Or, the power of setting in Darker than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini.
Eh, or something like that.
I initially found the premise of a Russian setting for DtB II to be fun from a fairly basic level – not a hell of a lot of anime take place in countries other than Japan (I specify ‘countries’ since there are a number which take place in other realms/space/realities/what have you), and I can’t think of any off the top of my head that have taken place in Russia (there was an arc of Le Chevalier D’Eon which took place in Russia). So it looked like it could be interesting in a fresh and new-type [insert Gundam joke here] manner.
However, the second episode of DtB II demonstrated to me that this setting actually plays a more intriguing role in the series than merely as a novelty.
The fact is, even though the Cold War lapsed from existence quite a number of years ago, Russia still holds a fairly powerful place in the collective popular imagination amongst people of the so-called “first world”. This isn’t terribly shocking, of course, when you consider that the power struggle between America and Russia dominated the political landscape of the “first world” for a good fifty years or so; this isn’t something that would just evaporate over night, as amply illustrated by the chilly relations even now between the two powers. Even with the current paradigm of the “War on Terror”, Russia behaves very much as a foil to America (and much of Europe), willfully seizing the opposite side in disagreements over things such as a nuclear Iran or the genocide in Sudan.
There is also a more relevant factor in the conception of Russia, though, in the post-Cold War world, and it is in this that we find a fleshing out of the aptness of the Russian setting for DtB II. Theoretically, the Iron Curtain is gone, but Russia remains a fairly closed society. In fact, Russian society has become more closed in the past ten years or so, as Vladimir Putin has slowly sublimated his ideas of a proper Russia, ideas that very much hail from his old days in the KGB, into the political and social realities of Russia. And there really isn’t any sign that it’ll slow down soon, if the casualty count for rebellious journalists is of any indication.
All of which is to say: the Russia that we see portrayed in DtB II doesn’t take much stretching of the imagination. In it, we can see similarities to the ways in which evil empires are portrayed in various anime, i.e. as similar to the Nazis, if only in appearance (uniforms, rank structure, etc.). A Russian setting makes sense for a show in which paranoia will apparently run a bit rampant, a Russian setting makes sense when our leads will apparently be spending much of their time on the run.
I wonder what such a show looks like to Russian eyes. I would love to ask a Russian what they thought of how their nation is being portrayed (and would I find a difference in how Russians in Russia see it versus expatriates?). At the same time, I wouldn’t be altogether too shocked if DtB II got blocked from Russia because of its ‘negative’ depiction of it. And if you think I’m being too heavy-handed with such a supposition, I would point out to you that Winnie the Pooh has been banned in Russia.
To go off onto a bit of a tangent, DtB II’s Russian setting, and, more particularly, its version of a Russian setting, is a very nostalgic sort of thing. In episode two, we run into a CIA operative. Really, a CIA operative? And we’ve been watching secretive Russians running around? And we have some would-be assassins? Its all very 1980’s spy thriller, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’ve been up since 4:15 a.m., so I think that’s gonna have to be a wrap. I’ll probably come back and revisit the ramifications of the Russian setting at the end of the show, so you can expect something a little more cogent at that time.