Central to the image is Meiko bound with her hands behind her back. She is barefoot, turned away from front, looking back over her shoulder with her face set in determined defiance. The posture suggests the metaphorical “looking back” that happens in this issue through flashback. The binding isn’t a particular moment we see in the comic issue, though it could be an unshown moment of incarceration adjacent to what is depicted, most likely the end when she makes a play against her guard-rapist, landing her a transfer to Bitch Planet.
The background image is a blueprint, bringing in the plot machination of Meiko and her father designing the Fathers’ fancy space ship. There is a rip in the blueprint to suggest the “breaking” of Meiko, her transformation from seemingly compliant to murderous. To the left stand three men, seemingly white, definitely suited, suggesting the business men who flex their power over subordinates and women, and in particular her father’s boss who attempts to marry Meiko. Behind the men are repeated circles with stylized outlines shaped like angular violins–which play as both a mask of compliance and the source of her weapon. To her right is Meiko’s head in the expression of vocal outrage. She will not be silent or passive. That’s what we love about her. The announcement that she’s an “Extraordinary Machine” is no hyperbole, but it does play ambiguously: machines are objects, but also do their jobs without emotional distraction.
A final layer places concentric circles over Meiko and the men. This design suggests chaos, especially mental. Though Meiko has seemed one of the sanest women at the ACO, the tension and weight of her decision to murder a man to save her father cannot be discounted, and it creates much of the suspense of the issue.
As a quick reminder, the issue came with a content warning regarding the rape that occurs on the first page of the comic. In addition, the alarming statistic of 1 in 6 incarcerated women being the victim of sexual assault introduces the situation. Of course, the statistic is a symptom of the power dynamics of the larger world writ large. The guard-prisoner power disparity allows the guards to abuse their charges with few consequences. Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power. It is a violation that is both physical and mental. It is demoralizing and dehumanizing. The victim is reduced to an object.
But within the society of Bitch Planet and, in a somewhat less obvious way, our own, the objectification of women that leads to that alarming statistic is noticeable in every facet of life. We call it rape culture. Meiko’s death stems from the same place. Thus, the opening page immediately reverberates back to the last issue.
In the background is the sheet music of a violin piece. It introduces the importance of musical study to the narrative, but it may also be a clue to where Meiko’s brain is during her assault. Perhaps her brain is running through the practiced piece, placing her mentally in a comfortable and habitual space where she can put her focus on the musical notes rather than the physical violation of the present.
An extended metaphor of this objectification plays out on page 1–the violin to the female body. Hourglass-shaped, shared parts names, suggestion of “playing” in the hands of men. The panels are layered, each showing an extreme close-up on top of the “full-body” illustration of a violin from four angles and Meiko’s body, head to hinny, with the f-holes of the violin superimposed on her hips in a mimic of Man Ray’s famous photo “Ingres’s Violin.” This is Meiko’s violin, and while others might see the body to be played, she’s the one truly pulling the strings.
Cells 1-3 are extreme close-ups of the guard’s sexual assault on Meiko. The first frames upper torso, partially undressed, to mouth, closed in a somber-seeming resignation. The second shows the guard tonguing her neck while 2/3 of Meiko’s face is shown, her eyes look away from him, and her head tilts away, giving him easier access to her neck but also physically distancing herself as much as possible. The third shows a now naked breast, the ribcage, and the guard’s hand touching it. The effect is nauseating. We want to escape as much as she does. She seems to passively take her abuse. We’d like her to fight back, though we also know the odds are against her.
Then in cell 4, the extreme close-up is of a violin’s bridge and soul post, matching the narration’s metaphor. Finally, cell 5 shows only Meiko’s face. These panels pull away from the rape and likely match Meiko’s mental space. Comforted by the violin mentally, she begins to think of her mother and remind herself of what she’s fighting for.
Meiko’s face is an exact match for her mother’s, shown in cell 1. The only difference is their hair. This is a crucial “match cut” (to return to the cinematic terms) because it sets up the expectation that Meiko takes after Yumi, a surprise considering Yumi’s desire to comply and her projected emotional distance from Meiko in issue #5.
Cell 2 gives a bird’s eye view establishing shot of the Maki house and Yumi welcoming girls in for lessons. There are a few mothers shown dropping them off. All the girls wear a uniform of a dress shirt, vest, and just-below-the-knees skirt and carry a violin case and a lunchbag/purse. They look very compliant. Yumi is bubbly in her welcome, reinforcing their smiling faces, the pleasant happiness. Negative emotions in a woman, especially anger, is non-compliant. Wearing the smile is a mask to tell the outside world that this girl means to be pleasantly obedient. Likewise, music, especially string instruments, has been one of the few approved areas of education for women throughout history.
In cells 3-5 Yumi asks one girl, Caroline, how a piece of music she’s working on is going and then positively reinforces her practice when the girl answers “good.” Caroline walks us into the house, re-establishing the setting before casually introducing us to young Meiko who yawns as she comes downstairs. Her matched outfit tells us Meiko, too, is taking lessons from her mother.
The panels on the lower half of the page allow for an inordinate amount of white space. Unlike most comics, though, the white space is actually a parchment paper light tan. It warms the narrative while also giving it an aged look, bringing in a touch of that retro era sepia tone.