Purple’s Qualia; Travel like light

I wonder where I should start with this one. Perhaps from the start, though what is the starting point is hard to determine. Maybe it was the fact that Back to the Future sparked my liking for time travel stories at a younger age, or that SF books and such have so much about it. Even the first Final Fantasy is a time travel story at the end, looping the beginning and end together. Time travel story after time travel story after time story. With further understanding on how world works, the stories themselves adapted the ideas, installing multiple world theories and others as the standard rather than BttF‘s popular linear time traveling.

At some point, it became clear that time traveling requires spatial traveling as well. I don’t remember what made this point clear to me, but one story had it as its major focus. It might’ve been a short story in a collection. Both spatial and dimensional travels are popular topics within fiction. These sometimes incorporate time travel, but time travel inherently has to have either of the other, sometimes both.

These stories are everywhere. Very few of them are anything new. Games, books, movies, comics, each form of media has taken their numerous takes on time and dimensional travel. I grew tired of them. Few times I didn’t exactly realise that these were major parts of a story, like Muv-Luv. You could say I did, seeing my main argument to hate it was Don’t bring you aliens and mecha into my realistic romance story but after learning it was an alternative world, I opened up to it.

Perhaps the thing that broke the camel’s back with these stories was the fact that branching universes breaks the intended motif of Muv-Luv, where Takeru has been set in an ever-looping hell before he can find that one path to save the world from certain death. However, with the series now having retroactively installed the whole branching timelines, there are no loops as such. Each time Takeru returns to origin point, he is at a branching point. Rather than saving humanity in BETAverse, he manages to save one of the infinite branches his actions are part of in infinite amount of BETAverses. The original intention, the very mechanic of Muv-Luv, of repeating a loop until one true path was found, was made moot.

How would you sell a story with time travel to someone who categorically is sick of them? I’ve been sold many stories described as the most scientifically accurate or realistic depiction of time travel, but that’s an oxymoron. With the current understanding, time traveling only exists forwards. We do it just by being. Nobody has yet gone back to the past and explained how it all works, or come returned (if that’s even applicable term) from the future to tell us how it works. To put it bluntly, none of if is realistic, none of it works, and we can only travel forwards.

Cover of the novel, with Marii’s purple eyes, but none of the qualia yet

Maybe that’s not exactly the starting point. More like presenting the colours and paint that are going to be used on the canvas. When Jinki:Extend was airing around 2005, I was aware of it but never watched the show. I liked its visuals but at the time I had my hands and mind busy elsewhere. Tsunashima Shiro’s style is distinctive and eye-pleasing. It is rather ageless as well, and will stand the test of time better than some of his contemporaries. Fast forward some thirteen years. At this time I’ve begun checking modern shows that I missed, comics to read during my downtime despite going through some hard times. Finding his works, very few translated as such, ultimately lead me to 2009 novel Purple’s Qualia by Hisamatsu Ueo and its 2011 comic adaptation.

Purple’s Qualia, or lit. translated from 紫色のクオリア as Purple Colour’s Qualia (officially formed as Qualia the Purple because of course this would be the official translation Japanese went with) is a story about infinite possibilities, about deep and loving friendship, sacrifices through trial and error, and perhaps most importantly, about a girl with purple eyes who sees all living things as robots. It is also a story with time and dimensional travel without actually having either.

More after the jump, we’re going a bit image heavy here.

Hatou Manabu on the right, with Marii’s perception of her

I should probably set the stage. Hatou Manabu has a friend, Marii Yukari, who sees all living beings as robots with her purple eyes. It’s not that people and animals seem like mechanical things, but to her they are robots. She sees how things go into place, the possibilities their bodies gives them (for example, a track runner could get some speed if she just would use vernier thrusters better) and even manages to acknowledge how beautiful and romantic her classmate’s drill is. This is as much a blessing as it is a curse. On one hand, she can see how things need to go together, which she constantly uses to build plastic models without any guides and upgrading her bike. She can even repair humans. A harsh physical trauma can be fixed with few good parts from whatever fitting objects are at hand.

Understandably you ask How that works then? After all, you can’t replace bones with steel rods and muscles with wired rods, nerves with capacitors and such just like that. Then again, perhaps the girl who perceives you as a robot can. To her, your body and everything about is perceived as mechanical. To her, the possibility of humanity being robots is true.

For a story like Purple’s Qualia, this is only the initial setting, and perhaps I should recommend you to close this window and read the comic or the novel yourself before reading the rest. You will get the overall plot spoiled for sure, but let’s say the synopsis here isn’t exactly the most robust in detail. I’ll be using material from the scanlated comic version to further illustrate some points.

For Jinki fans, they’ll notice that Tsunashima has drawn Moribito Type 02 as a cameo

Hatou Manabu is a normal person at first, but after an incident where a mass-murdered tracks Marii down, Manabu gets caught in her stead and becomes a bait. Despite still being alive, the murderer severs Manabu’s left arm just above her albow while she was drugged. Unable to do anything, it is Marii who comes to the rescue, armed with an army of sentient plastic model robots. Marii ultimately fixes the software bug that’s in the murderer, and ends up repairing Manabu’s severed hand with the new phone she just got. The murderer gives herself in, and we can assume her bug was fixed.

Her left hand now functions as a phone that she can use to call Marii, or as she learns one night, herself. Or rather, a possible version of herself in alternative, possible universe. However, Marii’s perception would not stay a secret and an organisation called JAUNT sent on of their student, Alice Foyle, to recruit her. Yes, the allusion to The Stars My Destination is intended and even explicitly stated in the novel. Marii would join JAUNT, and die in their hands. Jaunting in The Stars My Destination is an innate natural skill humans discover, a psychic power that allows a single person to teleport himself to a known destination. Jaunting through space or to an unknown localition is assumed to be impossible, as nobody has done so. More importantly, it represents the leap humanity has taken, and the book explores how it has affected economy, culture and society in various ways. JAUNT in Purple’s Qualia as an organisation aims to leap the humanity forwards by gathering geniuses and gifted people in order to drive new breakthroughs in sciences and find new ways to help people.

This is the point where the story turns to its final direction, changing the main character from Marii to Manabu. Granted, Purple’s Qualia was initially serialised before collected into one work and was supposed to be a one-shot short story, making its sections rather distinct from each other. The first arc, concentrating on Marii’s perception of reality while the second arc is Hatou’s. Well, perceptions. She intends to find out why Marii was killed under JAUNT’s jurisdiction, which leads her to change her goals one by one due to the fact that simply finding out why Marii died wasn’t enough. Trying to prevent it soon becomes the main goal, but only if it was that easy. She tries numerous times different plants, from taking over JAUNT with or without Alice’s help, striking at the leaders even before the orginasation exists, or killing other people who would put up a similar organisation and even becomes parts of different people in different times to change the outcome. Or should I say, the infinite number of hers try.

See, Hatou Manabu’s left hand, which she has also accepted as a cellphone as an extension of Marii’s perception of the world, is able to call to herself in a possible parallel reality. Just imagine if one of them was an introvert neet who could only converse via texting. Because of her superposition in reality through the phone, whenever she calls one of herself, the two share the same memories and muscle skills. The story explores possibilities how all this functions, but just as quantum mechanics and parallel worlds have different theories competing, Manabu can never really come to a conclusion which of them is the correct one. Discussing the nature of possible realities through most of the famous experiments is a repeating motif in the work, and while the comic confronts the reader with rather heavy jargon and expects the reader to have at least some basic grasp, the original novel explains things in a more meaningful manner as it has time to halt between events. It is effectively part of the plot really, as Manabu tries to become like light, trying all the possible routes to save Marii in order to find the shortest one. This leads into realisations and conclusions that the reader probably was already wondering. One the major one is that they’re not tied to the present. In quantum mechanics, it would appear the cause does not always precede effect. As mentioned, Manabu gains memories and skills from herself from the other side of the line, and these include memories from future, events that in a linear timeline, had not yet taken place. She gains memories from hers possible pasts as well, with multiple of them offering minor but significant differences how she acts and where she’s going.

An interesting aspect of the story is that we probably never follow the same possible Manabu from scene to scene, and sometimes this change is explicitly shown. The Manabu we follow at the beginning is not the same the story ends with. Well, “they” are the same individual, just different possibilities of her.

Howard Chaykin’s take on Gully Foyle and his tattooed face left a great impact on me years back when I first saw it, just like most of Chaykin’s works

The literal allusion to The Stars My Destination is not just a name drop, either for Alice Foyle or for JAUNT. Arguably, these markers are made to have the reader realise that Manabu ultimately goes through a similar path in character growth as Gully Foyle. Both Gully and Manabu are your normal people who are thrust into very unnatural situation. For Gully, he is the last survivor of the drifting space ship Nomad. A ship named Vorga passes him by, leaving him die there, and at that point he swears unending revenge on that ship and its captain. He is later saved by tribal space scientist, who mutilate his face with a gruesome tattoo and marry him to one of their daughters, for scientific purposes. He managed to escape to Earth, where he slowly tracks down who owns Vorga and its crew, only to be thrown into jail all the while people are after him and Nomad’s coordinates.

Turns out, the Nomad had material called PyrE, which would completely tip the balance of power between Earth and outer planets in war, as effectively carries a spark of the big bang. However, it can only be ignited willingly through psychic touch. There’s a lot of cash to go next to PyrE to mislead anyone. Gully doesn’t know about PyrE, but uses the riches to become a learned man, but also to have Mars craft cybernetics into his body. This gives him control over his body such as enhanced speed and strength. Before Gully was an unskilled and uneducated man without any ambitions. Now, he is a fearsome force to be reckoned with. Even before this, he gained the access to the Nomad through treachery and force. This doesn’t concern Gully, or the fact that he is still chased for PyrE. His goal is find the captain of the Varga by using anyone he must, and put the captain through the same hell he had to live through.

Manabu’s character arc mirrors this to a degree, where she becomes obsessed with revenge and her ultimate goal to to create a world where Marii’s life is saved. Before Marii’s death, she was rather mediocre student and didn’t have much aspirations. After Marii dies, she manages to convince Marii’s parents to take her to JAUNT for an investigation, only for the plane they were traveling in to blow up. She wakes up in her bed and remembers this, just another possibility that she remembers happening. Slowly but surely Manabu begins to try things to prevent Marii from leaving and thus dying through numerous other of her selves, but none of these work. Either Marii leaves and dies, or JAUNT comes after her and dies. Trial and error. She won’t let Marii die.

After she finds her resolution, infinite numbers of hers learn new skills like physical activities like how to fight hand-to-hand, how to use a gun, how to seduce men and women, and how to handle one Alice Foyle. Manabu remembers befriending her, killing her, loving her from the bottom of her heart, savagely abusing her and even simply killing her. Other times she learns about physics, tries to get into mathematics and physics, or becomes a politician with power to press for changes. Manabu even tries wild options, such as finding a reality where a five years old child self is able to use magic, and she turns herself into a murderer. While the comic only shows this instance once, the book mentions that there are multiple tries, where this magical girl Manabu finds the people who become the founders of JAUNT, murders them in cold blood by blasting them with magic, ripping their flesh off and leaving only the bones, and finds that another organisation has been put up in place of JAUNT. Trial and error. Despite how she is depicted as loving and caring person before she finds they key that allows her total control of destiny, reading between the lines shows that she will stop at nothing and no one can stand in her way. Even her own happiness would be discarded.

Both Gully and Manabu, however, find their ultimate nature to be insufficient as the person who motivated them to abandon being human ultimately cracks their fronts. For Gully, it is the woman he loves, Olivia. She turns out to be the person who was in charge of the Vorga, and turns from ruthless beast into a man riddled with guilt. He tries to give himself in to right all the wrongs he has done, but after a chase he ends up being in the middle of PyrE explosions, setting himself on fire. This causes his senses to be mixed. He can see sounds and taste smells. Gully had found out that he was the first person to jaunt through space, and escaped back into his derelict ship from outer planets’ hands, and in her burning state begins to jaunt across time and space after realising that its secret is no the certainty of time and place, but faith that there is an answer to that uncertainty. He meets with his past self, saving himself on one occasion, sharing bits and pieces of PyrE across the world and demanding the truth to be told, and people to decide for themselves what their fate is. His last jaunt, before sleeping at the end of the book, is back to the space station where he was abused, the only place where he could be at peace.

Similarly, Manabu’s vengeful spirit and her ultimate goal it denied by Marii herself. In the end, Manabu manages to become a power of non-existence, through the Theory of Everything Alice manages to realise through specific control and manipulation of JAUNT’s facilities and workers. Manabu does a lot in Alice’s hands before this happens, but she becomes something that can’t be perceived and thus can’t be defined. In this ageless, infinite form filled with all the memories of the possible selves and the people she became, Manabu is able to control cause and effect of the world enough to first time prevent Marii’s death. However, Marii is the only who sees the humans are robots, and despite her formless shape, Marii recognises Manabu and mentions how far she has gone to adapt herself. It is never shown, but imagine seeing what is effectively universe’s fundamental laws and existence given a shape only Marii can perceive through her purple eyes. Marii understands the hell Manabu has gone through to save her. She appreciates the effort and hell Manabu has gone through for her, but in the end asks Manabu to let her choose her own future, both freeing Manabu from this non-existence and allowing her to become a human again. If it was that simple, as the phone is still in her left hand, and in frustration she makes the first call she received from herself. With that decision, Manabu smashes her room’s window, breaking the cellphone in her left hand, separating herself from all the parallel possibilities, removing her superposition.

“When I look at an apple, an infinite number of “me”s are looking at an apple. Those infinite number of “me”s from an infinite number of worlds look at the same apple and experience the same thing. I think that this simultaneous experiences causes a resonance in a part of the brain. An interference, which causes an image to form in my head, much like a hologram does.
That is qualia.
Something like a wire that pierce through these thin, overlapping membranes connecting them together, where each of these membranes are “me”. It proves that no matter how many “me”s there are in the universe, they are all me. It’s something that can’t be shared, even with a closest friend. Only I can understand it. And this is proof that I’m me.”

Despite the story moves through untold numbers of Hatou Manabus, it is fitting for the motif that the one that seemingly ends the story is also the one we begin with, albeit with different future. What was Hatou Manabu’s ultimate goal, the answer and method, which then might save Marii Yukari? The love for others, that despite we can never see through each others’ eyes, that our lives are always parallel, we can stretch over that chasm and hold hands, help each other

Maybe in one possibility, this joke chapter probably did happen

Whether or not Manabu will see Marii die this one last time is left open ended. The novel version gives a hopeful glance to the future, while the comic version leans slightly towards the more sombre option. I admit that I prefer the novel version due to this, but the comic version is superbly accomplishes in visualising some of the more intricate designs and world building aspects, like the mindspace wherein Manabu talks to herself. The story has about three sharps turns to its story, which can rub some people the wrong way.

I originally went into the comic version wanting to see what sort of neat cute girls and robots shenanigans Tsunashima Shirou had drawn, and I admit I was disappointed to see that it would transform into time/dimension travel plot. However, because it’s not exactly that, and presented in a relatively unique fashion. It doesn’t do the now-tiresome split timelines and parallel worlds stories that are the bog standard stuff, but at the same time it does ask the reader to put some effort up front to understand some of the real world theories and possible mechanics. I haven’t touched on these subjects either, e.g. what is qualia (which are individual instances of subjective, conscious experience) as that’s probably part of the charm of the work. I can’t call it a sit-down-feelgood story.

I wonder how should I end this post. Much like the story, I had a draft in my mind how I would bitch about time travel stories being overused in modern SF for the last half a century. It will turn some people off, especially if I were to mention I dropped Steins;Gate right after it revealed its story gimmick. Purple’s Qualia is also something I would have liked to review or write about, but a comic review is something I’ll leave to actual nerds. It wasn’t until I got off my ass and read through The Stars My Destination when things clicked how I would approach this post. Start with some nonsense, follow the set pattern to explain the story bit by bit, but then backtrack and repeat that story bit in a comparative manner. While my take on the nature of the work is probably overshooting a bit, Hisamitsu is a science fiction author who knows of these concepts and subjects to a relatively significant degree.

While Purple’s Qualia didn’t really come across to me in a significant point in time, like both Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv did, the story did revive my interest in visiting some of my own projects down the line as well as rekindling my affection towards science fiction overall. It also some new appreciation how to do a time travel and parallel world story after the Nth time Super Robot Wars had one.

The style the novel was written was rather unique and I could appreciate its episodic nature. After all, it was supposed to be a one-shot about a girl who sees world as robots, but then was a bit more. The comic returned my interest towards Tsunashima Shiro’s works, and I finally am getting around watching and reading Jinki:Extend and read the rest of the body of his works, including Orichalcum Reycal and his newest work, an alternative take on Jinki, Jinrouki Winvurga. Maybe we’ll take about dem titties some other time though. It’s like a Lemon People comic and it’s great.

Perhaps the last thing that I would like to share about Purple’s Qualia is that much like other great niche works, it probably will never be translated. The translators for both the comic and novel did rather decent job with the translation, but the larger audience seems to elude the work even in Japan. Perhaps it came out at a wrong time, perhaps the way it represents itself and was told in sections wasn’t a hit. Objectively, the work has problems and its change in sub-genres could be jarring if not handled this well, but my personal bias is already on the bookshelf.

Maybe this should’ve been the way to start this post. Purple’s Qualia entered the same shelf where I keep the ones that sit high on personal appreciation, next to works you probably already know of.

As an end note, the original name of this post was to be Hatou Manabu is my name, And Japan is my nation. Spacetime is my dwelling place, And Home is my Destination, but that was too long and I know for certain most people would miss the clear reference. Alternative names included stuff like Hatou Manabu is the strongest super robot and I am become like purple light.

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