Anime Review: Karen Senki

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When I talk about Liberation, I usually mean freedom that comes from a collective process. In order to be free, a group of people must rise together under a unifying cause. However, there are instances in liberalism and liberal feminism where individuality is more emphasized: an individual’s liberation, sort of speak. That seems to be the kind of liberation Karen goes through in this CG animated short series.

I don’t particularly agree with individualism as a means for liberation, but I did enjoy this series for how they executed the post-apocalyptic premise along with very obvious inspirations from other great minds (I’ll get to those later). And if there’s one thing that Crunchyroll’s Sailor Bee and I have in common, it’s that we both adore Karen!

Sailor Bee

Sailor Bee (right) and I at Anime Los Angeles, Jan 2015.

Karen Senki puts us in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by machines, while humans do what they can to survive under their surveillance. Like any other series of this kind, things are looking very bleak for humans, but that only means a few will rise against their current oppression. And among these humans is Karen: a young adult blonde with an eye patch and a wizard gun, looking for revenge!

Motorcycle

She also has a motorcycle!

Karen’s sister Touka was killed by machines, and thus she can never forgive them. And yet, the machines’ commander or otherwise central brain, Seek, finds her to be an interesting specimen amongst humans. That’s because Karen possesses a power unfathomable to machines, and they wish to understand it by continuing to survey her. But she’s not going to budge so easily!

Despite the unfortunate length of this series (in that I believe it was too short), there is a decent amount of plot development that goes on. Karen may be fighting machines all the time, but the story tosses back and forth between past and present, conveying how Karen comes to learn about herself in this narrative. And since we are also talking about the oppression of humanity, there are scenes that can be very hard to swallow.

Robots

This squad of robots “cleanse” a group of innocent humans in broad daylight.

Karen seems to cry solely for Touka, but the agony she faces is very much human, to the extent that any individual could recognize her strife. The series reminds us on several occasions just how much Touka means to Karen, causing her a great deal of suffering, even when machines remind her of the tragedy. And yet that same feeling from grief is what drives Karen to keep fighting in what seems to be an endless struggle against the machines.

But despite what I said (or am about to say) about individualism, Karen is not alone in her battle against the machines.

Locke Quote

The Antiquary, quoting John Locke.

Karen also belongs to a ragtag group of rebels in a secret organization known simply as “Eleven.” They are called such because they have been branded by a symbol that resembles the kanji for the number 十一 (vertically, of course) and have been granted extraordinary power. Machines have been running this society for quite some time now, but these like-minded individuals aren’t going to stand for this oppression. And while these guys never seem to agree on a lot of things, they can stand united in at least one thing: their sense of liberty against the oppressing force!

When it comes to humanity’s liberation in this show, the strength in one’s own survivability is the most important factor. Characters in this series have made this point fairly obvious, as they quote from influential persons in history. John Locke’s quote shown above is the very principle of modern egalitarianism: the natural rights of all individuals. But the quoting of influential thinkers don’t end there!

Josh Billings

Comedians can be some of the most profound thinkers out there!

Aside from this scene being quoted beautifully in English, the character Eleanor quotes Josh Billings to assure Karen that her strength is not in her lack of resources to fight the machines, but in how she utilizes the weapons she currently has. The power of an individual is most effective in such cunning strategies, and just as the Darwinian quote earlier in this scene suggested (not shown here), it is that adaptability that suggests the survivability of one individual over another. Who knew that Josh Billings and Charles Darwin could be coupled together in the same thought?

Sure, I would rather see revolutions of these kinds be of a collective effort, but this isn’t a series particularly about saving all of humankind. This is a series about one young lady’s revenge against her own oppression… is what I would like to say; except that Karen also contains within her something that goes beyond just herself!

Touka

Touka’s not quite dead yet!

Karen may be suffering the agony of her sister’s death, but Touka will always remain inside her… literally! Thanks to her power from Eleven, Karen has the ability to release Touka’s spirit from within her stomach to fight the machines alongside her! Not that I want to bring up the whole “Hegelian dialectic” again, but Touka separates herself from Karen like a second self-consciousness. And while both share the same physical space most of the time, Touka does have a mind of her own!

Karen seems to carry the burden of her own suffering by herself, but she finds that there is some value in how she relates to others as well. Touka may be an obvious example, but Karen also values the friendship in the others who are part of Eleven, and to some extent, within the consciousness of Seek himself!

Seek-and-cat

This was probably the cutest moment in the entire series.

Like I said before, Seek is curious about Karen. In fact, there was an instance when Seek was represented in this very curious trash robot: the robot who meets Karen and Touka together. It’s not very clear exactly how this friendly, curious Seek is also the overlord Seek (though my guess is Seek is just a unifying “brain” amongst the machines), but he seems to continue to have that curiosity from past to present.

Seek may be the one ruling over humans, but he rules knowing that humans continue to possess something that machines can’t seem to comprehend, and that is the capacity to love. And that’s precisely why Karen is always a target for the machines. Her unimaginable power stems from it! How can you explain such an abstract concept to a machine that can only recognize things with empirical measurements? Is it possible for love to even be put on a scale in the first place? Machines don’t seem to get it, but humans have the potential to contain an abundance of love.

But regardless of whether or not the machines can understand love, at least one thing remains certain: the power dynamics in this series does not necessarily favor humans or machines! There will always be a struggle for survival. And when it comes to our own survival in a post-apocalyptic environment, we will also have to undergo a selection process: a survival of the fittest, sort of speak. Humans are no different from that process as any other thing. And whether they (or we) like it or not, this also applies to machines with artificial intelligence.

Seek

“Evolution is a process of selection; for humans and for machines.”

Finally, I would like to end with something less thought-provoking and more fun about this series, and that is the involvement of Crunchyroll! Karen Senki was released outside of Japan primarily through Crunchyroll. And to show their appreciation for a multinational distributor, the series placed Crunchyroll’s mascot, Crunchy-hime in several cuts throughout the series! So if you haven’t watched the series yet or need to take a second look, keep an eye out for her!

Crunchy-hime

Can you find Crunchy-hime in this scene?

So if you’re looking for an action-packed anime about one very awesome female lead, and like (or at least don’t mind) CG animation, check out Karen Senki!

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