Spoiler Warning: Contains spoilers for all of the 2011 anime TV series, No. 6.
No.6 is a science fiction, dystopian anime series that serves as a commentary on refugees, and the ways first world nations exploit them for their own benefits. Told through the eyes of two leads, one an orphan, the other born to privilege, the series provides a nuanced, layered view of the world. It’s a rare series that raises as many questions as it answers, and leads viewers to truly consider what lurks beneath the surface of places whose relative safety is often taken for granted.
On its surface, the city of No. 6 stands as a utopian city-state. It is one of the six regions that remained after a cataclysmic war destroyed half of the land on Earth. Scientists designed No. 6 so that those who survived the war can live an idyllic, peaceful life. The region is unique because it requires all citizens to wear an identification bracelet that tracks their actions and keeps their information. In exchange, those who reside in the nation are allowed to live the lives they want without questioning the government.
While No. 6, to its citizens, is a green, gorgeous, and calming city, the officials themselves are morally questionable. They terminate seniors when they get too old, and use humans as guinea pigs for experiments. Furthermore, they destroy people’s lands to get what they need and throw people into the city’s prison if they slightly question the government.
There are apparent economic differences between where the two main characters, Shion and Nezumi, were raised. Shion grew up in the upscale area of Chronos, which is a neighborhood within No. 6. A high-tech security system protected his home in Chronos. He attended school there with his best friend Safu, where he was the top of his class. Shion grew up sheltered and was unaware of anything insidious from No. 6 due to the privileges the city granted him and his mom. He did not question the amount of information that No. 6 had on him, his mom, and the rest of the citizens since he did not think anything terrible would happen until his fateful encounter with Nezumi.
The first interaction between Nezumi and Shion signifies their differing attitudes towards strangers. Shion is ready to approach Nezumi, but Nezumi right away puts his hand around his neck, pins him against the wall, and menacingly tells him, “Don’t Move.”
Conversely, while still being pinned against the wall and wincing from pain, Shion does not react with fear. Instead, he rhetorically asks Nezumi “So you’re used to doing things like this?” He then offers to bandage Nezumi’s bloody shoulder. When Nezumi sees Shion for the first time, he reacts warily and suspiciously, while Shion, although surprised, sees Nezumi with curiosity and compassion.
After the city police caught Shion for protecting Nezumi, a violent criminal under No. 6 rules, he grew up in Lost Town, a less affluent area of No. 6, after city officials forced him and his mother to move. Lost City is different from Chronos because people live in close quarters to each other, and it is bare in comparison to the spacious and green Chronos.
Instead of feeling angry and resentful towards Nezumi, Shion moves on with his life by becoming a maintenance worker supervising robots that clean up the parks in No. 6, while his mother owns a bakery shop in their lower-class neighborhood of Lost Town.
While hanging out with his friend Safu at a cafe, Safu asks why he did not advance to the gifted classes like he originally planned. Shion’s response to the question is interesting because despite not blaming Nezumi for his plight, he also doesn’t tell the whole story about why he wasn’t able to continue in school, and why he doesn’t live in Chronos. Instead, he has accepted his fate living in Lost Town.
Nezumi spent his early childhood in the Mao forest before No. 6 officials destroyed it, and he spent the rest of the years in West Block as an orphan, a shantytown that is outside of No. 6’s city walls. West Block is a town that receives No. 6’s discards. For instance, when a citizen is captured by city officials and thrown into the prison, the citizen’s clothes are discarded. The garments then get smuggled by West Block dealers and are sold at thrift stores in the town. People with shady businesses also live in West Block. Dogkeeper, a brash individual that is friends with Nezumi, owns a rundown hotel and rents out dogs as “heaters” to drifters in West Block.
Nezumi is a descendant of the forest people who lived in the Mao Forest, where they lived for untold years before the great war destroyed nearly half the land on Earth. The forest folk lived in harmony with their environment and were able to communicate with the animals and the trees. Nezumi stems from the “singers,” which are forest folk who can talk with and appease the Forest God.
The Forest God was eventually renamed Elyrius by one of the scientists who created No. 6.
Because Nezumi grew up in West Block after being orphaned, he learned to be a fighter who can think on his feet. The second time Nezumi and Shion meet is after some No. 6 officials wrongfully arrest Shion for the death of his coworker, and Nezumi rescues him.
Nezumi liberates Shion by placing a cleaning robot in the middle of the road. The officials escorting him to the prison come out of their cars to check what a cleaning robot is doing, allowing Nezumi to ambush them and take over their car. This scene shows that not only is Nezumi a fighter and willing to take on multiple people; he is also strategic and can plan an escape. Nezumi’s ability to think on his feet is likely from his experience escaping from the No. 6 prison as a twelve-year-old human guinea pig and surviving independently as an orphan.
After Nezumi rescues Shion from the No. 6 officials, they share a similar reaction to that of their initial meeting four years prior. Nezumi is cocky and shows it by taunting Shion and telling him that he is taller than him.
Shion, meanwhile, is not used to being in a position where he does not know what is going on. It makes him uncomfortable and he does not know what to do. In this situation, all he can do is ask “I just want answers. Why did all this happen? What will I do now? I can’t move when I’ve lost all direction.”
Nezumi, on the other hand, has been forced to learn how to figure things out quickly, relying on his own investigations, and use others for information when he can. He sees Shion’s response as a threat; a challenge to his worldview. He erupts at Shion, calling him “naive” and grabbing him by the collar.
Nezumi is better at improvisation because he has been forced to learn how to figure things out quickly and find out what he needs to know by doing his own investigation and using others to get information.
While Shion has formal education, Nezumi does not. Instead, Nezumi has a collection of books that range from Western literature to scientific journals. Shion says that he was discouraged from following the arts, while Nezumi studied the arts because he was able to pursue it outside of traditional education. Notably, the difference in education shows in the way they approach difficult situations. Shion has less experience in dealing with new situations and feels lost, while Nezumi observes a problem and improvises off it. Given that Nezumi enjoys literature and works as an actor in Western Block, he tends to trend towards the dramatic when it comes to approaching treacherous situations. He continually grabs Shion’s collar after Shion asks him questions. For instance, when Nezumi mentions that having attachments such as memories and families are useless, Shion says that his actions do not match his words.
The two hold conflicting feelings towards No. 6, as a whole. Shion has a generally favorable attitude towards the city-state because he grew up in the area. Nezumi feels negatively towards No. 6, due to officials destroying his village and kidnapping him.
Nezumi appears overjoyed at No.6’s destruction, which unfolds when Shion figures out the parasitic wasps’ life cycles. The insects are the perpetrators of the mysterious deaths in the city, where the citizens are stung, age rapidly, and die. Since Shion majored in Ecology in school, he concludes that many will embed their hosts and cause trouble in the city. Nezumi finds it ironic that No.6 will die by the same parasites that they used to destroy other people’s lives. Shion optimistically says that he survived the parasitic wasp infection and that he may be able to develop a serum from his blood to undo the process. Nezumi is undeterred by his opinion, though, and states that if Shion wants to help No. 6 even after learning the truth about it, they will be enemies.
This difference in worldview filters into Shion and Nezumi’s differing beliefs on relationships. Shion grew up in a quiet neighborhood where he was educated and had all his necessities met. He had close attachments to his mother and his best friend, Safu. Because of this, despite his having few close relationships, Shion is aware that his relationships are safe, and more importantly, stable.
This becomes particularly apparent when Shion and Nezumi pay a visit to Rikiga, an old friend of Shion’s mother. Rikiga offers to take care of Shion, but then asks Nezumi to work for him as a prostitute. Shion viciously attacks the man on the sofa, to the surprise of Rikiga and Nezumi. Furthermore, Shion’s growing attachment towards Nezumi sees him decide to stay with the boy. Nezumi asks Shion why, to which he “I find myself drawn to you.” With his answer given, he sends one of Nezumi’s rats to send a farewell message to his mother.
Nezumi, on the other hand, always needed to use his mental resources on survival. Furthermore, the weight of him losing his community at a young age weighs heavily on the boy, further feeding his belief that having attachments to others is a sign of weakness. To put it plainly, Nezumi’s views on relationships are based on fear. He is afraid of losing the people he loves, let alone putting himself and his loved ones in danger.
Unlike Shion, who is open about how much he cares about someone, Nezumi puts up a front that he only cares about himself, though his growing feelings for Shion do begin to show. In particular, one can see his barriers begin to fall when Shion is at Dogkeeper’s place, and he admits to Nezumi that he named his rats. Nezumi is stunned and replies that “For some reason, it hurts my head talking to you.” Shion retorts with “It’s because you’re always so frustrated.” Nezumi is about to admit that Shion is the person that always makes him upset, but he notices that Dogkeeper is watching their argument and stops. He then walks away so that they do not get any idea that he cares about Shion.
The kidnapping of Safu, Shion’s best friend, by No. 6 officials serves as an event that shows how Shion and Nezumi have evolved over the course of the series. Safu is kidnapped after she returns from her exchange stay in No. 5. She visits Karan and learns what has happened to Shion. After she learns about his whereabouts, No. 6 officials kidnap the girl and take her into custody at the prison. Nezumi receives a message from Karan through one of his rats, which explains what happened. He contemplates whether or not he should tell Shion, because he knows that Shion will likely die trying to save her.
He decides not to tell Shion yet, and instead asks Dogkeeper to obtain information on the prison to check on Safu. Before Nezumi met Shion that second time, he never let himself care about anyone. Now that Shion is precious to him, though, the boy is willing to do anything to protect him and keep his loved ones safe.
Meanwhile, Shion figures out on his own that Safu was abducted, thanks to her coat turning up in a West Block shop. Shion decides to go after Safu alone, without telling Nezumi. He makes a “goodbye” dinner for Nezumi, and gives him a farewell kiss before sneaking out. Nezumi realizes what is going on and follows when Shion leaves to look for Safu. The two fight, they make up, and they promise not to lie to each other again.
Shion’s changes become particularly prominent, as it shows that he is willing to resort to lying in order to save someone he loves from his hometown. Moreover, it highlights that Shion desires to be Nezumi’s equal by showing him he can do this on his own.
Ultimately, Shion agrees to work with Nezumi to rescue Safu. Their mission takes them to Lost Town on the day before an event known as “Holy Day.”” A significant scene during the “pre-Holy Day” cleaning shows Shion’s and Nezumi’s distinctive approaches to survival . The “pre-Holy Day” cleaning is a time of chaos, during which No. 6 invades West Block with military tanks, killing people, taking hostages, and causing untold property damage. . Amid the chaos, Shion sees an orphan baby. Nezumi wants him to leave the baby and fend for himself, which shows that Nezumi still retains his survivor instincts. Rather than give in to those instincts, though, Shion spots one of Dogkeeper’s dogs and decides to send the baby to Dogkeeper.
Despite their efforts, Nezumi and Shion are captured during the cleaning. As Nezumi is a singer, he sings a song to comfort the people being taken to the prison. Despite his actions, Nezumi knows and goes as far as to tell Shion that his songs will not save anyone. It’s a moment that shows that Nezumi still has a soft side for people, though he doubts doing so simple as a song will do much for those in dire straits.
Shion, meanwhile, begins to show his more aggressive and emotional side as the two arrive at the prison. When a guard injures Nezumi, Shion blacks out in anger and shoots the security guard in retaliation. It’s a clear evolution in his character from the timid dove in the early series, to a passionate individual who would do anything to fight the city that hurt his loved ones.
This comes to a peak when Shion reunites with Safu. Nezumi realizes that Elyurias, the deity that his forest people worshipped, is controlling the girl. Safu confesses to Shion, stating that she loves him and that “Mother,” the central computer that No. 6 scientists used to test whether “missing” people could be viable mediums for Elyurias, needs to be destroyed. It quickly dawns on Shion that Safu is gone. The only part of her that remains is her physical body, the realization of which drives Shion into hysterics.
Though Shion wants to destroy “Mother” to avenge Safu’s death, Elyurias, through the body of Safu, informs him that only Nezumi can do it, as he is the last of the forest people.
Shion’s perception of No. 6 has clearly changed. No longer does he see the idyllic town that he once loved. Instead, all that remains is the city that has destroyed his best friend and ruined the lives of countless innocent people.
Nezumi’s growing love for Shion is made apparent after Shion is shot in the heart by No. 6 security guards. Rikiga and Dogkeeper, who assisted Shion and Nezumi in finding Safu, tell Nezumi that he must leave Shion behind, or he will also be killed. Nezumi refuses and instead sings to the fallen Shion. He had finally allowed himself to open his heart to somebody, after a lifetime of insisting that such emotional connections are more trouble than they’d ever be worth.
The city of No. 6 raised Shion in a safe but choreographed life. He lived in a seemingly perfect society when underneath, it was a dystopia. Nezumi had his home and family destroyed and needed to scrape by to survive on his own. Both characters’ upbringings were highly influential in how they approach difficult situations, but once their paths crossed, their usual approaches evolved. Shion became braver, and Nezumi was able to let himself love someone for the first time. The series shows that both these characters became better people from meeting each other.