender. They may just be attracted to each other.
This is complicated (in a good way) by the fluid way that gender is sometimes treated. When he’s not saving Sion, Rat is an actor who seems to specialize in female roles. There isn’t enough information given to know if this is unusual or perhaps some kind of throwback to the days of Shakespeare, but we do know that he has admirers and he did not want Sion to see him act.
Then there’s the character Dogkeeper—an orphan that was raised by dogs and now manages a motel where he rents dogs to customers to keep them warm at night. Dogkeeper insists that he is a boy, but there is a telling moment later in the series when that is cast into doubt. We’re never told specifically if Dogkeeper is a boy or girl, and it may be that ultimately it’s not important: that gender, like sexuality, is more conditional than we typically think.
It’s those hints of sexual and gender politics along with the strong character arcs of Sion and Rat that make this anime worth watching. In an odd way they give glimpses of a world far more different from ours than does the weird technology or more out-of-this-world concepts, and that’s really what I would have liked to have seen more of. The show loses its way for me when the focus moves away from the boys to the mystery of No. 6, which is why it ultimately falls flat.
The gender and sexual politics underlying this show are what saves it from a so-so plot and an unsatisfying end. The relationship between Sion and Rat is the real driving force behind this series and the only reason to watch it. Underneath the science fiction and Fantasy tropes lies a love story and the fact that this love story happens to be between two sixteen-year-old boys is incidental. It’s just love. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese commentaries for each episode, Japanese promo spots, Clean, opening & closing animations
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: C+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection