Xam’d Episode 04: Desire

It’s finally here! The moment that we all have been waiting for: the elusive Xam’d training. Surely with a spunky protagonist, his no-nonsense partner, and a really frickin’ old mentor at this anime’s disposal, no doubt there’s going to be some awesome concept scenes about exactly what his Xam’d powers are and exactly what he’s training for and exactly why he has to do it. Of course, this isn’t what happens. Akiyuki’s trial to enlightenment is much more profound than a simple shounen training sequence.

Akiyuki refers to his current state as a dichotomy between himself and the hiruko in his arm, of which his first inquiry is whether or not he can remove it. Madame Tenshin desires none of that. The hiruko is not something that is easily removed, nor is it something that should be removed. The hiruko is, by this point, a part of Akiyuki; perhaps it shares some identity with Akiyuki too. Thus, it is important that Akiyuki looks at himself not as a young Sentan Island boy and instead identify himself as a Xam’d. If one cannot hope to understand the hiruko, one cannot hope to understand oneself. Tenshin’s words highlight the most important aspect of being a Xam’d: finding your own purpose, your desire. “What is it that Xam’d cannot help but seek?” she inquires. “Tell me.” The will of the hiruko compels him to live, but what does that really mean for him? Akiyuki himself desires to return to his homeland, his normalcy. As of now, these desires conflict both logically and perhaps biologically. The hiruko itself seeks something, but the comfort of Sentan Island is not one of them. Additionally, as Tenshin states, the hiruko itself prevents Akiyuki from ever living a normal life, or at least his previous life. Not only because of imminent humanform attacks but also the danger he holds to himself. So, Tenshin provides some framework as to how Akiyuki can cope with this: get used to his current life.

The ship is moving. Those aboard the ship are not conscious of its movement. But in these moments of idleness you begin to craft your true self.
~Madame Tenshin

The “drills” that Nakiami enforces upon Akiyuki are nothing more than the menial tasks that the Zambani crew has to do. Stamping letters and carrying crates are not necessarily direct methods to increasing your Xam’d power levels. Dealing with children and an annoying roommate was not part of the job description when he signed up for these tasks. None of this has anything to do with getting back home. At surface level, these chores serve no purpose to Akiyuki. Yet, really, these same obligations are perfect for his character, and that’s what makes all the difference.

Allow me to speak from experience and divert the topic towards Boy Scouts. In the organization’s honor society, the Order of the Arrow, there is a central principle called “cheerful service”. In cynical terms it means to enjoy subservience, but ideally it values the one thing that that the current workforce is severely lacking: to enjoy your job. That, when a task is set before you, not only do you persevere to complete it but also to have a bright attitude towards doing it. It means not to complain, to feel trapped in a cubicle, or give in to hopelessness from being in a situation you don’t want to be in. The small percentage of Boy Scouts who take this idea to heart eventually become the people who earn the Eagle Scout award. To celebrate work is to value the people you work with and to find solace in the work you do. As much as it is a practical method for people to increase output in the workforce, it is also a way to build one’s character, and in such a way be enlightened about oneself.

Akiyuki starts off confused as to why he’s doing postal work and never gets a straight answer from either Nakiami or Tenshin. However, he begins to find satisfaction in working when the existence of undeliverable letters addressed to Sentan Island comes into play. As much as his attachment towards home is against the will of the hiruko, it allows him to find a reason to work overtime, even through his paycheck. It’s a futile gesture, because in the end there’s always going to be more undeliverable letters, but Akiyuki holds firm in trying to get every single one stamped properly. His dedication, “cheerful service” by this point, immediately gains the approval of his peers and they start to work extra with him too.

So, what was the point of everything Madame Tenshin made Akiyuki do? In the end, Akiyuki does not have a solid answer to Tenshin’s riddle but holds steadfast to the idea that the Xam’d, and to an extension himself, seeks not only to live but also to live alongside others. Imagine for a second that you’re stuck in a dead-end job, or one that’s merely a stepping-stone towards a profession you truly want. Wouldn’t it be easy to just to throw your hands into the air and stop caring? To give in to despair? Akiyuki is placed in a similar situation by being made to do postal work, but it is merely a trial version compared to the real dangers of being Xam’d. To give in to despair is to wallow in your loneliness, and loneliness quite literally turns a Xam’d’s heart to stone. The entire purpose of finding hope in menial work was to set his mind in the right direction, to find hope in the greater things in life too. He recognizes, too, that in order to do so he must rely on the help of others, just as his work is granted the assistance of the Zambani crew and Nakiami as well. This is, admittedly, a far cry from finding a true answer, but that is negligible. The journey is what matters more, the progress that is made.

Ohgod there’s so many more things I could say about this episode, but maybe another time, in another episode where it would apply in a far more relevant sense. This scene was merely the main story in midst of several, ongoing and simultaneous strands of the plot, which all eventually gather as one. It’s an experience I look forward to.

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