[Contains spoilers for recent episodes of Steven Universe]
I know I’ve talked a lot about Pacific Rim on this little corner of the internet, and some of you are probably getting sick of watching me figuratively roll around on the cyberspace floor gushing about how cool it is. One of the things I want to zoom in on though, something quite fun and interesting it gave us and the collective consciousness of recent media, is the concept of Drift Compatibility and everything it and its ilk means for discussions of soulmates, character dynamics, and intimacy that has absolutely nothing sexual about it.
The motto of the Pacific Rim apocalypse response squad is “go big or go extinct”, but it seems the technology they built was too big for one human alone to handle—thus the Drift was invented, a dual-piloting system where one person controls one hemisphere of the mech each. In theory, it leads to perfect balance and less of a risk of brain-melt due to the neural load being shared by two people, but it requires the two pilots to be Compatible.
What exactly this means is never explained entirely, but we can easily infer that it involves a kind of understanding and alignment of personality. Drift partners are also often related in some way, with a father and son team on deck as well as a trio of brothers. Blood ties aren’t required, though, since the Russian Jaeger is piloted by a married couple. Essentially, every Jaeger we know serves as some sort of ludicrously high-tech and enormous family car at this point, until we get to Raleigh and Mako.
Raleigh, of course, used to co-pilot with his brother before he died, so that confirms the “family is better” theory, and his relationship with Mako could be considered the beginnings of something romantic if you look into it. If you don’t want to, however, you don’t have to, because they could just as easily be interpreted as two fast-forged friends. Having only just met each other and had a few conversations and one sparring match, it feels like a lot to ask of them to get inside each other’s heads.
And they are literally getting inside each other’s heads. The Drift lets them (if not forces them, if they get too distracted and sucked in) to look into the minds of their co-pilots, leading Raleigh to witness first-hand one of Mako’s most traumatic and personal memories. And that’s not something you want just anyone stepping into—it’s like being mentally and emotionally naked under a science-enhanced spotlight. What their decision to Drift together speaks of, then, is a complete and very intimate trust. And what their compatibility once they’ve actually pressed go speaks of is their ability to accept what they see, deal with it, and effectively let themselves fall into the void enough to meld into one monster-fighting consciousness.
To not only put your life in someone else’s hands but to put your brain in their brain and essentially overlap into one being… that takes a strong connection with someone. And it’s clear that all the pilot teams are strong, which means their bonds are strong, and those bonds coming from romantic love doesn’t make them any stronger than if they came from platonic. And there also isn’t one perfect Drift partner out there for everyone that you’re destined to be with—it can change and you can be just as powerful with someone else at your side, if you’re willing to let them into your brain.
The Fusions in Steven Universe work in a similar way—one of the fun tricks the alien Gems can do is combine into a new being, often with multiple arms and a massive increase in strength. To Fuse, of course, you have to be in synch, as we see in the episode “Giant Woman” where Pearl and Amethyst spectacularly fail to be so and do so because they’re bickering like tiny colourful children. It’s pretty obvious from their conflicting styles of pre-Fusion dance (if not from their basic personalities) that these are two completely different creatures who will only ever rub each other the wrong way… until they’re united by their protective love for Steven, a powerful emotion that they share strongly enough (like Mako and Raleigh’s heroic ideals) to meld together into a whole new person.
Which is a pretty cool concept any way you slice it—and only goes deeper as we discover that half-human half-Gem Steven can Fuse with people too, accidentally combining he and his best friend into one very tall person when they’re having fun dancing together; and also that one of his guardians Garnet was actually a Fusion all along, made of two much smaller and very clearly in love Gems. Again, the range of Fusion pairs shows that the ability to be compatible doesn’t rest in any kind of relationship, just a mutual understanding and trust and alignment of ideals… and, basically, being comfortable with each other.
The reason Garnet is such a class-A badass is because she’s made of love, and I think that’s an awesome message to send. Fusion, like Drift Compatibility, is also expressed as something that can’t be forced, and also as something that can go horribly and hilariously wrong if the Gems doing it are at odds. Because well, relationships are messy enough when you aren’t forging into one body or getting inside the other person’s head. These things take work and trust and openness. And if you find someone that you can be that open with, you can join up and become a giant monster-mashing warrior. How sweet is that?
Both these devices call up a message about The Power of Teamwork, but more than that (especially in Steven Universe’s case, where it’s mercifully not turned into a moral outright just because it’s a kid’s show), I think they just enforce a message we don’t often see in fiction: even though “becoming one” is a pretty common and easy sexual metaphor, these scenarios play out to show you don’t have to be physically or sexually intimate with someone to be intimate, to have a deep physical and emotional connection, and it’s not only romantic or sexual relationships that can bring that kind of intense trust and understanding on.
Are they in love? Are they friends? Avoid the terminology completely; they’re Drift/Fusion Compatible. They’re comfortable enough to know each other inside out, so much that when they team up they’re so in synch they practically become one person.
And you don’t have to be related or married or anything to be able to forge that bond, and you don’t have to devote yourself to one person either (in fact, you can have multiple people involved, which is a great message again since it shows that intimate relationships can exist between more than two people). You just need love, in whatever form, and trust and understanding, and you can light up and destroy the aliens threatening Earth. I think, as messages to beam to the populace (kids especially) that’s a pretty great one.
Now, the real question is, has anyone drawn Ruby and Sapphire piloting a giant Garnet-shaped robot? Because that is the kind of crossover material I’m interested in.