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Kaiba – Episode 10

With Neyro and the Warp she knew as Kaiba tragically reunited, our tenth episode begins just before their first meeting, at the moment their story began. We open with Warp flying high above his planet of swirling canyons and grasping towers, his strange and claustrophobic kingdom. Dirt below and smog above; it is an oddly insular world, in spite of his position on the throne of this transhumanist empire. The more you seek to control your world, the more narrow that world will become; we cannot hope to claim ownership over humanity’s sprawling potential, only limit that potential to the point where it can fit within our grasp. Humanity can only express its true vibrancy unchained; we have seen the brightness of humanity struggling onward in the private margins of this world, but here in the seat of Warp’s power, there is nothing but refuse and resentment.

Below, we see Neyro on the streets, scavenging while surrounded by flies. An immediate contrast is thus drawn as sharply as possible, between those who soar on the winds and those who scrape through the refuse. And yet, for all of Warp’s power, he has only succeeded in becoming ruler of a mountain of dirt. In his callous shackling of mankind’s potential, he has ensured that nothing beautiful grows here, that nothing new will surprise him, that mankind will live forever in stasis – for it is only stasis that can be fully managed and controlled. Like a plant robbed of sunlight, humanity without freedom cannot flourish and display its full colors. Warp has not just robbed the people of their opportunities, he has robbed himself of the opportunity to bask in their glory.

Though this society knows Warp is its ruler, it does not know of Warp’s true face. As such, when Warp crashes into a building and loses his memory, Neyro is swift to tend to this unknown stranger’s injuries. She quickly addresses his superficial wounds, but is unable to heal the hole in his stomach – a mechanical signifier of his power that seems equally significant thematically, gesturing towards the fundamental emptiness required to rule over this stultifying empire.

Most of us lack the power or opportunity to seek to rule over others, and thus don’t even consider it; instead we find peace within in our own lives, filling our emptiness through discovering the countless ways we can complete each other, and learning that any path walked with dignity and loved ones can offer satisfaction and fulfillment. But Warp, who was born with powers that allow him to reign over all, cannot possibly fulfill the emptiness inside him. He rules and demands and remains unsatisfied, the beast that is ultimate ambition never allowing him to feel sated or whole. In our own world, the richest man alive seems also the least satisfied, his desperation for love and approval impossible to satisfy. Ultimate power is always defined by emptiness – a void of satisfaction, a void of the soul.

But here, unburdened by memories of power or ambition, Warp soon finds a happy home in the One Mind Society. As Warp and Neyro establish a swift friendship over the course of touring her community, his clear humanity is expressed visually, in the way Yuasa knows best. Kaiba’s irrepressibly imaginative designs are in full bloom as Warp chows down on a variety of strange and exotic foods, matched by delightfully expressive animation of his oversized bites. Art design thus facilitates narrative intent: humanity’s expressive potential and tiny joys conveyed as withstanding all attempts at repression and conformity, realized through the visual playfulness of this incidental moment.

Here, happy memories are few but precious, captured and preserved not through memory chips, but through the old-fashioned methods we already know well. A photo album stuffed with pictures of Neyro laughing alongside her parents – a tool that allows Warp to witness but not experience, fostering intimacy while preserving identity. A drawing, as Warp takes advantage of his tremendous memory to record their world as chalk on plaster. Or simply through observation and repetition, as Warp repeats the trick of decanting that Neyro learned from her own mother. A true, authentic form of memory reproduction: carrying on the habits we’ve learned from the people we love, thereby keeping their memories alive. To live in memory is to abandon the potential for anything new to happen, is to abandon the hope of a future altogether – but memory framed like this is almost a form of prayer, a ritual we enact to keep us close to our lost loved ones while still remaining open to new experience.

Through these tried-and-true methods of sharing one’s private world, the unmoored Warp and lonely Neyro grow closer, learning of sorrows and ambitions through honest communication. Eventually, Neyro reveals that her parents both died of illness, and that she is “helping change the world for my mother and father’s sake.” Even grief can be a source of inspiration and momentum, urging us onward to do right by the memories of the people we’ve loved. Knowledge of impermanence adds a sense of urgency to our trials, and lives are given meaning through their finite nature. If nothing ever ends, if nothing ever changes, then what are we pushing towards, and what is urging us onwards?

She explains their mission in words as simple as they are profound: “we’ll make a world without ‘rich’ or ‘poor’ and save those in trouble.” It’s a sentiment you could just as easily apply to our own world; indeed, as Kaiba has quietly yet insistently reiterated, this world of memories being bought and sold isn’t meaningfully different from our own. Kaiba’s world is simply capitalism of the future, capitalism extended outward into the next realm it might colonize. If modern science could offer Kaiba’s system of memory transfer, there’s essentially no chance it would work out any way but Kaiba’s, so long as we live under the yoke of capitalism.

Memory transfer is not the great evil threatening this society. It is merely a symptom of their larger stratified society, which is itself the natural result of capitalism proceeding towards its violently, irreversibly stratified end state. Memory transfer is actually a technology with great humanitarian potential, as Quilt described – it is the existence of “rich” and “poor” that naturally makes it a cudgel with which to further reinforce class divisions, and those labels will always exist so long as we live under the crushing weight of capitalist hierarchy. Kaiba is not showing us anything new, not revealing some great potential source of injustice that might stem from future innovations. It is merely showing us how future innovations would be harnessed and exploited by our current forms of injustice, how society cannot hope to progress in this direction while we still labor under the direction of unfettered capitalism.

Whether it’s space travel or transhumanism or something we can’t even imagine, the potential of future innovation is inherently limited by the scope and structure of our current society. And at the moment, there is nothing more limiting in our society than the mercenary demands of capitalism – something that’s clear even without reaching towards speculative fiction, clear simply through examining how medical research and development are limited by the fact that healthy people don’t buy more medication, how entire industries like housing and health insurance are driven not by a need to shelter and heal people, but by a need to continue turning a profit while doing so. How our collective imaginations are increasingly chained to engines of persistent wealth creation, such that any idea which does not inherently lend itself to commercial replication, tie-in commodities, and franchise potential is considered inherently suspect, and its fulfillment is an arduous uphill battle.

In every field and every way, capitalism already limits our ability to create a better world – Kaiba just posits one more scientific innovation beyond the rest, and from there extrapolates precisely what our own economic overlords would naturally do. There is no question of “how did the world get this way” in Kaiba; a better question would be “is there any way to prevent this future from coming to pass?”

As Warp and Neyro witness a strange creature molt and release Warp’s favorite food, only for that food to be immediately snagged by a passing animal, Neyro’s words offer a natural pushback to the idea that anyone engineered this cruel reality. “Everyone loves them,” she says. “If you don’t take them right after they burst, something else will.” Scarcity and competition are the natural way of the world, a grim battle between haves and have-nots. Is there any way to create a truly equal world, when even nature rallies against such benevolence? Or is that simply capitulating to an easy out – is it precisely because nature is cruel that we as thinking, feeling beings have an obligation to rise above it, to find a way that allows even the weak and unfortunate to live happy lives? Should we truly define our society according to the order of beasts, accepting that nothing better is possible?

Humans alone possess the potential to reinvent ourselves, to rebel against the cruelty of nature and actively choose a better way. So it goes for the once-tyrannical Warp, now renamed “Kaiba” by Neyro in reference to his remarkable memory. In this transformation, we actually see a certain freedom provided by escape from memory. By losing his origins, the cruel Warp is able to become the compassionate Kaiba, a man who lives honestly and wishes to do right by those he cares for. Even the loss of memory need not be a source of sorrow – it can actually be a path towards reinvention and renewal, as we abandon the cruel assumptions that limited our self-image. In this name Neyro has given him, Kaiba finds a new identity and purpose, a path forward defined only by his affection for his new family and his curiosity about the vast world around him.

As Kaiba, Warp is able to assure Neyro that her presence and feelings were precious to her parents, turning his access to this world’s collective memory in a positive, uplifting direction. Like so many of this world’s unfortunates, her parents were saving up buy her memory chip, “even though my memories aren’t worth keeping.” This world teaches us that everything that makes us truly ourselves, everything true and essential to our feelings and identity, is ultimately worthless. We are no more than interchangeable bodies built for labor or sale, precisely what the forces of capitalism want us to believe. But to Neyro’s sad prayer that “when I die, nothing should be left, like I wasn’t here at all,” Kaiba responds with certainty, assuring her that “you will never disappear from my memories.

Kaiba’s words feel like the most positive possible interpretation of his power of memory. Even if no one else remembers, he will hold a record of all these people he’s met, everyone who’s changed his life in one way or another. To be remembered is to remain a part of the world, is to let your presence and actions continue to shape the future through the effect you had on the people you spent your life with. It is only when we disappear from memory that we truly die – and so long as Kaiba endures, that day will never come to pass. Sanctifying his pledge with one of Neyro’s own memory storage tools, Kaiba takes a blurry picture of her – blurry because both were laughing at the time, happy in this moment stolen from commerce and productivity. Tucked securely in a locket, it embodies the bond they share, and thus becomes his guiding star.

Having crystallized their bond in that locket, the bond between Kaiba and Neyro is swiftly tested, as his identity is revealed and he retreats back into the clouds. The next time they meet is as enemies: Kaiba with a poisoned goblet, Neyro with a concealed pistol. Neither have the power to shape their destiny; Neyro is bound by the threat of isolation from the One Mind Society, while Kaiba is little more than a notary rubber-stamping the orders of his digital arbitrator. All they can do is seek what Neyro once desired: oblivion, that their counterpart may run free. But as the two plummet through the memory-sapping firmament, Neyro cannot help but cling to the hope for something better, that Kaiba’s idle dream of them escaping this world might be realized.

“My picture is blurry because you were laughing when you took it! Don’t forget! You’re my Kaiba!” Desperate and helpless, Neyro prays to her unconscious love that he might retain this small fragment of meaning, this glimmer of what they meant to each other. Memory can only ever be a fragmentary imitation of lived experience – for all this world prioritizes memories as an abstract commodity, it is living through them that grants our life vitality and meaning. Whatever happens to these two, the experiences they shared cannot be undone, cannot be truly stripped away. Robbed of shared memories and jumbled through a parade of fresh bodies, this fundamental truth cannot be denied: he is her Kaiba, and she is his Neyro.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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