“So they make it back and when everybody hears their story, they start to realize… maybe they were a little hard on the misfits. Maybe misfits have a place, too.”
My mother loves Christmas. Not for any religious reasons – my family has pretty much always been a bunch of godless heathens. But because it’s a family holiday. Because it means time spent together, and the opportunity to express how much you care about those you love. I’ve always had a loving family, for which I count myself lucky. And one memory I always associate with Christmas is that old stop-motion Rudolph movie, where Rudolph meets an elf who wants to be a dentist and goes on all sorts of strange adventures.
The movie’s pretty great, actually – it’s whimsical and endearing and clearly made with a great deal of heart. But at the center of a movie that with every fiber of its existence wants to stress the importance of being together with those you love, the main characters find themselves visiting a strange place that threatens the exact opposite – the Island of Misfit Toys. On this frozen, forbidding rock, toys gather that have been rejected by the world – toys that don’t fit into the roles they’ve been assigned, toys that fail to live up to their owners’ expectations. Though strange and laden with melancholy, these toys end up gathering together in the wilderness, making a family of their own and awaiting the day the world will accept them once again.
Family is important. We all desire love and understanding, we all want a place where we can feel safe. Perhaps most importantly, we all want to be valued for who we are – in a world that demands specific performances and places heavy expectations on all of us, we need to know there is a place where we’re accepted, warts and all. Where our individual strangeness and passions and even failings are accepted as a part of us, as what makes us beautiful and needed.
Sekai Seifuku is a story about family. Its villainous protagonists have been rejected by their own original families – be it for their quirks, their desires, or their inability to live up to their parents’ expectations, they are all misfit toys. Cast out into the world, they gather under the banner of Zvezda, vowing to conquer the world at the command of Hoshimiya Kate. Though their true selves have been rejected by their families, Zvezda accepts them. Though they are strange and unique and unlovely in all the ways all of us can be, Kate needs them all.
Kate is a powerful leader, and her subjects are right to follow her. An eternal child, she possesses all the powers that define childhood itself – earnest belief, absolute self-confidence, selfish desire, and the ambition of a tyrant. When she applies this power to the world, she makes it her own – she wishes to conquer the world, and so she can. Only children possess the power to construct their own reality, and thus only a child could hope to conquer the world. It is a silly wish, and her power is that she can believe it with absolute certainty regardless.
The world Kate inhabits does little to dispel her beliefs. Sekai Seifuku inhabits a fairy tale reality – it is the world as seen by a child, full of wonder and mystery, but still ultimately grounded by human truths. These truths can be harsh as well as heartening – as the picture book story of Natasha demonstrates, sometimes a whimsical presentation conceals a cruel and sharp-edged moral. And this is never more clear than when Kate’s kingdom of childhood brushes up against the looming world of adults.
Adults are not subjects of adoration or respect in Sekai Seifuku. They are both fearsome and fearful creatures, products of a larger, uncaring world. Fearsome because they demand so much of us – because they wish us to conform to the selves they wanted us to be, and refuse to respect our childish needs as valid. And fearful because they have lost the power of youth, and come to bow to the world around them. Adults accept the world as it is, and instead of challenging it outright, they cloak themselves in masks and attempt to gain power from within its structure.
Masks are a key motif in Sekai Seifuku, and it is true that they can be powerful tools. They can let you assume a new self, be it more powerful or more socially accepted. They can hide your own weaknesses, or your unwanted identity. Masks come in all shapes and sizes, as well – though children may wear masks that just barely hide their faces and assume themselves invincible, adults can construct masks out of their entire outward identity, and those aspiring to be adults can take off one mask only to find their unmasked self is just one more assumed costume. Masks can make you feel comfortable and mature and in control, but they cannot replace an acceptance of who you really are.
Kate understands this, and sees masks for what they are – powerful tools, but nothing more. Certainly not something that can replace a true acknowledgment of the self, a true degree of comfort with who you are. And so in her organization, she creates no boundaries – her subordinates are also her brothers and sisters, her soldiers also her family. While her opponents flank each other in masks and slowly lose their humanity in subterfuge, she emphasizes the importance of true selves, and embraces each of her companions for who they are behind the mask. And it is here, even moreso than in her desire to conquer the world, that Kate’s belief makes her mighty.
Kate’s belief in her own dreams and aspirations is equally reflected in her belief in her family. Unlike the parents and relatives that abandoned them, she places no expectations on those she cares for – they may surprise her and they may disappoint her, but they will never lose her. She sees every one of them as valuable, every one of them as necessary to her plans. They are not misfits to her – they are beautiful, and sharing dinner with them is more valuable than anything else in the world. She believes in them absolutely.
This conviction isn’t just an ephemeral thing – it makes them strong, as well. Kate’s faith in her subordinates gives them the courage to embrace their true selves, or even the confidence to say they don’t know who they really are yet at all. That’s the power of family, and what family ultimately is – a group of people that support, care about, and believe in each other. No matter what mistakes we make, no matter who we turn out to be, family is supposed to love you for who you are. With your family (whatever form it may take), you shouldn’t have to wear a mask and gain power on their terms – with your family, whoever is hiding under the mask is wonderful, beautiful, and strong.
That’s why Kate wants to conquer the world – because she accepts it, and sees all of it as beautiful. Because no matter its flaws and failings and acts of rebellion, she loves it unconditionally. Kate wins over each of her allies not with force, but with conviction, and her plan for all of us is the same. Like the protagonists of Zvezda, we are all misfit toys – none of us are exactly who others would want us to be, or possibly even who we ourselves want to be. We are all works in progress, and we all need the faith of others to make us strong. Zvezda is the story of a girl who possesses the love and conviction of childhood, and how she demonstrates that this power is the most important thing in the world. Kate sees the entire world as her family to be, and because of this she loves each and every one of its lovely misfits.
The world is beautiful. Let’s conquer it.