Roswell Was Sekai-kei

roswellRoswell (1999) was not a great show. It falls behind its supernatural contemporaries Buffy and Charmed in the popular conscious and never garnered romantic excitement like Felicity or Dawson’s Creek. Roswell made the risky move of building its entire foundation on two teens being soulmates right out of the gate, asking us to care about understated human Liz and understated alien Max before we have time to get attached to them. The thing, though, is that I kind of love bullshit like that. I love the almost embarrassing melodrama of Dido’s “Here with Me” as the opening credits song.

 

Over three seasons, the young characters are threatened by skin-stealing aliens, clones, extraterrestrial dream pregnancies, and Max’s alien fiancée from their home planet coming in to NTR Liz. Liz’s best friend Maria and bad boy alien Michael have their own cute tsundere x tsundere dynamic. There may be aliens, but it’s just a show about earnest teens and how it’s very boring in the middle of New Mexico. Talk of saving the planet – either earth or the aliens’ home – and a looming threat of the FBI never feel too important compared to the regular relationship drama.

There is a word for a subgenre of story in which the fate of the world or a society hinges on a relationship. It’s セカイ系 or sekai-kei, using the terms for “world” and “type.” True sekai-kei anime are almost always aggressively het and the world saving has a lot to do with the female protagonist’s supernatural abilities. Eureka Seven, or for a smaller definition of “the world,” The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fit the genre. If it sounds nebulous or if you are an anime nerd who is reading this and raising a finger to “actually” me, let me assure you that nobody knows what it solidly, absolutely means and let’s just call it anime’s “camp” and move on.

One episode of Roswell in particular has the trappings of sekai-kei. In season two’s “The End of the World,” a future version of Max time travels to his high school days to convince Liz that her Max needs to fall out of love with her. In the not too distant (because nobody bothered with age makeup) future, Max’s choice to reject his alien betrothed will unbalance the battle against their skin-stealing enemies and spell doom for the world*. It’s an interesting take on the normal framework of the genre, but it makes intuitive sense to me. If a couple falling in love could save the world, then a couple falling out love could drastically alter it too. And although Max usually fits the bill of the usual female, supernatural role, “The End of the World” imbues Liz’s actions in the present with their own kind of outsized power.

*Like I’ve found in a lot of sekai-kei anime, the boundaries of “world” are often left undefined. It could be the world or, IDK, Southern New Mexico.

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future Max – just less sleeves and more hair

It ends up being a standout – to me the standout – episode of the series. There’s some hijinks in how Liz tries to orchestrate a spark between Max and fellow alien (and pre LOST Emilie de Ravin) Tess, but it zeroes in on the heart the show offered us in the pilot and asked us to believe in. After resigning herself to future Max’s plan, Liz asks him if they ended up getting married. They did – an elopement at 19 and dancing in the desert. We are told, granted without any key details, that if Max and Liz don’t break up, humanity is in danger. But the writers know, just as we do, that nobody cares about that. When Liz and future Max dance on her roof to what would have been their wedding song and it’s genuinely heartbreaking, it’s reaffirming to us fans that our priorities haven’t been misplaced.

 

The series ends with a wedding. After more FBI chases and deaths and alien babies and having  to skip town after high school graduation, Liz, Max, and their friends end up choosing uncertain futures with the relationships they’ve built over destiny. Humanity seems to be fine for all the subplots where its fate seemed to weigh on the shoulders of some teens from New Mexico (and space). It’s a little like the finale of Eureka Seven, where a human and alien teen fall in love and choose each other at the expense of their familiar lives. Even if the couples in these stories can’t see the changes they’ve made immediately, they heal their respective worlds with their bleeding hearts and tenacious, completely absurd sincerity. Roswell was not the best show, but it was about human connection all along.

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