This piece will have Texhnolyze spoilers! I recommend watching it if you’re up to it, it’s a weird and interesting (if painful) series.
There’s a trilogy of novels by M. John Harrison about an expanse of space known as the Kefahuchi Tract. Humans, aliens and other entities migrate across space and time to the Tract, lured by rumors of fame, fortune and miracles. What they find instead is the event horizon littered with detritus left by countless dead civilizations, each of which came to pillage from the skeletons left behind by their predecessors. The skeletons are pillaged in turn. The protagonists of these novels—Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space—are stuck in a hard place, unable to escape what they are. Each of them is already a living corpse, unable to escape themselves. In Light and Nova Swing (I still need to read Empty Space) the “miracles” of the Kefahuchi Tract and its derivatives are those which allow its lucky visitors to become something else. This may be for good or for ill; suffering a fate worse than death is in itself a change. But in a universe decaying through the slow cancer of entropy, to defy that disease and change is (in Harrison’s cosmos) an almost impossible thing that can not be taken for granted.
The Kefahuchi Tract books came to mind for me when I was sifting through my feelings at the end of the anime series Texhnolyze. Like Harrison’s novels, the world of Texhnolyze is ruthlessly nihilistic. The city of Lux tears itself to pieces after being conquered by a fascist dictator. Our heroes escape to try and petition the world’s surface dwellers for aid, only to discover that the only remnants of humanity there are fatalistic ghosts. The inhabitants of the Class, those wealthy technocrats who rule Lux from above, are murdered by duelling factions within their own camp and by the resentful city populace. Ran, the girl who embodies the soul of the city, is butchered and abused by Kano the dictator. Onishi, leader of the Oregano mob faction, destroys the obelisk that holds Ran’s mind, and in the process roots Kano’s cyborgs to the ground for possibly thousands of years. Kano himself is nothing more than an inbred child convinced he is a god and that the people he has ruined are nothing but his own hallucination. And at the very end of the story, our protagonist Ichise dies and humanity is finally extinguished. After twenty two episodes of doom and gloom, the final result of his efforts is the worst case scenario.
Near the end of the series, the characters begin speaking constantly about stasis. Each of these factions tried their best to evolve, to become something better than human. It’s a concern that’s haunted Chiaki Konaka’s work, from Serial Experiments Lain to Digimon Tamers to Ultraman Gaia. Are we our worst enemy? Is the only way to escape our own destructive trajectory to become something other? Can we hold onto those parts of ourselves that are good if we do so? Lain becomes a god through the internet, and loses touch with her best friend; the monsters that haunt Digimon Tamers and Ultraman Gaia were either created by humans or punishing them for their greed. These earlier worlds still hold hope, a seed from which people can save each other. Texhnolyze has no such seed. There is no hope for humanity.
But there is something. At the beginning of Texhnolyze, Ichise is a wild beast. He fights for a living, he lashes out, he loses an arm and a leg. As the story continues he joins an organization and begins to fight for a reason rather than for his own compulsions. He never becomes likable; he kills for an amoral organization, he has no compunction in hurting others. But as the rest of the cast runs up against their limits one by one in the second half of the series, Ichise is the only one who keeps running forward. He dies as the only human being remaining in a world that has killed itself. That he died a human being is not an inevitable thing. He fought long and hard to become somebody who was capable of feeling, somebody more than his own biology. When he projects a flower from his mechanical arm in the moments before his death, to give himself some comfort before he passes away, that was when I started crying. I knew that if Ichise could find peace with himself, I could too. Anyone could.
Fate cannot be defied. At the halfway point of Texhnolyze, Ran prophesies that Ichise will kill many people. In the final episode, when Ichise finally accepts his own mechanical limbs and becomes Doc’s final success, the only means by which he can exert his newfound agency is by fulfilling this prophecy. Ichise cannot save Ran; he chases her ghost without realizing that he gave her up the moment he left for the surface. The most he can do is throw her corpse into the abyss. He kills Kano, but nothing comes of that but one more death. Ichise cannot escape violence. Perhaps it is his nature. But in the final hours of his life, he evolves: now, he is killing for a cause.