Simoun: A Tale of Ri Maajons and why Yuri is arguably the most pure and sacred form of love

February 24, 2009

“In the world of Daikuuriku, everyone is born female, and chooses which sex they wish to become at age 17. In this world, the peaceful theocracy of Simulacrum is guarded by magical flying machines called “Simoun”, which can only be piloted by maidens [when they kiss each other] who hasn`t chosen a sex yet. Simouns can activate a magical power known as “Ri Maajon” that can destroy large numbers of enemies at once.” – AniDB

Simoun

All this may sound like a sorry excuse to feature provocatively dressed lesbian mecha musumes blowing up bunch of airships, but there are plenty of meanings to be found beneath that deceitful facade. You see, only maidens (or ‘shoujos’) can ride Simoun and draw Ri Maajons because they have yet to be “stained” by choosing a sex, and becoming adults in an adult world. From my observations, Ri Maajons are powered by these maidens’ honest and genuine feelings and beliefs, as opposed to duties to worldly matters like military and politics. This is why when forced to perform Ri Maajon against their will, they have failed time after time. Limone couldn’t when pressured to obey Dominura, Kaimu failed to even pilot Simoun when forced to become Alti’s partner and we all know the terrifying consequences of Neviril’s Emerald Ri Maajon with Amurai. In the final episode, maidens who were ordered to shoot down Neviril and Aeru performed Morning Calm Ri Maajon instead, a ceremonial Ri Maajon as a farewell to a comrade departing on a journey.

simoun

What hit me the most was when the ‘bad guy’ (who ordered the shooting) reflected on his youth, as he too was maidens before becoming an adult. It was just wonderful see the guy being immersed into the transcedent beauty of Ri Maajons instead of becoming angry, and sad at the realisation that he no longer has the maiden’s heart to perform such a Ri Maajon.

In a way, Simoun is a tale of Ri Maajons. It’s an exploration of the maidens’ feelings and state of minds being expressed through Ri Maajans not only in the sky, but also whenever they’re talking, laughing and crying with each other. The essence of Ri Maajon has less to do with pretty lines and shapes and more with feelings, thoughts and choices of these girls. One must also remember again that these girls haven’t chosen their sex yet. Therefore what we see in Simoun is a journey through feelings and thoughts of these girls, before they eventually become adults. To more succintly describe the essence of Ri Maajon and my attraction to it, it must be its transcendent and temporal beauty. Some may see the girls being naive, immature, but there is beauty to be found in their innocence, pure joy, that is defiant and rebellious, but also honest, genuine and uncompormising. It’s free and not chained by the cruel machinations of adult world. It is also temporal; it is beautiful because it does not last forever.

simoun

One exception is the character of Neviril and Aeru. The above screencap is of Simoun‘s last scene featuring Neviril and Aeru doing a Waltz. No clue as to exactly when or where this takes place. Through Emerald Ri Maajon, they seem to have successfully trascend both time and space, free from worldy affairs and expectations. I think the comparison to Brokeback Mountain is appropriate here. In Brokeback Mountain, there is no expectations from society, what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, no family business and duties to succumb to. Only two men losing themselves in forces of nature, free from everything else, and all that remains is their pure, transcendent and sadly temporal love.

brokeback mountain

This also ties into Wabisabi’s insight on the androgynous beauty and appeal of of BL: a projection of romance where marriage, childbirth, family obligations, money, social status does not come into play. All factors that are part of the equation of heterosexual relationships are removed, and both persons in the relationship need not compromise their identities and ambitions. This differs from most romance stories that examines how couples deal with such real life issues.

A-ae-ru indeed. In Simoun, it refers to the highest, most sacred and pure form of love. Could one also call it Yuri Ri Maajon?

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23 Responses to “Simoun: A Tale of Ri Maajons and why Yuri is arguably the most pure and sacred form of love”

  1. animekritik Says:

    So the idea is that because it is, to put it perhaps too crassly, “fruitless”, this sort of love is purer and less bound to all sorts of external pressures?? (maybe i’m getting it wrong, i skipped some parts coz i was afraid of reading spoilers). that’s very interesting. btw, the first pic is not a screenshot, is it?? that’s way too pretty!

  2. gaguri Says:

    Well the idea is that (or idea I tried to point out at least…) it’s pure because it’s not influenced by external factors, such as family, business, society, etc. These are powerful forces that can manipulate relationships, determine what is right and what is wrong, but like in Brokeback Mountain, when these two men set aside everything worldly and embrace each other, I think that attraction itself is love at its purest and most sacred form. And in my observation from Simoun and what I’ve read online, Yuri anime seems to be good at depicting that kind of romance.

    Doesn’t mean I think this kind of love is ‘superior’ than other romance. Just that, well, it’s ‘pure’ ^_^b

    *oh and that is unfortunately not a screenshot as you probably already guessed…

  3. TheBigN Says:

    I never really looked at it in that angle, and considering how there was a nice focus on the Simoun pilot’s main roles as priestesses, the angle of pureness makes much sense here. 😛

  4. gaguri Says:

    I agree. It’s nice to see how, in Simoun, only priestess (or ‘shoujos’) are able to pilot Simouns (or one could call it a mecha…) for an interesting reason, and not just to see girls in tight pilot suits.

  5. omo Says:

    By the way, they dance a waltz, not a tango.

  6. gaguri Says:

    x_X

    how embarrassing. Must have been the music that had me mixed up. There was that element of pushing and pulling that reminded me of tango.

  7. OGT Says:

    All I really have to say is:

    1) yay for otome (purity is probably my biggest vice)
    2) now I want to go rewatch Simoun now, as I’ve meant to for a year or so now
    3) and now I feel more of a need to address Japanese aesthetic concepts in anime, after I read more up on them. Although, honestly, their aesthetic in general can be summed up as “it’s like this, but not, but is,” it seems to me. Which is a Good Thing.

  8. ETERNAL Says:

    That’s a nice way of looking at the genre actually. I don’t have much experience in yuri (I’ve only seen the first season of MariMite and Kanazuki no Miko), but you seem to have hit the nail on the head. To be honest, the first line of your post is exactly what I first thought of the premise of the show, but given its praise I’m sure there’s actual merit to the series. I’ll definitely watch it at some point.

  9. gaguri Says:

    @OGT
    Ah, I think you just named another aspect to Ri Maajon’s appeal; that it is a love that does not speak. Too often we have to listen to why characters had to act this way, or what they are feeling inside (through words) but in Simoun we don’t always know why characters made such a decision, or what they’re feeling and thinking inside. One example is Alti’s choice to be a woman at the very end. Did the couple choose to remain friendly sister like old times again, or did they decide to be lovers in a lesbian way?

    @ETERNAL
    Yea I’m not really the expert on Yuri either ^^b (watched a bit of Candy Boy, watched the first season of Koihime Musou), and I’m interested in trying MariMite. But I’m bit hesistant because it’s going to be 4 seasons long, and I would personally prefer to spend that length experiencing two or more shorter stories.

  10. OGT Says:

    Marimite isn’t really that long–the first two seasons are 13 episodes long each, the third season is an OVA, and the fourth is another 13 episodes, I think. I’ve still only seen the first two seasons, and you can really stop at the end of a season and go do something else for a bit and come back later.

    As for never knowing why Simoun’s characters made a decision, that’s a strength of Junji Nishimura (and maybe even anime) in general. true tears (another Nishimura work) was much the same in that part of the viewing experience was trying to understand characters who were much more complex than they seemed on the surface. More mainstream anime’s been getting much better at this recently (or else I’ve just noticed it more), a fact which greatly pleases me.

  11. gaguri Says:

    Your mention of True Tears is interesting (I haven’t seen it). From those whose opinions I trust, it seems that the characters in True Tears weren’t very likable, which made it hard for viewers to care about what’s going on beneath the surface. Of course these are opinions only, but I have a history of sharing their perspectives on how anime tries to connect with viewers through characters. What I can say about Simoun is that it’s very easy to care about these characters because I found them so likable. Simoun has assembled a fantastic cast of characters, it’s really a shame that I have few problems with its pacing and finer points of telling a story.

  12. OGT Says:

    I wouldn’t say they were “unlikable” (I found them no more or less so than characters in Simoun–and I remember not liking Mamiina until it was basically too late), but I can easily see how people might say that about the true tears characters. Looking at your MAL list and mine, and making A Broad General Assumption on Shaky Ground, you’ll probably be fine. I might also be partial because true tears changed how I interacted with anime (for better? for worse? who knows), so that’s a factor. Also, I do more empathy than sympathy, which might also affect me.

    I’m guessing that there’s meant to be an “a” between “have” and “few problems”–when I watched it, the best parts were episodes 10-20, I think. The rest was buildup and denouement, and there was a hump to get over very early on for me. Or something.

  13. gaguri Says:

    Ah then I’ll take a note to check out True Tears sometime.


  14. I grasp (from comment #2) that you don’t think purity means superiority – so why ‘sacred’? Or does sacredness also not mean superiority? And is the sacredness a product of the purity?

    Sorry to throw multiple questions at once, but I thought the choice of words was quite interesting and might be worth unpicking – I might be wandering off topic, though, so don’t feel obliged to spend too much time considering this if you don’t think it is that interesting.

  15. gaguri Says:

    How can you be off topic, that’s the very title of this post 😀

    As for why being ‘pure’ and ‘sacred’ does not mean superiority for me, I guess looking at Kare Kano helps. The relationship between Yukino and Soichiro is constantly being affected by real life problems, they are always calculating, thinking of how much time they should spend with each other and how much to spend studying. So although their relationship isn’t pure per se, there’s a great deal of intrigue, complexity and profoundness in them striving to make their relationship work in such a reality. This is something that relationships in Simoun tries to trascend, because Ri Maajons work only if you separate yourself from worldly matters.

    As for why I think the relationships in Simoun is sacred, that is something I don’t think I can put precisely into words, although being pure has a lot to do with it. I suppose it’s similar to how I see child’s innocent mind or a nun’s devotion to Virgin Mary as being sacred. There is a sense of being sacred and not something to be muddled with.


  16. I’ve written a few posts with almost entirely unrelated titles in my time, but maybe that’s just me! Perhaps part of the quality of sacredness is that it can’t be put into words and can be pretty arbitrary, in a ‘take of your shoes, for this is holy ground’ way (I wouldn’t ask why the ground was holy – it just is).

    Also, if the synopses I’ve read of Simoun are right, aren’t the mecha religious objects as well as military tools? I might have misremembered that, of course.

  17. gaguri Says:

    The way these mechas (which they call Simoun) are treated is not so simple. For example, they are originally regarded as holy chariot of gods, which can only be piloted by priestess. They don’t call it piloting, they call it ‘praying’. They don’t call the group of Simoun a ‘team’ or ‘squad’, they call it a ‘choir’. But, as some of them start to learn, Simoun may not be as sacred as they initially thought. Maybe they are just machines.

    Or they thought, haha…it seems that it wasn’t just another machine after all!

    So yes…it’s very multi-layered, just like the characters and plots of Simoun.

  18. hashi Says:

    Excellent piece and excellent discussion on my favorite anime of all time. I have just been looking at a couple of episodes, and it has lost none of its savor in the three years since it was on.

    When it was airing, and its popularity was so low, I remember hoping that it would reveal its excellence to more people in the fullness of time. Perhaps this is coming true.

    I’m sure I also have crasser reasons for liking yuri, but you capture its purity. Your comment on Brokeback Mountain was enlightening, too.

    I liked what OGT said about Nishimura Junji. true tears was no Simoun, but I found it deep and fascinating. The characters may not be perfect people, but since when were perfect people interesting? I liked them all, especially the unpredictable Noe. And the protagonist’s unlikeable mother was one of the most interesting characters of all.

    In my opinion, the most recent series of Marimite was as good as season one. It rekindled my admiration for the whole show, as season three did not.

  19. gaguri Says:

    Yea, this post had some of the more enthusiastic discussions on my blog 😀

    I like the idea of purity in Simoun, and I think they really tried to drive that theme through Ri Maajans, which don’t work when interferred with responsibilities, compromises, going against your feelings, but only work when you are true to yourself and your partner. Ri Maajons are various expressions of that, including Emerald ri Maajon, where Aeru and Neviril can be true to themselves and each other, and outside the realm of adult responsibilities. The highest and most sacred form of love.

  20. WanderingKnight Says:

    Well, that’s a very nice explanation for the yuri aspect of Simoun, which was the one I disregarded the most, since I consider it of significantly lesser importance in light of the fact that a lot of people seemed to drop the show on the very hint of lesbian girls… which made the show lose the impact it should have had.

    But yes, the dichotomy between adults and children is the main point of inflection of the series. Every single characters’ conflicts has a tight relationship with it. And what I found amazing in Simoun, which is the same thing I found amazing in NGE, was the fact that, for once, escaping from society’s alienating grasp is put forward as a good thing, instead of dismissing it as children’s fantasies like it happens in a vast majority of anime. Of course, NGE, through Shinji, was much more visceral and direct in its accusation against society’s preconceptions–Simoun is, in retrospect, much more toned down. But still, it’s a theme that attracts me to no end, and it’s dealt with brilliantly in both series.

    Makes me sad that a lot of people dismissed Simoun by its low production budget and the blatant yuri content.

  21. gaguri Says:

    I wouldn’t say those feelings and thoughts free from adult world were necessarily portrayed as “good”. Definitely not as a “bad” thing, but perhaps more in a grey area. It reminds me bit of Koi Kaze in that regard. Was incest relationship necessarily portrayed as a good thing? I wouldn’t say so, but what is undeniable is that it was portrayed as a beautiful thing. And the Ri Maajans fueled by maiden’s genuine and unrestrained feelings were beautiful. Is living true to your feelings regardless of your responsibility a good thing? Whatever we might say later, whether it was good or bad, from different points of view, it is hard not to stare at that sky like that old man, who regret that he no longer has the maiden’s heart to draw so beautifully like Aeru and Neviril.

  22. Aorii Says:

    Okay, I think I see our difference in interpretation, since you’re going into a deeper level of ‘state of mind’ than I was thinking, more than just the emotions floating about and into the fundamental inner peace within their psyche.

    I have to say that while ‘naivety’ and ‘immaturity’ parted a big part, the ‘innocence’ never really came off for me — too much traumatic melodrama (shrug)

  23. gaguri Says:

    melodrama part bothered me too during my first watch (originally rated it 7). I gained lot more appreciation through second viewing, and started really connecting. Not sure the same will apply to you, but your post reminded me a lot of how I initially reacted to the series.


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