“I’ll trade you.”
In Stand Alone Complex, flashbacks are rarely employed without specific and labored context. With our look back at the Major’s childhood in “Affection,” the story is embedded in her investigation into unusual sensations. Here, we get the unbeknownst follow-up, and a greater look into Kuze’s history. It’s a wonderful episode, and a dramatic, affecting story. It’s always nice when Yoko Kanno’s brilliant score is maximized. This is where the villain comes from, and although our first indication that he’s not such a villain is this very lengthy statement, rather than something more active or subtle, the result is still the same. And it’s a cool story regardless.
Ishikawa is flying back from Korea, tries to check in with the Chief or the Major, gets the Batou instead. What could be more important than reports on Kuze? Batou gives him the update: they may be looking at a general refugee uprising. That’s bad news, he admits, looking out over Dejima. This is where it begins, this is the beginning of the refugee revolution, and the start is delivered extraordinarily — with the news in a sullen exchange between intelligence officers.
Kayabuki holds a cabinet meeting to discuss the refugee situation, and the results are sputtering. In one corner, the guy’s complaining about the media fanning the flames by suggesting the Individual Eleven attacks are a prelude to a refugee uprising, but admits that the sea will stop the flow of refugees into Nagasaki — the bridge is a bottleneck. But Mr. Military over here says that that viewpoint is ignorant of the damn fleet of ships they’ve been amassing! Sure, but the police have larger concerns — namely the individualists. What in fact, is the Public Security Bureau doing? What? This falls on the Defense Bureau! They’re so hungry for this buildup — let’s not forget that live-fire exercise! Oh, you want to play chicken and egg?
Kayabuki doesn’t get a word in edgewise, doesn’t even bother to try. They’re at it in old ways — arguing about jurisdiction, trying to push responsibility off on each other. She calls for a break, and returns to her cavernous, vacuous office, where the Chief and the Major are waiting.
Part of her problem, as she tells them, is her lack of clout. This is a huge crisis, one that requires cooperation. That’s apparently not a part of these fools’ vocabulary. The Chief concurs. The institution below dies a slow death when those at the top prioritize their own agenda. Kayabuki asks for the situation, what’s really going on. These are the people to talk to — straight-shooters, those on the frontline. The Chief asks her if she knows what a hub cyberbrain is, and the Major links with her to explain.
Until recently, the idea of a hub or core cyberbrain didn’t exist. Only in a limited sense, as witnessed with religious cults or even charismatic artists (like the film director?). There is something out there affecting the flow into Nagasaki, something influencing the minds of three million people. Kayabuki states that this person is the primary threat to the government. Time for the big sigh. Look — in retrospect, the Prime Minister only wanted to repeal the special action policy to curb profiteering on the refugees. Now it seems her enemies are using that act to their advantage.
Kayabuki mentions that there are people trying to oust her from office, that there’s this defense lobbyist and a new treaty that’ll put us on equal footing with the American Empire, that certain industry folk aren’t interested in her ideology… I don’t know the details exactly but she was tipped off by the Toad, I believe, and so the Chief promises to follow the money trail, but not before asking if this stems from political or personal belief. “You shouldn’t have to ask that.”
The Major and the Chief waddle back to their car, and the Major smiles. She’s surprised she didn’t notice before, but the Prime Minister is exactly his type of woman. “What? You’re only just now noticing?” You win every time.
The Chief believes it’s Takakura going after Kayabuki. He fits the profile, as a pro-American neo-conservative with blind faith in the Empire. He believes that Japan needs to join its Miracle scrubbers with the American spear to influence others. Meanwhile, Kayabuki is menaced by White Hair, who demonstrates that even in 2032, women in the workplace have no personal space. Yours is a porous sphere.
Azuma and an unnamed rookie — who doesn’t look much like Yano to me — approach Togusa and ask if they should sit in on this upcoming meeting. Togusa asks him about the job they’re supposed to be doing. Well… nothing’s really happening. Togusa yells at them. You dumb bastards! Who cares if it’s boring, it’s your job! You damn rookies are so green it’s not even funny.
He rounds a corner and meets up with the rest of Section 9 — the real Section, ahem — and Boma hands him a thingy. They link up, and we fade to black. They arrive at a chatroom, and Ishikawa begins to tell his tale.
During the Second Vietnam War, America deployed troops into Korea, ultimately for mining rights. Japan couldn’t refuse involvement, not with war procurements on the line. Togusa recalls that Batou and the Major were then overseas in an unofficial capacity. It was all very hush-hush. So among their deployments was a GSDA mechanized unit, in which Kuze served. They were dispatched to protect the North Territories from the People’s Army of Korea.
We see Kuze and the troops heading into a rural area after a mountain pass. Even in the snow, their bodies were probably not pushed to their limits, as they came to this environment perfectly suited for guerilla warfare. Kuze’s company was meant to launch a preemptive strike, but came upon a refugee camp, something unmentioned in their intel. It was on the tail end of a massacre by the People’s Army.
These retreating soldiers had become mountain bandits, and so Kuze, spurred along by the sight of this inhumanity, launched an attack — it was a quick victory of thirty vs. one hundred twenty. The Koreans were flesh and blood, despite being military, and they were suffering starvation. This was the only time the cyborg battalion saw combat, and proceeded to set up base. Their trouble had only begun, as paranoia rose with the fear that the guerillas would strike again at any moment. Their fellow units had it easy, in the city, but Kuze’s men were quickly wracked by PTSD in the blistering winter.
It had been a one-sided slaughter, the act of killing in such great quantity and righteous brutality coming back on them, so they turned to synthetic alcohol and hashish. Where before the army was acclaimed as being so disciplined, the media had begun taking them apart for such unbecoming behavior. And because of Article 9, there was a press blackout — it’s a fine line between official and unofficial deployment.
For Kuze, the blackout meant that the true story could never get out, and this incited further, more scathing criticism from the media. They were seen as monsters, and in the end, couldn’t even return to Japan. One day, a local reporter approached one of the soldiers on the other side of the gate. He said, “Hey buddy, you know where the term ‘assassin’ comes from? Hashish — Arabic soldiers would smoke it and kill Crusaders as if in a dream. Is that what you did?” It was meant as an insult because the soldier probably had robot lungs. Suddenly Kuze appears next to the reporter, taking him off-guard.
“You’re right. We did consider ourselves guests at first.” Then, as the music swells, and the snow continues to fall lightly, and I get misty, Kuze holds out his rifle. “I’ll trade you. For one of those,” he says, indicating one of the cameras slung around the journalist’s neck.
Camera in hand, Kuze takes a trip to the nearby refugee camp, and just lived there. Soon, the elderly began to notice him and offered him drinks. Then, children began to crowd around. And not long after the adults were befriending him. In all, he never spoke a word. The People’s Army eventually surrendered, and the SDA was relieved of its duties. Nobody ever mentioned the massacre again, and Kuze disappeared.
A single photo exists from that time, of Kuze and the refugee camp, but there’s no reliable information. Ishikawa had spoken to a Korean guy who said that Kuze’s prosthetic hair had turned white, and no matter where he goes, a crowd of happy people follows.
They exit the chatroom and find that the Major was also there, listening in the whole time. She admits, it’s a fascinating story. Bleh, don’t ever say that. Because you know what you’re doing when you do, right? When you compliment Don Draper on being a brilliant writer? You’re clapping your own damn self on the back. “What an interesting story,” a character says, reflecting on the actual story, the one the writer wrote.
Granted. This was a good story. And the perfect backstory for our conflicted, complicated villain. And there he is, our Hideo Kuze, being spied on by a CIS satellite. “He’s in Dejima.” At sunset, he looks up at the sky.
For his grand application as the refugees’ hero in the final episodes, we establish his character in appropriately police-procedural strokes. Ishikawa delivers his detective findings from Korea, which takes narrative shape as a flashback, with a legendary quality, and leaves it to the Major to track him in Taiwan. So in the next episode, we move to the present day, and the Major learns about Kuze in another satisfyingly obfuscated way. It’s only in Episode 19 that we really hear it from the horse’s mouth, those ever unmoving horse’s lips.
For our episode now, #16, we get a war story. We begin to see where all the bureaucratic squabbling witnessed at the beginning really leads us, when we witness the effect in the micro — from the perspective of soldiers.