Rakuen Tsuiho: The Illusion of Heaven
What if Heaven was not like what we were promised?
I just watched Gen Urobutcher’s movie, Rakuen Tsuiho: Expelled from Paradise. And let me tell you, there’s A LOT of philosophical themes present in the movie.
But first, let’s get the mundane details out of the way. Graphics: awesome (5/5). Music and soundtrack: surprisingly great (4.5/5). Angela is a twin-tailed loli in a mecha suit; +100 points. There, now with that gone, let’s move into the real shit.
In the future, due to a vague, unexplained macro-disaster, the entire planet Earth now resembles a fusion of the Middle East and Fallout. Those who managed to survive on Earth remain in small pockets of post-apocalyptic civilization, while the more privileged have evolved to become digital humans living in orbit above the Earth in a system known as Deva. These digital humans, living as binary code, have forsaken their meat shells in favor of increased mental acuity and the ability to stretch their mental faculties as far as possible.
The entire story of Rakuen Tsuiho is centered on two protagonists. Angela Balzac, a hot-headed Security agent for Deva, is sent to Earth to investigate Frontier Setter, a mysterious hacker that has disrupted the peace of Deva multiple times. On Earth, she meets Dingo, a cool-headed and chill mercenary. The two then embark on a journey to uncover the mystery of Frontier Setter, a journey that causes Angela to question her existence and unravels the true nature of Deva.
Like most of the stuff Urobutcher makes, Rakuen Tsuiho is not exempt from having multiple philosophical themes stuffed in it. Here, I’ll discuss three of which I’ve found to stand out: the Experience Machine, Plato’s Cave, and meritocracy.
Or also known as the “Pleasure Machine“. It is a thought experiment conceived by philosopher Robert Nozick to test the limits of hedonism. The thought experiment requires you to answer a simple question:
Suppose there is a machine that offers you all the pleasure that you can have and discards all the unpleasures that you might currently have or will experience. Would you go inside it?
See, the basic idea of hedonism is maximizing pleasure, while minimizing unpleasure. Should there be a machine that eliminates all kinds of unpleasure, from physical to spiritual, surely a true hedonist would choose to live within the machine and forsake reality. Why am I bringing this up? Deva, or the platform where digital humans live, is nothing but a simulation of reality. It is not reality in itself, but rather a projection of the ideal environment made up by human desires; in short, it is man-made.
In Rakuen Tsuiho, we see Angela telling Dingo how life is within Deva. She tells Dingo that she has visited a galaxy 10 billion light-years away and has touched subatomic particles. The question is: Did she actually do that stuff, or was it just the experience of her doing it? Perhaps what she thought she had accomplished was merely an experience simulated by Deva’s massive computing powers.
The discrepancy between actually doing something compared to merely experiencing is further shown in Angela’s incapability to adapt to life on Earth. As soon as she arrives in town, she is confronted by three street thugs. Though earlier we see Angela capable of marvelous hand-to-hand combat, she quickly falls victim to sickness because she disregards her corporeal body’s needs of rest and nutrition. Also, though she claims to have experienced degrees of satisfaction in Deva that is unattainable by the human body on Earth, she still relishes in the satisfaction of eating hot porridge while sick.
It’s rather complicated when you think about it, though, but next, we’ll be discussing one of the most profound allegories in Western philosophy.
Ah the most famous allegory in Western philosophy. The entire movie reeks of it. If you’re not familiar with Plato’s allegory…
Suppose that there are several prisoners chained to a wall of a cave. They are not able to move their heads at all and cannot break free of the chains. Their eyes can only see the wall in front of them. Behind them is a light source and a small path where other people carry puppets. The prisoners can only see shadows of the puppets moving around on the wall. They believe the shadows as their “reality”.
This is how life in Deva is. As a supercomputer, the images projected in Deva are just that: images of reality and not reality in itself. No matter how realistic the world of Deva is, it is merely a computer program. Angela, a citizen of Deva from birth, believes that the world she sees in Deva is reality and we see her dumbfounded or “blinded” when landing on Earth and witnessing a new reality she is not accustomed to. She, who would never get sick on Deva, contracted a fever when she landed. She, who did not require sleep, felt the toll of sleep deprivation.
Her expulsion from Deva represents the first steps that every person must take to exit the Cave and learn about reality. As she spends more time with Dingo and Frontier Setter and sees more of Earth, she becomes convinced that the reality inside of Deva is not actually “reality”, rather just a projection of reality. She then becomes enlightened, and tries to come back into the Cave to let her fellow people know. But, she was met with opposition from the High Council and sentenced to imprisonment because the High Council found her to be a lunatic. Later, after being formally expelled from Deva, she chooses to live on Earth with Dingo. She had accepted that Earth was her new reality and has given up on Deva.
Critique of a Hierarchical Society
This theme makes its presence after the halfway mark of the movie. Basically, life in Deva is not as bliss as we were told to believe. The laws of economics still apply to Deva, and Deva is basically a giant supercomputer that, despite its vastness, has limited memory. It is stated that 98 percent of humans are living in Deva in digital form, meaning that the system needs to effectively manage resources.
How does it do that? Simple, allocate the resources based on one’s worth. How is one’s worth determined? By the central processing unit, or “government”.
Simply put, living in Deva is living in a hierarchical society. The upper class, or “elites”, are provided with more memory because they are deemed to be worth more than the middle- and lower-class. This is subtly obvious during the early parts of Rakuen Tsuiho, when Angela is approached by a man who offers to take her to a “private” and “hi-res” map. This implies that there are restricted maps, or territories, that are only accessible for those with enough resources, or “worth”. These restricted maps offer better amenities, security, or “resolution” (whatever that means) as opposed to the open-access maps.
Since there is limited memory to go around, the system cannot stand inefficiencies. Those who do not contribute to society are subject to deletion or archival incarceration. Those who do not work are demoted from their rank and allotted less memory. To achieve upward social mobility in Deva, one must work and work and work their way to the top. As summarized eloquently by Dingo:
What you can get and what you can accomplish, that’s all determined by the whims of society. Unless you’re constantly currying favors, hunting for compliments, and ingratiating yourself, you can’t make a decent living. Where’s the freedom in a life like that?
I personally believe that this is a critique to our current conception of meritocracy, which believes that if a person is at the bottom of society, it is their fault for not trying hard enough. A person’s worth in society is judged solely by their ranks and possession, not by their innate character. Besides, why live in so-called Heaven if you still need to work your ass off? I thought Heaven was all about jacking off all day and not needing to worry about a single thing.
Those are the three major philosophical themes which I have found to stand out in Rakuen Tsuiho. In sum, I totally recommend this movie. Rakuen Tsuiho is a great movie that not only shows a decent mix of action and cool visuals, it also challenges the viewer by presenting philosophical questions that we tend to avoid in our daily discussion. Now, I know there might be a lot more; I would appreciate if you readers were to share your opinion about Rakuen Tsuiho and its themes.
To end this review, let me just quote Dingo one more time because he is hands-down the best character in the movie.
Maybe you really have been set free from the shackles of physical bodies, but aren’t you locked in a prison that’s much more insidious? In the cage of a manufactured reality.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned for my next anime review!
Originally published at ahotaku39.wordpress.com on January 30, 2016.