If a god is in truth the idea of a god, what does it look like when gods fight?
“We're Not Afraid of Divine Judgment. It's Like Magic?!” opens up seeming like it's going to be a cross between the Dirty Pair novels and, of all things, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. The girls arrive incognito on an agricultural planet that's been subject to a number of mysterious unsolved murders. An extremely religious culture, the settlers on this planet all swear fealty to a massive church that dictates their social, spiritual and material lives. It's the belief of the local police that it's the planet's God itself that's responsible for the killings, though they see it more as “divine retribution” than murder. But Kei and Yuri suspect something else is up, so they sneak in undercover to investigate. The design of the planet is definitely a memorable one, featuring a mix of pastoral farming scenes and twisted, nightmarish imagery straight out of a horror movie, Original Dirty Pair upping the ante with futuristic space ravens and blood red, almost volcanic skies, befitting the tone of the story.
It at first seems as if the show is building to the reveal of an implausibly massive Scooby-Doo hoax gambit: We get early confirmation this “God” is a “new” one, far more stringent and judgmental than the old one and, while there are a series of awe-inspiringly grotesque scenes of God's supposed furor, Kei and Yuri swiftly reveal them to be part of an elabourate, yet mundane (albeit futuristic) technological smoke-and-mirrors trick. But it's then that this episode gets *really* good, because, as the Lovely Angels face down *God himself* and declare to a giant space church full of parishioners that all of his miracles were the work of sophisticated technoscience, God blindsides us all with the confession that yes, obviously everything he does is thanks to science. But what does it matter? He is, so he claims, the “One True God”. The God of Science. Someone who has “cast off” his “mortal bonds” to become a Divine Machine. In other words, this God is the God of Scientism and technofetishistic positivist atheism. This is the God of the Church of the Singularity.
What this story becomes then is one of gods in conflict with one another: Kei and Yuri are up against an opponent who is genuinely playing on their level. The God in this episode bears some resemblance to both Criados from the TV series episode “Criados' Heartbeat” and The Master from The Dirty Pair Strike Again: Like Criados, he's an explicitly transhuman character who has attained both his trashuman status and his spiritual enlightenment through experimenting with technology, but while Criados went mad from the process, this person decided his enlightenment gave him the right to start a religion around himself. Much like The Master, he designed and built an entire hierarchical church structure with himself at the centre, although unlike The Master he decided he was both God's Chosen and God Himself. With a setup like that, it sounds like “We're Not Afraid of Divine Judgment. It's Like Magic?!” would come across as very redundant, but it actually doesn't: What we're actually getting is a musing on two different forms of trashumanism and enlightenment that builds noticeably on the themes from the previous two stories.
Firstly, if God is a machine singularity, than this makes his character an explicit, and well-deserved, critique of the Scientism that tends to permeate both actual science and science fiction communities dating back to at least Isaac Asimov. This is what it would really look like if the New Atheists and the Church of the Singularity people got their way; this is a *literal* Church of Science, with all such a descriptor entails. Tellingly, and amusingly, God's church operates under an extreme, yet very recognisably Christian model (in particular the Catholic flavour of Christianity). Sinners constantly repent and are brutally punished for their transgressions and infractions, however minor they may be, and clergymen spend hours upon hours genuflecting before the Altar of Positivity. As I've always said, New Atheism and religious fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin. Dogmatic Atheism is every bit a product of Western thought as the Abrahamic religions are. There's also a great moment in the climax where, after the church gets vaporized and the tide of battle turns against him, God's attitude towards Kei and Yuri completely changes. Before this, he was issuing fire-and-brimstone condemnations of the “infidels” and “adulterous whores”. After, he speaks very frankly and openly to the girls, as if he considers them equals. Once he no longer needs to keep up appearances before his flock, he drops all airs and pretenses and reveals the whole thing for what it always was: A performative facade.
And Kei and Yuri really are God's peers in this respect. For one thing, they're both transhuman. But while God is a machine singularity, Kei and Yuri are Glorified Bodies, representations of a singularity archetype: Idealized effigies of humanity and humanity's future augmented through the help of technology, rather than the glorification of technology and subservience to it. This is but one critical philosophical disagreement underwriting the girls and God, and shows through in the way they interact with one another. Notice how when God pleads to the girls that he only sublimated his own existence and that he did bring peace and prosperity to his people, Kei and Yuri don't dispute this. He's correct. But what the girls do call him out for, and rightly in my view, is his attempt to force his Will unto the people.
The girls show him how his people have no freedom and can be killed at any time on a whim. God has imposed an authoritarian power structure, as is always the case with institutionalized religion, a force that drives a middle-man between people and spirituality. God is, in essence, a Philosopher King. An Enlightened Despot, and the ultimate dream of so much liberal Western thought. Kei and Yuri don't fault him for attaining enlightenment the way he did, they fault him for everything he did with that knowledge after the fact. Kei and Yuri are gods too, but they're a very different sort of god. What we're seeing here is a tension between two different forms of divinity: The idea that a person can simply declare himself God and that he has divine right to do as he sees fit to everyone else, or the idea that divinity is actually just a set of ideals to be meditated on and invoked on a day-to-day basis. Kei and Yuri, who have mantled spirits, are individualist goddesses, and in many ways marginal ones.
(Before the Star Trek fans' eyes collectively gloss over as I launch into the mystical, I'll briefly mention one way you could read this episode is as a bottom-up, deconstructive inversion of the “Justice” and “The Apple” story archetypes with the Federation's philosophical worldview being given the same treatment they would give the belief system of others.)
God dictates. Kei and Yuri lead by example. They act and they live, and simply in living the life they are meant to, fulfilling their Great Work, if you will, they make the universe a better place naturally. While God has an entire church at his command, Kei and Yuri are forced underground to the barrows like the Tuatha Dé Danann they are. Nobody believes in these spirits, as their infamous reputation as the Dirty Pair makes quite evident. They're marginal in just about every way they could be: They're women (Kei even arguably a woman of colour). They're liminal. They don't conform. They're not “consummately normal”. They're everything that's been feminized and forced out of sight, everything Avital Ronell describes as having been labeled “stupid”: They're the enemy of rational, logical, accepted masculinist thought...indeed, the very virtues God claims to embody. And yet Kei and Yuri remain divine, because they have meditated on ideals and, through that process, taken those ideals into themselves. As a result, they have become one with their art, magick and goddess figures through living performance.
Kei and Yuri are agents of the divine feminine, and what they've done, what they always do, is show us what a *reclaimed* divine femininity looks like, and this episode may be the most crystal clear evocation of the concept to date. I wonder, is it even possible to have a female God? Not a goddess, obviously, but an actual distaff counterpart to the Western, Abrahamic God of the sort we see here. I posit that we actually can't, because such a God must by definition be an authoritarian one, and authoritarianism is the province of patriarchy, and thus fascism. Female divine energy, *real* female divine energy, is dispersed and generative. Shaktism describes the divine feminine as a godhead or divine oversoul, within everyone and everything. Animistic. Anarchic. And we've already seen how Kei and Yuri can be compared very easily with the Tantric goddesses Tārā and Kāli, both of whom are seen in Shaktism as Mahavidyas; individual manifestations of the larger goddess oversoul (and the former of which even has a homonymic counterpart in both Celtic and Polynesian mythology) that one might reflect and mediate upon.
In the context of The Elder Scrolls, Michael Kirkbride once described an era of that series' fictional history as a time when “wars...were ideologies given skin”. And Alan Moore talks about how all ideas are ultimately materially real within the ideaspace. If this episode depicts a war between the gods, how does this reshape the landscape of the noösphere? Another idea of Moore's might be useful here, in particular, his stance that life exists on a spectrum between two binary extremes, fascism and anarchy. What Original Dirty Pair is giving us through “We're Not Afraid of Divine Judgment. It's Like Magic?!” is a representation of what happens when these two oppositional forces come to blows with each other in the ring to decide the fate of the cosmic whole. This immutable central tension manifests within the text of Dirty Pair's utopian speculative fiction as a textual echo of itself; war, ideology and narrative becoming thought-forms. Or perhaps, simply returning to their natural states of being.
And anarchism decisively wins, as Kei and Yuri do what they do best and blow up God, the church, the parishioners and beset the planet to an unending wave of natural disasters (in other words, “Acts of God” or, in the more appropriate Japanese context, the revenge of the natural order of things). But while Kei and Yuri may have won the revolution, they're fated to remain marginal figures, both diegetically and extradiegetically. Textually, their reputation among the universe's human population never improves and Chief Gooley still resents them. But in another sense, this affects Dirty Pair as a franchise as well. Original Dirty Pair is, of course, an OVA series specifically made for a niche audience, and even now the girls' metatextual lustre seems to be fading. Their moment in the spotlight that accompanied Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture has passed, and this show would be the last Dirty Pair release to see any sort of populist fanfare or major PR campaign. With Samhainn over, the Tuatha Dé Danann must return to the barrows, taking on the visage of the Old Gods in Hiding.
And yet this seems fitting for the Lovely Angels, because another difference between them and God is that their job is to inspire and guide, not to lead, and there's an important distinction to be made there. Kei and Yuri could never put themselves above anybody else, because true revolutionaries do not become statesmen. They remain forever underground and marginal, restless in their quest to improve themselves and the world around them. And so it is for Kei and Yuri, whose moment will not end not because time is frozen, but because it's now and forever. As much as it's always summertime for our girls, their summer memories are made every day.