Perhaps it has been the level of research I have been doing into Buddhist history and perhaps it has been the fairly straightforward course the story has been following for the last two volumes that managed to lull me into a bit of a false sense of security. The appearance of the fully Texhnolyzed soldiers, the Shapes, firmly reminded me once again that this series was not a present day series. It came as something of a shock to see them and the heavy energy weapon based firepower they bring to the city of Lukuss.
Curiously it seems their weaponry has been assembled by the people of Gabe. If you look at the weapon parts found by Ichise and Onishi you see the weapon trigger guards of the rifles the Shapes use. Exactly why the people of Gabe are making such apocalyptic weapons is directly thanks to the visions their seer has and the future she predicts.
A point about Ran that intriegues me is the change in how we view her ability. Back in volume one the Chief Sage of Gabe described her talent as being the ability to see the near future and to see "only one version of many possibilities". Yet it seems clear now that this was a polite fiction that the Sages of Gabe maintain with all outsiders, including many of the Organo. The whole structure of Gabe relies on Ran predicting not merely a future but rather the future in total and in detail.
This reliance on the powers of the prophets creates a unique social structure quite unlike the other groups we have seen. Gabe has taken fatalism to an extreme, even to the point of not even trying to prevent their own being murdered despite knowing that such was about to occur. As the Chief Sage admonishes an underling the concept that it was murder is the wrong way to approach it, this is merely the pre-ordained ending of that person's life and they really can't do anything about it. Such seems to fit with the general theme of Texhnolyze about how to live and what it means to live.
Ichise is very much struggling with this as he interacts with the various groups. Thanks to Ran's ability he now knows that his future is likely to be a dark and dismal one involving the complete destruction of, well, everything. The experiment that is Lukuss is destined to end and soon. Worse yet Ichise is going to be the last person standing by the sounds of it.
Or, is he?
The problem I have with Ran's predictions is that we have seen her being wrong. The first time we see her predictive skill she is seeing the death of the Chief Sage of Gabe at the hands of, what we later find out to be, Salvation Union forces. Yet that does not come to pass. Yoshi successfully fights the would be assassins off and the Chief Sage lives. Yet now we find that Gabe has its entire social order predicated around the infalability of an oracle that we have already had demonstrated to us as being very capable of error.
Indeed the central point of the series seems to be outlining the importance of the will to live even when everything points to death being certain. After all we watch Ichise cope not only with the brutal and unfair lynching of his father, then his mother sucummbing to a consumptive disease shortly afterwards, him doing whatever degrading task he needs to do to earn money to survive to finally losing an arm & a leg not to mention being shot. Still he refused to give up steadfastly trying to live despite what has been thrown at him. I also doubt it is an accident that the place Ichise called home, the sewer tunnels of Lukuss, was filled with the debris of broken Texhnolyze units.
He used to revile Texhnolyze too, preferring to beat one of the Organo enforcers that cost him an arm and a leg with his natural arm rather than the artificial arm which easily had the strength and power to make short work of the task. But as time has passed he has become more and more accustomed to the new limbs, relying on them. Indeed when he found the betrayers of his father it was his new arm that not only revealed these people to him but with which he exacted revenge.
He has become very comfortable with the new abilities his limbs grant him. In fact without them he simply would not have been able to save Onishi from the betrayal sprung in Gabe or Gotoh, father of the Organo, from the Shapes.
But while they are clearly powerful and can be used in constructive ways they also are a large weakness. As we can see from the mysterious visitor that Onishi receives the Texhnolyze can be used as a hijack point to allow someone with the right hardware to 'jam' someone into an immobile state and send messages to them both in aural and visual form. They very carefully pointed out the neurological links that Texhnolyze makes in order to work and have been showing us the visual overlays that normal functioning units routinely make. (As an aside, this points to a very obvious and easy weakness to the Shapes. If someone can be jammed from having just one limb replaced how is someone who has had most of their body replaced going to react to being jammed?) Such a weakness in the technology is perhaps part of the reason Kimata hates with such vehemance but it does seem too low key to be the total answer to his loathing.
Ichise hasn't seen Kimata yet, I expect volume five to bring us more about what Kimata thinks and exactly why he fears Texhnolyze to the extent he does. After all Ichise has now seen the Organo and their foibles up close and personal. He also, having lived where he has, has seen the Racan and interacted with them. Curiously though little to no interaction with the Salvation Union yet. I'd venture to suggest this is because the interaction he has with them is going to be very central to the point of the series and has been held back as a result. Volume five must therefore be likely to bring the Union to the forefront and expose their motivations, it is past due.
What the series is collapsing down to is the question of the will to live, how it manifests itself and how it shapes our relationship with technology. After all in order to live in this series people have subsumed technology directly into their bodies even though this clearly has costs. The obvious ones are the maintenance and dependancy issues that Texhnolyzed brings. Several times the cost of creating such prosthetics has been mentioned and their need for fairly frequent servicing to keep them functioning. Native organic tissue is somewhat easier to manage in this regard. The next cost is, as I mentioned above, the ease with which Texhnolyze can be used to influence people as it provides a direct conduit to the visual cortex at least, if not the brain as a whole. Imagine what advertisers alone could do with direct and permanent access to your visual cortex, for example. We also have Kimata's warning that Texhnolyze doesn't just subvert the body but it infects the soul and mind of the user too.
But the big outstanding question the series has been very quiet about is why exactly was Lukuss needed? A lot of effort has been expended in making the city (and believe me, having watched documentaries about the hassles involved in making things like the Cheyenne mountain complex then the engineering effort alone expended in making the space that Lukuss occupies is considerable.) and in particular in obtaining the Raffia needed to make Texhnolyze work. But, why?
You simply don't go to the scale of effort involved here without some very significant reasons behind it. With Yoshi's cryptic comments it appears the surface world is in a somewhat unusual state, I look forward to when more about what has happened is revealed. But this has to be the primary driving force behind why Lukuss was established even if the linkage is unclear at the moment.
Finally some odds and ends that came to mind while watching this volume :-