Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan ~ and the thin veneer of utopia
June 2, 2012 Leave a comment
There is something fascinating and very strange about Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan, it is a series that presents us with a utopia, an island where there appears to be constant peace. The key word here is ‘appears’, because as with all representations of utopia in anime and film, it is merely a façade, something that has been created and is ultimately doomed to fail. The characters in Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan go about their daily lives of baking bread with a smile, helping out the islanders and generally enjoying their life. This is something that is very common in many Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs), with the main characters starting off in a town or country where everything appears to be perfect.
What is so curious about such a situation is that this is often a gated community, almost cut off from the outside world. But at the same time, there are little sings that in a sense, the peace and tranquility that we experience in the game, along with in Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan is a façade, something that does quite exist in reality. If the world is truly such a wonderful place full of joy and delight, why then, are there town guards, a military force, and large walls surrounding the town and its fields? The utopia that we experience in Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan is both real, while at the same time something intangible. More importantly, it also only exists for a fleeting moment along with existing between and within a world where danger is constantly present.
We see similar situations anime and films involving a version of utopia. Take Logan’s Run as an example of a utopia that was created from the ashes of a fallen world, but one that is so strictly controlled that there is no chance of escape. Everyone enjoys their time in the domed city, with the central computer taking care of all aspects of their daily lives, they are therefore free to live a hedonistic and apparently, wonderful life. However, they are all told that in order to maintain order and their way of life, every resident must undergo the ritual of ‘Carrousel’ when they turn 30, where they are vaporized with the promise of being ‘Renewed’.
The utopian life in Logan’s Run is therefore incredibly brief, and while most merely accept the current state of affairs, there are those who see the Carrousel for what it is; execution for the sake of population control. There are those in this film who believe in something called ‘Sanctuary’, in essence, Paradise, where those who do not wish to live under this harsh regime can escape and life their lives in peace. Logan’s Run therefore presents us with two kinds of paradise, two versions of utopia; one that is strictly controlled to maintain order and control, whereas the other is a dream, something that has been created as the ideal with which many in the city strive to reach, but ultimately fail and die.
While the world that we are presented with in Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan is not quite this dark or polarized, there is the implied notion that those who live on this island are living in a world of their own, and while they may know about pirates, they do not necessarily worry about them. There are numerous warnings and ill omen, mostly seen by the elves, but everyone else appears to be oblivious to such notions of turmoil and chaos. What is also fascinating is how certain areas of the island are viewed as being dangerous, with the islanders almost forbidden from treading there, furthermore, while there is a utopian quality to the main town, the elves appear to be deliberately sidelined and even viewed as wicked or dangerous.
With the introduction of Kaguya and Kerberos (the automaton), we see the peaceful lives of those on the island interrupted with the introduction of pirates. While these pirates may not do anything physically significant, their presence itself helps to demonstrate how the happy lives that Rick, Airy, Neris, and Amil live may not continue. What is so interesting about this situation is how their peaceful lives also belie the fact that Rick is a trained swordsman, a fighter and a killer. His current way of life is largely due to amnesia and the efforts of Airy, Neris and Amil to help him and teach him how to bake bread.
In particular, we see Amil act worried and a little strange when Rick picks up a sword to defend Kaguya during the blackout. It is clear that while Rick’s memories of his time, as a soldier may be fuzzy, his body acts on instinct. To Amil, this is terrifying, as if the act of picking up a sword is tearing Rick away from the happy life that he has built up with her, Airy and Neris. But more importantly, the very presence of soldiers and weapons helps to further demonstrate the vague nature of what is apparently a peaceful, and prosperous nation. It is the paradox of such nations and such ideas, that in order to help maintain their current way of life, it is perceived that weapons and a strong military are necessary.
We see something similar in the Korean film Wonderful Days (English title – Sky Blue, original title – 원더풀 데이즈) a film that has similar themes to Logan’s Run, while portraying the utopia as something that is created in opposition to the rest of the world. In this film the utopia has been created in opposition to the rest of the world, and those in control of Ecoban use everyone outside as slaves in order to maintain their way of life. Weapons are therefore essential in maintain order and ensuring that the safety of the city is always kept as a top priority. We therefore see the idea that in order to maintain this notion of utopia, there is the perceived notion that force and a strong army, or at least armed forces are necessary. It is quite clear that the world within Shining Hearts is anything but perfect, and there are numerous warnings within the series about something terrible approaching, however they are either ignored, or simply not heard. Similarly, there is a significant armed force in Shining Hearts who appear to keep the peace in quite a forceful fashion at times.
Furthermore, there is an inherent system of inequality in, not only Shining Hearts, but other such series or games, with the rich in their castle apparently in control of everyone’s daily lives, whereas the orphanage, or in the this case, the church, in a constant state of disrepair. What is so curious though is how everyone continues to smile and act as if nothing is happening, even when they know that the church needs funding, whereas the castle and the royal family of the island appear to have full and total control over the finances of the island itself. Much like in Wonderful Days, the elite keep control over the masses, and many live blissfully, or perhaps willfully ignorant of the problems that others around them face on a daily basis.
The world of Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan is also quite a curious and occasionally disturbing world, much like that in Logan’s Run and to a lesser extent the life within Ecoban in Wonderful Day’s. It is too perfect, and while the lives that Rock, Airy, Amil and Neris live are wonderful and full of joy, there often appears to be something missing. It is as if their lives are too perfect, and the lack of conflict, or the necessities of life make the entire scenario appear unnatural. This is one of the central elements of many JRPG’s, the unnatural peace, but interestingly, it is always a strained peace, with implications of something terrible to come. While the first episodes of Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan focus on Rick, Amil, Airy, and Neris daily ritual of baking bread for the happy community within which they live there is the constant feeling of something deeper and darker lurking in the shadows.
It is this impending, or perhaps, ever-present sense of danger that makes the entire scenario of utopia so interesting and ephemeral, as if it could disappear overnight. This is the joy, but also the fear within such series and stories, that this current way of life may disappear at a moments notice, this naturally frightens Amil, although Airy and Neris have yet to notice. As a series, Shining Hearts ~ Shiawase no Pan offers us a glimpse of something wonderful, but also unnatural. And while the lives that rock, Airy, Neris and Amil live may be wonderful, you can’t help but wonder when such happy days may end, or perhaps what a slight change in their perception of life might do to their whole attitude. What makes Shining Hearts such an interesting, curious, and just simply strange series to watch is this element of utopia that it portrays, along with the knowledge that regardless of how many smiles Airy, Neris, Amil and the rest of the islanders might show on screen, there is always something darker and more dangerous lurking in the shadows.