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July 15th, 2016
NOTE: I'd recommend reading my previous Code Geass analysis on my blog, "The Pursuit of Happiness," before reading this one, if only because it puts parts of this analysis in better context. It's not essential to read it before this, though.

Let me preface with this: Code Geass has one of the best endings anime has ever seen.

In my opinion, of course, and only amongst the anime I have watched thus far. Nonetheless, I’m confident in stating that Code Geass’s ending is nothing short of impressive, and the fact that people haven’t stopped talking about it eight years later is a testament to its enduring quality. I have rewatched the last ten minutes of the last episode of the series more times than I can count, and with nearly every viewing I pick up on something new. From only a technical viewpoint, the final sequences are brilliantly crafted, presented with Geass’s usual bombast but with an undercurrent of surprising poignancy, creating an unusually memorable ending (at least by the standards of the anime industry, which is notorious for producing shows with less-than-satisfying conclusions, if they have such a thing at all). The true genius of Geass’s ending lies beyond its excellent presentation, though, and is instead found in the substance of its content. The ending functions on several different levels, completing the character arcs of its central protagonists in a manner that both respects their complex characterization and that resonates with everything the narrative had been building towards, providing a fitting thematic conclusion to virtually every major idea explored throughout the show. The ending achieves a level of harmony between its character, plot, and thematic components that most anime can only dream of.

Now that the fanboyish, nauseatingly enthusiastic opening is out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of what makes Code Geass’s ending so effective. To briefly summarize the ending: Lelouch kills Charles and replaces him as king of Brittania. He proceeds to become a full-fledged dictator, literally antagonizing the entire world and turning it against him. After an epic battle where both sides (Lelouch vs. The Black Knights and Schniezal) suffered heavy casualties, Lelouch wins and becomes leader of the entire world, hated by all. With that done, Suzaku dons the mask of Zero and kills “Lelouch the Demon,” ending his reign of terror. With the symbol of the world’s hatred gone, the never-ending cycle of revenge is broken, and world peace becomes reality. What everyone outside of Lelouch’s inner circle of conspirators don’t know is that he planned the entire thing, willingly sacrificing himself so that he could finally create the “gentler world” that Nunnally had wished for so long ago.

On the surface, Lelouch’s method of finally fulfilling his goal of world peace is more than a little ridiculous. Critics have pointed out the numerous logical flaws inherent to Lelouch’s final scheme. For starters, his death would leave a massive power vacuum at the top of the ladder, and cynics can argue (with much of world history on their side) that far from leading to peace, that would likely lead to chaos and a protracted power struggle. Others challenge the feasibility of piling all of the world’s hatred on one person. And so on. These issues can be debated and argued about endlessly (and they have), but ultimately it is difficult to deny that Lelouch’s plan would not have worked out as smoothly in real life as it did in the show.

However, to criticize Lelouch’s final plot on strictly technical grounds is to miss the point. This is Code Geass, after all, the show that has a million people simultaneously donning Zero costumes in a matter of seconds (honestly the logistics of that scene are nightmarish to consider), the show that has a high school student take on a massive global empire, and the show that has said high school student becoming king of said global empire. Geass has always reveled in its outrageous shenanigans and utter lunacy, and it’s all the better for it. Trying to approach it from such a straightforwardly logical perspective would be restrictive. This isn’t giving Code Geass a free pass from critical scrutiny; rather, it’s acknowledging that Geass prioritizes making grand thematic statements, in keeping with its exuberantly theatric nature, over being stringently sensible. Its narrative is internally consistent even in its insanity, and that is what separates Code Geass from lesser anime that fail to ground their absurdity in more substantial material. Geass has things to say and knows how to say them, and its thematic threads and character arcs are remarkably coherent, event brilliant, despite the chaotic window dressing that decorates them. The show does not claim to offer a legitimate roadmap to world peace through Lelouch’s grand plan, the “Zero Requiem;” rather, it presents an epic sequence of events whose sole purpose is to conclude the series in the best manner possible.

So let’s begin examining the many layers of the end of Code Geass.

From the technical viewpoint of directing, scene composition, editing, and musical score, the “Zero Requiem” soars. It seamlessly transitions from tingling suspense to epic bombast to melancholy reflection to bittersweet triumph, all within the span of seven minutes. More so, its structure communicates a lot without ever being overtly explicit and is sometimes surprisingly subtle, complementing the substance of the events unfolding with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images and minor but meaningful touches. For example, following the reveal of Lelouch’s plan, the audience is greeted to brief shots of the reactions of almost every living recurring character in the series. Interestingly, these shots are ordered based on each character’s importance to Lelouch. The very first is of the most significant person in his life, Nunnally, followed by his trusted “queen” Kallen, followed by his classmates, and so on. In this way, we learn who Lelouch cared about most in his last moments. Another example: right after Suzaku stabs Lelouch, the music cuts out to maximize the impact while a series of images flash by, one that includes the candles that both Suzaku and Lelouch had used to mourn Euphemia’s death earlier in the season. This links what had just transpired (Suzaku stabbing Lelouch) to Euphemia’s death (I discuss why this is later). When Lelouch lies dying in Nunnally’s arms, the two are silhouetted against a montage of his life that moves backwards from his death. Most of the images in the montage pass by too quickly for the eye to see, but a select few linger for a few moments longer than the others, perhaps highlighting some of Lelouch’s happiest moments, which include the kiss he shared with his “queen” Kallen and surprisingly, his time with his fake brother Rolo. The montage, fittingly, ends with a shot of him, Suzaku, and Nunnally laughing when they sat together as joyous, naïve children. The image is juxtaposed against the harsh reality of the present, with Nunnally in tears, Lelouch bleeding out, and Suzaku standing above him as his killer. This drives home the tragedy of these final few moments, while simultaneously displaying how far Lelouch had come. And so on. The whole sequence is put together excellently.

On its most basic level, the “Zero Requiem” resolves the ideological conflict between Lelouch and Suzaku. Lelouch believed that true change could only be achieved via violent revolution, through the destruction of the “system” itself. In other words, Lelouch favored utilizing external force (represented by the figure of Zero himself) to tear down the established order. Meanwhile, Suzaku believed that the system was salvageable, and that in fact serious reform could come about from within the system itself. To Suzaku, the ideal means of achieving lasting change was through using the tools of the establishment itself. So Lelouch favored change from the outside while Suzaku favored it from the inside. Lelouch desired radical change while Suzaku desired incremental change. The narrative draws a clear dichotomy between their viewpoints, and the two characters spend much of the series debating explicitly and implicitly which of them is correct.

The answer the “Zero Requiem” gives is both. Lelouch and Suzaki ultimately achieve their ideal of world peace through joining their two philosophies while also reversing their roles. Lelouch initially set out on his quest for change by becoming a terrorist (Zero) and creating a Japanese terrorist organization (the Black Knights) that would destroy Britannia itself and then rebuild from the ashes. Suzaku, on the other hand, became a Britannian solider and rose through the ranks of the Empire’s system with the ultimate goal of reaching the very top (becoming Emperor), gaining a position from which he can institute permanent reforms. This premise itself features an interesting role reversal based on nationality: the boy from Britannia leads a Japanese terrorist group and fights against his own Empire, while the boy from Japan joins the Brittanian army and fights against his own people. In most series, the Britannian prince would be the one maintaining the status quo that benefits his Empire, while the Japanese solider would be leading the charge against his oppressors. Thus, Lelouch and Suzaku’s roles in the narrative are switched from the get-go, which far from being a mere gimmick, actually generates a healthy serving of drama, heightens tension, and facilitates philosophical exploration.

Just as it started with a role reversal, Code Geass ends with a role reversal as well. This time, though, the inversion is one that is not based on character nationalities or genre conventions, but instead on ideological stances. Lelouch, the character who had spent the series trying to tear down Brittania from the outside, becomes the ultimate face of its established order by becoming the Emperor. Meanwhile, Suzaku, the character who had spent the series trying to change Britannia incrementally from the inside, becomes the ultimate face of radical revolutionary resistance by donning the mask of Zero. The brilliance of this switch is that Lelouch as Emperor and Suzaku as Zero are arguably the roles that a more conventional narrative would have had the two strive towards in the first place. By reversing its original role reversal, however, Code Geass confounds expectations and makes novel what could otherwise have appeared unoriginal. The reversal is even color-coded, as Suzaku, the man dressed in white with the white mecha throughout the series, is draped in dark black, while Lelouch, the man dressed in black with the black mecha throughout the series, is draped in bright white. For good measure, this also ties into Code Geass’s beloved chess symbolism, as the king of the dark knights slays the king of the white knights and so wins the “match.” The sharp visual contrast between the two accentuates the various symbolisms of the scene.

Suzaku, as Zero, kills Lelouch, the evil emperor, thus bringing about peace. In the end, both of the characters’ contrasting plans were needed to achieve success. Lelouch acts on Suzaku’s philosophy, rising through the ranks of the Brittanian Empire to the very top, while Suzaku acts on Lelouch’s, violently bringing down the last vestige of Brittania’s old order and so clearing the way for the construction of a newer, better world founded by a fairer system. Lelouch worked internally, from within the status quo, while Suzaku worked externally, from outside of it. Thus, both characters finally fulfill their ideals by joining together their philosophical perspectives. As Lelouch tells Suzaku throughout the series, there’s nothing the two can’t achieve if they work together (*cough*foreshadowing*cough*), a sentiment that turns out to be literally true. Again, one can validly question the practicality of this sort of union, but to do so would be to miss the point. This ending does not present the audience with a detailed plan for ending world conflict; rather, it answers one of the major overarching thematic questions of the series in a manner suitable to the context of this particular story.

If the above was all that the “Zero Requiem” achieved, ir would still be a decent ending. What elevates it, though, are the many remaining layers still left to peel. The “Zero Requiem” does not only aim to conclude the main philosophical debate between Lelouch and Suzaku. Rather, it seeks to resolve the individual stories of each of these characters as well. It does so, ultimately, by punishing them.

And indeed, that is a major narrative purpose of Lelouch’s final plan: punishment. Not just any punishment, but the most cruel punishment that can be dished out to these characters, so deliberately designed is it to deny them their deepest desires. Let’s start with Suzaku. Riddled with guilt over his cold-blooded murder of his father, Suzaku believed that the only way to repent would be to sacrifice his own life for a greater cause, and indeed his white-knight heroism was but a thin veil for his suicidal tendencies. Besides that death wish, Suzaku also wanted to free the Japanese, the Elevens, from Brittania’s tyranny. His ideal end would have been to die while fighting for that cause (even if his method to achieve that goal entailed literally slaughtering his own people). It is cruelly ironic, then, that ultimately Suzaku has to live. Instead of redeeming himself through the mercy of the death he so longed for, he must soldier on and tackle the trials of life head-on, managing the torturous process of maintaining world peace. The Geass Lelouch desperately cast on him during the first season foreshadowed this fate: “Live!” Now, most people would find such a command redundant; after all, the normal human instinct is to survive at any cost. For Suzaku, however, it ran contrary to everything he believed in. Following that fateful moment, every time Suzaku attempted to let himself die, the command kicked in and forced him to defend himself, effectively trapping him in the prison of life and denying him what he wanted most. There would be no heroic sacrifice for him.

Suzaku’s punishment extends beyond forcing him to live on, however. His legacy as the killer of the tyrannical Emperor will never be known, because he did it donning the anonymous mask of Zero. Instead, Suzaku will be remembered as the closest servant of the monstrous Emperor Lelouch, recorded in history as a traitor to his people and deemed an ultimately worthless man. Suzaku will serve the world as Zero for the rest of his life but will die unacknowledged, unloved, and unappreciated. So, not only is Suzaku denied his wish of repentance via death, he is also denied recognition as a hero. This is the fate the “Zero Requiem” condemns him to, a punishment befitting his mass murder and endless hypocrisy.

Lelouch, too, is spared nothing. Unlike Suzaku, he wanted nothing more than to live. He desired a peaceful world for Nunnaly, a world they could live in and enjoy together. The cruel irony of his plan is that he finally managed to create that peaceful world with his dying act. His sister would see it, but he wouldn’t, and nor would he get to experience the fruits of his labor. Like Suzaku, Lelouch dies reviled by almost everyone who knows his name. His final sacrifice and heroism will never be known to history, and he will forever be known as Lelouch the demon, a callback to the title of the very first episode of the whole show (“The Day a New Demon was Born”). Lelouch’s fate is an inverted mirror of Suzaku’s. Suzaku wanted to die, so he lived. Lelouch wanted to live, so he died.

Lelouch’s punishment is a little more complex than Suzaku’s, though. That is because Lelouch’s worst act, his point of no return, hangs heavily over his death. I’m talking, of course, about the fate he visited upon Euphemia: first a forced massacre of the Japanese she’d tried so hard to protect, followed by her murder by his hand. That Euphemia’s proposed peace plan for the Elevens symbolized the fulfillment of her character arc of acquiring agency, and that the destruction of that plan came about through a brutal violation of that same agency, only accentuates the ghastliness of Lelouch’s actions. This is all topped off by the reality of Euphemia’s fundamental innocence. She was by far the most idealistic character in the entire series, and Lelouch’s actions mercilessly crushed that idealism, turning Euphemia into a mass murderer forever damned in the eyes of history. It does not matter that Lelouch’s order was an accident, because such a mishap could only have occurred due to his over-use of the Geass, which itself violated other people’s freedoms every time Lelouch cast it. The narrative is unequivocal about casting the blame for Euphemia’s violent end at Lelouch’s feet, and if anything seems to judge it as Lelouch’s worst deed, despite the thousands of other reprehensible things he did throughout both seasons.

Fittingly, then, Euphemia’s blood-stained specter hangs over Lelouch’s own death. His end, in many ways, parallels Euphemia’s. Like Euphemia, Lelouch dies condemned as a vicious killer, his good intentions unknown to almost everyone. Just as Euphemia’s killer is cheered as a hero (“Zero! Zero! Zero!)” even as she dies in the hands of her loved one (Suzaku), so too is Lelouch’s killer cheered as a hero (“Zero! Zero Zero!”) even as he dies in the hands of his loved one (Nunnally). The parallels are all the more biting in light of the identity of Lelouch’s killer: Suzaku, Euphemia’s lover. Suzaku avenges Euphemia by killing Lelouch. It obviously hurts him badly (as evidenced by the tears he sheds even as he ran his former best friend through with a sword), but at the same time he needed it to find closure for Euphemia’s death. In fact, certain exchanges between Suzaku and Lelouch in the episodes leading to the finale suggest that Lelouch was only able to secure Suzaku’s full cooperation in the Zero Requiem by promising him revenge for Euphemia, via death by his hand. This is the promise Suzaku refers to when reprimanding Lelouch in the episode 23, after his breakdown in the face of the reveal that Nunnally is still alive.

It is that particular scene, and the subsequent conversation between Lelouch and C.C., that add even more depth to what the “Zero Requiem” personally meant to Lelouch, and how its execution pained him far more than he’d initially planned. The two aforementioned scenes hint at Lelouch’s original intentions in devising his final elaborate scheme. Consider the following: Lelouch’s fury at discovering Nunnally’s survival, Suzaku’s sharp reminder that Nunnally being alive should not change their “strategic objective,” and Lelouch’s eventual resolution to move beyond Nunnally as his sole motive for changing the world, deciding that he’d killed too many people to turn back and that he couldn’t keep doing things “just” for Nunnally anymore. Clearly Nunnaly’s survival threw a serious wrench into Lelouch’s plan, one so severe that he entertained the idea of halting its execution. He needed Suzaku’s unyielding insistence and C.C.’s advice to find the will to continue. With the benefit of hindsight (that Lelouch’s final plan ends in his death), his extremely dramatic reaction to his sister’s living status makes more sense and takes on greater significance.

It’s simple: Lelouch had originally conceived of the “Zero Requiem” as an elaborate suicide. With Nunnally dead and the Black Knights disbanded, Lelouch had nothing left to live for. However, he still felt the need to stop Charles and Schniezal from imposing their (in his view) corrupt ideals for changing the world while implementing his own plans for world peace. Thus, the “Zero Requiem” was Lelouch’s way of hitting two birds with one stone: he gets the death he so dearly wants while still completing the mission he had set out on at the start of the series. In this original conception of the plan, Lelouch wasn’t so much punishing himself as giving himself an easy way out. Even if he believed that his death would be repentance for his sins, the reality is that he wanted it. Deciding to forfeit his life was an easy decision.

Nunnally being alive, then, changes everything. Suddenly Lelouch has a reason to live again. Not just any reason, but the reason. Lelouch’s love and adoration for his little sister had always bordered on unhealthy, and he would do anything for her sake. He had spent the series trying to create a gentler world for her sake. Nunnaly being alive meant that the two of them still had a chance to live together in that gentler world. Suddenly, dying wasn’t such an easy choice anymore. Lelouch’s planned death, once a relieving escape from a life no longer worth living, now loomed as an undesirable outcome that would be truly punishing. Hence Lelouch’s fury, his pain, and his hesitation. With Suzaku and C.C’s guidance, though, he was able to remain on course, accepting his fate despite the fact that Nunnallly lived.

In fact, much of Code Geass’s final episodes are about Lelouch overcoming his attachment to Nunnally. This was an essential obstacle that Lelouch needed to deal with before he could ultimately succeed. His obsession with Nunnally led to his downfall at the end of the first season, and the failure of his first rebellion. The moment he’d learned she was kidnapped, he abandoned his subordinates to their doom and rushed off to save her, prioritizing her over his cause. Lelouch’s reasoning was straightforward: what would be the point of achieving his mission if the one for whom he had achieved it was no longer there? This sort of thinking was symptomatic of a sister complex that crippled Lelouch many times over. He confronted this problem again in R2’s earlier episodes, a conflict that’s worth examining in a little more depth before moving on. In R2’s sixth episode, Lelouch learns that Nunnally is the new viceroy to Area 11. Convinced that Charles was using her as a political tool and eager to have his sister safe in his arms again, Lelouch leads the Black Knights on a risky mission to retrieve her, one that recklessly endangered their lives and that even led to some casualties, all for the sake of his sister. His actions repeated the same error he’d committed at the conclusion of the first season. The mission ends up failing, and Lelouch’s last sight of Nunnally is of the traitor Suzaku carrying his beloved sister away.

In the aftermath of the failed mission, Lelouch realizes that he’s lost his purpose for being Zero. Nunnally is safe, protected by Suzaku, whom he trusts to do that despite being his worst enemy, and the figure of Zero only stands in the way of her planned Japanese Administrative Zone. To continue being Zero would be to oppose Nunnally’s will, a fundamental contradiction with the symbol’s intended function. Lelouch feels lost and useless, and he sinks into depression. After spending some time with his school friends and reflecting, Lelouch realizes that he’s not just acting as Zero for Nunnally’s sake anymore. Many people’s happiness were contingent on his success. So he dons Zero’s mask once again, and find a way to continue his mission while not sabotaging Nunnally’s plans: exile all the Black Knights to China, allowing peace to come to Area 11, which in turn further ensured Nunnally’s safety. However, even though Lelouch was able to move beyond Nunnally as the sole motivation for being Zero, his willingness to continue fighting for the Japanese was still predicated on her well-being. In other words, if harm were actually to befall Nunnally, he’d fall back onto his old habit of Nunnally first, everyone else second. In short, despite the growth Lelouch experienced in this portion of the show, he had still not addressed the underlying problem that caused his original rebellion’s downfall in the first place.

That eventually changes. In a parallel to the end of the first season, the end of the second season also forces Lelouch to choose between his sister and his cause. His love for Nunnally was one of the most integral aspects of his character and the bedrock of his motivations, and yet in an ironic twist, he is only able to create the world she desires by moving beyond her. The end of the R2’s 24th episode represented Lelouch’s final, and greatest, test. It came not in the form of his tyrannical father or chess-master brother, but rather his beloved sister. This is when Nunnally overcame the blindness caused by her father’s Geass through sheer force of will. Nunnally’s blindness up until this point had not just served as a means through which to display her vulnerable nature; rather, it marked her as the only character in the entire series whom Lelouch could not Geass, even if he had wanted to. This conceit worked thematically; it was only fitting that the person for whom Lelouch had Geassed so many could not be Geassed herself. At the very end of Lelouch’s journey, however, that changed. Nunnally stood as the final obstacle to the completion of his grand plan, and now, for the first time ever, he could force her to do what he wanted.

The decision Lelouch faced was a crucial one, as it would say much not only about his relationship with his sister, but also about his priorities. Nunnally was the person for whom Lelouch had sacrificed so much, and yet she now firmly oppossed his goals. Not only that, but Geassing Nunnally would be more than just a forceful command; it would be a violation of her newfound agency. Much like Euphemia, Nunnally had decided she no longer wished to be a passive bystander in the conflicts that surrounded her. Her opposition to Lelouch was her most significant assertion of will up to that point, her way of effecting change instead of simply being affected by it. For Lelouch to Geass Nunnally then would be eerily similar to the same violation of agency he had visited upon Euphemia, whose innocence had been matched only by Nunnally’s (before she began firing nukes, that is). In fact, Nunnally and Euphemia were often paralleled throughout the series, as both were the pure-hearted younger sisters of brilliant military strategists with character arcs that centered around acquiring agency (though Lelouch brutally cut Euphemia’s short). Nunnally basically becomes a surrogate Euphemia for most of the second season, going so far as reviving Euphemia’s Special Administrative Zone of Japan. Lelouch is stunned to see Euphemia’s image in Nunnally when she asks him for his help in R2’s sixth episode, in case the parallel were not obvious enough (and it’s a that parallel further magnifies the horror of what Lelouch did to Euphemia, the character who most resembled his own sister). Lelouch had to choose between Nunnaly and his plan, between Nunnally and the world.

As it turns out, Lelouch chose both. He initially struggled to do it, believing that Geassing even his sister would be going too far, even for him. However, once Nunnally makes clear that she intends Damocles (and by extension herself) to be a symbol of hatred for the entire world, in a manner essentially identical to Lelouch’s plan for himself, he finds the will to violate his sister’s will for the first time. The reason is simple: they were both working towards the same goal. In light of that revelation, Lelouch was able to justify Geassing Nunnally, as he would only be forcing her to do something (give up the Damocles key) that would lead to the result she wanted anyways. More so, Lelouch would be sparing Nunnally the grim fate of becoming the target of the world’s hate, taking her place instead. Thus, Lelouch was able to choose both Nunnally and the world, because they happened to align at that crucial moment.

Of course, what the previous paragraph details is nothing but Lelouch’s rationalization of his actions. It still does not morally justify imposing one’s will on another person. What matters, though, is the fact that Lelouch needed to rationalize his actions at all. That tells us that throughout his conversation with Nunnally, Lelouch had been struggling to find a way to overcome his apprehension about using the Geass on his sister. Had Nunnally indeed still been his ultimate priority as she had been throughout the series, Lelouch would have likely struggled to find a way to talk himself out of Geassing his sister, not into it. The moment he found a way to frame the situation so that no tension existed between forcing Nunnally to hand over the key and executing his plan for world peace, he did not hesitate to issue the command. He fixated on Nunnally’s declaration that Damocles would become a symbol of hatred, while ignoring her earlier impassioned cry that she had never asked Lelouch to do any of things he’d done in her name (basically all the acts of violence and deception he perpetrated throughout the series). Lelouch’s eagerness to justify Geassing Nunnally and his selective interpretation of her words tell us that he ultimately valued the success of the Zero Requiem more than respecting his sister’s wishes. It was not that didn’t care about his sister; far from it, he loved her as much as he’d ever had, hence his internal dilemma upon confronting her. Rather, it was that he had truly moved beyond Nunnally as a sole source of motivation, as a sole source of purpose. What she desired or didn’t desire no longer mattered simply because Lelouch was no longer doing any of it for her. She would get her gentler world, definitely, and Lelouch no doubt wanted that. But that would be a mere byproduct of the success of his plan, not its central aim.

Lelouch didn’t execute the Zero Requiem for Nunnally. He executed it for all the people he’d executed throughout the series, for all the blood he had spilled, for all the lies he had told. The most powerful evidence for Nunnally’s basic irrelevancy to Lelouch’s final scheme is the fact that it created a world without him in it. As Nunnally told Lelouch during their climactic confrontation, all she needed to be happy was her brother by her side. Despite hearing that directly from her mouth, Lelouch proceeded to complete an operation that granted the world peace while robbing his sister of her greatest source of happiness. Nunnally’s agonized screams as she wept over her brother’s dead body show the viewer, in distressingly soul-crushing terms, that Lelouch and Suzaku were not the only ones to pay a devastating price for the world’s happiness. Of course, Lelouch would not have factored Nunnally in as a variable during his original conception of his death plan, because he still believed her to be dead at the time. Thus, in an especially ironic twist, the truest and deepest test of his resolve came in the form of his dear sister’s survival. The fact that Lelouch ultimately moved forward with his plan, despite knowing full well the suffering it would visit upon him and upon Nunnally, stands as the clearest proof that he moved beyond his attachment to his sister in the end.

What Lelouch never moved beyond, however, is his reliance on theatrics and deception. Lelouch’s over-the-top demeanor as Zero is a reflection of Code Geass’s melodramatic leanings. Both the show’s narrative and its protagonist thrive on exaggerated emotions and bombastic set pieces, and the Zero Requiem is their most extravagant performance. It is not just a performance for the viewer, however, but rather one for the in-universe audience, “audience” here meaning literally the entire population of Code Geass’s universe. Lelouch’s public execution is but the climax of a larger theatrical, almost Shakespearean tale of his own making. It is the tale of the rise of a demonic dictator, one who forcefully seized the throne after committing regicide, and his reign of terror. After a bloody battle of epic proportions that ended with the destruction of all who opposed the tyrannical madman, all hope for the world seemed lost. Then, at the 11th hour, the radical revolutionary, the hero of the masses, returned from the dead and slayed the paragon of oppression, liberating the world from the shackles of misery and heralding the dawn of a new age of peace. This is the story that Lelouch sold the world. It’s too clean, too perfect, but it’s the honey that the world was all too eager to buy. It matters not that the rise and fall of Emperor Lelouch was calculated fiction. All that matters was that the people believe the performance to be reality.

Suzaku had told Lelouch to do as much. Back in episode 17 of R2, he instructed Lelouch to atone for his lies, and the devastation they caused, by turning them into the truth. He told him to embody them, to live by them, until what was mere illusion became reality. Hence the Zero Requiem: a mass deception, Lelouch’s most elaborate lie. It played out like a scripted narrative, feeding into its nature as a play acted out on the world stage. This represents, symbolically, the theme at Code Geass’s core: the power of lies. A staged play is by its nature false, an idealized imitation of reality. The twist here is that Lelouch’s deceitful actions are what bring about genuine change to the entire world.

Lelouch’s death, just like his life, is a lie. He establishes a legacy of hatred and vile cruelty, ensuring that he’ll be remembered as a demonic murderer, all the while concealing that he was the creator of the identity that became synonymous with heroism and peace: Zero. More so, he chose the manner of his own death, yet to the world, it came about in violation of his will. Suzaku’s story, too, had a false end. To everyone who ever heard of him, he is dead and gone, killed in the service of a bloodthirsty dictator. The reality, of course, is that he now carries the mantle of the world’s greatest hero. The cruel irony of his position is that he, like Lelouch, will forever be cursed in the hearts of the people and in the annals of history, never to be thanked in his role of bringing about global peace. As mentioned before, it is a fitting and beautifully poetic punishment for both, as their fate is identical to the one suffered by the innocent Euphemia.

In the end, it is a lie astounding in its magnitude that frees humanity and allows it to move forward into the future. Geass’s conclusion ultimately validates Lelouch’s rejection of both his father, who wanted to keep humanity in the past by destroying lies forever, and his brother, who desired a static and oppressive present. The ending very deliberately has it that falsehood, that deceit, is what brings peace to humanity in the end. It is not just the preservation of masks that ensures people’s continued survival, but the deliberate use of them that acts as a force of liberation. Zero, the ultimate personification of Lelouch’s lies, emerges at the end as the symbol of hope for people everywhere, and as the one to symbolically destroy the oppressive chains of the past through his killing of Lelouch. The fulfillment of humanity’s wish for happiness could have never been fulfilled had it not been for the power of Geass.

And that is what the Zero Requiem is: Lelouch’s final Geass. Not a literal one, but a metaphoric one. Lelouch realized what humanity’s wish is during his time in C’s World, and his final scheme is an attempt to fulfill that wish (and remember that wishes are symbolized by Geass). As would be expected from a series practically drowning in irony, Lelouch’s final Geass subverts its own nature. Throughout the show, Lelouch used his Geass to subjugate people, trampling on their right to decide their own destinies. His last Geass, however, liberates people, instead respecting their right to decide their own destinies. Though his Geass is still rooted in deception, by casting it Lelouch frees humanity from the chains of its past, opening the doors to a future where people are free to make their own choices, whether good or bad. Lelouch’s final Geass reflects his own character growth, as it transcends its original purpose of selfish wish fulfillment and instead transforms into a selfless tool that realizes the wish not of any one individual, but of humanity itself. It is the ultimate Geass, one that Lelouch could only cast after the trials he’d endured and the lessons he’d learned. In yet another ironic twist, the man who spent his entire life denying people’s will ultimately affirms it with his dying act.

The theatrics of Lelouch’s final plan throws into sharp relief the significance of symbols in Code Geass’s narrative. Iconic symbolism has been a recurring motif since the beginning of the series, embodied best by Zero himself. The symbolic nature of Zero is a special point of emphasis in R2, where the question of Zero’s true identity becomes more prominent (though it was always relevant throughout both seasons). Episode 8 of R2 provides the sharpest thematic commentary and cleverest foreshadowing regarding this issue. It was during that episode that Lelouch pulled off one of his more audacious (the less generous will call it implausible) plans, the infamous “Million Zeros.” Exploiting a terminological technicality, Lelouch succeeds in getting Brittania to exile a million individuals, with the argument that they are all actually “Zero.” Earlier in the episode, when Lloyd asks Lelouch, in the guise of Zero, whether he is the real Zero or not, Lelouch answers by stating that only his actions, and not his identity, are relevant. In other words, Zero’s value lies in the power of his image, in the profundity of the ideals he represents. The person behind the mask doesn’t matter, because it can literally be anyone as long as their actions reflect Zero’s principles. The show’s narrative (and Lelouch) proceeds to demonstrate this philosophical statement in the most literal and dramatic way possible, via the spectacle of the million Zeros. Britannia agreed to exile Zero; by using that promise to justify the exile of a million people who bore his mask, Lelouch essentially forced Britannia to endorse Zero’s status as a symbol, and not as a person. The theme emphasized so strongly in this episode underlies the entire narrative, and comes to the fore in the end.

Just as the Zeros that stood before the Special Administrative Zone of Japan were not Lelouch, so to was the Zero that ended the life of the Britannian Emperor not Lelouch either. However, that does not make those Zeros any less valid than the one Lelouch portrayed. They are different iterations of the same symbol, a symbol so universal (within Code Geass’s world) that it transcends any one individual, any one identity. Zero represents resistance, represents freedom, and ultimately represents peace. Lelouch ends his life using the symbol that he himself created, cementing its immortality with his death.

The ending of Code Geass is littered with such symbols. Zero is not the only symbol that Lelouch created, nor is it the only symbol relevant to the series finale. Lelouch transforms his actual self, along with the position he holds (Emperor), into a symbol of despair to contrast with Zero’s symbol of hope, a symbol of hate to offset a symbol of love, a symbol of oppression to counteract a symbol of freedom. Such sharp dichotomies, such clear-cut symbols, were necessary to imbue Lelouch’s fairy tale with the unforgettable power it needed. The conflict had to be black-and-white, with Zero literally the shining knight in armor and Lelouch the demon. When Zero kills Lelouch, he does not just kill the Emperor of Britannia; he kills hate itself. Hence the disintegration of Damocles in the epilogue, the vehicle that Nunnally had once intended to be the symbol of the world’s hatred. Its destruction represents the dawning of an age of peace, just as Lelouch’s death did. This interplay of symbolism lends Code Geass’s conclusion an emotional and intellectual resonance that the viewer is unlikely to forget.

The creators of the show did not seem content to stop there, though. In the very last seconds of the show, they add one final twist, a twist that that has been dissected, analyzed, and debated countless times to this day, a twist that cemented Code Geass’s legacy as an anime that would not fall out of discussion circles any time soon, not even now, eight years after it ended. The controversy-spouting twist is not really even a twist. It’s nothing but a suggestion. This suggestion, however, fundamentally changes the viewer’s understanding of the ending: the possibility that Lelouch is alive. Such a notion is understandably divisive, and it would seem to fly in the face of the brilliant parallelisms, character development, and thematic harmony that Lelouch’s death achieved. The fandom has split on the issue, with one side zealously proclaiming Lelouch’s survival and the other side insisting, with no small amount of irritation, on his permanent death.

In the interest of total transparency, I am on the side that believes Lelouch’s death to be final. What I find fascinating to consider, however, is the way that Code Geass’s ending, and the lead-up to it, is structured so that Lelouch’s potential survival is not just plausible, but also mostly thematically consistent with the show’s established narrative, just in a manner different from his death. Again, I’m of the firm opinion that the analysis detailed above, premised on Lelouch’s death indeed being final, is a more elegant and thematically coherent interpretation of the anime’s conclusion than any that can be achieved if he is not. I’m simply intrigued by the observation that if Lelouch were to live, the story’s elaborate, multi-layered ending would not collapse due to a meticulous construction that can accommodate both interpretations of Lelouch’s fate. This adds an entire extra layer of brilliance to the show’s ending that is worth dissecting.

From a strictly plot-based perspective, a plausible manner exists through which Lelouch could have achieved life despite his death. The narrative has given the “Lelouch is alive” crowd enough tools through which to construct a reasonable plan that Lelouch could have utilized to cheat death. I’m going to briefly outline this theory here. Basically, many believe that Lelouch acquired the Code from Charles. In order to acquire the Code, a Geass user has to have the power in both eyes (basically a mature Geass), a feat that Lelouch achieved moments before his father’s death. Thus, all of the conditions for acquiring it are seemingly present. The Code only activates and returns its possessor to life after they have died. Thus, Lelouch’s death in Nunnally’s hand was indeed genuine; there was no deception there. Then, shortly after, Lelouch returned to life, becoming an immortal being, and went into hiding with C.C. This is supported by the show’s final cryptic scene, which contains two suggestive things. The first is the pink crane in C.C’s position, the same one that she made for Nunnally when she first met her. Why would she have that? The second is the final line uttered in the whole series: C.C’s mysterious “Isn’t that right, Lelouch?” as she looks up at the sky…or is it at the person driving her cart? This has fueled the speculation that the cart driver (whose face of course we are not allowed to see) is actually Lelouch in disguise.

Code Geass’s creators chose to be vague about the method through which to transfer a Code. In fact, it is never clearly defined beyond the aforementioned “fully mature Geass” requirement and the death of the Code’s owner. As such, the linchpin that holds the entire “Lelouch is alive” theory together, namely that he took Charles’s code by killing him, is based upon assumptions about a process that was never fully clarified. More so, whether or not Lelouch himself actually killed Charles is ambiguous. The scene in which it occurs deliberately obfuscates the events transpiring on screen. For example, Charles and Marianne begin to be absorbed by C’s World (in other words, die) following Lelouch’s command to not “stop the march of time.” If that command led to C’s World absorbing them, does that make Lelouch their killer? Or is it C’s World? Is indirect killing sufficient to still take a Code? Again, the show never clarifies that. Another opportunity for a direct murder of Charles comes when he grabs Lelouch by the throat, and Lelouch shouts “Begone!” This scene, however, is just as obtuse as the one before. Was Lelouch’s shout a Geass command, or simply a dramatic declaration? If one carefully listens to the audio, the beginnings of the trademark Geass-being-cast sound effect can be heard for a moment, but this is not matched by the visuals, which do not show the Geass “flying” out of Lelouch’s eye as it should when he uses it. Lelouch’s parents disappear right after, but whether this is due to Lelouch commanding them to “Begone!” or just the natural conclusion of the consuming process started by C’s World moments earlier is left to the viewer to decide. The direction seems to intentionally obscure the happenings unfolding on screen, and does so to such a degree as to render any conclusive reading of events basically impossible. In designing such a crucial scene in this hazy manner, the show’s creators guarantee that the most realistic explanation of Lelouch’s potential survival can never be confirmed.

Other scenes in the last few episodes are written, directed, and animated so that the viewer can construe multiple meanings from them. When C.C. cries in the Church, are her tears being shed because Lelouch will be condemned to the isolation of death, or because he will be condemned to the isolation of immortality? When she addresses Lelouch during the last seconds of the show, is she looking up at the sky, or back at the cart driver? Is she speaking to an immaterial Lelouch in C’s World, or talking to a material Lelouch besides her? Does she have Nunnally’s crane as a memento to remind her of Lelouch, or is Lelouch with her and he brought it along to remind himself of Nunnally? And so on.

Lelouch’s actual death also features images that could be interpreted to hint at his survival, while also imbuing that survival with a symbolic meaning. Consider Lelouch as a messianic figure. The nature of his plan, which involves him taking on the entire hatred of the world and then sacrificing himself to save it, already contains Christian undertones (and Code Geass is no stranger to Christian themes/symbols, as evidenced by the use of the Tower of Babel in R2’s second episode). After Suzaku stabs Lelouch, he slides down the Brittanian flag draped over the carrier to his sister. He falls with his arms stuck straight out on both sides and his legs facing straight down, in the shape that the human body would make if stuck onto a cross. As if that is not enough, his blood trail intersects with the Britannian flag to produce a cross made of his own blood, one so massive the the viewer can only see it from an aerial shot. The Christian symbolism here is self-explanatory.

Now, this messianic symbolism does not contradict the narrative of Lelouch’s permanent death at all. If anything, it fits it perfectly due to the aforementioned Christian undertones of Lelouch’s plan. However, if Lelouch survived, then this symbolism gains greater significance and is in fact strengthened. After all, according to biblical mythology, Jesus was resurrected following his sacrifice. Likewise, Lelouch too returns to life. The parallels between the two become more complete with this alternate version of events.

If, for argument’s sake, we assume that Lelouch lives, then the ending demands to be read differently. Some of the thematic elements noted before would no longer apply, such as the elegant inverted symmetry of Suzaku and Lelouch’s fates. However, other things would still stand unchanged, such as the ideological role-switching and the power of symbols. Lelouch’s struggle to overcome his sister complex would remain emotionally relevant, because carrying out the Zero Requiem would still mean he would have to be separated from here forever (after all, with it the man named “Lelouch” is officially dead). Overall, most of the points noted above would still work regardless of whether Lelouch lives or dies.

That’s not to say that both cases would lead to identical endings, of course. The most significant change would occur in the resolution of C.C’s story. While it was sometimes obfuscated by the show’s massive cast and generally insane escalation, Lelouch and C.C’s odd relationship lay at the heart of Code Geass. C.C. was the one to give Lelouch the Geass in the first place, with the request that he fulfill her wish in time (which we later learn was to die). C.C. became his close confidant, the person for whom his feelings often oscillated between affection and hate. This isn’t the place for a full-fledged analysis of their relationship, as complex and fascinating as it is. The point is that their dynamic was an essential aspect of the show and of Lelouch’s character. Lelouch himself was the most important person in C.C’s life, owing initially to his status as the Geass user who could finally end her miserable existence and later to her romantic feelings for him. What does Lelouch’s death or survival mean for C.C?

The primary purpose of the show’s final scene, aside from driving fandom mad by hinting at the possibility of Lelouch’s survival, is to show that C.C. is no longer condemned to solitude (and thus resolve her character arc). Her loneliness, the cost of immortality that hurt her most, turned her into a cynical and bitter woman intent on securing the death constantly denied to her (she’s a bit like Suzaku in that sense, and she tells him so directly in R2). When she gives Lelouch “the power of kings,” she warns him about the solitude from which he would suffer, a solitude that she was all too familiar with herself. Her warning proves prescient, and Lelouch is indeed subjected to the full brunt of isolation that comes with using the Geass, as he loses almost every ally he has throughout R2 and ends up separated forever from the person he loves most. The mystery of the scene, then, is that C.C. repudiates her own words. No, she says, it turns out the Geass doesn’t necessarily have to lead to solitude. She follows that statement by addressing Lelouch, implying that he’s related to the reason she now thinks this. The following final shot focuses on the pink crane, the show’s established symbol for both ‘Geass’ and ‘wishes,’ which in this context implies that C.C. got her wish thanks to the power of Geass.

C.C.’s words can be interpreted differently depending on what one believes about Lelouch’s ultimate fate. If he is dead, then C.C. is still alone and still immortal. Her situation hasn’t changed since the beginning of the series, and yet she now seems at peace. Two explanations are possible: one, that she is speaking to Lelouch in C’s World and so has the company of her loved one, hence precluding any possibility of solitude, and two, that her loving memories of Lelouch have provided her the peace of mind she needs to look to a brighter future (and this is the explanation provided by Code Geass’s official website). While she would not have gotten her original wish to die, her changed circumstances and perspective on life would have made that desire obsolete anyways. Instead, the root cause of her suicidal wish, the terrible solitude of her endless existence, was remedied. Thus C.C. got her wish to live a life untainted by loneliness.

If Lelouch died and returned as an immortal being, then he is the cart driver with C.C. She is no longer alone because she has Lelouch physically besides her. More so, his immortality would make him the companion she never had, the one who could actually live alongside her for century after century. Since Lelouch could only have achieved never-ending life via the power of Geass, C.C. would be right to attribute the elimination of her solitude to it. More so, Lelouch’s solitude would have been eliminated as well, as now he has a lifelong companion in C.C. This ending is undoubtedly happier than the one in which Lelouch dies and stays dead. Truth be told, it also provides a superior resolution to C.C’s story and to her relationship with Lelouch. It directly delivers on Lelouch’s promise to C.C. in the last episode of the first season, where he promised her that he would become a “warlock” to complement her “witch” (an allusion to her immortality), and by doing so he would ensure that she is “not alone.” In other words, Lelouch literally told C.C. he would become immortal to save her from solitude, and the above reading of the final scene would conclude that particular character thread with the utmost elegance.

Unfortunately, an interpretation of the ending that has Lelouch living would also damage some of the thematic perfection of it in other aspects. Most importantly, Lelouch’s punishment would lose much of its power. He would still suffer, as he is forced to part from his beloved sister forever, and his name will forever be remembered with scorn and hate, his sacrifice forever unacknowledged. However, to continue living as an immortal is a far more merciful conclusion to his story than death. One can argue that the narrative’s consistent portrayal of immortality as an awful fate equivalent to death would imbue a “Lelouch lives” ending with the same level of tragedy that a “Lelouch dies” ending provides. However, to argue so would be to disregard the narrative’s reason for immortality’s negative portrayal in the first place. Over and over, through the character of C.C. and others, never-ending life is linked to never-ending isolation. However, the whole point of C.C’s ending, regardless of Lelouch’s fate, is that she is no longer alone. Thus, immortality is no longer so horrible. If Lelouch is with her, then the same would hold true for him, rendering his ceaseless existence a non-punishment. This is the only way in which a “Lelouch lives” ending would thematically contradict the larger narrative, but in my humble opinion, it’s a contradiction significant enough to render an interpretation of the ending that doesn’t end with Lelouch’s death untenable. As enumerated above, there are doubtlessly merits provided by an “Lelouch lives as an immortal” ending that a “Lelouch dies” ending doesn’t provide, and it is largely consistent with what the story had been building towards. However, the manner with which this conclusion reduces Lelouch’s punishment to a borderline reward makes it undesirable and lessens the impact of the Zero Requiem. On an emotional level, it also cheapens Lelouch’s sacrifice.
Hence the reason I believe Lelouch is dead. On balance, it simply serves the story’s plot, characters, and themes better, with emphasis on the last point. Code Geass always regarded thematic consistency as paramount, even at the cost of logical sense or plot plausibility. A conclusion that has Lelouch as dead as a doornail, as sad as it is, is in the spirit of the show. Nonetheless, the writers deserve serious credit for crafting a storyline that supports two totally divergent interpretations of the main character’s fate from a plot, character, and thematic viewpoint. The fact that fans continue to fiercely debate this issue to this day, and that both sides base their arguments on what they believe to be plot evidence, on what would entail logical character progression, and on what would be thematically coherent, serves as a testament to the genius of the writing (and yes, I am one of those fans).

It is worth noting that the official stance on Lelouch, according to official sources, is that he is permanently dead. Code Geass’s official website states that he is dead, Code Geass’s official magazine lists him as dead, and all official content released since presumes that Lelouch is dead, including a picture drama that has Lelouch’s friends reflecting on his life on the anniversary of his death. Based on interviews with the director and the writer, and on comments made by the animators, the entire Code Geass anime staff firmly believes Lelouch to be dead. This has led some fans to declare that the ending was never intended to be ambiguous, and that overzealous fans unwilling to accept Lelouch’s death are reading into the series meanings that were never intended. However, this is a rather uncharitable and reductive understanding of the enduring speculation surrounding Lelouch’s final plan. Only by being deliberately obtuse can a person deny the possible implications of Code Geass’s final scene. The apparent dissonance between what the internal text of the show suggests and what the external commentary of the creators states has led some fans to interpret official declarations of Lelouch’s death as metaphorical, thus disregarding them. However, the sheer volume of official content deeming Lelouch well and truly dead is simply too massive to ignore. The anime staff’s firm confirmation of Lelouch’s final fate, in turn, raises confusion as to why that very same staff chose to end the show with the scene they did. The result is flaming speculation that refuses to be blown out by the winds of time, official confirmation or not, which I believe was exactly their intention. Well done, anime staff. You’ve immortalized a story about immortality.

A twist that further complicates this saga comes in the form of a mysterious, unsourced Youtube video uploaded in 2010. The uploader claims that the video shows the original Japanese ending, which features a quick shot of the bottom half of the cart driver’s face, one that looks suspiciously similar to Lelouch’s. According to the video, this shot was cut from the TV version at the last minute in order to allow the viewers to come to their own conclusion about Lelouch’s fate. This cut clip was apparently included in the Japanese Blu-Ray release of the show. As of this writing, the video of the “original Japanese ending” has nearly 900,000 views, and its story has been propagated so widely across the web that it has acquired basically factual status, with most people not disputing the validity of the original video’s footage. Its version of events are certainly comforting for those who believe Lelouch is alive, as it means the creators originally intended for Lelouch to live and only changed their plans to make it ambiguous at the last minute. Therefore, all the previous scenes in the show that could be interpreted to support an alternate ending were indeed meant to be understood that specific way. It’s basically the perfect evidence any “Lelouch lives!” supporter needs.

There’s only one problem: the video is fake. A bare minimum of research and careful analysis of the supposed “original Japanese ending” reveals the solo shot of the smirking cart-driver-Lelouch to be a poor insert done via some shoddy editing. There are three smoking guns, two internal to the video and one external to it. One, there is a TV watermark on the upper-right corner of the screen, indicating that the footage shown aired on television. This raises a whole host of questions. Firstly, the original Japanese ending that aired on Japanese TV in 2008, the one that the anime community immediately watched with English subs, did not include the one-second shot of Lelouch, which raises doubts about the validity of the clip. If the argument is that this is the version included on the Code Geass DVDs, then that raise the question as to why the TV watermark is there in the first place. Either hypothesis is unsound. What seals the case, though, is the watermark’s disappearance in the specific shot that has Lelouch. It is present at all other times throughout the video, which implies that the scene with Lelouch smirking is external to the original footage and was inserted at a later date. The second smoking gun is the audio track. If one listens closely, they will realize that the audio track in which Lelouch smirks is different from the one upon which the rest of the video runs. Finally, multiple people in possession of the Code Geass Blu-ray release have confirmed that no such “Director’s Cut” exists. If it did, one expects that it would have been uploaded many times over in far better quality than the sole existing video currently on Youtube, considering the intensity of the is-Lelouch-alive-or-dead debate in the fandom. As it is, this random video on Youtube is uncorroborated by any official sources or any actual evidence outside of itself. One can argue for Lelouch’s survival on the basis of many things, but this shady video, which is cited far and wide, is not one of them. It does make for an interesting display of the passion that this debate evokes, as well as a fascinating case-study for how quickly things ascend to urban myth status on the Internet.

And so Lelouch dies, and peace comes to the world. Brittania and Japan finally resolve their differences, with their union symbolized by the marriage of the Brittanian Villeta and the Japanese Oogi. Jeremiah goes to work on an Orange farm, as only he could (the creators’ dedication to the ‘orange’ gag is impressive and a testament to their wonderful silliness, a silliness often reflected in the show they created). Damocles, the object that Nunnally once intended to be the target of the world’s hatred, burns up in the sun, symbolizing the death of hate. And then C.C. talked to Lelouch, and the fandom went nuts. With that Code Geass cemented the legacy of its ending, which today has become legendary amongst the anime fandom. Even people who were not fond of the second season often praise the ending. Indeed, it may be the overwhelmingly positive reception to Code Geass’s ending that saved the series as a whole from being remembered poorly, after an extremely polarizing second season. Not that the ending is perfect: the last few episodes were a little rushed at times, jamming a ton of content that could easily have been spread out to a full cour, and the happy endings that some secondary characters enjoyed, like Cornelia, feel a bit awkward after their actions throughout the series. All of those minor flaws, however, pale in comparison to the brilliance of everything else. The show went out on an extremely hig
Posted by MrAM | Jul 15, 2016 9:15 AM | 0 comments
March 21st, 2016
Anime Relations: Detective Conan
Law vs. Justice

Detective Conan, being a show about various crimes and the culprits who commit them, naturally focuses on justice, and law enforcement agencies and detectives have a major presence in the story. However, the show draws a very clear distinction between law and justice, indicating that they are not one and the same, and that in fact justice always takes priority over the law. This is done through some clever work with the police characters but most importantly through the protagonist of the series, Conan.
As mentioned earlier, the character of Conan Edogawa is a bundle of contradictions and serves as a vessel through which the series communicates and accentuates its many themes and ideas. They are all manifested in Conan in different ways. As is the case in other matters, the series’s narrative and Conan share the same viewpoint on the manner of justice: it is not necessarily lawful. This is portrayed most effectively through Conan’s actions in several cases and throughout the story in general.

That the story does not equate the two is significant, as it allows the narrative to take a more nuanced stance. Conan routinely breaks the law in his various exploits. He hides information from the police, goes into restricted areas, and commits actions unacceptable for a child. Not only that, but as the series goes on Conan becomes more and more willing to collaborate with people who are criminals according to the law. This, along with several intriguing tangential themes, are explored most thoroughly through the character of Kaitou Kid.
Classifying Kid as a criminal is a bit of an oxymoron. He is a thief that keeps nothing that he steals. Instead of trying to get past the police, he sends them letters warning them of his arrival. Instead of wearing black to conceal himself, he announces himself to the world through his blaring white clothing. He carries a gun that is incapable of harming anyone. To top it all off, some of his heists are done for the sake of helping other people or righting an injustice. Kaitou Kid’s entire existence blurs the line between criminal and innocent to an extreme degree. At his core, Kid is just challenging the police to a fun game. Would it truly be all right legally if such a person were to be arrested and imprisoned?

This moral question, and the themes it ties into, are subtly explored through Conan’s interactions with Kid. In the beginning, Conan is firmly convinced of Kid’s guilt and makes it his mission to capture him when he encounters him. They start off as very much typical rivals and enemies, with Conan’s ego particularly wounded after their first encounter, where Kid completely outsmarted him. Conan corners Kid on their second encounter but fails to stop him from escaping. The two continue to encounter each other for several more cases, with Conan earning Kid’s respect more and more with each subsequent meeting. Eventually, Kid begins to perform heists not with the intention of stealing something, but for the purpose of challenging Conan to a fun game. As a result, his exploits become more and more extravagant. This is probably shown best in episode 356, where Kid executes an elaborate trick that deceptively makes him appear as though he is walking in mid-air. This over-the-top, needlessly complicated, and overly flashy heist (even by Kid’s standards), was actually done not so much with the intention of fooling the police as much as it was to challenge Conan to a deduction game. Kid reveals in the end of the case that he had actually never had any interest in stealing the jewel; he really only wanted to challenge the little detective to a fun little match.

By the time of the Bourbon arc, Conan and Kid had become something bordering on friends, with their rivalry ceasing to be serious and becoming something akin to a friendly contest. Conan’s first case of willingly aiding Kid came about shortly after the Teleportation case, when he assisted Kid in freeing Jirochi’s dog. Conan let Kid get away easily, basically giving him a warm farewell as he departed, an action that seemingly had zero impact on Conan’s conscience. In short, Conan did not feel an ounce of guilt for allowing a renowned world criminal to escape. While it may seem odd, a closer examination reveals it to be entirely consistent with Conan’s character at this point in time, where his views had become less black and white than ever before. Conan’s reasoning for allowing Kid to escape was that he had been there for a good cause, doing nothing wrong. Clearly, it actually would have weighed heavily on Conan’s conscience had he attempted to capture Kid in such a situation. It may have been consistent with the law to arrest Kid, but in Conan’s mind, it very well may have been a violation of justice in this particular context.

A few encounters later, Conan once again allowed Kid to all but walk away from an exploit, in which he had exposed the wrongdoing of two criminals, essentially acting in the interests of justice through his crimes. Again, Conan let Kid go as a gesture of thanks. Why would he capture a man who had just dished out justice? Conan’s value system is more complex than a strict moral code, as he places a greater weight on justice than on the law. The two are not synonymous. Though it may be controversial, it becomes clear that Conan feels that it is preferable to take matters into his own if the situation calls for it rather than leave it to the punishing nature of the law, and the narrative of the series largely supports him on this stance.

Things come to a climax when Conan actually employed Kaitou Kid’s help in a confrontation versus the Organization. This had been built up to beforehand through Conan’s friendly behavior towards Kid. The narrative of the show does not portray any of this in a particularly negative light. It does acknowledge it, though, through Conan, who once tells Kaitou Kid that because that they are on opposite sides of the law, they are destined to be enemies. The implication is that the only reason Conan is after Kaitou Kid is because he is classified as a criminal by legal standards, despite the fact that his crimes are harmless and sometimes even helpful. The law is an inflexible thing, and often fails to account for the nuance of a situation.
Different situations calls for different judgment calls, the narrative of Detective Conan argues. Sometimes, the law isn’t the way to go, because it is not the same thing as justice, which takes precedence. More so, the emotional and physical well-being of people is sometimes of greater importance and consideration than the law, and justice must be molded to fit it. This philosophy permeates the entirety of the series, and aside from Kaitou Kid, shows itself most strongly through several major standout cases that each deserve their own analysis.

One of the most decisive cases on the matter is the one involving the Araide family. In that case, a step-mother wished to murder her husband through electrocution. Through a complex series of events, the one who ends up unintentionally committing the actual murder is the housemaid. In order to spare her the guilt and devastation of knowing that she accidently killed someone, the step-mother agrees to cooperate with the police in covering up the true nature of the crime. What makes this shocking is that it is a deliberate cover-up of the truth of a crime, done with the help of law enforcement officers no less! Yet, the narrative treats it as the right thing, for a simple reason: a murder done by accident does not deserve punishment. Under the law, the maid is a murderer, despite having no intention of doing so. True, she would almost certainly be spared, but that wouldn’t undo the psychological damage she would suffer if she knew the truth. What was done here ties not only into this theme but in other major themes as well, such as the importance of emotion, of human feelings, over detached logic and reasoning (as covered in another post). This case represents an important point in Conan’s character arc for that reason.

Another, and far more controversial case, is the one regarding the attempted murder of a wife by her husband. The two had been tense with each other for a while, through a series of misunderstandings. Unbeknownst to the husband, his wife was pregnant, which was the reason for her recent insufferable behavior. However, due to a lack of communication between both, frequent fights erupted between both of them. Finally at his limit, the husband went into a fit of rage and attempted to kill his wife. Fortunately Conan was at the scene and was able to keep the wife from dying before she was transported to the hospital. The detective figured out very quickly that the wife was pregnant, and knew that the husband had stabbed her.

An interesting dilemma now lay before Conan: turn in the husband and break apart a blossoming family, likely forever, or arrange for the truth to be hidden so that the family could remain intact and so that both husband and wife could have a second chance? Conan’s way of solving this problem is fascinating, and ties in brilliantly with the series’ consistent theme of justice over law, and of emotion over reason. For a character as law-adhering and logic-based as Conan, this should be a no-brainer. The husband attempted to murder his pregnant wife. By all means he should be punished for his crime and serve his sentence according to the law.
Here again, though, the law would fail to cover the nuances and complexity of the situation. Even if the husband’s wife forgave him for his actions, the husband would be forced to serve his sentence in prison for an unknown length of time. His child would be born and spend the first few years of its life without a father, while the wife would struggle in that time to both care for her child while simultaneously maintaining a work income. More so, the family as a whole could never be a completely happy one ever again, as the husband would forever be haunted by his time in prison. His reputation would be shattered, and he would forever be gazed at with suspicion from others due to what he’d done. All of this assumes that the husband would be allowed to reunite with his family, but there’s no guarantee that the law would permit that, considering his actions. In short, that small act of desperation by the husband would result in a ruined life for all involved forever.

Despite all of the above, it was undeniable that the husband had planned the murder of a person, a crime through and through. Conan’s method of deciding how to resolve this complex dilemma is telling: watch the husband’s expressions, and use that to determine his true intentions and whether or not he should be forgiven. From Conan’s observations, he discovered that the husband’s first reaction upon learning of his wife’s survival was relief, an indication that he still loved her and hadn’t actually wanted her to die. His following reactions were fear and guilt, an indication of a man who hates what he’d done. In fact, the husband’s guilt and self-blame is so severe that he attempts suicide shortly after, only to be stopped by Conan. Satisfied with what he’d seen, Conan reveals to the husband that his wide was pregnant, thus accounting for her behavior over the past few months. In the end, Conan leaves the decision to the wife. He himself wouldn’t report the man; it came down to whether or not his wide would be willing to forgive him. She did, and so the husband emerged from the case un-arrested, with the intention of making amends and enthusiasm for his coming child.
It’s interesting that in this case, however, the narrative doesn’t completely side with Conan. Haibara serves as the opposing voice, the one that feels that the husband’s crimes, no matter his individual feelings, merit severe punishment. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the narrative is careful to make it clear that the morality of Conan’s actions can be argued. However, one can infer that it is inclined in Conan’s direction more than Haibara’s. The case itself is one long piece of foreshadowing regarding Haibara and Akai’s potential future meeting, but that’s a topic for another portion of this analysis.

Confronting vs. running away from the past

DC focuses extensively on baggage from the past, the trauma that occurs long ago that still affects the individuals in the present day. This theme is extremely prominent in the series, and is manifested in both the suspects of the murder cases and the recurring characters.
Haibara’s character arc is a multifaceted, multidimensional one, a reflection of the complexity of her characterization. One of the most important aspects of her growth as a person was coming to terms with her harrowing past in the Organization and the horrors that she had experienced throughout her life up to that point. For a long time after her introduction, Haibara’s reflex was to run away from her problems. She was too scared to face her past, and responded by turning away from it even when it stared her in the face. This contributed in large part to her suicidal tendencies. Haibara’s clinical depression and cynical mindset foreclosed any possibility of her tackling her many emotional and psychological head-on. To her, it was easier to just shut down and give up, or else to always be on the run from the organization, living in a state of perpetual fear.

Haibara’s first major attempt to commit suicide came in episode 231, when she realized that Vermouth was on the bus with her and decided that it would be better for her, and for the people around her, if she were to just end her life then and there. As such, she does not evacuate the bus, waiting to be blown up with it. Of course, Conan, as anti-suicide as ever, doesn’t allow her to carry through with her plan, saving her life at the last moment. His words to her, as mentioned before, are significant:

“Don’t run away from fate.”

Conan was reprimanding Haibara for literally “running away” from her past. The Organization, Vermouth, Gin, the drug, they were all essential components of her life as Shiho Miyano, and they still haunted her as Ai Haibara. She understandably wanted to leave them behind. However, Conan makes clear that the way to do that would not be by killing herself. Rather, if she wanted to move on from her past, she would need to face it, and the only way to do that would be to resist the impulse to flee from it. Haibara takes Conan’s words to heart, and she repeats them back to him in episode 280, after Conan thinks that she had literally run away due to her pessimistic remarks throughout the case. Clearly, then, Haibara’s perspective on running had begun to change. However, she still experienced doubts about the life she was now leading.

Episodes 289-290 center on the escaped serial killer Kiichirou Numabuchi, and reveals that he was a former member of the Black Organization. He was meant to be a test case for the APTX4869, but escaped before it could be administered to him. He ran away from the Organization, condemning himself to a life of constant fear and horror. That fear of being caught manifested itself in his numerous murders; he believed that many of the people he killed were Organization operatives sent to capture him. Thus, not only did he lead a life characterized by perpetual fear, he doomed himself by becoming a serial killer. The narrative draws a parallel between him and Haibara; like him, she ran away from the Organization, and like him, she’s been living a life of paranoia ever since. Numabuchi, then, provides a terrifying mirror to Haibara: a powerful example of the sort of life that she will be doomed to lead if she continues to forever run away from the Organization, continues to forever run away from her past.

The episodes show promising hints for Haibara; her failure to sense Numabuchi points to a dulling of her “Black Organization sense.” Haibara initially sees this as a bad thing; from her perspective, her sense was crucial to her continued survival. Losing it could mean the beginning of the end for her. Haibara attributes the loss of her edge to her adaptation to living a normal life with Conan and the Detective Boys. However, Conan refutes her cynical outlook, giving an alternate take on the issue: the fact that her BO sense wasn’t as sharp as before was evidence that she was no longer living a life hyper-aware of every danger and strangled by fear and uncertainty, which was itself evidence that she had the capacity to live a truly normal life, the one that she had never enjoyed as Shiho Miyano. This implicitly suggests that Haibara has already diverged from Numabuchi’s path; she will likely not end up like him, thanks to the influence of Conan and his friends. The narrative, then, parallels Numabuchi and Haibara while simultaneously highlighting the contrast between them.

Haibara’s arc of not running away runs parallel to the plot progression of the Vermouth arc, and so fittingly, it also climaxes with it. After the climactic confrontation against Vermouth, Haibara is left with a tough choice: whether or not to sign up for the Witness Protection Program, which would entail taking on a new identity and cutting off contact from everyone she knows. Jodie encouraged Haibara to do it, emphasizing that Vermouth would not stop chasing her and that her life would constantly be in danger. Haibara is initially uncertain as to what course of action to take, but eventually, thanks to Ayumi’s influence (and to an extent Ran’s) refuses to join the program. This decision is a huge one and is a milestone moment for Haibara’s character, as well as the most crucial one in her arc of not running away. Haibara basically tells Jodie that moving into the program would basically mean running away forever, with no end in sight. She would be condemning herself to a life of fear on the run, because at any moment her newfound security could be shattered. By rejecting the program, Haibara makes clear that she will not continue to run away from her past. She will continue to lead her new, happier life as Ai Haibara, despite the obvious danger. At least if the Organization ever catches up to her, it will be when committed to her friends and to herself, and when she had already accepted the possibility that it could all end someday. Haibara, by rejecting the Program, could devote herself to her happy life as long as it lasts, actually enjoying it instead of insisting on making her present life as miserable as her previous one, by always living in the shadow of fear and insecurity.

It’s a brave decision, and that is another message that the narrative drives homes. Haibara had originally believed that courage was required to willingly sentence your self to a life of hiding. This is an obviously cynical perspective, one that inverts the conventional understanding of hiding as an act of cowardice. Haibara, interestingly, originally saw hiding as an act of courage. While this may be true in some circumstances, the narrative makes clear that such a way of thinking is damaging in the long-term. Haibara essentially justifies her endless fear and paranoia to herself by reframing it as a positive act. Slowly, however, the people she meets tear down her rather self-serving belief that it is brave to hide. The two primary influences on Haibara, and the characters who best manifest the series’ theme of courage, are Ran and Ayumi. Ran actually brings it up directly in episode 247, when she talks down a criminal who uses “courage” to justify his murder:

“Courage is a word of justice. It means the quality of mind that enables one to face apprehension with confidence and resolution. It is not right to use it as an excuse to kill someone.”

This statement, aside from providing some insight into Ran’s idealistic character, also provides a strong rebuke to the sort of cynical thinking that could justify often pejorative actions such as murder, robbery…or running away. Indeed, Ran’s words could be applied to Haibara; it’s not right for her to use courage as an excuse to hide. Haibara actually takes Ran’s words to heart, and at the end of the case summons the courage to actually introduce herself to her, after initially disliking her for numerous reasons outside the scope of this analysis.

Ran’s words about courage directly tied into running away; after all, Haibara was running away from her almost inevitable meeting with Ran. As such, it is only fitting that the theme should reemerge in such a prominent manner when Haibara makes her landmark decision to stop running. Gosho smoothly established a strong association between courage and confronting vs running, and it pays off well here. Jodie regards Haibara’s decision as one that evidenced a person who concealed “great courage,” and indeed that is true. Haibara’s choice was not one she made lightly and was one fraught with danger, but is a testament to the immense bravery that she had acquired during her time as a shrunken child, as well as to the narrative’s message that without courage, one will never be able to confront their fears or their past; they will only be able to run.

Miawko Sato’s character arc also tackles the theme of running from vs confronting the past, albeit from a slightly different angle. Sato is an officer with a troubled past; her father was killed while on duty, and her first love, Matsuda Junpei, was violently blown up during a case. In addition to that, many people even remotely close to her ended up with unfortunate or premature to that. The result was a person who was somewhat closed off, with only a few true friends and an extreme aversion to the pursuit of romance, considering the agony that accompanied her first one. Sato, in other words, is a character constantly haunted by the specter of her past, not unlike Haibara.

The primary theme of Sato’s story with Matsuda is that there exists a nuanced distinction between moving on after a tragedy and forgetting it, arguing that the two are not equivalent: moving on does not mean that one has to forget. Sato spends most of episode 304 operating under the erroneous belief that she can’t move on from Matsuda because she can’t forget him, and she believes that she can’t forget him because she has not gotten closure for his death. Thus, Sato sees the case as an opportunity resolve the issue: by catching Matsuda’s killer, she can put Matsuda and his unfortunate end behind her and get on with her life. In other words, Sato’s plan for moving on from Matsuda was based on forgetting him. Shiratori actually endorses this flawed premise, telling Sato directly that this case was finally her chance to “break free” of the “painful memory” that she “can’t forget;” in short, to forget. Shiratori frames Sato’s situation as if she were trapped in the cage of her memory of Matsuda, and she could only be released by getting closure and forgetting.

It is after this extensive set-up that the narrative begins to deconstruct this prominent notion. Firstly, Matsuda blatantly contradicts Sato’s understanding of the interplay between acknowledging the past and embracing the future. Whereas Sato believes that the two are mutually exclusive, Matsuda approaches such a framework as though it was a false dichotomy. He blurs the strict lines that Sato draws, suggesting to her, when speaking of her painful history with her father, that she can move on into the future without rejecting the baggage of her past. If she were to actually forget her father, he says, then he really would be dead. Indeed, Takagi echoes much of Matsuda’s advice in the conclusion of the case, where he attempts (successfully) to talk Sato out of pursuing revenge against Matsuda’s killer. Her invokes Matsuda’s name as a means of discouraging her (saying he wouldn’t approve), to which Sato’s mental response is that she doesn’t want to remember him; she wants to forget. But Takagai addresses that as well, saying that he couldn’t let her forget, because Matsuda can only live on in her memories. Though slightly cheesy, it is thematically continuous, as it is the counterpart to Matsuda’s statement that Sato forgetting her dad would mean he’s dead for good; the memories keeping him figuratively alive would no longer exist, and so neither would he.

The clear message is that one need not forget their traumatic past to have a bright future; they need only to come to terms with it. Once that is done, the pain the memory inspires no longer cripples, and its special value to can be persevered and perhaps even push one forward. (Though a tangential point, it is interesting to note the ideological difference between Shiratori and Takagi, and what it says about their relationship with Sato. Shiratori shares Sato’s initial incorrect view of her emotional issues and their solution (according to the narrative), and though well-intentioned, he does encourage Sato to pursue the path of forgetting rather than remembering. Takagi, in contrast, is the philosophical successor of Matsuda, espousing his same perspective and actually helping Sato deal with her painful past in a helpful and constructive manner. This difference between the two, namely that Shiratori perpetuates Sato’s flaws while Takagi remedies them, points to why Takagi is a superior partner for Sato compared to Shiratori, and why the narrative was always going to choose him to be Sato’s romantic partner. In many ways the Matsuda Jinpei case was one long argument for Takagi being the best person for Sato, but that’s an analysis for another time).

At the conclusion of the case, Sato deletes the last text she received from Matsuda, the one that she had been hanging on to for the past three years. The text was symbolic of Sato’s inability to move on; her deleting it meant that she was ready to enter a new stage of her life, one which wasn’t dominated by her painful memories of Matsuda. Most significant, though are Sato’s finishing words: “Bye-bye, Matsuda. But, I won’t ever forget you.” She has moved on, but she has also resolved to never let Matsuda vanish from her memory. In the end, Sato takes Matsuda’s and Takagi’s words to heart, using them to finally come to terms with her past and at long last find the peace of mind to pursue a new romantic interest (it goes without saying that this turning point in Sato’s character arc was crucial to enabling a feasible romantic relationship between her and Takagi; indeed, in later episodes Sato is noticeably more comfortable in considering Takagi as a legitimate partner, before they finally become an official couple in the Bourbon arc).

Sato’s whole arc with Matsuda, as mentioned earlier, offers another take on DC’s running theme of confronting vs. running away from the past, though in a manner that is not as direct as Haibara’s story, though similar in essence. The theme manifests itself more directly in Haibara’s case. She tried to flee from her past by literally attempting to run away and escaping from the Organization, whose existence symbolized her traumatic past. Coming to terms with her past meant actually being brave enough to lead a new life without resorting to the life of a fugitive (like Numabuchi) or suicide. Sato’s arc is a little more abstract, as she is struggling with the unyielding grasp of a painful memory. In her case, running away from the past meant forgetting it happened, and confronting it meant getting closure while accepting that she can move on without forgetting what she went through. Either way, the core of these stories are the same. What they do is provide the narrative different angles with which to approach this one essential theme.

To be clear, Sato and Haibara are not the only examples; they are simply more prominent, more deeply developed ones. This is a recurring theme that pervades Gosho’s work, and he seems to be quite fond of it. Examples include Megure and the unfortunate case through which they met, Akai and his past with Akemi, Kansuke and his difficult relationship with Uehara, and so on. This theme is also closely tied to another major one: redemption, which I plan to cover in the next part.
Posted by MrAM | Mar 21, 2016 7:36 PM | 0 comments
October 9th, 2015
Despite its origins as an erotic game, Fate/stay night (and the franchise that it helped give birth to) is a surprisingly thoughtful contemplation on the nature of heroism and altruism, especially in the modern context. The property is plagued by so much disturbing pandering of all kinds and a seemingly endless lists of trivial spin-offs and sequels that it’s easy to lose sight of the depth the original narrative has at its core. I was introduced to the Fate franchise via Ufotable’s excellent anime adaptation of Urobuchi’s Fate/Zero (a personal favorite). I watched the much-maligned 2006 adaptation of the Fate route of F/sn soon after, finding it to be much better than its infamous reputation suggested but far inferior to F/Z. It really wasn’t until Ufotable’s recently completed Fate/Stay night: Unlimited Blade Works anime adaptation that I felt that I had come to have an appreciable understanding of the essential themes at the heart of its story. It helped me better appreciate and understand F/Z’s narrative retroactively, by providing closure to the prequel’s inconclusive threads, both literally and thematically. As it turned out, neither anime could be completely understood without the other. As such, the following analysis will draw heavily upon both F/Z and F/sn: UBW. Since I am an anime-only viewer, my thoughts will be limited to the Ufotable adaptations. Needless to say, unmarked spoilers will abound, so proceed only if you have completed the two aforementioned shows.

Heroism is very much at the center of the Fate epic. The war for the Holy Grail is fought in a series of intense battles waged by Masters and Heroic Spirits, mythological warriors summoned from the ancient past (mostly). Kiritsugu, the depressing protagonist of F/Z, desires to be the hero who will bring peace to the world. His servant, Saber (a.k.a King Arthur) strives to be a hero by fulfilling her role as the perfect king and saving her country from destruction. Shirou Emiya, the protagonist of F/sn, wishes to follow in Kiritsugu’s footsteps and achieve his dream of being a “hero of justice.” Archer is a bitter Heroic Spirit who believes that ideas such as “heroism” and “justice” are worthless and meaningless, a cynicism born from his own experience. The above four characters best embody the concepts of Fate’s narrative, and it is fitting that it’s through them that story’s themes are most thoroughly explored, via a fundamental similarity that they all share: belief in ideals.

This is a dense topic, so we’re going to break it down, piece by piece. It begins with the partnership between Emiya Kiritsugu and Saber in the Fourth Holy Grail, Master and Servant, respectively. They were an unlikely duo, each of them loaded with numerous personal issues. Kiritsugu was a man who had experienced a traumatizing childhood that had psychologically wrecked him, pushing him to strive to destroy the evil that ruined his life forever by becoming a ruthless killer. His ultimate desire was to eradicate all bloodshed and sorrow (basically world peace), and he believed that the Grail would allow him to do just that. As for Saber, she was a king who was in the end betrayed by everything she believed in, and lived long enough to witness the devastating collapse of her empire and brutal deaths of her subjects. She desired the Grail in order to change the tragic conclusion to her kingdom’s story.

The relationship between Kiritsugu and Saber was a remarkably dysfunctional one. The former never treated the latter with any degree of respect, seeing her as nothing more than one more tool in his arsenal. He held her at arm’s length, never seeking her council and never showing her anything beyond his frosty exterior. It is telling that Saber rarely accompanied her Master anywhere; instead she remained with Irisviel for the majority of the war, largely ignored by Kiritsugu. What really drove an insurmountable wedge between the two, however, were their utterly differing approaches to battle. Saber, in accordance with her nature as a chivalrous knight, believed in honor even when fighting an enemy to the death. Kiritsugu, however, stamped all over that, mercilessly killing his foes left and right using the most underhanded tactics imaginable. Kiritsugu’s constant humiliation of Saber and everything she believed in eventually caused her to essentially hate him. Kiritsugu never tried to reconcile their differences, and their relationship ended in a state worse than its beginning, with no love lost between the two.

The greatest irony of the two’s partnership may be that they were, at their core, very similar people, with very similar philosophies. Such an assertion may seem ridiculous at first, but a deeper examination of the two reveals the many ways that they were nearly identical. The narrative relentlessly draws very specific parallels between the two. That they each represent an extreme does nothing to change the fact that they both exist on the same spectrum. How so? It’s very simple, really: they both built their lives around ideals.

Kiritsugu and Saber both shared the ideal of saving and helping everyone, of the establishment of justice in the world. They were the epitome of selflessness, always putting others before themselves. The only difference between them is how they chose to go about achieving that goal. Saber made herself the personification of good, while Kiritsugu transformed himself into the personification of evil. They dogmatically stuck to their tightly-held beliefs, wallowing in their self-righteousness even as they made themselves martyrs for their causes. Both of them, independently of each other, decided that they would dedicate their lives to others and never themselves. To Saber, that meant being a true king, one who was always in the service of the people. For Kiritsugu, it meant never repeating the same mistake he made as a child, the one that resulted in the death of his entire village.

The path that the two walked was a difficult one, sprinkled with thorns. It’s telling that Saber and Kiritsugu never seemed to actually derive pleasure from what they did. There seemed to always be a sense of obligation to their selfless deeds; it was more a matter of them having to do it than wanting to do it. It didn’t bring them happiness; satisfaction, perhaps, that they were successfully adhering to their self-imposed restrictions, but not happiness. That was exactly the point: the road trodden upon was one rarely chosen voluntarily by most people, as it provided no joy. Saber and Kiritsugu sacrificed their happiness for the sake of their ideals, and the result was something that seemed to disturb the people who met them.

“That’s not a way for a person to live,” Iskander (Rider) told Saber in the 11th episode of Fate/Zero. Not long after, in episode 19, Natalia says the same thing to Kiritsugu, almost word for word: “That’s not how a human should live.” This echoed piece of dialogue draws an effective parallel between the Master and his Servant. Natalia further elaborates on the terrifying ability of Kiritsugu to accomplish any task, no matter how demanding on the emotional and mental level. It was something that seemed almost beyond human, and indeed, that was the level that Kiritsugu and Saber eventually reached. They embodied their ideals so well that they eventually became them, the perfect saviors that they had always wished to be. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of their humanity.

The narrative makes clear that Saber and Kiritsugu seemed to be almost deficient at truly understanding others. It would be an exaggeration to say that they lacked empathy; however, they were so intensely focused on remaining loyal to their own beliefs that they often forgot to remember it. Kiritsugu deliberately closed himself off from most people in his life, his dead eyes only serving to accentuate his detachment. Rider harshly criticized Saber for neglecting to understand her people, always succeeding in being a savior but never truly in being a leader. She forced herself into the role of honorable saint, becoming the ultimate beacon of good at the price of forging a meaningful connection with those she led. She towered above them, breathtaking in her majesty and an ideal role model, an image which obscured her fundamental humanity and alienated herself from her subjects. Kiritsugu, too, became a foreign figure, a man who was able to pull the trigger even as he smiled in the face of his only daughter.

An overdose of altruism; that seemed to be the problem with both Kiritsugu and Saber. As such, they are each given their respective foils. For Saber, it was Rider, a fellow king whose personal philosophy contrasted sharply with hers. Rider believed that the country served the king, not the other way around. To him, it was a must for the king to be selfish, taking whatever he pleased from whomever he pleased. According to Rider, the proper ruler is the one who indulges in all the pleasures at his disposal, so as to establish himself as a magnificent figure before his subjects, thus imbuing them with the desire to one day be in his place. Ultimately, Rider’s approach to kingship made him intimately human before his followers. He did not attempt to be a pure soul, did not attempt to foist the heavy burden of sainthood, and so it was easy for his men to swear allegiance to him. Even in his elevated position, he was more relatable to all who knew him than Saber ever was, all due to his selfish nature. It was something that his followers could recognize, could empathize with, and could truly desire.

For Kiritsugu, it was Kotomine Kirei who acted as a foil. His character arc is very obviously meant as a reversal of Kiritsugu’s; whereas the latter’s story is that of a man who denied himself his desires and his happiness, Kirei’s story is that of a man who learned to embrace his desires and hold them above all else. Basically, a classic case of selflessness versus selfishness. Kirei began the series as a truly empty man, unaware of his own self and devoid of any true goals or ambitions. He lived according to his orders and had no thoughts beyond them. Happiness was a foreign concept to him, and he never did anything that gave him personal joy. That changed gradually through repeated conversations with Gilgamesh (the character who indulged himself the most), who slowly taught him the meaning of entertainment and of understanding what he truly longed for. Eventually Kirei came to embrace the dark impulses within himself, and the religious man who had once seen pleasure as synonymous with sin made it his life’s mission to do whatever he wished, regardless of the depravity of his deeds. His personal satisfaction became his number one priority, a distinctly divergent one from Kiritsugu’s.

Kirei is interesting from a thematic viewpoint because he represents the opposite extreme to Kiritsugu. Both men commit evil, vile, and treacherous acts throughout Fate/Zero. In terms of immorality, it would be a pointless exercise to rank one above the other; they both stained their hands with voluminous amounts of blood. The crucial difference between them is how they viewed their own twisted actions. Kiritsugu believed that his work was genuinely disgusting, but saw the evil as necessary for the achievement of the greater good. He had no illusions about the monster that he had become, but held on to the (naïve) hope that it would pay off in the end. Kirei, too, recognized his deeds as sickeningly cruel, but actually derived pleasure from them. Though he had once condemned Gilgamesh as the sort of demented person who would enjoy the suffering of others, he himself eventually realized that he was the same; his fascination with Kariya’s tragedy is the perfect example of this. In the end, both men executed unspeakably terribly acts, but one did it to supposedly help others despite hating it himself, while the other actually enjoyed it.

The reason that Kirei was so obsessed with Kiritsugu was that he believed them to be kindred souls, both empty and alone. He refused to believe that Mayu and Irisviel fought him of their own will to protect Kiritsugu, as that would mean that they actually genuinely cared for him. Kirei didn’t just think that Kiritsugu was like him; he needed him to be like him. Kirei had to believe that there was someone out there that could relate to him, someone whom he could understand and who could understand himself. Irisviel, shortly before her death, defiantly told Kirei that Kiritsugu was not the empty man that he believed, as there existed one decisive difference between them: Kiritsugu had convictions, firm beliefs, goals, something that Kirei lacked. Besides that, he possessed the capacity to truly love others, which is why his pursuit of his ideal has caused him so much pain. In comparison to him, Kirei was a pitifully hollow shell, “lost,” as he himself put it. Learning of Kiritsugu’s mission, ironically enough, actually gave Kirei a tangible goal he could aim for, a reason to fight. It still revolved around Kiritsugu; Kirei resolved to crush his dreams, to show him the childishness of his ideals. Of course, all of this goes to show that at that point Kirei was still very much an empty man, his life still built around others, with not a single goal or desire emanating from within. Kiritsugu may have lived for others, but he is the one who willingly chose to go down that path. It was a lifestyle that he chose for himself, an ambition that truly belonged to himself. Kirei could not claim the same.

It’s important to note the very important assumption that underlies the arguments of the Fate narrative; namely, that human beings are inherently selfish. This is used as a base upon which to build the themes and concepts of the series. Saber and Kiritsugu are used as examples of people lacking humanity through their extensive selflessness, while men such as Rider and Gilgamesh are held as appropriate manifestations of true human nature. Thus, to strive to be altruistic, no matter the personal suffering it induces, is portrayed as unnatural. Rider all but confirms that this is the perspective of the narrative when he tells Saber during the Banquet of Kings, “Who on Earth admires the martyr’s thorny path?” Whether or not the viewer will buy and invest in the show’s arguments and conclusion depends a great deal on their acceptance of this fundamental presumption.

In the end, both Saber and Kiritsugu are rejected by the narrative. The latter is challenged by the Grail in episode 24, where it systematically deconstructs his philosophy and shows him the horrific logical conclusion of his methodology. Saber is confronted by her deranged former best friend, a living example of all the shortcomings and flaws of her rule. Even when Kiritsugu tried to rid the world of the Grail’s evil, it merely resulted in greater tragedy, as all of the inhabitants of the Fuyuki city were killed as an uncontrollable fire consumed it, save for one, an exact reenactment of the destruction of Kiritsugu’s own village so long ago. For all his efforts to avert such mass death, history repeated itself anyways, and once again Kiritsugu was partially responsible for it. As for Saber, she buried her hopes and dreams forcefully by her own hand, without any explanation by her Master. The result was a level of grief and sorrow that far surpassed anything she had suffered up to that point, exacerbated by her newfound knowledge of her best friend’s betrayal.

The beautiful tragedy of Saber and Kiritsugu’s relationship was that even at the very end, neither could truly understand the other. The two, for all of their irreconcilable differences, were at their cores almost identical. Their failure to recognize this basic similarity only serves to underline the brokenness of their relationship. As Saber sadly reflected as her dream was destroyed right before her eyes, how could she hope to have possibly understood a man who had given her nothing but orders? Kiritsugu’s insistence on treating Saber as a tool and not as a human being sabotaged their partnership from the get-go, but it was also Saber’s certainty in Kiritsugu’s evil nature that buried any hope of understanding between the two. Both were fools blinded by their own idealism and self-righteousness, and the divide between them was in many ways a reflection of their mutual lack of empathy. Both came to embody their ideal, at the cost of connecting with others. They were human beings who tried to become superhuman, ultimately losing everything and gaining nothing.

That was what Gilgamesh meant, when he told Kirei at one point that he was fascinated by those “who have renounced their humanity for the superhuman wishes they harbor despite being born human” as he never grows tired from “watching their grief and despair.” This is a thought that is repeated throughout Fate/Zero, clearly foreshadowing the inevitable tragic fate awaiting the two characters who fit the profile of those who interested Gilgamesh: Saber and Kiritsugu. They denied themselves their own happiness, persisting in their path regardless of the anguish it caused them. Rider, after watching the dazzling display of Saber’s Excalibur attack, told Gilgamesh that it symbolized her idealism, and the fact that for it she “gave up a happy childhood, never knew love, and was eventually cursed to live by her ideals.” Kiritsugu never allowed himself even a moment to comprehend his own misery, only truly letting his emotions show at the rare moments where his never-ending torment became too much to bear. The aftermath of his killing of Natalia, a person whom he considered to be his own mother, is an example of this sort of moment. He justified her murder to himself directly after, even as his face contorted and his composure collapsed. In an exceedingly uncommon moment of regret, Kiritsugu cursed himself, almost seeming to be on the verge of rejecting the life that he had sentenced himself too. Then, as always, he resolved himself and stood up, literally and metaphorically, ready to move forward to his goal once again. Kiritsugu’s ability to not only recover mere seconds after experiencing such a heart wrenching loss, but also to remain an ardent believer in the beliefs that had compelled himself to cause the calamity in the first place, is disturbing in more than a few ways. It’s a distinctly non-human reflex, and only pushes Kiritsugu further out of the folds of humankind. The entire scene very consciously echoes and confirms what Natalia had told Kiritsugu minutes before her demise: that his habit of focusing only on what he should do, and not on what he wants to do, made him “just a machine.”

That’s what Kiritsugu and Saber made themselves, for the sake of their ideals. Saber strove to be an archetypal knight in shining armor, too pure for the world, while Kiritsugu did the same on the other end of the spectrum: a killer too ruthless to be relatable to on any level. It’s not that Kiritsugu and Saber didn’t possess the capacity to feel; they did, acutely. That’s exactly why they felt their sorrow so keenly in the end. It’s just that the two insisted on suppressing them, in order to remain steadfast on their doomed course. Their capacity to do this was unnatural and far beyond the norm, which is why both came across to most people out of reach, above comprehension. The message here is subtle but poignant: in trying to be heroes, Saber and Kuritsugu had needed to reject their humanity. They could not achieve their heroism while still retaining their happiness. As they discovered to their deep despair, the two were mutually exclusive. There is a reason that human beings idealize superheroes; it is because it is impossible for they themselves to become them.

Despite their most earnest efforts, Saber and Kiritsugu were both denied the modicum of satisfaction they may have felt had they been successful in their quests. Kuritsugu lost his daughter, his wife, and failed to prevent death once again. Saber lost the Grail, and with it her wish, as well as her best friend. The two finished the War as undeniable losers, broken shells of their already damaged selves. It would be natural to see their woeful endings as punishment for attempting to attain the unattainable, if not for the fact that the narrative hardly seems to regard the likes of Kirei and Gilgamesh as being in the right either. Yes, in a viciously ironic turn, it is the most despicable combatants of the war who enjoy victory in the end. However, it is made clear that they are repulsive, twisted individuals. That all of their cruel and self-centered scheming paid off in abundance and brought them happiness does not suggest to the audience the rightness of their actions; rather, it only serves to emphasize the sheer unfairness of the War’s conclusion. Kirei is an especially interesting case; he followed Gilgamesh’s advice and finally found his true desire and passion, a discovery that can only be described as revolting. The fact that he derived pleasure from carnage casts a negative light on the idea that living for oneself is paramount. More to the point, Kirei, upon his realization of his wish, literally became empty inside. The grail revived him without restarting his heart, a literal symbolism for the man’s lifeless inner self. In seeking luxury and gratification, Kirei had truly become a hollow shell, just in a manner different from how he was at the beginning of the series, when he lacked any tangible goals. True, he now had wants that were his own as well as a newfound sense of purpose, but he still remained an empty man, simply from a different angle. His newly impassioned and lively exterior only disguised the dead person within. Gilgamesh says as much: “You appear to be dead.” As such, Kirei ends up functioning as a compelling counterargument to the views advanced by Rider and Gilgamesh, ironically enough.

More so, rays of hope are offered to the show’s fallen protagonists. Kiritsugu’s story ends on a beautifully poetic note, as he finally finds happiness in saving the life of one person. He had always believed he would be contented if only all of humanity could be saved; in the end, that contentment came from a single life, a total reversal indeed. Saber isn’t given a similar privilege, as she only sinks into further regret and self-loathing, alone on that fateful hill surrounded by her dead followers. However, the narrative finally softens its judgment of her, through the very person who finally pushed Saber over the edge into the mental abyss: Sir Lancelot. In the show’s final minutes, Lancelot reveals, in his thoughts, that he and all the men he knew believed Saber to be the greatest of kings. This revelation is juxtaposed with Saber cursing her failure as king, simultaneously underscoring the tragedy of the situation and Saber’s ultimately incorrect assessment of her worth. Yes, as Lancelot points out, she made mistakes and indeed failed to understand the men who served her so loyally. However, that did nothing to dilute the intense respect they showed her. Saber’s Excalibur functions as an apt symbol for this: it left everyone who saw it in awe, and as Irisviel and Rider said, it represented the hopes of the soldiers who fought for their dreams, encouraging them to remain loyal and to fight to the very end. Saber was like her sword, both noble and sad, but ultimately blinding in her extraordinary brilliance. Like her sword, she left all who saw her in dumbstruck appreciation, a perfect figure desirable in her transcendent beauty. Saber was considered the greatest of all kings by her soldiers for the very same reason that she was such a flawed leader: her ceaseless idealism, her never-ending self-sacrifice. She was an impeccable example of chivalry in its purest form, an example that her knights strove to be like. Her nobility of character is what implanted in the hearts of her followers the desire to one day stand in her place. Just as Rider had gained the devotion of his men by humanizing himself, Saber acquired the fealty of her knights by making herself superhuman, disproving the former’s assertion back during the Banquet of Kings that his way was the only correct method through which to ensure allegiance.

And so ended Fate/Zero, most of its characters dead, its thematic threads unresolved. The second half of the story, namely Fate/Stay Night, is crucial to understanding the first half, and vice versa. It centers on the very same ideas, and provides a definitive answer to the questions raised in F/Z. Now, unlike its prequel, F/SN is not a linear narrative. This is due to its original nature as a game with three different routes, each with several conclusions. F/Z was written in a manner that allows it to function as an effective prequel for all three routes, though it works better for some than others. Since this analysis focuses on Ufotable’s adaptation of the series, I will only be looking at Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014), as it was very clearly made as a direct continuation of Ufotable’s Fate/Zero anime adaptation. Indeed, the two fit together harmoniously to create a single thematically coherent narrative.

The protagonist of Fate/stay night is the oft-maligned Emiya Shirou, a shame considering his compelling characterization. The story of the show takes place 10 years after F/Z. At this point Kiritsugu has passed away, having spent five years of his life raising the adopted Shirou. The fifth Holy Grail begins, with Rin as a participant and Archer as her Servant. Shirou eventually gets dragged into it too, and (not coincidentally) summons Saber as his Servant. Various events ensued thereafter that challenged Shirou’s central beliefs, and that is where the meat of the show lies.

A thorough analysis of a character as complex as Emiya Shirou is beyond the scope of this essay. However, a brief overview of his personality is necessary, essential actually, for the purposes of this post. Shirou has a whole host of issues, virtually all of them tracing their origins to the trauma he suffered during the fire he almost died in. He shows clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, frequently remembering the scarring events of that night. Survivor’s guilt is one such symptom; Shirou at times seems to feel almost ashamed that he survived that night while others didn’t. This isn’t helped by the fact that he intentionally ignored dying people’s cries for help at the time and that he refused to save anyone else at the cost of ensuring his own survival (which no doubt played a role in the savior complex that he later developed). At one point in the show, Shirou tells Rin that that he feels that he “doesn’t deserve anymore wishes,” right after a brief flashback of the fire that devastated his city. This is a classic example of the subconscious blame and shame that Shirou feels for emerging from that night alive.

The flames that ravaged Fuyuki City 10 years ago ravaged Shirou’s soul as well. For all means and purposes, Shirou died that night. The boy who “survived” and lived on was but a hollow shell, comparable to an empty container…and like an empty container, he was filled up with the first thing to come his way. In this case, that was Kiritsugu’s smile. It was so radiant, so overjoyed, so beautiful, that Shirou could not help but be jealous of it, desiring it for himself. He came to believe that the path to true happiness lay in selfless sacrifice for others, at all costs. If Kiritsugu was blessed with that happiness because he saved his life, then Shirou would bring himself the same joy via becoming the ultimate savior, a “hero of justice.” That became Shirou’s grand ambition, and he committed himself fully to it. That was both his greatest and worst trait: his stubborn insistence on achieving a goal no matter how impossible the odds, almost to the point of insanity. It’s that very same quality that led Rin to first develop feelings for Shirou (an ironic point, considering her opposition to his beliefs), when she once witnessed him attempt incessantly to jump over a high bar, over and over, despite failure each and every single time. The encounter encapsulates and symbolizes the nature of Shirou’s struggle with his ideals throughout the series well.

Of course, despite possessing a clear-cut goal, Shirou remained very much an empty individual with serious psychological issues. His ideal was not one that belonged to him; it was something he inherited from Kiritsugu, a dream that was not his own. Shirou truly lived like a machine; not because he’d resolved to like Kiritsugu and Saber, but simply because he didn’t know any other way to function. Putting others before himself was the one rule he always abided by, despite not building a firm foundation for that rule by integrating it into himself, making it his own, making it more than an imitation of someone else. In some ways, he had not internalized his own beliefs. Shirou’s reaction to Illya’s death in episode 16 is an apt example of just how twisted his mind was; somehow he had assigned the blame for her passing to himself. His inability to prevent her end seemed to break his already broken self more. Shirou’s tumultuous journey throughout F/sn would prove to be just what Shirou needed to confront his many underlying problems and resolve them, emerging from the fifth Holy Grail War all the better for it.

Saber, as we see her at the start of F/sn, does not seem to have changed in any significant manner since the conclusion of F/Z. As the end of the latter series showed, all that she had taken away from the fourth Holy Grail war was that she was a worthless king, and that it was of preeminent importance that she acquire the Holy Grail and rectify all the ways in which she had erred during her initial rule of Britain. Interestingly, she seems to have, on some level, mostly let go of her loathing of Kiritsugu, a development that makes sense in the context of her thoughts as she destroyed the Grail; that she was at fault for failing to understand the people around her. She seems to have laid the blame for most of her troubles at her own feet. She does appear to be interested as to Kuritsugu’s fate after the conclusion of the war, asking Shirou questions about the man whom he saw as his father. Her sad, wistful look upon hearing that Shirou considered Kuritsugu to be a “true magic user” says all that needs to be said. One can only imagine the multitude of thoughts that ran through her mind then. It becomes clear to Saber then, in any case, that the Kuritsugu that Shirou grew up with was not the cold-blooded murderer that she knew.

Kuritsugu did indeed change after the war, if Shirou’s memories of him are anything to go by. He describes him as “carefree” and as “nothing like an adult.” Apparently, Kuritsugu taught him that if something was going to be enjoyed, it was to be enjoyed to the fullest. Shirou compares him to a child, always playing around. The images such descriptions call to mind do not seem to be faithful to the ruthless man who dominated so much of F/Z, which is precisely the point. Kuritsugu clearly gave up on his ideals and let go of his lofty ambitions, content to actually enjoy himself in a peaceful setting for the short remainder of his life. As the last scene of F/Z demonstrated, Kuritsugu describes his desire of wanting to be a hero in the past tense, something that is no longer relevant to the present. Unlike Saber, who still sticks staunchly to her ideals, Kuritsugu laid them to rest for good, his former romantic beliefs living on in his adopted son, Shirou.

Shirou and Saber, unlike Kuritsugu and Saber, are a match made in heaven. In contrast to her relationship with his father figure, Saber’s partnership with Shirou is warm and cooperative. The two take an immediate liking to each other, and Shirou makes sure to keep Saber close most of the time, so protective is he of her. Saber herself acts as Shirou’s guardian and Servant with more passion, care, and love than she ever did for Kiritsugu. Obviously, their similar mindsets play a large role in their compatibility; Shirou and Saber share virtually identical ideals and beliefs. Shirou’s honest, selfless, pure, and honorable nature made him the perfect partner for Saber, who never found any of his convictions offensive. Of course, the deep similarity of their philosophies meant that Shirou’s later struggles with his ideals were highly relevant to Saber as well. Both of their lifestyles are put to trial throughout the show, effectively providing answers to the many questions raised in F/Z through them.

Rin and Archer are the unambiguous foils to Shirou and Saber. Rin, as she tells Shirou in episode 11, is at her core a hedonist. She only does things when she is certain that they will bring her pleasure, or “fun.” The only reason she performs her duty to the Tohsaka family, for example, is because she enjoys it herself, not due to any perceived obligation. She is the total opposite to Shirou’s “must help others at the cost of myself” attitude. Similarly, Archer is unconditionally opposed to both Shirou and Saber’s ideals, seeing them as ultimately meaningless and pointless, with no practical application in the real world. His cynicism and contemptuous attitude makes him look down on Saber’s honorable code of chivalry, a perspective that almost brings the two to blows at the beginning of episode 9. Thus, the pair of Rin and Archer effectively acts as a counter to the pair of Shirou and Saber, offering criticism of both altruism and idealism, the two integral pillars upon which their philosophy is built.

Archer’s hostility to Shirou becomes clear very quickly. He treats him with intense dislike and blunt mockery, assering over and over the worthlessness of his ideals. Shirou is equally offended by Archer, whose cold pragmatism clashes with everything he holds dear. Their reactions to Caster’s offer of alliance in episode 7 best encapsulates their utterly divergent creeds. Both turned her down, but for entirely different reasons. Shirou opposes Caster from a moral standpoint, viewing her as a depraved individual unworthy of any decent partnership. To Shirou, helping her would be tantamount to sin. Archer, in stark contrast to this, makes it clear that he only refuses Caster’s offer because of its impracticality from a logical viewpoint. He deduces that her power would not be enough to bring down Berserker, and as such she holds no strategic value. The implication is that if Archer had deemed Caster useful, he would not have hesitated to join her, regardless of her morally repugnant acts. This fundamental disparity in values drew an ironclad barrier between Archer and Shirou, so that they could never see eye-to-eye. Archer’s brazen attempted murder of the orange-haired teen in the same episode did nothing to improve their relationship, and their uneasy alliance only became more difficult to maintain; it didn’t help that Saber herself disliked Archer very much as well.

Archer’s assertion that Shirou’s selflessness was nothing but hypocrisy clearly troubled him, and he could not easily remove the Heroic Spirit’s words from his mind. Part of the reason that his words bothered him so much was that they were uncomfortably close to the disturbing words Kuritsugu had once told Shirou: “saving one person means being unable to save another.” Archer had claimed that to save a greater number of lives, the sacrifice of the city’s populace was necessary. This was actually clever foreshadowing of the thematic significance of the connection between Kuritsugu and Archer, which will be elaborated on later. In any case, Archer’s verbal attacks had truly challenged Shirou on the ideological level, a mere tease of the full-blown clash that was to come.

The real philosophical meat of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and the portion that most directly relates to its prequel, is to be found in its second half, after the defeat of Caster and her Master. It is when Archer reveals his identity that everything snaps into focus, and the essential themes of the series come to the forefront. Archer, to get to the point is, none other than Shirou Emiya himself, only from the future. That in and of itself adds a great deal of meaning to his character and in his opposition to his younger self’s beliefs. Archer serves as a living example of the consequences of adhering to an excessively virtuous ideal. As such, he represents a challenge to Shirou that cannot be easily refuted.

As Archer explains, he sacrificed his afterlife for the sake of his ideal, becoming a Counter-Guardian so that he could continue saving people forever. However, as he discovered to his shock, he could only achieve that heroic ideal by killing people left and right, all so that a greater number could live. He ended the lives of so many people that he became an apathetic, callous figure, slaughtering whoever he was ordered to. His success at becoming the hero of justice that he’d always wanted to be came at the cost of his humanity and his morality. He died, betrayed by his ideals, in misery and sorrow. In his last moments he felt nothing but regret and hatred over the path that he had chosen to walk. If all of the above sounds very similar to what Kiritsugu and Saber experienced in F/Z, it is because it is.

It is not a coincidence that it is both Saber and Shirou who confront Archer about their ideals; it was a showdown important enough to Saber that she chose not to accompany Lancer in saving her Master, a shockingly undutiful display for a knight as chivalrous as her. Saber had to witness for herself who would emerge the victor of the philosophical conflict between Shirou and Archer, because of the critical implications it would hold for her. She needed closure for her inner struggles, confirmation of her life’s choices, reaffirmation of her most deeply-held beliefs. Shirou represented the ideals that she had made herself a willing slave to, while Archer served as the manifestation of the doomed life it led to, a deplorable fate that Saber was all too familiar with, having already experienced it to devastating effect. if it was Shirou who won, it meant that she had ben right to live as she had, regardless of the tragedy that it eventually brought to her and her subjects. In such a case, she had nothing to regret. If Archer emerged triumphant, however, than it meant that she had indeed wasted her life on an empty dream and lived by worthless principles. The essential similarity between her and Archer is demonstrated through a very subtle visual parallel: as the latter’s Reality marble and various flashbacks showed, he died alone on a hill of blades, a metaphoric demonstration of his anguished life and death. Saber, too, as shown numerous times, met her end, alone, atop a hill of blades, surrounded by corpses. This haunting image is actually played in one of F/Z’s openings as well, hammering the message home.

Even more important is Archer’s connection to Shirou’s father figure. He shares many characteristics with Kiritsugu; ruthlessness, apathy, pragmatism, belief in the sacrifice of the few for the many, and so on. Archer’s existence shows that, in a tragically ironic twist, Shirou would come to the same realization that Kiritsugu did, and more significantly, become the same man. Shirou’s naïve idealism would one day result in an identical copy of the cold-blooded Kiritsugu. The very man who had passed on his dream of being a ‘hero of justice’ is the one whose likeness proved the falseness of such an ambition. Viewed through these lens, Archer becomes more than just an embodiment of Shirou’s ideals; he becomes a representation of Kiritsugu himself. Shirou’s battle with Archer than takes on a multifaceted character. It is a fight between Shirou and himself, between Shirou and his ideals, and between Shirou and his father. After all, even if Shirou hadn’t realized it, Kiritsugu was a perfect example of the futility and faultiness of his ideal. He had once walked that path, once devoted himself to achieving that elusive heroism, once dedicated himself to saving everyone…and ultimately, he had failed. There was a reason he quit his quest: he realized the impossibility of it, the hypocrisy and phoniness inherent to it. Shirou had inherited an ideal from a man who no longer believed in its validity. How could he hope to uphold it if its progenitor renounced it? Shirou could not truly move forward without overcoming the broken legacy of his father.

It is fitting that Shirou and Archer carry out their final battle within Archer’s Reality Marble; their battleground is the forlorn place that served as Archer’s final destination, the wretched reward for all his struggles. In the court trail that is Shirou’s fight with his ideal, it functions as compelling evidence for the rightness of Archer’s views and the falseness of his. It is symbolic of what they are both fighting for; Archer, its acceptance, Shirou, its rejection. Over the course of the fight, Archer slowly but surely breaks Shirou’s will, as the teen realizes the truth of the Servant’s words. He systematically deconstructs Shirou’s beliefs, crushing both his and Saber’s resistance to his words. After all, the reality of his claims were reflected in his very existence. How could either, Saber especially (after all the suffering she experienced embodying her ideal), deny him?

The full extent of Archer’s bitterness becomes painfully clear in his showdown with Shirou. He spends much of it shouting in frustrated anger, openly mocking Shirou and his ideals. He attacks him with a vengeance, his ferocity leaving no question as to his murderous intentions. He slams Shirou for his hypocrisy, his detrimental selflessness, his naivety in thinking that he could save everyone while still saving himself, his passionless existence, and his nature as a fraud struggling to uphold an ideal that isn’t his own. Archer speaks from the heart, and is so enraged because he recognizes Shirou’s defiance all too well; it was a defiance that he once possessed to, an iron will that allowed him to continue on his thorny path towards his pitiful end. He hates his foolish younger self beyond words, and does all he can to stop destroy him physically and mentally. And Shirou does fall, accepting in his heart that Archer is right.

It is then that the “Hell” motif of the series comes to the forefront. Shirou sees all the of the scenes of senseless carnage that Archer brought about, and sees the moment that his older self condemned himself to that cursed fate. “I saw Hell,” Shirou says, over and over, describing all of those sights. And then he finally witnesses the ultimate Hell, the one that gave birth to him: the fire that consumed Fuyuki City 10 years ago. Seeing Kiritsugu save him again reminded Shirou why he wanted to become a “hero of justice” so badly (this will be discussed in a moment), and so Shirou resolves himself to continue chasing his dream. His persistence in striving for his ideal is compared several times to enduring hell itself, fitting since the desire to achieve that ideal originated in the hell that Kiritsugu rescued Shirou from. There's an elegant symmetry to the fact that just as Shirou originally acquired his ideal from the fiery hell that he was saved from, he affirmed the truth of that ideal in a mansion burning an crumbling from a raging fire (yes, technically he did that within Archer's Reality Marble, but ultimately the two were still within the mansion).

Shirou’s current self warns his younger self not to walk into that “Hell,” but he does so anyways. Right afterwards, Archer warns the current Shirou not to walk into the fire, but again, he does so anyways. Not only is this a demonstration of Shirou’s refusal to abandon his ideal, it is also symbolic of the fact that Shirou’s happiness, both young and old, is to be found within the depths of that Hell. Shirou knows what will happen to him if he continues on that path, knows the trials and tribulations that await him, but he still decides to continue on his path anyways. His acceptance of the inevitable misery ahead due to his ideal does not equal the rejection of that ideal. He proceeds to pull a sword out of the ground atop a hill, reaffirming his desire to be a “hero of justice” both verbally and symbolically as he pulls out the sword. The blade represents his ideal and the hardship inherent to it; it catches fire as he grasps the handle, a symbol of both the Hell that originated his ideal in the first place as well as the rebirth of his resolve to fulfill his ambition of becoming a hero. Sjirou has no illusions as to what that entails. Archer questions him right before he grasps the sword, asking if he is really willing to sentence himself to such a brutal, thankless life. Echoing what Natalia once told Kiritsugu, he asks if Shirou is willing, “even if that life is like a machine.” Yes, Shirou says. He is.

Numerous visual parallels between Shirou and Saber abound in this particular portion of the show. Note the brief shot of Shirou hunched over on the ground, both of his hands rested on the handle of his blade, which is stuck in the ground. It echoes the iconic image of Saber in the final moments of her life, abandoned on that hill with her army around her (which is shown briefly in episode 18). Like her, at that moment Shirou is at his lowest point, beat down and broken. Another visual parallel, this one with the exact opposite meaning, takes place after Shirou's affirmation of the validity of his beliefs, when he pulls the sword (his ideal) out of the ground. This is an allusion to a nearly identical scene a mere episode ago, where a flashback shows Saber pulling Excalibur out of the stone and raising it into the air, a scene lifted straight out of King Arthur’s famous legend. This is a highly significant parallel, as it draws a similarity between the moment that Saber sealed her fate as a king (and by extension her slavery to her ideals) and the moment that Shirou reaffirms his adherence to his ideals no matter the cost. The purpose of all of this is to confirm the intimate connection between Saber and Shirou in regards to their essential beliefs, including their painful journeys due to them, and finally the fundamental validity of their lifestyles. Saber’s parallels with Shirou contrast with her parallels to Archer, as they each center on differing aspects of the life that her romantic ambitions resulted in.

There is much subtle symbolism to be found in the very blades that Archer and Shirou carry. Careful examination of them shows that they are clearly designed on the basis of the yin and yang, a preeminent idea in Chinese philosophy. Shirou and Archer each carry two blades. One blade is mostly white with a small triangular black portion, while the other is mostly black with a small triangular white portion. Shirou and Archer have one copy of each version. Both hold the mostly white sword in their right hands and the mostly black sword in their left. The visual image that results when they fight, as they are on opposite sides, is that of the Yin and Yang; Archer’s right hand (white blade) faces Shirou’s left hand (black blade), while his left hand (black blade) faces Shirou’s right hand (white blade). The clear Yin and Yang circle embedded above the handle of each blade confirms the purposefulness of the aesthetic. Shirou’s black and white sweater that he wears frequently throughout the show foreshadows this connection nicely.

It’s never made completely clear who the Yin and the Yang is in their relationship, with the implication that they alternate positions. What matters more is simply the fact that they are polar opposites to each other; note that whenever there is a close-up of their clashing swords, each one’s blade is the opposite color of the other’s, whether black or white. However, their contrary forces actually complement each other. This is the precise meaning behind Yin and Yang, and it is an appropriate description of Archer and Shirou’s conflict. In the end, their clashing wills produce something greater, a more complete and wholesome product born out of the two inimical forces. That product, of course, is the renewed Shirou that rises to the top after being brought down rock-bottom. Archer’s heavy dose of reality combined with Shirou’s stubborn will of steel and idealism give rise to a new, improved philosophy, one that gives Shirou the strength to continue on the road he has started upon.

It all comes together in the end, where Saber's scabbard, the item that connected her, Shirou, Archer, and Kiritsugu (not coincidentally the individuals all embroiled in this conflict of ideals), heals Shirou, and combined with his newfound resolve, gives him the strength to stand up to fight another day. It's a symbolic representation of triumph of Shirou and Saber's ideals, against the cynical rejection of them (Archer). This is especially true when Saber’s scabbard is viewed as a manifestation of Kuritsugu’s legacy. It was what he used to save the life that would finally bring him happiness, and it was what would one day call Saber to stand by Shirou’s side. Now it was a means through which Shirou could maintain his ground and overcome his failed ideal, the one that reflected his father’s failure as well. In the end, the act of saving a life, the one thing that Kuritsugu dedicated his life too, is what allows the jaded repudiation of that to be crushed. In this major showdown that brought together, literally and symbolically, all four characters who devoted their lives to a impossible goal, idealism emerges victorious.

Ufotable made effective and quite brilliant use of visuals to convey all of the above. The scene that demonstrates it best is the one preceding Shirou’s dramatic pronouncement of the rightness of his dream. There is a very brief flashback of him looking up to the serene blue sky when he's speaking about the beauty of his ideal, establishing a symbolic link between that sky and his dream. Right after that the scene cuts to a shot of the sky within Archer's reality marble, juxtaposing it with the sky that Shirou had just gazed at, highlighting their contrast in the process. When Archer's resolve breaks down, Shirou's 'dream' begins to take over, represented by the blue sky that we had seen him look at as a child just moments earlier. The framing of the ensuing confrontation is very deliberate, always keeping the blue sky behind Shirou and the orange-ish sky of UBW behind Archer. When Shirou finally wins the battle of wills, his own version takes over all of UBW, symbolizing the victory of his philosophy. Note the blades used here as well; both Archer’s and Shirou’s are mostly white, signifying their newfound agreement as well as the fact that Archer no longer opposes his younger self.

So, what was “the Answer” that Shirou discovered, the refutation to Archer’s claims? What was it he found that strengthened his resolve to continue seeking the fulfillment of his dream, even with his newfound knowledge of the sort of end that it would lead to? Shirou tells Archer that his dream “isn’t wrong,” but what does he really mean by that? Firstly, it’s Shirou’s claim of the “beauty” in his impossible ideal. No matter how hypocritical it, no matter how onerous or grueling, it is an ideal worth striving for. Wishing for others to be happy, hoping for humanity’s salvation, those are wonderful things. A person who embodies such an ideal, who makes it their goal to achieve such an admirable goal, is a person worth looking up to. The beauty of Saber’s Excalibur in F/Z foreshadows this conclusion; even though, or perhaps because, it was a manifestation of Saber’s burden, it was also a display of dazzling beauty, a sight that inspired awe in the hearts of all who saw it. That was the same effect that Kiritsugu’s facial expression had upon Shirou when he found him. In that face, he saw so much happiness that he became jealous, desiring that same unbridled joy. At that moment, Kuritsugu was a reflection of the beauty of his ideal, of the beauty of living that way.

It goes further than that, though. The real essence of Shirou’s “Answer” lies in the shift of perspective that he experienced. This slight but critical change totally changed his outlook on his lifestyle while still maintaining its essence. The problem with Archer’s assessment of the worth of his life, and in fact with Saber’s, Kiritsugu’s, and Rider’s as well, was that it focused solely on the end results. Archer evaluated his success on the most narrow of criteria: the final outcome of his struggle. Note that back in F/Z, Rider and Gilgamesh always focused on the ultimate fate awaiting those who treaded the thorny path that Saber and Kuritsugu had chosen. Gilagmesh, after witnessing the spectacle of Saber’s Excalibur attack, reflected on what her tearful final moments must have felt like. The story itself fixates on their sorrowful ends by devoting a great deal of time and space to them. The assumption implicit in the narrative is that it is only the end that matters. F/sn turns that assumption on its head by moving the focus to the journey rather than the destination. It’s a subtle shift, but it significantly alters one’s perception of the sort of life that the heroic ideal demanded.

Shirou’s problem throughout the series was that he always associated success, and so happiness, with the ends and never the means. He believed that he would be happy if he saw that others were, and so devoted himself to satisfying everyone before himself. Shirou believed that the accomplishment of his ideal was what would bring him joy and nothing else. This limited definition of what constituted “achievement” is what resulted in the resentful and jaded Archer that Shirou saw before him. All his life, Archer believed that saving everyone was what would bring contentment in the end; when he found that all awaited him was pain, betrayal, and heartbreak, he became bitter and angry, believing that he had failed, and so that his life had been wasted. What Shirou realized during his fight with Archer was that it was enough to strive for his impossible ideal, because the way of living that it resulted it was beautiful. Who can claim that helping others find their way can be an ugly thing? Instead of foolishly insisting that joy could only come if everyone is saved, Shirou could simply be happy working toward that goal, even if he never reaches it. The very act of altruism will in itself be the source of Shirou’s happiness, even if that act did not necessarily lead to tangible, positive results, because the goodness and decency behind the act is what mattered, is what possessed the “beauty” that Shirou spoke of. This profound understanding is the preeminent conclusion that both Shirou and the narrative arrive that, shattering the cynical and self-serving arguments advanced by Rider, Gilgamesh, and Archer before, and the long-awaited validation of Saber and Kuritsugu’s beliefs.

This change in Shirou, and the way that it firmly differentiates him from Archer, can be seen in each’s respective “Unlimited Blade Works” chant. Archer’s full chant, as seen in episode 10, is as follows:

“I am the bone of my sword. Steel is my body and fire is my blood. I have created over a thousand blades. Unknown to Death, Nor known to Life. Have withstood pain to create many weapons. Yet, those hands will never hold anything. So I pray, Unlimited Blade Works.”

Shirou’s chant, as seen in episode 24 when he summons Unlimited Blade Works himself for the first time, is identical save for some minor but crucial differences:

“I am the bone of my sword. Steel is my body and fire is my blood. I have created over a thousand blades. Unaware of loss, Nor aware of gain. Withstood pain to create many weapons, waiting for one’s arrival. I have no regrets. This is the only path. My whole life was Unlimited Blade Works.”

Note that whereas Archer’s chant amounts to a regret-filled lament, Shirou’s is a confident affirmation of his life choices. Archer focuses on his loss, on his failure, on the meaningless of his life; fitting as the world contained in his Reality Marble is symbolic of his sorrow. Shirou’s, meanwhile, confirms his resistance to anything that might shake his resolve. He asserts that he does not mind the losses that his lifestyle causes him, or the fact that it gains him nothing. Quite directly, he proclaims his lack of regret, a stark opposition to the major theme of Archer’s chant. Shirou seems to almost take pride in his thankless way of living. The fundamental divergences in the meanings of the summons are potent indications of the differences in the experiences of the two, as well as the full extent of Shirou’s stronger, renewed self following his final confrontation with Archer

Saber herself, thanks to Shirou, finally gains closure to her own internal struggles. Her resolution is framed in a manner similar to Archer and Shirou’s conflict; as her older self looking back at her younger self, and vice versa. The scene where her more experienced and jaded self turns to look at her idealistic and naïve self, with the current Saber at the center, very deliberately echoes the battle unfolding before her; the dark sky and ground littered with blades that the former stands on brings to mind Archer’s reality marble, while the green grass and clear blue sky on the latter’s side foreshadows the symbols that will be used to represent the “beauty” of Shirou’s ideal. Saber realizes that she wasn’t wrong to have had her dream, and that she wasn’t wrong to have regretted it in the end. However, she comes to the same conclusion that Shirou does; that as along as she was able to “achieve many of [her] ideals in the process,” it was alright. She could face her tragic fate without any regrets, because she lived the way that she desired, despite its personal cost to her. She explicitly credits Shirou with helping her come to this understanding in episode 22. Her words to Shirou concerning the end of “one dream” and it belonging to a “little girl” whom she would “not recognize” are less clear. My understanding of that scene is that Saber has given up on her dream of fixing her mistakes, of preventing herself from ever becoming King. Her willingness to destroy the Grail as well as the brief shot of her younger self standing over the stone-embedded Excalibur lends credence to this interpretation. More so, her reference to herself as a “little girl” to describe her former self echoes Rider and Gilgamesh’s use of the label to mock her back in F/Z. It seems Saber had come to realize the folly of wishing to erase her kingship, of cursing her reign as leader of Britain. However, Saber no longer regrets her past and end precisely because she is now confident that she was right to live the way she did, that the misfortune it eventually caused her was irrelevant. In that case, she still defies and denies the selfish views propagated by the King of Heroes and the King of Conquerors, all the way to the very end.

Now is as good a time as any to discuss the significance of Shirou’s abilities and how they tie into his status as a “fake.” One aspect of Shirou’s ideal that Archer makes a big deal of throughout the show is the fact that they are “second-hand.” They don’t belong to him and weren’t initially his, which is of course absolutely correct. Shirou inherited his ideals and his desire to become a “hero of justice” from Kuritsugu. To Archer, this makes Shirou as a fraud, as he has dedicated his life to fulfilling someone else’s dream. More so, if his ideal is his reason for fighting and struggling, than all he will save in the end is the ideal and nothing more, a truly meaningless existence because it will help neither himself or others. All in all, Shirou is a “faker.”

Of course, so is Archer. Gilgamesh calls him as much episode 18 (the reason will be discussed later). Archer’s ability is copying other people’s weapons and using them as his own; that’s precisely why he has an “unlimited blades work.” Archer, somewhat hypocritically, sees Shirou as inauthentic despite being a copycat himself. Of course, since Archer is just a future version of our protagonist, Shirou possesses the same ability; he ‘reads’ the construction of different weapons and creates replicas of them. The deeper, more relevant thematic meaning behind all this is in how it relates to ideals. We're repeatedly told that Shirou's ideals (and so the ideals that Archer once believed in) are borrowed. They did not originally come from Shirou; he copied them from someone else, and lives by them. Archer's ability is ultimately one that just copies from others, a reflection of how he (and Shirou) copied their core beliefs from other people. The powers function as an apt symbolism for the acquired ideals of their bearers. It goes deeper that that, however.

Shirou’s capabilities can be broken down to two components: strengthening and projecting. Initially, all he could do was reinforce weapons and tools, something that he made use of in school and in the early stages of the war (ex. using a desk as a shield while fighting Rin). However, he is eventually able to advance to the next stage, where he can actually generate weapons of his own, provided he has a model upon which to base his reproduction (as when he fought Kozuki in episode 10). The details of Shirou’s powers actually serve as a clever metaphor for his ideological struggle; after all, throughout the series Shirou is forced to reaffirm the validity of his ideals to himself in the fact of Archer’s relentless assault against them. In short, he has to ‘strengthen’ them. Then, he eventually has to make the fulfillment of his ideals a reality, so that he isn’t merely saving an idea, as Archer claims at one point. In that case, he is ‘projecting’ them into the real world, cementing their concrete existence. Shirou practically confirms that this is the meaning behind his projection when he bluntly tells Gilgamesh in episode 24 that all his power can do is “give form to what is in [his] mind.” Basically, make his thoughts, his ideals, a reality.

Archer’s “death” at Gilgamesh’s hands is ironic and appropriate. Like his final fate, he dies impaled by blades, the symbols of the suffering that had been his constant companions thanks to his idealism. With that in mind, it is exceedingly pertinent that he be impaled by said blades performing the one act that they signified and were brought about by: saving a life. Archer, after all his rallying against self-sacrifice and claims of false pretentions, dies true to that
Posted by MrAM | Oct 9, 2015 3:29 PM | 0 comments
August 6th, 2015
Anime Relations: Detective Conan
In every fandom, there are always a couple of characters that everyone (well, not literally, but a lot of people) just loves to hate. They are bashed without mercy whenever they show up, they are whined about endlessly, and they are scarcely given any serious attention or consideration beyond the aforementioned complaints and mockery. In the Detective Conan fandom, Conan’s group of child friends, the Detective Boys, is often the recipient of the kind of vitriolic bashing referenced above. The complaints are typical and generic: they are annoying, obnoxious, pointless, get in Conan’s way, and are a drag to have around. This strong negative attitude has interested me for a long time now, because I personally consider the members of the Detective Boys to be some of the best and most well-written child (as in 6 years or so) characters I’ve seen in anime, with vibrant personalities that result in some fun and sometimes surprisingly complex character dynamics. I thought I’d cast some light on this under appreciated bunch of brats. This blog post is going to be a sort of analysis/defense of the group (similar to the Bourbon Conundrum series, in that regard) that is so often abandoned on the wayside by DC fans who see them as nothing more than trivial annoyances that distract from the real meat of the show.

Not counting Conan and Haibara, the Detective Boys consist of three members: Ayumi Yoshida, Mitsuhiko Tsuburaya, and Genta Kojima. They are all 6/7 year olds who share in common an adventurous spirit but little else. For all of their childish antics, they are exceedingly mature and intelligent for their age, almost to the point of being slightly unrealistic. However, for the most part they act like children their age can be reasonably expected to act. Their incessant curiosity and naiveté has gotten them into a lot of trouble in the past, which is what has led to many complaining of their irritating tendencies of making problems for themselves and Conan. However, those blunders are usually what make their cases so interesting and fun (more on that later). Their group is basically DC’s tribute to the Baker Street Irregulars, the network of street kids in the Sherlock Holmes canon who used to aid the great detective through intelligence investigation. The DB do this themselves with Conan on several occasions, consolidating the reference.

Before I get into examining each of its individual members, I’d like to discuss the Detective Boys as a group; specifically, their purpose in the narrative. Contrary to what many might believe, the Detective Boys fulfill a crucial role, so important that I’d argue that DC as a story cannot function without it. Specifically, they provide the audience with a window into Conan’s life as a kid. The necessity of this function should be obvious: it’d be ridiculous for a show to have a central conceit of its protagonist becoming a kid without exploring the sort of life that forces him to lead among people who are actually children. The comedic and dramatic potential of such an arrangement is high, and DC is able to exploit it so thoroughly via the Detective Boys, through their rich interactions and influence upon each other. More so, their various adventures and trips provide DC with a nice degree of variety, acting as a respite from the constant never-ending murders, a privilege that a series like Kindaichi, for example, doesn’t have. The Detective Boy cases are in no way inferior to normal murder cases; if anything, they are of similar if not greater quality. Somewhat ironically, DB cases have produced some of the best horror and suspense stories in the whole show. Consider: the Blue Castle case, the Kaitou Kid mansion case, the Piano case, etc. These cases stand out for their uniqueness, excitement, and sense of adventure.

As important as the above function is, however, I’d say the Detective Boys have an even more critical one; namely, acting as catalysts and markers of both Conan and Haibara’s character development throughout the show. For Conan, they are the intimate, close group of friends that he never really allowed himself as a child. The brief glimpse that we get of Shinichi’s childhood in the Childhood Adventure flashback case (episodes 473-474) shows us a kid who bowed to social pressures from his companions, so much so that he insisted that Ran not call him by his first name in public despite their closeness, and in fact preferred that she not hang out with him as often. All of that demonstrates insecurity and a fear of being ostracized if conformity to social norms was not maintained. This all relates to Shinichi’s general social awkwardness and ineptitude. It is easy to infer from the above that Shinichi never really developed close bonds with anyone his age the way he did with Ran; Heiji represented his first true and genuine friendship with another guy, with the Detective Boys following suit. They are the group of close friends that Shinichi never had as a child, and the fact that he allows himself to act his true age around them without deception or trickery is in an indication of the intimacy of the relationship they share. With the Detective Boys Conan has been able to embark on various fun and enjoyable adventures and trips, many which he likely never had the chance to experience when he was a kid. With them, Shinichi could relive the childhood that he never got the opportunity to fully exploit or appreciate.

In the beginning of the series, Conan didn’t really like the Detective Boys much. He tolerated their presence but otherwise viewed them as a drag and nuisance. The extent of his detachment from them was made clear when he did not bother to so much as give them as a proper goodbye when he believed that he was about to be restored permanently to his normal body and leave Conan behind. When that turned out not to be the case, he lamented his fate, cursed to endure more annoyance at the hands of the three kids who refused to leave him alone. Conan’s attitude towards the overly enthusiastic children gradually changed over the course of the series, as he slowly grew from tolerating them to truly loving them as fellow friends. Episode 700 contains a scene that is a powerful marker of how Conan’s relationship with the Detective Boys has changed, specifically the one that came near its end. Conan races back to the cabin that the kids were staying in to find it engulfed in a raging fire, and he shouts desperately for his friends, one by one, as he is restrained and prevented from rushing in to save them. When for a few terrifying moments it seemed that it was over, Conan seemed shocked and on the verge of tears, before, to his intense relief, they were revealed to have escaped safe and sound.

The influence of the DB on Haibara is even more pronounced, fitting as Gosho once confirmed in an interview that the group was created with her in mind, even if she was introduced over a hundred episodes after them. Like Conan, Haibara was denied a proper childhood, though her situation was undeniably worse. Raised in the Organization, she was isolated from other people her age and never got to taste the joy or innocence of being a carefree kid; the result was the cynical, jaded, detached, depressed, and icy person we first meet in episode 129. Over the course of the series, though, Haibara undergoes an extensive character arc, and the DB plays a major role in that.

The most important person in this regard is without a doubt Ayumi. Her warmth, innocence, naivety, purity, and optimism made for a sharp contrast with Haibara, and her general compassion made her eager to break past the frosty barrier that the mysterious girl had built around herself. Ayumi’s relentless insistence at treating Haibara as a close friend was initially met with resistance; it was an experience with which she lacked familiarity, after all. Over time, however, Ayumi managed to make progress. In many ways, she was the perfect candidate to draw Haibara out of her self-imposed prison, as her personality was a polar opposite to hers in every imaginable object. Her optimism and loyalty was the natural antidote to Haibara’s cynicism and self-centricity.

The Blue Castle case (episodes 136-137) threw into sharp relief the many differences between the two, while planting the seeds for the big changes that were to come to Haibara. At one point during the case, when she and Ayumi remained the only two not captured by the killer, she ordered the little girl to remain outside and count to three hundred; if she hadn’t returned, she was to run away immediately, so that she could at least save herself. When it came down to it, though, Ayumi couldn’t abandon her friend, couldn’t prioritize her own safety above those of her companions, an expression of her fierce loyalty. That Haibara thought Ayumi could have ever obeyed such a command was more of an indication of her narrow and cynical perspective at this point than anything else. It was a reflection of Haibara’s tendency to “run away” when the going became tough. Ayumi’s deliberate refusal to do precisely that foreshadowed her greater influence on Haibara in the far future.

The payoff for this moment came a long time after, in episodes 346-347. In that case, Haibara’s central conflict was whether or not she should sign up for the Witness Protection Program in the aftermath of her near-death at Vermouth’s hands. For the Haibara of the early days, the decision would have been a no-brainer: not only would it allow her to escape from a dangerous life by assuming a new identity, it would also ensure her safety, which is what she once valued above all, even pretty concepts like justice and loyalty. In that same case, though, Ayumi said something that left a strong impression on Haibara and that directly connected to the subtle conflict between them all the way back in the Blue Castle case; namely that if she were to start running away, she would never stop…which is why she refused to run, just as she had refused to do so back at the Blue Castle. She said this in response to Haibara’s advice to keep a low-profile and hide away from the criminal in order to remain safe. Ayumi’s words were idealistic, but that is precisely why they left such a powerful impact on Haibara: they were a sound rejection of cynicism, of cowardice, of fear, an assertion of control and strength. It gave Haibara the push and the encouragement she needed to turn down the offer and continue her existence as Ai Haibara, friends of the Detective Boys, even if doing so was more dangerous. This was a landmark moment in Haibara’s character arc, one of the most significant and one of the most meaningful, and it came about primarily thanks to Ayumi’s purity of heart and surprising wisdom.

And it’s here where it would be a good idea to actually begin examining the Detective Boys individually, starting with the sole girl-who-is-actually-a-kid. Honestly the above analysis of Haibara and Ayumi’s relationship doubles rather well as an examination of Ayumi’s personality, a testament to how tightly intertwined her story is with Haibara’s as a shrunken adult. Ayumi herself isn’t too complex a character. She is basically the nicest person in the whole show, a manifestation of all that is good and wonderful in the world. This design is very clearly meant to contrast with the colder Haibara; as such, the primary function of Ayumi’s character, more than anything else, is to affect and help Haibara grow as a person. That is why it is difficult to speak too extensively of Ayumi without bringing in her close friend. Ayumi herself is, as described earlier, in possession of a pure and kind heart, brimming with compassion, love, excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism. She consistently sees the best in people and refuses to be judgmental. She is innocent and naïve in the truest sense of the word, a characteristic that is punctuated by her tendency to refer to herself in the third-person. That innocence lends her a level of straightforwardness that grants her the uncanny ability to see through the illusions of a given situation to the simple reality beneath. Her observations can be blunt and simple but full of surprising truth. It’s this ability of hers that sometimes leads her to clarify seemingly complicated issues in the most simple and obvious way possible, clearing away all the ambiguity and obfuscation surrounding them. Her statement regarding the futility of “running away” is one example of this in action. Ayumi serves as an effective reminder that sometimes the simplistic and unsophisticated perspective of a child can cut through to the heart and truth of the matter far better than the more complex and experienced view of an adult.

Ayumi’s love of her friends is one of her most integral character traits, and something that she is extremely passionate about; just see her troubled and tearful reaction to the false friendship she saw before her in episode 330. Her earnest desire to connect and befriend with other people, even the ones she had only just met, showed itself clearly in episode 460, when she was markedly the only one of the Detective Boys to remember the names of the new transfer students to the class. She ascribes a great deal of importance to the proper treatment of friends, a belief that is accentuated by her incredible degree of loyalty to them. She has such integrity that she never dares compromise her principles, lending her the stubbornness that allows her to never run away from any situation, no matter how dangerous or terrifying, if people she cares about are involved. The force of Ayumi’s fervent love for her friends is what allowed her to break past Haibara’s frosty exterior, reaching the ultimately human core of the former BO member. It’s clear that Haibara has come to consider her a close and legitimate companion, and her treatment of Ayumi is kinder and more affectionate than her treatment of virtually anyone else. Ayumi was the one who took the first step towards cementing the intimacy of their bond, by taking the initiative of calling Haibara “Ai-chan” rather than the more distant and formal “Haibara-san,” a move born out of Ayumi’s pure-hearted desire to treat all her friends equally and of acknowledging her friendship with Haibara. Haibara, for her part, noticed Ayumi’s many attempts to call her “Ai-chan” and in the end gave her explicit permission to do so, a significant move coming from the usually inaccessible girl. Interestingly, she granted this privilege only to Ayumi, shooting down Genta and Mitsuhiko when they tried to do the same. At the present point in time, Haibara and Ayumi are true best friends, and Haibara has grown to love all of the Detective Boys deeply, a process that Ayumi had a large hand in jump-starting.

Genta is the self-declared leader of the Detective Boys, although in reality it is Conan that holds that position. The big boy can often come across as a mean-spirited bully, but he is a far more cordial person than his bullish appearance might suggest. For all of his flaws, such as his problematic tendency to believe that he knows best and so rush into dangerous situations (a characteristic that has earned him the ire of a great many number of fans), he has many more redeeming qualities. He loves his friends and enjoys embarking on adventures. He also love food, especially eel rice, and it’s a running gag with him that he usually measures the value of any given amount of money by the numbers of eel rice it can buy. Naturally, he has a voracious appetite and is teased by his fellow DB members for it. It doesn’t seem to bother him most of the time, though he seems to take offense to the suggestion that he is a fat child.

The person Genta is most influenced by is easily his father. He looks up to him as a role model of sorts, and would frequently mention him to his friends, long before he was introduced in the series. When we finally see Genta’s father, though, we see how he has rubbed off on his son. He is generally a pleasant guy, but has a short fuse and zero tolerance for nonsense. More so, he has a tendency to start fights with other people thanks to his aggressive and confrontational demeanor in the face of something he intensely dislikes. This temperament likely has at least some of its origins in the fact that he works at a bar, where he comes into contact with idiotic drunkards on a regular basis. As such, he is used to dealing with rowdy situations. Genta clearly picked up on some of this, which is why he uses intimidation tactics on other people from time to time and seems ready to fight if need be. Some of it may be genetic predisposition, and some of it may be Genta simply emulating his role model. Like his father, though, Genta is at heart a good person.

From the glimpses we’ve had of her, Genta’s mom seems to be equally as forceful as his dad, if not more so; her iron will and command are obeyed by husband and son alike. This also helps explain Genta’s sometimes combative behavior. There is more to Genta than just that, though. He seems to have some subtle insecurities which occasionally show themselves throughout the show, and they all seem to be linked to his desire to live up to the authoritative and solid image of his father. His insistence on being called the leader of the Detective Boys, for example, shows a child who feels the need to be seen as the leader and so to be viewed with respect and dignity, even if he doesn’t deserve it; his intimidation of other kids is meant to achieve the same effect. His posturing as a leader who knows best and who doesn’t need to take orders from anyone seems to stem form this as well. Of course, this means that Genta doesn’t like to appear weak in front of others, and he is willing to conceal worries and doubts out of the fear that he will be laughed at or mocked. His behavior during the case where a thief was attempting to kill him (episode 242) is perfectly representative of this particular character trait; instead of confiding in his friends his fears and concerns, he isolates himself and actively avoids them, keeping all his terrified thoughts and feelings to himself despite the pain it caused him. Fortunately his friends managed to get to him and help him eventually, but there was no telling how long Genta would have kept the secret to himself otherwise.

And so, finally, we come to Mitsuhiko, the best developed child member of the Detective Boys and my personal favorite. One of his defining character traits is his polite and restrained demeanor. His speech is remarkably formal, and he is highly organized in even the most trivial aspects. Much of this is a direct result of his regimented upbringing parents who are strict by virtue of their occupations as teachers. Their influence clearly rubbed off on their son, though obviously their daughter (Mitsu’s sister) was less susceptible to their influence. She makes for an interesting contrast with her brother, coming across as a spunky, spontaneous girl with a rather childlike enthusiasm for adventure. Her reaction to her brother’s disappearance in episode 289, far from being one of worry, was one of excitement and interest.

Aside from Conan, he functions as the intellectual force of the group. He is well-read and highly knowledgeable, and is aware an impressive range of factoids and trivia. Frequently, whenever the Detective Boys visit famous landmarks or embark on adventurous investigations, it is he who brings up some interesting, obscure piece of information relevant to the matter at hand. He is highly intelligent, capable of unusually sophisticated deduction for a person his age. Of all the kids who consider themselves Detective Boys, Mitsuhiko embodies the ideal image of a child detective best.

It is a cruel irony, then, that it is Conan who is perceived by both the characters in the show and the viewers watching as the brains of the group. Mitsuhiko, a person with the potential to grow into a truly great detective, often gets the shaft, overshadowed by his shorter companion every step of the way. It’s an unfair reality, as Conan’s mental age is 10 years beyond his physical one, while Mitsuhiko truly is an exceptional child. The narrative of the show doesn’t ignore the logical consequences that Conan’s dominance would have on Mitsuhiko’s psyche, a smart kid who nonetheless doesn’t seem smart enough when judged by Conan’s high standard.

Mitsuhiko, very simply, has an inferiority complex. He feels inadequate compared to Conan, questioning his true worth in the face of the realization that a great deal of the things he knows he does only thanks to Conan’s big brain. Even when he succeeds in putting things together on his own, Conan is always far ahead of him. Conan’s persistent superiority in terms of deduction undoubtedly has had some negative impact on Mitsuhiko’s self-esteem, though fortunately thanks to the encouragement of his peers it has not been too extensive (and at this point in time mostly nonexistent). The whole situation is quite sad for the boy, as he is not aware that the reason Conan is so far beyond him is due to their massive age difference. Mitsuhiko’s insistence on judging himself by the unreachably high bar Conan sets tragically ironic for precisely that reason, because it is an evaluation doomed to failure no matter his most earnest efforts. Had Mitsuhiko been aware of Conan’s true age, it is very likely that he would never have developed any doubts about his own abilities at all, simply because a child shouldn’t feel ashamed to not be as capable as an adult. As it is, he believes that he is competing with a child he is, totally ordinary outside of his unnatural intelligence. For a person who prides himself on intellect and knowledge as much as Mitsuhiko, Conan’s seemingly limitless genius is a harsh blow. Mitsuhiko confessed his insecurities and anxieties to Haibara in episode 212, where he expressed his admiration of Conan for both his knowledge and leadership ability and lamented his own pedestrian nature in comparison. Haibara helped direct Mitsuhiko towards a more positive line of thought, pointing out that all that mattered in the end was his ability to practically apply what he knows to help others. Those words cheered up Mitsuhiko a great deal, and are reflective of the sort of positive feedback that the young boy is on the receiving end of. In the end, Mitsuhiko’s friends are the reason that his feelings of insufficiency in comparison to Conan have not developed into a more malignant and far-reaching condition.

Speaking of friends, Mitsuhiko’s relationships with them are interesting. Of special note is his dynamic with Haibara. Put simply, Mitsuhiko is infatuated with her. He first becomes aware of his attraction to her during the aforementioned episode 212, when he stares at her in fascination after she makes a particularly mature and not very childlike comment about the significance of the apple from a religious perspective. It’s right after that Mitsuhiko tells Conan that despite Haibara’s usually harsh words, she’s “really pleasant, smart, and mature,” as well as “mysterious.” Mitsuhiko’s stated reasons for finding her attractive actually reveal some interesting things about his character. On the surface level, Haibara is an example of the classic case of someone being desirable simply because there is so much about them unknown and unexplained. Beyond that, however, it seems that Mitsuhiko develops a crush on her because she possesses all the characteristics that he would like to see in himself; she is the ideal that he strives to achieve. Mitsuhiko is indeed the most mature of the Detective Boys, or at least as “mature” as a first grader could hope to be. Part of this likely stems from his exceedingly formal upbringing, but it also seems to be a part of his natural demeanor. Mitsuhiko places a great deal of value on his intelligence, because it grants him, in his mind, a degree of wisdom and sophistication. It elevates him beyond being a mere child (and as mentioned earlier, Conan’s impressive mind strips that away from him by making him look lackluster in comparison). So, naturally, Mitsuhiko is drawn toward the person who is everything that he wants to be. The irony here is similar to the case with Conan; Mitsuhiko perceives Haibara as singularly mature and old because he believes her to be the same age as him. That a child like him could have such a notable aura of adulthood is exactly what makes Haibara so fascinating to him, so “mysterious.”

Haibara, of course, is cognizant of Mitsuhiko’s obsession with her, from the very first episode that he becomes aware of it. Of course, she doesn’t return his feelings, and any potential romance between her 18-year-old self and this elementary school child would be inappropriate, to say the least. Initially she actively tries to sabotage the boy’s feelings for her by making herself appear even colder and more cynical than she usually is, with the hope that Mitsuhiko would be pushed toward Ayumi instead, a far kinder person whom Mitsuhiko actually has a realistic chance with. While this tactic seems to work for a time, it becomes clear not long after that Mitsuhiko still very much likes Haibara; after all, her harsh attitude is one of the characteristics that led him to be captivated by her in the first place. Haibara eventually seems to relent, in that although she is careful not to give Mitsuhiko any false hope by showing him any interest, she does not discourage him from liking her in the romantic sense either. While Haibara does sometimes take advantage of Mitsuhiko’s feelings for her, she generally seems to find his crush endearing and is affectionate towards the boy himself.

Mitsuhiko, like the other two child members of the Detective Boys, is at his core a wonderfully innocent and kind human being. He has an iron will and the determination to see any task through to the end, no matter how difficult. He’s always thinking of ways to make his two romantic interests, Ayumi and Haibara, happy, and is more than willing to deliberately place himself in some tough situations for the sake of the people he cares about. This was probably shown best in episode 289-290, when Mitsuhiko arranged an elaborate trip for himself to a place far from home, all for the sake of retrieving a firefly for Ayumi and Haibara. He refused to call for help when he found himself lost in the forest because it would mean abandoning the firefly cupped in his hands. This intense dedication is one of Mitsuhiko’s greatest character traits, and just one of the many things that makes him such a likeable, good-hearted kid.

The romantic component of the relationships within the DB is both hilarious and fascinating. It’s quite a complicated web among the four members, with one unifying theme: unrequited love. At times this is one of sadder aspects of the group dynamic of the DB, as each member (or almost each member) pines after someone who simply doesn’t return their feelings; at others, it’s fertile ground for comedic gold. One of the most interesting questions the fandom asks is how in the world Gosho intends to resolve the messy tangle.

As discussed above, Mitsuhiko is infatuated with Haibara. He also likes Ayumi. At first glance, t might seem odd that Mitsuhiko would be attracted to two such diametrically opposed figures, but on closer inspection it makes sense; just as he is allured by Haibara due to being the manifestation of his model self, he is drawn in by Ayumi’s ultimate personification of his kinder and more gentle side. Unfortunately for Mitsuhiko, despite his best efforts to impress, neither girl returns his feelings. They certainly like him as a friend, but neither considers him a serious contender for their affections. In an almost pitifully ironic twist, both girls are interested in the one person who always seems to be one step ahead of Mitsuhiko: Conan.
Ayumi develops strong romantic feelings for Conan shortly after they meet. Similarly to Mitsuhiko and his fascination with Haibara, Ayumi sees Conan as a perfect role model for her, someone whom she can look up to, rely on, and strive to eventually become. Conan displays the exact kind of qualities that Ayumi herself holds dear: bravery, loyalty, and determination. As a bonus, he’s smart and quick on his feet, traits that give him an air of dependability. Ayumi is confident believing in and trusting in Conan as a friend and hero. She is very open with her affections, which has the dual effect of making Conan uncomfortable and the other two boys in the group, Mitsuhiko and Genta, angry and jealous.

Haibara is a bit more complicated when it comes to her feelings. Unlike Ayumi, she holds her thoughts and emotions close to her chest, only letting her guard down occasionally. At no point does she ever explicitly confirm her romantic interest in Conan; it can only be gleaned from several suggestive interactions she’s had with him throughout the show, including mysterious looks and dialogue heavy with subtext. A full analysis of Conan and Haibara’s complex relationship is beyond the scope of this essay; a brief overview should suffice. Basically, Haibara’s love for Conan seems to have established itself gradually over time, as she got to know him better and better. She was always interested in him from the get-go as a test subject who survived the drug that she developed. Eventually, though, Conan seemed to intrigue her as a person, as she came into contact with his decidedly different perspective on the world. In contrast to Haibara’s self-centered, cynical, and bleak outlook on life, Conan was selfless, idealistic, and optimistic. He was essentially everything that Haibara herself wasn’t, and his severe opposition to Haibara’s beliefs captivated her. Conan was a foreign thing, an enigma whose mind was difficult to comprehend, so different was it from the way Haibara understood the world around her. It’s only natural that she would be drawn to that; more so, she would come to admire Conan’s noble characteristics, and it wouldn’t be long after that they would begin to manifest in the shrunken scientist herself. The fact that Conan saved her life twice and always seemed to be there to look out for her would have only strengthened her feelings for him. The two are already intimate companions in a non-romantic manner; after all, they are both stuck in the same boat, waging a silent war against a syndicate that most of the world doesn’t even know exists. No one understands their situation like each other, and seeing as they are both fellow adults, they share the responsibility in looking out for the DB and frequently confide in each other. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the Detective Boys, and both Mitsuhiko and Ayumi have asked her directly whether or not she likes Conan on the basis of seeing the two of them talking privately often.

Conan is aware of Ayumi’s feelings and oblivious to Haibara’s. Either way, he doesn’t reciprocate the affections of both girls, as he himself only has eyes fro his childhood friend, Ran. Conan has the distinction of being the only member of the Detective Boys who doesn’t have a romantic interest within the group itself. This means none of his friends know whom he likes, if he likes anyone at all. Certainly they would never consider on their own that Ran is the person whom Conan desires. As for Genta, he has the least presence in this emotional cobweb. He has a crush on Ayumi, likely due to her kind and innocent nature, but it does not appear to be as intense or serious as Mitsuhiko’s. While he does get jealous when Ayumi shows Conan special attention, it may be partially due to his perception of it as a threat to his image and supposed “leadership.”

So to summarize: Mitsuhiko and Genta like Ayumi (and the former Haibara), who both like Conan, who likes Ran. It’s both sad and funny that no one seems to reciprocate the other’s feelings, resulting in hopes and dreams that are unlikely to ever be realized. Still, despite such romantic entanglements, the DB members never allow them to seriously endanger their friendships. The group is tight-knit, and they do virtually everything together. This sort of loving companionship is heartwarming to see, especially in terms of what it means to Conan and Haibara. Conan functions as the brave leader, Haibara the team mom, both looking out for the kids who have enriched their lives so much. The kids themselves, for all the trouble they get themselves and others into, are in the end wonderful, kind-hearted children being children, embarking on fun and memorable adventures that they’ll never forget.

I’m of the firm opinion that the Detective Boys simply don’t deserve the dislike they get. They fulfill their many purposes (ones essential to the success of the DC narrative) and go beyond that to be genuinely fun characters in their own rights. They aren’t the most well-developed or the most compelling, but at least they’re well-written, actual characters with clearly defined personalities. They have great and varied interactions with one another, and help each other grow. Characters as young as them (6/7 years old) are rarely given any serious attention in anime/manga, and even when they are, they are often mere caricatures or stereotypes of actual kids. A group like the Detective Boys is a rarity in anime, and for that they deserve some recognition. Detective Conan as a series would not be as good without them.
Posted by MrAM | Aug 6, 2015 1:53 PM | 2 comments
July 12th, 2015
Anime Relations: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
This blog post is just going to consist of some musings of mine on the show I can’t help but keep returning to, over and over. As such, it probably isn’t going to be very organized since it’ll basically be a disharmonious collection of the various thoughts and ideas I have regarding the titular subject. Not that I’m claiming that my usual posts are very organized (I like to pretend they are, though). With that disclaimer out of the way…

“I’ll protect my nakama!”

“Don’t you dare hurt my nakama!”

“Raaaarrggghhhh!”

All of the above phrases can probably be found in the average battle shounen. The power of friendship has become an infamous trope thanks to its almost universal pervasion of action-adventure series targeted at this particular demographic. It’s often mocked and derided by the English-speaking anime community, with most of the criticisms centering on the tendency for such works to use the supposed intimate bonds present between its protagonists as an easy way to resolve conflicts. When all seems lost, and the big bad villain is about to emerge victorious, it is almost guaranteed that the main character will suddenly be motivated by his or her friends and proceed to defeat the antagonist, using strength that had previously not existed but that was now possible thanks to the support of the main’s comrades and the closeness of their relationship. In other words, the well-known “shounen power-up.”

It is such a tired and hackneyed trope that is used so frequently across a significant number of works (and really it goes far beyond battle shounen to be widespread in fiction in general) that it is no surprise that it has acquired such a bad reputation. More often than not the friendship between the protagonists is reduced to a dues ex machina plot device that solves whatever conflict happens to be at the center of the narrative at that moment. The result of the usage of this cliché is a pronounced lack of suspense (since the audience knows the inevitable conclusion, regardless of how bleak the situation may seem) and a rather predictable plot. The trope is also problematic in other ways, namely that it sometimes fails to communicate the message it purports to be espousing. “The power of friendship” usually manifests itself in an overpowered main character who defeats the Big Bad all on his own, without the help or assistance of his friends. Such an occurrence has the effect of undermining the theme, since the friends here don’t actually do anything of note; it’s not the “power of friendship” as much as it is “the power of that one guy because people like him.” Obviously this isn’t the intention of the works that utilize this trope, but it is sometimes the unfortunate implication.

It’s a shame that friendship as a theme should be mocked by so many, because really, all issues aside, it’s a pleasant moral and a good message to send the target audience of shounen series. It is good to have friends, to have comrades, to have people who’ve got your back. It’s good and healthy to build strong social relationships, for a whole host of reasons. More so, it’s important to learn to trust others, and developing intimate bonds with people helps you to grow more compassionate and caring for others. Having it as a theme provides endless opportunities for truly heartwarming, moving, and very powerful scenes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pushing the idea that friendship matters.

Perhaps the ‘problem’ that people have with it is that, all aforementioned writing issues aside, it is rarely explored in a compelling manner…which is true, to an extent. Most shounen don’t ever go beyond the simplistic and straightforward idea that “friendship is good, and lack of it is bad.” I mean, yes, I just spent an entire paragraph detailing exactly why it’s good, but most shounen don’t even explain the theme that far, let alone approach it in a more nuanced manner. Almost everyone can relate to having friends, and making that the focus of your story actually opens it to an infinite amount of storytelling potential. It is not restrictive in the least, as long as the writer is willing to explore interesting territory with it. And really, that’s exactly what I think HxH did.

Before we go any further, I’d just like to focus briefly on the typical structure a shounen series might adapt to make and emphasize its thematic point on the importance and beauty of friendship. More often than not, a sharp dichotomy is established between the protagonists and the antagonists. In these type of stories, the lonely, self-serving, and selfish aspects of the villains are usually highlighted, to emphasize the contrast between the compassionate and connected lifestyle of those on the side of good and the cold and callous attitude of those on the side of evil. The audience sees the intimacy and comradery that exists between the beloved main characters and just how pointedly it differs from the detachment and casual cruelty that seems to exist between the members of the villainous team, despite being ostensibly on the same side. When the opposing side inevitably loses, the audience is to understand that they fell because they lacked the wonderful qualities that that their opponents possessed. It’s an effective means of driving the message home, given the execution is at least competent.

Togashi took this idea in the Yorkshin arc and spun it on its head. While most people would probably not immediately associate the very dark, grim, violent, and seinen-ish Yorkshin narrative with ‘nakama,’ that is exactly what lies at the heart of it (along with vengeance). What differentiates Yorkshin from most of its ilk is that, in utter opposition to the typical dichotomy, it is its villains who share intense and close friendships with one another. The Phantom Troupe is very, very far from the disjointed and back-stabbing villain groups that often dominate shounen. They are extremely loyal to each other and to their leader, sharing a love so deep that each and every one of them is more than willing to die for his or her teammates. This does a lot to humanize them, of course, but it goes beyond that. Togashi does indeed love to create antagonists whom can be seen in a sympathetic light, but he always does it in the service of greater themes or ideas (as can be seen in this arc as well as Chimera Ant).

The Phantom Troupe display actions and emotions that in the majority of shounen would belong squarely in the heroes’ camp. Consider: Uvogin chooses death over selling out his teammates to his killer, an expression of the utmost loyalty. Both Chrollo and Nobunaga shed tears over their teammate’s death. The Phantom Troupe unleashes their grief on the entire city in a spectacular demonstration of unbridled carnage and mourning. In the very end, Pakunoda sacrifices herself voluntarily for the sake of her friends. There is a consistent theme here: all of these things are found all the time in not just typical shounen stories, but fiction in general. The catch is that it is usually the heroes who do all of this. It is they who go down in heroic fashion after refusing to surrender their teammates to the bad guys. It is they who cry and mourn over the loss of one of their own. It is they who vow to retaliate against the villains and avenge their lost comrade. It is they who selflessly sacrifice themselves so that their fellow friends can live.

All Togashi has done here is switch what should have been a group of good guys to a group of bad guys, a simple inversion that produced spectacular results. Really, broadly speaking, Yorkshin is a common narrative told from the perspective of the antagonists. It’s not a coincidence that in this particular story, it is Kurapika who seems to function as the villain. And really, to the Phantom Troupe, that’s precisely what he is: a cold-blooded killer intent on taking them out one by one. It is he who kills one of them, who strikes fear into their hearts, who kidnaps their leader, and who forces yet another one of them to die in the end via self-sacrifice. The chilling thing is that the Troupe is not at all far off in their assessment of Kurapika, a man who becomes so consumed by his quest for revenge that he gains a disturbing willingness to kill whoever stands in his way, even if they have nothing to do with his goals. For example, it is heavily implied that he would have murdered Melody for discovering his intent had it not been for her agreement to keep silence. His killing of Uvogin was chilling and systematic in the extreme, a scene where he truly transformed into the type of monster he was meant to be hunting down. Really, Uvogin seems almost heroic for protecting his teammates to the end, whereas Kurapika comes across as a ruthless villain who seems to feel nothing inside as he buries Uvogin.

In contrast to the intense comradery of the Troupe, Kurapika isolates himself from his own friends, keeping them out of the loop and embarking on his quest without even attempting to ask for their guidance or assistance. Kurapika’s detached behavior actually ended up putting his friends in danger, as their ignorance of his involvement with the Troupe nearly cost them their lives. Even after he agreed to let them help him, he continued to act recklessly, putting Gon and Killua’s life in very real danger. By the end of the arc Kurapika had learned from the error of his ways and, in a milestone development for his character, prioritized his friends above his mission.

Before we continue down that train of thought, it’s important to make it clear that while Togashi adds a sympathetic angle to the portrayal of the Phantom Troupe, he never allows the audience to forget their cruelty. The scene where they unleash hell upon the city as a ‘mourning’ of sorts for Uvogin is chilling in its barbarity and casual disregard for human life. In a similar vein, the scene where Pakunoda interrogates Squala and Nobunaga kills him is also heartbreaking in its mercilessness. That latter scene very specifically echoes Kurapika’s interrogation of Uvogin before he killed him as well. Likewise, Togashi does not shy away from showcasing just how ugly the path that Kurapika has taken is, most notably through his aforementioned destruction of the eleventh Troupe member.

The result is a conflict that is not black and white but instead dominated by shades of gray and a marked moral complexity. When it comes down to it, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Kurapika and the people he is fighting (not to suggest a moral equivalency, since the Troupe are obviously far crueler than Kurapika; just the observation that most of their motivations are virtually identical to Kurapika’s). Their annihilation of his people set off a chain of hatred and revenge that led him to murder one of them, which in turn pushed them to embark on a quest for vengeance of their own that simply continued the vicious cycle. The two sides trapped themselves in a never-ending, self-perpetuating phase drenched in blood and violence. By drawing such direct parallels between the two sides of the conflict and equating them so thoroughly, Togashi tore apart the dichotomy that so often characterizes fights in battle shounen. There is no contrast to be found here; just people stuck on the path of blood-soaked revenge as a result of the love they hold for their people.

So yes, friendship, comradery, nakama, whatever you call it, that was the catalyst for the chaotic events of the Yorkshin arc. When it came down to it, both had the same goals and fought for the majority of the arc for the same reasons. Ironically, each side initially perceived the other as monstrous and callous creatures, incapable of love and wholly evil. This is a running theme throughout Yorkshin, as the false preconceived notions that all involved held about each other are slowly broken down and proven false. The amusing thing is that this perception is often the reality in some battle shounen, where the villains really are monstrous and callous creatures. Togashi muddles the waters with the immensely human yet still evil Phantom Troupe.

Gon is surprised to discover that the Phantom Troupe, especially Nobunaga, genuinely mourned the passing of Uvo, to the point of shedding tears. Such a display of vulnerability is what prompted Gon to declare, in anger, that he had initially thought that the members of the Troupe were “heartless monsters” and that if they weren’t, why they couldn’t spare a “fraction of that grief” for all the innocents they murdered. Chrollo is shocked and taken off guard by his discovery that the “chain user” actually cared about and valued his friends; understandable, considering the Phantom Troupe’s perception of him as an inhuman killer. Kurapika himself receives a similar shock upon his realization that the Troupe valued their boss as much as he valued his own comrades; the revelation is so upsetting that it shakes Kurapika to his core and noticeably increases his anxiety and fear in his final dealing with the group. The visceral reaction is understandable; after all, Kurapika had realized that the supposed monsters he was fighting weren’t all that different from him.

It is this fundamental similarity that allows the Yorkshin arc to end the way it did; not with an epic climactic confrontation, but with a simple hostage exchange. Had even just one of the two parties involved not valued their captured partners, the trade could never have occurred as quietly and smoothly as it did, and both sides knew it. Melody reflects on it as Kurapika prepares to give over Chrollo; the fact that if the Phantom Troupe had been truly as merciless as they had appeared, the present arrangement could never have happened.

The ironic thing is that Chrollo tried very hard to make his fellow Spiders that way, by emphasizing over and over that the survival of the group was for more important than the survival of its leader. Were he to die, the Troupe could simply continue to survive under a different boss. Chrollo was so confident that his followers would prioritize the Troupe over himself that he accepted death even as Kurapika held him hostage. When he tells Kurapika with a smug smile that he holds “no value as a hostage,” he does so with utter conviction. Later on, he orders Pakunoda mentally to bring the whole group over without any hesitation.

When it came down to it, though, most of the Phantom Troupe members simply couldn’t abandon their leader, despite his confidence that they would. It’s interesting to look at the heated exchange between the Troupe members when it came to decide whether or not to let Pakunoda go to fetch the boss alone. Pakunoda’s fortune had told her that she would need to choose between pride and betrayal, without ever defining exactly what constituted what. Chrollo himself seemed to imply that betraying the Spider would be placing greater importance on his life than on that of the gang, and indeed that is what Nobunaga and his supporters do, much to the chagrin of the likes of Phinks and Feitan, who believe, correctly, that their boss would want them to accompany Pakunoda to the meeting place, regardless of the risk that posed to his own existence. In the end, though, the Troupe’s hand is forced when Killua rats them out, and they reluctantly gather back at their HQ, as per Kurapika’s demands.

Kurapika’s weakness, the one that Chrollo was so sure that he and his companions could exploit, ended up binding the Troupe as well. Chrollo followed his own rules, but the remainder of the Phantom Troupe didn’t. Pakunoda never had any intention of doing anything that could endanger her boss’s life, and her fear that he wouldn’t make it through the encounter showed itself best in her outraged reaction upon seeing Hisoka at Lingon airport; after all, his presence there meant that not all of the Troupe members were at the hideout, which in turn meant that they had disobeyed Kurapika’s orders and so doomed their boss to certain death. Fortunately for her, Hisoka blackmailed Kurapika using the same tactic he was using against the Phantom Troupe: the threat of the death of his companions. Pakunoda proceeded with the hostage exchange, alone, the remainder of the Phantom Troupe deciding willingly to stay behind at the HQ. Despite Chrollo’s wishes, his comrades had deliberately ignored his orders, for his sake. It seems, then, that the “betrayal” the fortune spoke of did indeed refer to ignoring Chrollo’s orders.

The crux of Yorkshin’s finale, the moment that Togashi had been very carefully building up to, was Pakunoda’s final living act. Kurapika had done something that threatened to turn the entire Troupe on her: condemned Chrollo to a life of solitude, with no means of defending himself. He had deprived the boss of his nen and forbidden him from contacting any Troupe members, lest he die. Of course, this meant that he wouldn’t be able to return to the Troupe, which was the sort of result that the group had been trying to avoid by complying with Kurapika’s demands. To top it off, Pakunoda was forbidden from explaining anything that had to do with Kurapika, including defending herself from her teammate’s accusations. Despite that, though, Pakunoda intentionally flouts the rules and passes all her memories, including the ones relating to Kurapika, to her teammates, at the cost of her own life. Her final words tip us off as to her motive in doing so: “Please…let this…end with me.”

Pakunoda’s sacrifice was for her partners, for her companions. She knew what would have happened had she remained silent: the Phantom Troupe members would have torn each other apart through internal fighting and disagreements, more likely than not leading to the destruction of the Spider, the ultimate betrayal any of them could possibly make to the boss, as Franklin so succinctly put it prior to the hostage exchange. More so, some of the members would likely chase the ‘chain user’ in order to avenge their doomed boss, which would in turn lead to retaliation by his friends, and so on and so forth, an unending cycle of violence and revenge that would slowly but surely kill everyone involved. By passing on her memories, Pkaunoda hoped that her friends would understand exactly what had occurred and why she did what she did, and so back down from any further confrontations that could deal lethal damage. In short, she wanted all the bloodshed that had occurred up to that point to end with her. The Troupe had begun the repeating pattern of hatred through their murder of the Kurta tribe, and Kurapika had only continued it through his killing of Uvogin, which had led to the Troupe’s slaughter in the city, and so on and so forth, both sides involved trapped in a doomed repetition of their own making.

But it’s the final scene of the Yorkshin arc, where the audience is privy to one of Pakunoda’s last memories, one that provides the final bit of context needed to make full sense of her actions. As she was walking Gon and Killua to the airport, she asked them why they didn’t take advantage of her current state of weakness to attempt an escape; by doing so, the Phantom Troupe would lose their leverage, and Kurapika would be free to kill Chrollo. Their response is fascinating: they don’t want Kurapika to kill anymore. They were his friends, after all; why would they willingly do something that would drive Kurapika further along the path of darkness? Gon and Killua intentionally restrained themselves for no other than Kurapika’s sake. Their loyalty is what inspired Pakunoda to do the same for her own friends: to stop them from destroying the bonds between them by useless fighting and killing. Just like Gon and Killua saved Kurapika, Pakunoda saved the Phantom Troupe, parallel expressions of love and care.

Really, that’s what the Yorkshin arc came down to: the power of friendship. What makes it so great, so touching, and so profound, is its dignified and sophisticated execution. This was a story of the self-destructive reality of revenge, of the hollowness and emptiness it brings, and of the duty of companions to stand by their comrade and save them from themselves. It was the story of the savage unending cycle of vengeance, of the basic humanity that exists at the heart of even the most seemingly inhuman killers, of the inhumanity that exists within the most human people, and again, of the internal healing and support that intimate social relationships can bring. All of this does indeed boil down to the power of friendship, just done in a manner so skilled that the majority of battle shounen can only dream of it.

So, all of that was fascinating and great stuff. Even better, though, is what Togashi did with the central friendship of the whole series: the one between Gon and Killua. On the surface, their friendship is rather straightforward, warm and sweet but hardly something special. Gon made Killua a better person, Killua made Gon happy, yada yada. But, like so many other things with Hunter X Hunter, there’s a lot more to it than just that. Togashi took Gon and Killua’s friendship to very dark places, challenging and bending it until it threatened to break, through an intricate and complicated relationship dynamic.

It is no exaggeration to say that Gon and Killua’s friendship lies at the heart of the whole series, in more ways than one. The entire structure of the show’s narrative, for example, echoes the relationship between the two. Killua repeatedly compares Gon to light; to the formerly lonely assassin, that is exactly what Gon is: a beacon of guidance and hope, of love and strength, of fun and adventure. He is everything that Killua ever wanted in life, a supportive light that shines so bright in optimism and faith that he can’t help but sometimes look away. Gon is the light that represents the opposite of all the darkness and cruelty that Killua only knew as a child. Naturally, in this case Killua would be the darkness, the complement to Gon’s light.

This union of light and dark is echoed in the very structure of the show. Many have noted that Togashi’s arcs seem to follow a set pattern: light, followed by dark, followed by light, followed by dark, and so on, in a continuously repeating cycle. A ‘light’ arc with more somber undertones is always followed by a much, much darker arc, before the audience is given a relief with the following brighter arc. Even a casual survey of the show reveals this: the energetic and bouncy Hunter exam arc is followed by the darker, slower, and more reflective Zoldyk family arc, followed by the cheerier Heaven’s Arena, and so on and so forth. Of course, what is especially noticeable about this format is that the designated dark arcs of the show get bleaker, grimmer, and heavier as the show progresses, whereas the supposed ‘lighter’ arcs get more dire as well. The result is a story that gets more serious on all fronts as it moves along, a reflection of the mental state and relationship of the two primary protagonists.

Just like Killua, Gon values their friendship very much, and it’s clear that he considers Killua the closest person to him in his life. He trusts Killua with his life and is always reliant on him to get them out of tough spots. He takes Killua’s words at face value and depends on him to clarify a situation or just provide a support he can lean against. Considering all of that, it seems the relationship between the two pretty much means the same thing to each of them. They both complement each other, Gon’s boundless energy and iron resolve coupled with Killua’s understated maturity and thoughtful demeanor, and keep each other going. Most importantly, they have a blast with each other and craft incredible memories, hand-in-hand, that they’ll never forget. What could possibly be wrong with what seems to be one of the greatest friendships a person could possibly ask for?

As it turns out, a lot. There is no doubting the positive and heartwarming aspects of the two’s companionship. But like the show they feature in, it belies darker, troubling issues with the very foundation of their relationship, problems lurking just beneath the surface but buried and ignored by the two involved. As the later events of the series show, all that was needed was a little shake to unearth the host of problems lying at the center of their friendship. Togashi is able to conduct a bold exploration of the relationship between the two leads that results in one of the most brilliant deconstructions of the friendship trope in battle shounen.

The heart-to-heart talk that Killlua and Gon had on Whale Island was an early but subtle indication of the potential problematic relationship between the two. Gon tells Killua that his goal in life moving forward would be to have find his dad while having fun on the way. Killua, though, has no such purpose. He informs Gon that he’ll be staying with him until he figures out what he wants to do…but really, all he wants is to stay with Gon. Killua at this point has no ambitions, no desires, no greater goals, beyond staying with his friend. He is driven not by what he wants, but by what he doesn’t (avoiding his family, for example); driven by fears, not hopes. His life literally revolves around Gon, so great is his attachment to him. It was due to that that as much as the two loved each other, Gon ultimately mattered more to Killua than the other way around, because he literally had nothing else.

More so, Killua’s perception of Gon as a beacon of light and innocence convinced him that he would have to bear the burden of whatever evil they came across. Gon’s essential purity is what had attracted Killua to him in the first place; he believed, then, that as his friend it was his responsibility to preserve Gon’s innocence. As a person who had already killed countless times, he thought it acceptable that he continue to walk the path of darkness so that Gon would never have to. While this is indeed a testament to the deep love that Killua felt for his friend, it is also troubling in its naiveté and in the inherently destructive path that it laid out for Killua. Here was a boy who was more than willing to ruin himself further for Gon’s sake. That selflessness would be fine in moderation; however, Killua takes it to an unhealthy extreme, and Gon does nothing to temper it. In fact, it is Gon’s attitude towards Killua that also plays a crucial role in the fragmentation of their friendship in the later stages of the series.

Gon is selfish. That is one of the defining aspects of his character. His way of thinking doesn’t differ very much from that of a child. He’s self-centered, he sees the world from a very narrow perspective, and he’s more amoral than anything. While he isn’t a bad person by any means, his straightforward attitude can be disturbing dependent on the situation. His tendency to bring harm both to himself and to others out of his stubborn selfishness affected Killua more often than not. There is a scene in the Greed Island arc that best encapsulates this aspect of their relationship, specifically the one where Gon insists that Killua be the one to hold the ball for him as he powered up to hit it, just because Killua is his friend and he trusts him above all else. Gon paid no heed to Killua’s severely burnt hands, which became worse every time Gon punched the ball. Killua, in his characteristic fashion, had been trying to hide the pain that Gon’s actions were causing him. Despite the protest of the others present, both Gon and Killua continued using their strategy.

It’s easy to read this scene as marker of the two’s powerful bond, and in many ways it is. However, it is also a microcosm of harmful behaviors of the two. Gon was awfully selfish in this situation, as he usually was, and Killua allowed him to be by not complaining about the incredible pain he was suffering from, all for his sake. This touches on what Gon told Killua all the way back in the Yorknew arc: that it was his job to be the idiot, and Killua’s to clean up after him. It was a playful, innocent statement, but its darker implications become clear in both Greed Island (where Gon’s self-centered nature is emphasized repeatedly, especially in the arc’s climax) and Chimera Ant. No matter how much he had to endure for Gon’s sake, Killua willingly carried the burden, all in the belief that he was both protecting Gon and saving his soul from being tainted from the cruel world around them. Gon, more often than not, either didn’t notice or purposely ignored it. Killua’s fight against the Chimera Ant in episode 94 is an acute example of this: Gon on a date with Palm, blissfully ignorant of the beating that his friend was receiving nearby for his sake alone.

The result of this unbalanced dynamic, of excessive selflessness paired with excessive selfishness, was an abusive relationship. The tragedy of Gon and Killua’s friendship is that neither realized it until it was too late, and more so, neither was willing to acknowledge it. Killua gave everything for Gon, and was satisfied with receiving nothing in turn, as long as Gon remained his friend. That was what mattered most to him in life after all. This is part of what caused him to take so much without a single complaint; his fear of losing Gon as a friend. Every time Killua questioned him but never voiced his thoughts, every time he was hurt and swallowed it without a word, he was doing it out of a desire of not endangering their bond in any way, and of course, in the belief that it was his job to bear the burden without complaint. The inevitable consequence was Gon getting away with a lot while Killua let him. To him, it was alright as long as they remained close, intimate friends. So, naturally, when that stopped being the case, Killua broke. The most ironic aspect of this relationship is that what Killua valued the most in his friend and what he sacrificed so much to desperately protect, Gon’s purity of heart and innocence of mind, is what ultimately drove the biggest wedge between the two, the one that they couldn’t, in the end, overcome.

The Greed Island arc was positioned very deliberately between Yorkshin and Chimera Ant. Aside from continuing the pattern of light and darkness discussed earlier, it brought the close friendship between Gon and Killua to the forefront of the story, displaying it in all of its good and bad qualities. We see how Gon and Killua support each other, how happy they make each other, and how much they truly and deeply love one another, friends so close as to resemble brothers. On the other hand, we also see the more unsettling and borderline terrifying aspects of Gon’s personality (see his fight with Genthru, especially the part where he sacrifices his hand) and Killua’s troubling silence (the Dodgeball game mentioned above). Despite that, however, the arc’s portrayal of Gona and Killua’s intimate bond was overwhelmingly positive. That is exactly why Greed Island acquires an undertone of profound sadness only in hindsight, when the audience sees what comes next. Here, we see Gon and Killua at their absolute happiest and at their absolute best, playing a fun game passionately with all their hearts, tasting the innocent joy of childhood. It was Killua’s chance to be a kid again, and Gon’s last to remain one. The fact that the Greed Island arc was one long game was not a coincidence; after all, what symbol better represents childhood (and there’s actually a lot more to the arc’s themes and motifs, but I’ll save that for another post)? Unbeknownst to the viewers at the time, however, was just how effectively Greed Island served as a prequel for what was to follow. It showed us Gon and Killua at their best in a very conscious contrast to what would soon be them as their worst. Greed Island was about Gon and Killua through and through, a last hurrah of sorts before it all went down the drain. And when it did, a repeated watch of Greed Island would reveal that beneath all of its positivism lay a poignant warning of what was to come.

The Chimera Ant arc is arguably the most important segment of the story that Hunter X Hunter told over the course of its 148 episodes. It represented the climax of the series on nearly every front, and Gon and Killua’s friendship was included in that. The trouble began from the very beginning, as Gon was exposed to the darkness and evil that Killua had sought to shield him from for so long. He witnessed death and depravity first hand, and was forced to grow up with it. Things became worse when Kite was viciously attacked by Neferpitou before the two boys. Even at this time, though, despite all the terrible things he had seen, Gon remained the picture of optimism. As he smiled at Killua after thanking him for saving him and told him confidently that Kite definitely survived, Killua reflected, for the last time, on the fact that Gon was indeed the light…his light. Tragically for the two boys, that was about to change.

The buildup to Gon’s descent into darkness was gradual, but really its foundation had been laid for a long time, at subtle points throughout the show up to that point. I won’t really elaborate on it too much here, since I want to get into it in detail in a separate post, but the essentials of it is that Gon learned the reality of his own weakness as well as the raw pain of losing someone dear to him, an altogether new experience that had him dead-set on revenge. The turning point for his character came very clearly in episode 95, when he met Kite post-death, reanimated at Pitou’s hands to become a mindless robot, the once dignified and wise Hunter reduced to an automated puppet. The shock of the experience and the profound effect it had on Gon’s psyche marked the beginning of his increasing isolation, as he masked his murderous intent with his typical childish-looking exterior.

Gon’s pure, straightforward worldview was in many ways directly responsible for the severity of the change that he went through in the subsequent episodes. His intense want for revenge, his simplistic perspective that assigned sworn enemy status to whoever hurt people he liked, his lack of experience with these new agonizing emotions of simultaneous guilt and hatred, all combined to create a volatile bundle of explosive rage. Everything was exacerbated by it, and this only continued after his initial confrontation with Pitou, which only shook him further in the way it challenged his preconceived notions of the enemy as well as to the nature of the conflict against the Chimera Ants. Taken all together, it was too much for Gon, as his utter breakdown in episode 116 demonstrated quite well. Killua, the whole time, could do absolutely nothing to stop it, and his attempts to calm Gon down only widened the gap between them.

Gon hurt Killua. He hurt him badly. Truth be told, he had been hurting him since the beginning of the invasion, through his distant behavior and cold attitude. He treated Killua not as a close friend who had been through so much with him, but as a professional partner, hardly worth talking to or confiding in. Killua felt that Gon was quietly pushing him away even before the Invasion began; note Shoot’s assessment of Killua in episode 109, where he felt that Killua seemed to be on the verge of “fading.” In hinsight, it is clear what he was referring to. The worst thing Gon ever told Killua was what he said at that moment, after Killua stopped him from attacking Komugi: “You can remain calm…since it has nothing to do with you.” It’s a childish statement, born out of Gon’s need to lash out, like the kid he is. But it was also one that pushed Killua far, far away from his best friend, by framing the situation as if Killua were a stranger. The thing is, it had everything to do with Killua. His calm and collected demeanor was simply him looking out for his friend, doing what he always did: cleaning up after his mess. But this time, Gon didn’t like it, and his words were ultimate way of building up a wall around himself, cutting him off from everyone and everything. And Killua, as he always did, took Gon’s hurtful statement quietly and swallowed it down, never betraying the extent to which it had torn at his heart. The way Madhouse shot this scene was extremely effective at conveying the gaping chasm developing between the two: Gon growing further and further away physically from Killua’s perspective, and the quiet, understated shot of his silhouette walking away from Killua’s still one, leaving him behind.

It was Gon’s change that really altered the dynamic between the two in the Chimera Ant arc. The dichotomy of light and darkness remained, but the roles were reversed. Killua became the light, while Gon became the darkness. While Gon sank further and further into the depths of depression and vengeance, Killua became a source of inspiration for many, just as Gon had been to him. The greatest difference that arised between the two was their treatment of the people around them. While Gon blocked himself off from the rest of the world, retreating to the deepest confines of his mind, Killua was out making friends. He made a companion out of Ikalgo by saving his life and serving as a figure of motivation for him, and even went on to befriend Palm, a woman had once despised him. Killua did what Gon had once done with ease: build strong and lasting social relationships. He had finally reached Gon’s level only to find himself standing there alone, his friend regressing to become more and more like his former self. It was yet another tragic irony of their companionship.

By Chimera Ant, Killua, based on his experience with Gon, had developed a sort of personal philosophy in regards to the meaning of friendship and to the role that comrades play in each other’s lives. He reveals this to Ikalgo quite directly in episode 107, when he made it clear that in his view, friends are supposed to help one another in any situation at any time. Since it’s a given that any person will support his friend, gestures of thanks and gratefulness are unnecessary. Killua’s words leave a strong impact on Ikalgo, moving him to tears, and he is inspired to take Killua’s words as gospel moving forward. The pay-off for this moment actually comes shortly after, in the first episodes of the invasion, specifically 113. Killua, ironically, is the first to deviate from the plan he had insisted everyone stick to prior to the invasion, all for Ikalgo’s sake. When Ikalgo passes by Killua after the deed is done, he doesn’t thank Killua, rather telling him that he “owes him one.” This scene is a thematic continuation of the one in episode 107, and serves as an important indicator of the intimacy of the bond shared by Killua and Ikalgo. They are portrayed by the narrative as an example of strong friendship, in deliberate contrast to the state of the relationship between Gon and Killua. The firm trust present in Killua and Ikago’s companionship is conspicuously absent from the relationship between our two leads at this point in time…and that, of course, doesn’t escape the notice of Killua, as Gon’s behavior repeatedly contradicts everything that Killua had come to believe about the nature of nakama, beliefs that had ironically come about as a result of Gon’s influence.

Gon’s arc during Chimera Ant very deliberately echoed that of another character’s we had seen before: Kurapika. In hindsight, the Yorkshin arc gains a greater deal of significance as an elaborate piece of foreshadowing for Gon’s future fall. What had seemed at the time to be a great but tangential detour is revealed to be very specifically tied to Gon’s character arc. Many of the things that Gon said or did during Yorkshin become exceedingly relevant during Chimera Ant, even becoming more meaningful. It was in Yorkshin that Gon told Killua that it was his job to clean after his mess, a statement that alluded to one of the most problematic aspect of their friendship. It was in Yorkshin that Gon asked Chrollo how the Phantom Troupe could bear to kill innocents who have “nothing to do with [them],” a question that becomes eerily ironic in Chimera Ant, when Gon threatens to kill Komugi, a person totally unrelated to him and his issues in any way, if Pitou stalls him again. It was in Yorkshin that Kurapika cut himself off from his friends and sentenced himself to a lonely existence within walls of darkness, an exact mirror of what Gon does in Chimera Ant. It was in Yorkshin that Kurapika utilized the Nen vow to gain power and impose conditions on himself for the sake of crushing the Troupe, just as Gon does in order to defeat Pitou. The parallels are numerous and direct, leaving no doubt that Gon, in Chimera Ant, walked the same path that Kurapika had trodden not too long ago. Unlike Kurapika, however, who realized before it was too late the importance of living for those who are alive (his nakama) rather than those who are dead (his tribe), Gon allowed himself to be consumed by his quest for revenge at the cost of his best friend.

That best friend reached the end of his rope during Chimera Ant, when his tolerance for Gon’s behavior finally failed. He took out his anger in the aftermath of the Pitou confrontation on Youpi, even warning the Chimera Ant that he just needed to “let off some steam.” That was the angry side of his reaction to Gon’s actions and words. His heartbroken and pained reaction came later, when he broke down in tears before Palm, as the full force of his realization of his own helplessness and lack of control of the situation came crashing down upon him. It was in episode 136, when we see Killua speaking to the comatose Gon, that he finally breaks and lets his frustration, his hurt, and his feelings leak out. The metaphorical dam had finally broken, allowing all the pent-up feelings of agony come bursting out all at once. Killua had finally crossed the breaking point, and it was what gave him the final push he needed to, at long last, resolve to hold Gon accountable for his misdeeds. Ironically and sadly, that resolve wouldn’t hold.

Gon and Killua’s final departure from each other appears happy and optimistic on the surface, but is ripe with tragic undertones. Its most problematic aspect (quite intentionally) is the utter lack of closure it provides, both for the characters in-story and for the audience. Togashi very deliberately denied us, the viewers, the emotional catharsis that a truly heartfelt reunion and making of amends between Gon and Killua would have brought us. Despite building anticipation for it, in the end Togashi made the odd (typical for him) decision of completely skipping over the moment when Gon and Killua came together once again, despite their relationship being the crux of the entire show. The narrative fast-forwards to when it’s time for the both of them to go their separate ways.

The entire departure feels false in a deeply unsettling manner. Gon and Killua are excessively silly and exaggerated, the color palette used in the episode itself is bright and vibrant in a manner that hearkens to the early days of the show, and overall a strong impression is given that something is amiss. That after all the hell they had been through Gon and Killua are so relaxed with each other is strange. Gon’s apology to Killua is terribly inadequate, and Killua’s lax response is equally insufficient. More to the point, Killua repeatedly brings up just how harshly Gon hurt him by his actions during the Invasion, seeming to allude to it in some shape or form every few minutes, all while shrouding it in the guise of light-hearted banter and teasing. It almost feels like he’s criticizing Gon while pretending he’s fine, feigning forgiveness when the reality is very different. It’s when the boys say their final goodbyes and turn away from each other that they finally betray their true feelings, through the truly melancholy expressions on their faces, expressions which hint at deeper issues than simply sadness at their separation.

Ultimately, Killua couldn’t go on befriending Gon. The relationship, in its final stages, simply became too damaging, too toxic. Gon, even though he hadn’t really mean to, had abused Killua time and time again and then coldly pushed him away when he needed him most. Killua, for all the claims he had made about really making Gon apologize and repent for his insensitive actions, in the end let him off with a lame and lazy apology, an indication both of his unwillingness to seriously confront Gon on his shortcomings as well as Gon’s inability to compensate for the severity of his reckless actions. In the end, neither of the two could change, precisely because of how much they loved each other. For each other’s sakes they do their best to make their departure seems as joyous and wonderful as possible, but they could not maintain the façade all the way through. So much was left unspoken between them, so much unresolved, issues that needed to be confronted head-on and dealt with unambiguously in order for their friendship to have any chance of surviving and thriving. At this point in the lives of the two, it is sadly clear that they simply aren’t at that stage yet; for all of their incredible experiences, they’re still very young. As such, it was almost imperative that they part ways for a while, until the time came that they were ready to address the more troubling aspects of their relationship and agree to move past them by actually resolving them.

Ironically, it was the two’s support of and influence upon one another that even allowed them to reach this point in their lives at all. After all, it was Gon who had inspired Killua to crawl out of his shell, to leave his old, meaningless, and miserable existence behind. It was Gon that had taught Killua how to build invaluable friendships and showed him the beauty of compassion and care for others. It was out of his love for Gon that Killua was able to overcome Illumi’s mental conditioning and truly break away from his family. In short, the character development that Killua went through came about as a result of his relationship with Gon, and that development is what led Killua to assuming responsibility for his sister Alluka and resolving to devote his life to her, to save her from leading the same sort of secluded and joyless existence that he himself had been condemned to by his family. It was Gon who helped Killua find the purpose that he lacked back during their stay on Whale Island. Similarly, it was Killua’s undying support and sacrifice that allowed Gon to finally be reunited with his father. Every step of the way, Killua looked after his best friend, propping him up when the going became tough and literally saving his life multiple times. Gon wouldn’t have made it two steps past Heaven’s Arena without Killua at his back, functioning as a guardian angel. The two supported each other emotionally, mentally, and physical all the way through, which makes their separation and its factors all the more tragic.

It is a bit of a melancholy realization that in the end, Killua and Gon chose family over their friendship; Gon his father, Killua his sister. I don’t believe that the message is one is more important than the other; rather, it seems to be a confirmation of the fact that Gon and Killua can’t continue together for the time being. They need to spend some time away from each other but still with people dear to them, an experience that is likely to make them better and wiser.

Gon and Killua’s friendship distinguishes itself from the endless multitudes of shounen friendships with its complexity and tragic trajectory. Most works that attempt the theme of friendship never really go beyond the surface level, endlessly pounding in the message “these people are friends” without really making use of it in any compelling manner. Rarely are these companionships explored in any great depth, and even rarer are they challenged by genuine conflict that originate from the differing beliefs, viewpoints, philosophies, or even flaws of the people involved. One Piece (minor spoilers here) is one of the scarce gems that actually puts the friendships of its characters to the test (in the brilliant Water 7 arc), but other such examples are more difficult to come by.

More so, it’s not simply a matter of Gon and Killua’s bond being better developed or actually challenged; what occurred between the two is an excellent deconstruction of traditional shounen friendships. Even a casual anime viewer will readily recognize the oft-repeated mantra of “I will protect my friends” that permeates a great number of battle shounen. It’s present in Hunter X Hunter as well, but taken to its logical conclusion. After all, that was the central problem with Killua when it came to Gon: his dogged determination to burden himself unnecessarily, both emotionally and physically, for the sake of protecting his friend from both external and internal damage. That’s what tore Killua apart slowly as the series progressed, and is what played a big role in the collapse of their companionship towards the end. Gon’s selfishness and naiveté, while often played for laughs, is an equally destructive force, as its natural consequences undermined the healthiness of the relationship. In most battle shounen, Gon’s behavior and attitude would most likely not be subjected to such intense scrutiny, nor would its logical effects be addressed. Here, though, they are critical to the unraveling of his friendship with Killua, and critical to understanding what went wrong. It’s a brilliant and fascinating take on the friendship cliché present in these sorts of works, and demonstrates some of the darker implications of such a friendship that are usually skipped over in other battle shounen.

Yorkshin and Chimera Ant, and really the whole series, make great use of the theme of nakama. Yorkshin applies it in an unusual context to generate interesting, multi-faceted conflicts that also reveal a good deal about the characters involved, while Chimera Ant actually examined the potential flaws and problems inherent in a type of friendship similar to the one between Gon and Killua, and forced it through the emotional wringer to create a powerful trial for the two leads. It’s all stuff that enriches the narrative and really goes beyond the typical and routine, and just one of the many reasons that Hunter X Hunter is a truly special piece of work.
Posted by MrAM | Jul 12, 2015 2:07 PM | 4 comments
June 21st, 2015
Code Geass is ridiculous. Its central character is an over-the-top maniac, its plot is utterly preposterous, and its battles are lunacy personified. When it boils down to it, the show is essentially about a melodramatic teenager with a sister complex commanding a group of terrorists to bring down a world superpower commanded by a social Darwinist snowman through the powers of giant flashy robots and magical eye abilities. Along the way he has to face down is his former best friend, a guy with superhuman reflexes who commands an invincible white robot, as well as a whole empire populated by such colorful individuals as a purple-haired military commander, a pink-haired princess who goes on a homicidal rampage curtesy of aforementioned magical eye powers, and a green-haired half-machine man. He allies with an equally diverse group of individuals, such as a sociopathic assassin with a brother complex and a green-haired immortal witch. And, oh, did I mention that it’s one of my favorite anime?

To be honest, Code Geass fascinates me. It’s a series of contradictions. It’s a show that doubles as both popcorn entertainment, with all of the fanservice and flashy action scenes that implies, and a poignant, surprisingly meaningful exploration of human beings and society. It’s both very obvious and very subtle. Its plot developments are both spontaneous and well-foreshadowed. I’ve rewatched many parts of the show and am constantly taken aback by how much there is to uncover in repeated viewings, by how many new things I notice that totally flew over my head before. Basically, the point of this long-winded intro is that Code Geass, despite what its brainless exterior may imply, is a show worthy of analysis and dissection.

Thomas Jefferson, when he drafted the Declaration of Independence, wrote the now famous phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He, as did many of his contemporaries, regarded these as inherent rights that every human being is entitled to. The reason I mention that here, and in the title, is because I believe the last of those rights is the core and essence of all of Code Geass, the foundation that the entire show is built upon, the idea that all of its themes are derived from. Geass covers a lot of interesting topics and themes, but pretty much everything can be traced back to this one central idea. I intend to discuss of the show’s thematic threads in this essay, and thought I might as well group them all under the one broad category that they all fall under. At some points during this analysis my focus might seem to have nothing to do with the title, but that would be because I’ll eventually get back to it in the end, because, as I just mentioned, pretty much everything in the show does.

So, at its core Geass’s story is about the many different ways that human beings try to get what everyone wants: comfort, relaxation, success, happiness. Virtually everything that any of us does is to reach that one central goal. Religion, philosophy, morals, knowledge, and the like are all ultimately means that we use to achieve that. Code Geass takes advantage of this to explore a wide range of topics, while keeping them all connected to each other.

Truth versus lies is the probably the most prominent theme in the series. It’s present wherever you look, and it manifests itself in the protagonist of the show, the glorious Lelouch Vi Brittania. Now, Lelouch is a protagonist who thrives off of lies, mostly because it is the defining feature of his entire life. Charles (the tyrannical snowman mentioned earlier) once called Lelouch a “child drenched in lies,” and really, that is an apt description of him. Despite being a Brittanian prince, he lives a cover life of an ordinary student. Alongside with that, he also has the false identity of Zero, hero to the oppressed masses. He deceives people left and right, even those closest to him; it’s the only way he knows how to live. Lelouch reflects on the fact that he’s been living a lie since the day his mother died in the very first episode.

As the show progresses, the extent to which Lelouch’s life itself is a lie becomes abundantly clear, especially in R2. He has false memories at the beginning of season 2, and he imparts what amounts to false memories to one of his closest friends, Shirley. He has a false brother. His closest ally, C.C., was actually trying to force a curse on him all along. Most significantly, his quest for revenge is based on a lie, because his mother is technically still alive. His mother’s death, which later turned out to be false, is at the root of who Lelouch is. After all, Lelouch rebelled against his father and developed a deep hatred of Britannia itself because of his mother’s death. That hatred is a big part of what drive him to found the Black Knights and reignite the war between Japan and Britannia at all. That his core motivation was based on a lie meant that Lelouch himself, his very identity, was founded on falsehood.

Lelouch, the child who lies left and right, barely exists, since his has so many false identities and is surrounded by so much falsehood. Towards the ending of the series, Lelouch realizes that just as he manipulated countless amounts of people in his quest, so too did his own father manipulate him his entire life for his own ends. His mother, which he loved and idealized so much, really doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and is in reality a person concerned with her own satisfaction and nothing else. Lelouch’s life is ultimately a fake one, as the very foundations of his character and of his life are proven to be mere illusions and falsehoods.

And that’s precisely what his own geass is: an illusion. He uses it to cast himself in a favorable light, to deny people their free will and force them to do whatever he pleases. It allows him to build an intricate web of deceit and falsehood, whether through creating a villain (Euphemia the bloody princess) or a hero (Zero, fighter of justice). The irony of Lelouch’s quest of vengeance for his mother is that it its end goal is the truth. Lelouch wants to know the truth behind his mother’s murder, but to do so he becomes an impulsive liar.

Lelouch’s foil, Suzaku, is similarly characterized by deceit. Unlike Lelouch, though, it is not obvious at first that he is. In the beginning, Suzaku is presented to the audience as the stereotypical white knight. Even his mecha (named after one of King Arthur’s knights) is colored white (yeah, this one of Geass’s more blatant pieces of symbolism…). His purity is constantly juxtaposed with Lelouch’s callous slaughter of innocents and criminals alike. However, this image of the “selfless knight in shining armor” is nothing more than an elaborate façade. Cracks begin to appear in it near the halfway point of the first season, and it is shortly afterwards that Suzaku’s true colors are revealed: he killed his father as a child in order to end the Japanese rebellion. Far from being a selfless hero, he is primarily motivated by guilt and self-loathing. His grand actions of heroism are thinly veiled attempts at suicide, at a twisted form of redemption. Suzaku is living a lie just as much as Lelouch, and this is only intensified in R2, when he virtually throws away his identity to become a Knight of Rounds. He becomes as deceitful and manipulative as Lelouch. His hypocrisy is sickening, as he criticizes Lelouch for the very things that he is guilty of. Just like him, his life is driven by lies.

Charles vi Brittania, Lelouch’s father, is guilty of lies as well. His entire goal in the show was to create a world without lies (we’ll discuss this in more detail later), because he saw it as the root of all of the world’s problems. Ironically, however, he lied and deceived just as constantly as Lelouch. He often spoke in his speeches of Britannia being a state that is constantly evolving and extolling that as its greatest virtue, despite constructing a plan that would have sentenced the world itself to a static existence.

A persistent motif in Code Geass that is associated with this theme is masks. They exist all over the show, both literally and figuratively. Lelouch himself constantly wears a mask no matter who he claims to be, as each of his identities is in some way a false cover. His alter-ego Zero wears a mask as well, concealing both his identity and his true emotions. Suzaku wears a mask in his everyday life, metaphorically speaking, through his constant deception of others. Shirley, after she regained her memories, becomes terrified and overly paranoid of the people around her, because she fears that they are all lying to her. In one of her nightmares, she sees everyone wearing a mask, which proceeds to fall off and reveal their true identities.

Code Geass emphasizes this theme of lies by alluding constantly to another famous work of fiction driven by similar themes. In this case, we are talking about Hamlet, by Shakespeare. Code Geass in general has a very Shakespearean narrative, but its connections to the famous author’s work are most obvious in Hamlet. Like the titular character, Lelouch is embarks on a quest for vengeance due to the murder of one of his parents. Like Hamlet, his uncle is the murderer of said parent. V2, Lelocuh’s uncle, is the counterpart to Hamelt’s Claudius. Suzaku is in some ways an allusion to Laertes, who in the play is a foil to Hamlet, just as Suzaku is a foil to Lelouch. Hamlet’s actions lead to the death of his sister Ophelia. Her equivalent in Code Geass would be Euphemia. Code Geass practically confirms this when Lelouch thinks to himself, as he shoots Euphemia, that she was his “first love;” Ophelia was a woman for whom Hamlet had passionate feelings of love. Laertes desires revenge for her, just as Suzaku does for Euphemia. Claudius convinces Laertes to seek revenge by attacking Hamlet, just as V.V. does the same to Suzaku in the closing episodes of season 1. In the end, it is Laertes who kills Hamlet, just as it is Suzaku that kills Lelouch. Even though the context and events are often dissimilar, the allusions do make the point of drawing a connection between both works’ theme of deception.

So, at this point it’s very clear that Geass is very preoccupied with lies and deceit. Now, what does the show actually say about them? What’s the point of their presence in the narrative? The answer lies with Charles and Marianne, whose ultimate plan turns out to be centered on precisely that. From the very beginning, it is hinted that Charles has some grand plan to change the world. Eventually the audience finds out that this plan has to do with a strange reality called C’s world. Before we get any further, we should probably delve into that.

It is never made explicitly clear what C’s World is, or where it even exists. It is implied, though, that the place may not even truly exist in the physical sense. It’s an abstract location, which can change its shape and form according to the people inside; we see Charles doing this several times while he is there, transferring himself from place to place, or altering his surroundings. It is implied that the power of geass originates from this place; seeing as the geass is a totally psychological power (we’ll get deeper into this later), it makes sense that it comes from a place connected to the mind. With all of that in mind, C’s world seems to be a visual and physical representation of a truly abstract concept (the mind). That means when the characters are there, they are not in their true physical forms.

Other information seems to support the above hypothesis. According to Charles and Marianne, C’s World houses the “collective unconsciousness” of all of humanity. This term immediately brings to mind the psychological theories of Carl Jung, who believed that a “collective unconscious” underpinned all of humanity; basically, it was composed of archetypes (which are ideas and images that have universal meanings across all cultures and ages) that all manifested in some way in the life of every human being, no matter the culture or time. Think of it as an eternal library of mankind, a storage of latent memories and knowledge that all humans share from their common ancestral past. Code Geass seems to have a similar interpretation of it; C’s World basically contains the thoughts and memories of every human to have ever existed, regardless of whether they are alive or dead. That is how Charles is able to speak with Clovis in episode 6 of the first season, despite his death three episodes earlier.

There are other odd things having to do with C’s World. Apparently, by using it Charles hoped to active what he called the “Ragnarok Junction,” which would transform the world. “Ragnarok” has its origins in Norse mythology, and basically refers to the destruction and rebirth of the world after wars and disasters. This is a fitting term for what Charles hoped to accomplish, as the successful execution of his plan would have resulted in a totally different world, one that is actually quite difficult to comprehend.
Now, C’s World itself looks rather odd: it is comprised of a stairwell floating in open space, with clear orange skies wherever you look. Above the stairs is a planet that looks remarkably similar to Jupiter. Charles states that in order to “kill the gods” that he needs to use “the Sword of Akasha.” Akasha is a Sanskrit word that means “aether.” Things get a little complicated here, so I’ll be lazy and quote a few things from Wikipedia (hardly a reliable source, but I think I’ll trust it here):

“In Hinduism, Akasha means the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the first material element created from the astral world, (Akasha (Ether), Earth,Water,Fire,Air,) in sequence). It is one of the Panchamahabhuta, or "five elements"; its main characteristic is Shabda (sound). In Sanskrit the word means "space", the first element in creation. In Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, and many other Indian languages, the meaning of Akasha has been accepted as sky.”

“The word αἰθήρ (aithēr) in Homeric Greek means "pure, fresh air" or "clear sky". In Greek mythology, it was thought to be the pure essence that the gods breathed, filling the space where they lived, analogous to the air breathed by mortals.”

“Bṛhaspati (Sanskrit: बृहस्पति, "lord of prayer or devotion",[1] often written as Brihaspati or Bruhaspati) also known as Deva-guru (guru of the gods) and Chakshas,[2] is a Hindu god and a Vedic deity. He is considered the personification of piety and religion, and the chief 'offerer of prayers and sacrifices to the gods' (Sanskrit: Purohita), with whom he intercedes on behalf of humankind.”

“In astrology, Bṛhaspati is the regent of Jupiter and is often identified with the planet.”

Clearly, the creators of the show drew a lot of inspiration from Hinduism, and the symbolism of the different aspects of C’s world are consistent in this regard, in terms of how they all tie back to it. With the above in mind, it becomes clear why the “Sword of Akasha” is what will be used to kill the “gods,” and the significance of the collective unconscious originating from Jupiter.

So, to get back on track. As is revealed towards the ending of the show, Charles is a man who hates lies. He uses them without remorse in his speeches because he accepts them as an integral part of human society, and as the cause of misery. In that case, he decides that he might as well utilize them while they still exist, because if he is successful, no one will ever have to worry about deceit ever again. That is, in a nutshell, Charles and Marianne’s big plan: create a world where lies do not exist. Charles’s hypothesis is that the deception rampant in human society is what allows for the perpetration of inequality, misery, misunderstanding, cruelty, and injustice. Eliminating that should, in theory, create world peace.

They intend to do it by essentially fusing humanity into one mind, into a group not unlike the “collective unconsciousness.” By doing this, they say, all masks (there’s that motif) would disappear forever. By removing the covers that people use to conceal their darkest secrets and their true thoughts, the truth about everyone and everything would be exposed. No one would be able hide anything from anyone else. In short, every single individual would have no choice but to show his true face, effectively eliminating the possibility of lies and deception ever existing again. In Charles and Marianne’s mind, this would eliminate the world’s problems once and for all.

It’s here that Code Geass makes a definitive statement on its theme of truth versus lies, through its lead character Lelouch. His confrontation with his parents in episode 21 of R2 is one of the most significant moments of his character arc and of the entire show, for many, many reasons, and this is one of the most important ones. Lelouch unequivocally rejects his parents, their philosophy, and their plan. This is in keeping with his character: after all, as was established earlier, Lelouch is possibly the biggest liar in the whole series. However, his reasons for rejecting his parents run much deeper than just preserving his way of life. Even though Lelouch does explain himself somewhat in the episode, the reality is that the narrative of Code Geass had already made a very compelling argument in favor of its stance long before this, all the way back in the midst of the first season, through the story of the deranged Geass user named Mao.

Mao is a character who generally isn’t very popular with the anime’s viewership, even within its own fandom. Most people seem to regard his “trilogy” of episodes (14-16) as unnecessary and borderline filler in a show that features almost none. The sentiment is understandable as at first glance, Mao doesn’t appear to too essential to the show’s plot. The one obvious development that he brought about was the revelation of Suzaku’s true colors, but even that could have been done via some other plot device. In my opinion, however, Mao is actually one of the most important characters in the entire show, and his story, as well as the themes that surround it, are relevant to the very core of Code Geass, fulfilling a variety of functions while also making the case for the position that the narrative takes over another season later.

Mao is the first Geass user the audience meets after Lelouch. He hogs the spotlight for about three episodes, starting with his intro in episode 14 and ending with his death in episode 16. He is a lunatic obsessed with C.C., who originally gave him his Geass and then abandoned him to his fate. The root of Mao’s insanity lies with that very same Geass: he can’t turn it off. Unlike Lelouch, who at the time had the Geass only in one eye, Mao has it in both, indicating his longer and more extensive use of it in comparison to Lelouch. He has evolved to such a level that he can no longer truly control his power, which allows him to hear everyone’s thoughts. This means that everyone is an open book to him, as they cannot hide their secrets. He can see everyone’s true self (sounds familiar?).

Before we proceed any further, I want to take a moment to note the many contributions that Mao’s story arc made to the overall plot, both literally and thematically, as it is a good example of Code Geass’s smart writing. Firstly, it foreshadowed Lelouch’s loss of control over his Geass down the line, an essential twist that dictated a radical shift in direction for the story. Secondly, it provided several crucial clues to the audience regarding the nature of the Geass and the contract involved with it, the most significant being that Mao had it in both eyes and that he had failed to fulfill C.C.’s wish. The tragedy of Mao’s character also drove home the theme of the Geass as both a blessing and curse as well as the inevitable loneliness that comes about as a result of possessing it (something Lelouch would taste excruciatingly slowly in R2). Mao was a man who wished to understand the people around him; by getting that wish, he was not only driven insane, but also doomed to eternal loneliness. The one person who remains immune to his mind-reading powers, and so a source of comfort, rejects him and in fact is the one who kills him in the end. Mao stands as an example to the viewer of the fate that Lelouch is condemned to if he continues on his present path, which establishes a very real sense of suspense in regards to what end Lelouch will ultimately come to. In addition to all of the above, Mao’s story brought to light much about C.C., helping to piece together a part of the puzzle that was her character.

Aside from all of that, as mentioned earlier, Mao exposed Suzaku’s true self to the world, but more importantly, to Lelouch. He proceeded to use the information against Suzaku, and the revelation of Suzaku’s actions as a child marked a drastic shift in the way the narrative framed the conflict between him and Lelouch, and it is when Code Geass itself began to peel back the layers of deception that it had intentionally constructed around Suzaku’s character to trick the audience, tipping them off to the true nature of the story unfolding before them. Finally, Mao’s actions during his brief arc had far-reaching consequences for a certain orange-haired girl: Shirley. She had her memories of Lelouch wiped, making him a stranger in her eyes and bringing an abrupt end to their relationship. It is not a coincidence that this loss would occur in the very same episode that Mao first appears in, as it ties thematically with Mao’s tale of loneliness, and it is but an teasing inkling of what Lelouch would experience in the later episodes. Mao’s actions remain significant even in R2, as they are what set off the chain of events that concluded with Shirley’s death, which, not coincidentally, was the death that set off in earnest Lelouch’s descent into true solitude, as he lost every single friend and ally around him one by one.

Now, back to Mao and his mind-reading ways. The reader will have no doubt realized its connection to Charles and Marianne’s grand plan. Mao’s Geass is a symbolic representation of it, an example of how it would operate on the micro scale. The frightening capabilities that his power gives him is made clear when he uses it to tear Shirley apart psychologically in the wake of her father’s death and attempted murder. His knowledge of her inner thoughts allows him to strike her where it hurts most; in fact, he manipulates her so severely that he convinces her that killing herself and Lelouch are the solutions to her trauma. Having her mask stripped away leaves her incredibly vulnerable, and Mao takes advantage of that to wreak mental havoc. He hurts Lelouch in a similar manner in episode 16, essentially torturing him psychologically. Suzaku probably has it worst, as Mao ruthlessly exposes his darkest secret. Suzaku literally screams from the terror of reliving that memory and sinks to his feet, the once super effective and competent soldier reduced to a quivering mess.

There’s a running theme here: over and over, Mao’s ability to look past a person’s cover to peer into their depths causes them intense pain. Everyone is naked to Mao, and he forces them to confront the evils that they hide away in themselves, the things that they don’t think about. Almost always, they snap, just like Mao too snapped a long time ago from being able to hear everyone’s thoughts. This is alluded too in episode 15 of season 1, when he hears the mocking and jeering comments that the police officers arresting him make in their minds. The insults touch a nerve with Mao, who shouts at them even more passionately. In Code Geass, as the aforementioned examples demonstrate, it would always have been a mercy to be ignorant of the truth.

That idea is actually central to the position that the narrative takes on the issue. Mao provides the audience with an example of the kind of world that would result from having the truth, from having the skeletons in your closet, revealed to the world. The end result is pain and misery. The message is that in many circumstances, things would have been better off had the truth remained hidden. And that’s exactly the main message here: sometimes, lies are necessary.

This is brought up in episode 15 of R2, when Lelouch confronts Charles. The latter tells him that there is no need to tell lies, to which Lelouch counters that people lie “in order to live.” In many ways, that statement is accurate. Society itself functions specifically because people are not entirely honest with each other, and more, because people act differently when the situation calls for it. Like the characters in Code Geass, we all wear masks, whether we realize that we do or not, and we switch between different ones whenever we deem it necessary. Social interaction is defined by that. The way you speak to your parents differs from the way you speak to your friends, which differs from how you interact with your teachers, which differs from how you act before figures in important positions of authorities. Even within each of the above categories, there are discrepancies. Depending on the nature of the relationship you have with friend A and friend B, there will be differences in how you treat them, whether explicit or implicit. We also alter our behavior depending on the situations we find ourselves in. Your demeanor during a wild party is sure to contrast sharply with your demeanor in a more formal setting, like a business meeting.

Social etiquette and socially acceptable behaviors factor into this. Ideas such as “rudeness” and “disrespect” are born out a core, unstated idea that underlies virtually every culture: total honesty is unacceptable. In almost all our interactions with other people, we temper our opinions, so often that we sometimes do not realize it. A close friend shows you a painting he made. You don’t think it looks very good, but you know that your buddy has devoted a substantial amount of time and exerted a monumental amount of effort on it, so you simply say that it looks “fine, or “good,” or you might even stretch it and straight up lie with “great.” We do this with virtually everyone we know, and they with us, because of a keen awareness that to do otherwise would be seriously injure another’s feelings. In some cases, the effects of one hundred percent, genuine honesty could be far costlier and impactful than just some wounded pride. There are reasons that adults sometimes lie to children about the reality of a tragic situation, to preserve their innocence and conserve their mental stability.

Code Geass makes the argument that society needs lies in order to maintain proper functioning. The horror of Mao’s Geass is very carefully utilized to support this point, and more significantly, to stand as a compelling counter to Charles, V.V., and Marianne’s belief that doing away with lies would automatically mean a better world. Mao’s power is a microcosm of the Ragnorak plan, and it provides the audience with a good idea of why exactly Charles’s preposition doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Far from creating a utopia on Earth, the Ragnorak Junction would lead to misery for all of humanity. Aside from that, it would also result in stagnation and decline. Lelouch implies, in his confrontation with his parents, that society not only needs lies to preserve its own order, it also needs them to progress and advance, to move forward. Charles’s plan condemns humanity to a static, never-changing existence, equivalent to dooming humanity to a living death. After all, a hallmark of the human species is its resilience and ability to adapt to rapidly developing situations, its ability to push itself further than before and reach new heights. Humanity needs lies in order to unlock its own potential.

Before we delve into how exactly that’s the case, and how Lelouch acts on that philosophy, let’s take a moment to examine more carefully the story of Charles, Marianne, and V.V., as they were the masterminds behind the idea of humanity existing as one mind, and the main proponents, within the show’s narrative, of the opinion that lies are evil and breed evil. Basically, Charles and C.C. promised each other to always be totally honest with one another, to never lie, because they believed that is what caused the death of their own mother. V.V., however, soon became upset with Marianne, whom he believed was misleading Charles (the details of how exactly are left vague, except that he had become increasingly distracted with her). So, he murders her, and conceals the deed from his brother. However, since Marianne managed to transfer her consciousness to another body, Charles is able to discover the perpetrator. He is outraged by his brother’s hypocrisy, and it is what eventually lead him to take his brother’s life later.

There are very interesting parallels between this story and that of Lelouch, Shirely, and Rolo. The similarities are so precise that I’m left with the strong impression that they were deliberate. Consider Shirley; she can easily be seen as the counterpart to Marianne. She truly and genuinely loved Lelouch, and there are hints that Lelouch may have felt the barest semblance of such feelings in return; certainly he was grief-stricken when she died, and her passing pushed him just as far down the path of evil and destruction as Euphemia’s did. Lelouch, then, would be the counterpart to his own father, Charles. The logical conclusion would be that Rolo is V.V; this fits to a tee considering his role in R2 as Lelouch’s ‘brother.’ Once we view these characters from that angle, Shirley’s story takes on a greater significance. There is more to it than simply the death of another character; it transforms into a piece of elegant foreshadowing and attains greater thematic relevance.

Rolo, by the second half of R2, had come to truly love Lelouch as a ‘brother.’ He was highly dependent on him and did whatever he had in his power to help him. However, his ‘love’ was a bit twisted, manifesting itself in slightly creepy ways. More so, it was highly possessive. Rolo wanted to believe that he was Lelouch’s brother so much, and that Lelouch belonged to him and him alone, that he reacted with unwarranted hostility to any mention of Nunally, period. That was what ultimately drove him to murder Shirley, an action directly motivated by his intense hatred of Lelouch’s sister. In that sense, Rolo’s actions echo V.V’s. We see throughout R2 just how deeply V.V. values family, and more specifically, his brother. Like Rolo, he is somewhat obsessed with him, wishing to preserve their bond and promise at all costs, to the point of perceiving Marianne’s influence on him (natural, considering she’s his wife) as dangerous. That fear and hatred is what led to his cold-blooded killing of Lelouch’s mother. Rolo’s murder of Shirley echoes this exact plot point. The way it unfolded parallels V.V’s story closely, with a few slight differences.

Shirely’s death at Rolo’s hands foreshadows the reveal that it was Lelouch’s uncle (his father’s brother) who murdered his mother (his father’s lover). When we consider Charles and V.V’s initial reasons for setting out to “destroy the gods,” this becomes especially ironic. The two brothers originally decided to destroy the rampant lies that dominated the world because of the extensive misery they had to endure as a result of them. When speaking to Lelouch about this, Charles specifically mentioned his mother, with the implication that her death had a powerful impact on him and his goals. Ironically, V.V. repeated the cycle by killing Marianne, a mother to someone else, and then covering it up with the sort of deceit that he had once vowed to destroy, becoming a liar himself in the process, and giving birth to another (Lelouch). Just as his mother had been killed by the falsehoods that permeated the world, so too did V.V. sentence another mother to the same fate.

This naturally ties into the dominant theme of lies and the motif of masks that defined Shirley’s entire arc (and the rest of the show as well). Shirley, after learning the truth behind Zero’s mask, was forced by Lelouch to lose her memories, reduced to living the false life that Lelouch had for his entire existence, and more pointedly in R2. When her memories were restored ad she realized the truth about Lelouch, she became a terrified, frightened wreck, coming to see everyone around her as untrustworthy people harboring hidden intentions and beliefs (an observation that was actually very accurate). The chain of events set off by Lelouch’s original lie (wiping Shirley’s memories) are what ultimately resulted in her premature death, one of the finest examples in the show of Lelouch’s tendency to create his own tragedies (but that’s a discussion for another time). In the end, what truly killed Shirley was not Rolo’s gun but the deceit and lies she found herself drenched in. Her unfortunate end parallels that of Lelouch’s mother (whom she represents) as well as Charles’s mother.

Shirely’s death broke Lelouch, driving him to mercilessly slaughter the people in the Geass Order, even the children. His sanity threatened to completely break. It was after Shirley’s passing that Lelouch lost everyone and everything that mattered to him in quick succession. C.C., the Black Knights, Kallen, Rolo, his love for his mother, his own beliefs, everything. Shirely was the catalyst. The reason her death was so important to the narrative was because it marked the place in Lelouch’s life where he was truly beyond the point of no return. Shirley was one of the only people, if not the only person, who loved Lelouch for who he was and nothing more. She cared for him purely for who he was, not for what he represented or what benefits he offered. All the other characters viewed Lelouch through the lens of Zero or some other symbolic idea. Shirley was unique in that she represented a link to a better, quieter, and more peaceful existence: life at Ashford Acdemy, life as a normal citizen who has time to worry over the trivial. As long as Shirely existed, Lelouch had someone to turn to who could welcome him with an open embrace despite what he’d done, and for no other reason other than that he was Lelouch. Shirley’s death, however, slammed that door shut for good. It is no coincidence that Lelouch’s occasional adventures in his school never again occurred after; the last “school comedy” episode was the one that preceded Shirley’s end. It’s symbolic of the fact that with Shirley died any hopes for Lelouch of an unremarkable, pleasant existence. He had nothing but Zero, and all the lies associated with him, to live by.

The impact of Shirley’s death creates a powerful argument for the validity of Charles’s plan. After all, it was what Charles was trying to crush that killed Shirley: falsehood and deceit. Through Shirley, the narrative crafts a compelling piece of support for the end goal Charles, V.V, and Marianne. That is why Lelouch’s rebellion against their plan is so massively significant. It does not come across as childish naiveté or unsubstantiated logic because Lelouch has experienced exactly what Charles did. Like him, he also lost his mother. Like him, he’d experienced endless grief, sorrow, and heartbreak as a result of lies. Yet, despite that, Lelouch picks a different source of action. He may have experienced even more pain than Charles, and yet in the end he decides that upholding such a lying world is worth it.

As mentioned earlier, Charles’s plan doomed humanity to a static, never-ending, essentially lifeless existence, something that Lelouch soundly rejected. Whereas Charles believes that happiness can be achieved by focusing on the past, Lelouch believes that it can only be attained through future effort and progress. Charles intended to forcefully subject humanity to an unnatural state; Lelouch, on the other hand, believed that humanity should be allowed to forge its own path free of interference, to make its own mistakes. Essentially, Lelouch was affirming the free will of people. The irony here is, of course, that Lelouch spent the entire show robbing people of the exact will that he supposedly sought to uphold. Lelouch’s beliefs and personal philosophy are hypocritical in the extreme, dripping with lies and contradictions- and that is precisely the point.

Code Geass makes the point that lying is an integral part of most individuals, that it is the gripping force that keeps society’s fragile order from collapsing. If humanity is left to pursue its goals through its own free will, it will inevitably resort to falsehood and deceit, just as Lelouch did. The crux of Lelouch’s argument, which itself is underlined by lies, is that that kind of world is fine. Not only is its existence acceptable, but it should be encouraged. Charles’s attempt to eliminate a crucial part of human nature is misguided. Rather than reject it, Lelouch accepts the very important role that lies play in the world order. It manifests in his philosophy, and it manifests in his every action. Ultimately, Lelouch achieves his personal happiness, as well as that of the rest of the world, through deceptions and lies. He does what both Suzaku and Kallen told him to do at different points in R2: to give himself fully to the false life that he lives, to immerse himself so thoroughly in his lies that he makes the lie a reality, by living it to its conclusion. That is how Lelouch fulfilled his dream of a peaceful world in the end: through the sheer power of deception. That’s how he died happy.

There it is…the pursuit of happiness. It’s what Lelouch’s parents were looking for: happiness. They wanted a better world, one that could allow them to live in peace and comfort, without the horrors that had gone before and that which still exist. It’s what Schniezal was looking for, in his own twisted way: world peace that could bring about a better state of existence for all. When it comes down to it, that was the motivation of virtually everyone in the show, and specifically of its biggest three forces in the endgame: Charles, Schnizel, and Lelouch. The narrative presents the audience three distinct methods of achieving the same goal: true happiness. Charles represents the past, Schniezal represents the present, and Lelouch represents the future. The last opening of the show reflects this symbolism, and the above three characters are even shown in that same exact order in quick succession. After all three viewpoints are presented, the narrative ultimately sides with Lelouch. Again, the irony here is delicious: Charles and Schneizel’s plans were both based on the oppression of humanity’s will, while Lelouch’s was the only which advocated for humanity’s freedom. As mentioned earlier, Lelouch was about as far from that in his actions as one could get. Schneizel pointed it out in the 24th episode of R2: Lelouch, the oppressor of free will throughout the entire show, stood in the end upholding the right of people to decide their own destiny based on their own will.

It’s here that it’s appropriate to make a detour in order to examine the meaning behind the show’s core symbol: the Geass. It’s not really a detour, though, because this relates very much to what we were just discussing very closely, as will be seen in a few moments. The word geass originates from the geis in Irish mythology, a cursed contract that binds a person to certain conditions. It goes without saying that this is an apt description for the Geass contract as we see it in the show; however, there’s a lot more to it than just that. It has a very specific and deliberate design, one that brings to mind a bird of sorts. This symbolism is accentuated by the fact that the geass literally flies out of Lelouch’s eye every time he uses it, calling to mind birds flapping their wings. The specific bird that represents the Geass is the crane. This link is established early on in the first season, in the scene where Lelouch meets C.C. for the first time since her “death.” What was C.C. doing then? Making paper cranes with Nunnally. Through this simple point the narrative is able to establish an association between cranes and Geass, since C.C. is the one who gave it to Lelouch, and as we later learn, has the Code.

The actual meaning behind this association was actually made clear to the audience earlier, in crucial conversation between Lelouch and Nunnally shortly before, in the third episode of the season. There, Nunnally informs Lelouch that she heard the wishes of a person who folded a thousand paper cranes would be granted. That one line summarizes the symbolic meaning of the Geass perfectly: a wish. Lelouch actually points this out explicitly to Suzaku in the last episode, where he compares the power of Geass to a wish. Nunnally tells Lelouch that her wish is for a gentler world, one where she would be happy. Lelouch takes that and makes it his own personal wish, the fulfillment of which would give him happiness.

That the Geass is a wish is reflected in the abilities it grants its various users. Over and over, we see that Geass is a truly psychological power in terms of how it is customized to suit the personalities and desires of the many that possess it. This symbolism is remarkably consistent. Lelouch, for example, was a man who lived a lie and who wished to change the world; fittingly, he was granted a Geass that made him capable of deceit on an unprecedented scale. C.C. wished to be loved by people, since she had been mistreated and rejected for so long; lo and behold, that’s exactly what her Geass enabled her to do: have people fall in love with her. Mao wanted to understand people; his Geass allowed him to know the deepest secrets of those around him. Charles desired the preservation of the past; fittingly, his power had to do with memory. Rolo wanted to stop and actually truly live a life he could personally find meaning in; his Geass allowed him to freeze time (or rather people’s perception of it). In all of these cases, the Geass ostensibly granted its users the desires that they believed would make them happy. In theory, the Geass is supposed to bring about happiness by fulfilling the wishes of those who have it.

The tragedy of the “power of kings,” of course, is that it usually resulted in the opposite. Lelouch’s Geass was responsible for endless misery and tragedy. C.C.’s Geass erased the meaning of genuine love, rendering the affection she received from everyone void. Mao’s “understanding” of others drove him insane. Charles erased and modified people’s memories, forcefully changing their perception of reality and robbing them of their past. And so on. In keeping with the myth in Irish folklore, the Geass contract is often a curse rather than a blessing. Lelouch, however, is eventually able to use that curse to achieve happiness not only for himself, but for humanity, which became his new goal in episode 7 0f R2 (after he realized that he can’t only fight for Nunnally alone anymore).

To return to what we were speaking about earlier- the final conflict of philosophies in the show was that of Lelouch’s and his brother. Schneizel’s plan was very simple, very straightforward: the enforcement of a forced peace brought about by the threat of annihilation. He intended to subjugate the entire world through the sheer power of the F.L.E.I.J.A, a nuclear weapon. In his conversation with Cornelia in episode 23 of R2, Schneizel’s made it clear that he was more than willing to sacrifice “one or two billion people” to bring about a worldwide ceasefire. The way he saw it, humanity was naturally inclined to obedience to an authority, and so his plan would align perfectly with human nature. Schneizel’s sought to keep humanity locked in its present state, not moving forward or backwards, not progressing or regressing. It would be an unchanging existence, free of conflict but also free of positive change. Schneizel’s plans very deliberately paralleled Charles’s, in that they both condemned humanity to a static state of living. This is the main reason that Lelouch, and the narrative as well, rejects them both.

Code Geass is a very forward-looking show. Its personal philosophy is that humanity will always continue to seek ways to find happiness as long as it has a future. As long as people have the will, they will find the way, no matter how long it takes. It’s an evolving process, and as such it cannot be reconciled with any attempts to freeze time or return to a time from before. Code Geass compares an unchanging existence to a slow death, to a meaningless and empty life. This theme is present from the very beginning of the show. Consider episode 7, where Lelouch tells C.C. that before she gave him his Geass, he wasn’t truly alive. He simple moved with the motions, doing nothing, affecting nothing. Holding up a gun to his head, Lelouch says, quite boldly, that he’d rather die than return to such a hollow way of living. C.C. agrees with a wistful look on her face.

In hindsight, this scene is clearly foreshadowing the immortality of a person in possession of the Code. The point is brought up directly much later by C.C. in the 15th episode of R2, when C.C. makes it clear just how much of a curse an unending life is. To her, removing the possibility of death destroys the very meaning of life. Without an end, life is just a pointless sequence of events. Just like shadow cannot exist without light, life cannot be without death. We call our existence “life” because there it is finite, with the alternative of death. Without that, it is nothing but an “experience.” Note that that’s the same exact word that Lelouch uses when he describes the fallacy and invalidity of Schneizel’s ideal. The narrative makes a subtle connection between Schneizel’s plan and immortality, emphasizing their mutually hollow nature by drawing a parallel between them. Both are ultimately static and immutable, restricting development and advancement. As such, they are barriers that need to be cast aside.

It’s interesting to see just how harsh Geass is on the past and on those who strive to preserve it. Its attitude oscillates between mockery and anger, something which is especially obvious in the first season, where it was a very prominent theme for several episodes (though of course it is present throughout the whole series in general). In keeping with its progressive and futuristic outlook, one that it shares with its protagonist, the narrative viciously criticizes the Japanese for sticking to a bygone era. That is the fundamental purpose of the Refrain subplot. The thematic relevance of the drug isn’t very subtle. Just consider the effects it induced in its users: hallucinations of the past. It convinced its victims that they were living in a time that they perceived as better, before the difficulties of their present existence. In short, it was a form of escapism, an attempt to gain happiness by revisiting the past.

This attempt to acquire happiness by sticking to past glories is mocked relentlessly by Code Geass’s narrative. The Refrain drug is just one example of this. The JLF (Japanese Liberation Front) are another example of this. Lelouch explicitly criticizes them for sticking with outdated and backwards methods, such as slaughtering hostages. The apparel of the JLF members reflects this old-style mentality: they are old-fashioned military uniforms, with the old Japanese flag emblazoned on them. That the JLF stick so dogmatically to traditional Japanese symbols and mannerisms is seen as no more than detrimental traditionalism by both Lelouch and the narrative.

In the end, the Japanese people’s efforts to preserve their national dignity, and thus achieve a modicum of happiness and satisfaction, by mindlessly depending on past glories is seen by Code Geass as petty and pathetic. The show as a whole displays a consistently modernistic viewpoint, and more so, demonstrates a firm belief in the idea that happiness can only be attained by looking forward and pursuing future goals. Looking to the past, or sticking with the current status quo, are seen as foolhardy methods of acquiring a happiness that is ultimately false and hollow. Change, argues the narrative, is essential to the pursuit of happiness. Stifling that could only lead to misery and sorrow. Yes, change is often painful, but the end result is far greater than anything the other two options could hope to aspire to. As such, it makes sense that the narrative regards Charles and Schneizal as invalid in their beliefs and in their plans.

The motif of time present throughout the show is related to this, a natural occurrence considering that past, present, and future are all labels used to classify time. Many of the show’s more prominent symbols are related to this. Just look at images that flash by whenever C.C.’s mind is invaded or she invades someone else’s: a clock, a gong, things occurring and then rewinding. All of those odd images are symbolic of the theme of time, which is particularly relevant to C.C’s immortality. We return to the idea of immortality as a static state of existence, rigid and unchanging. In other words, a state of frozen time. This is where Suzaku’s watch comes in. He inherited it from his father, a memento that he keeps with him to remind him of his deceased parent and his own past sins. The most significant aspect of it, however, is the fact that it is broken, its hands frozen in place. It’s symbolic of Suzaku’s inability to let go of his past, as well as the fact that his entire present way of living is based on his murder of his father. Up until Eupehmia’s death, Suzaku lived in the past, desperately attempting to redeem himself for his evils. Note that in the aftermath of his lover’s death, Suzaku finally quit adhering to his own personal philosophy, throwing it out the window for the sake of vengeance. There is a brief shot in episode 23 of the first season of the deceased Euphemia, with Suzaku’s watch placed on her chest. The obvious meaning is that Suzaku has left behind his past with the blood-stained princess. This whole theme is alluded to in the finale of the first season: note Suzaku’s visceral reaction to Lelouch’s assertion that what’s in the past is said and done and so irrelevant.

Rolo’s Geass is another example of the narrative’s extensive focus on the concept of time. Like Suzaku’s watch, Rolo’s power symbolizes an instance of frozen time. Rolo’s character arc itself is representative of the show’s rejection of an unchanging status quo. He goes from a sociopathic assassin who carries out orders mindlessly to a passionate individual who affirms his free will with his last living act. In the end, Rolo broke out of the rigid mold that he had been crafted into, refusing to be a reflection of his own Geass, which he ironically uses to successfully fulfill the action that marked his liberation. This thematic thread on time, and its suspension, comes to the forefront quite dramatically during the Lelouch’s confrontation with his parents in C’s World. Lelouch’s command to the collective unconscious of humanity is that that needs t be noted: “Don’t stop the march of time!” Over and over, Code Geass glorifies the future and the importance of moving forward. The solutions to the problems of the world and the problems of the individuals are not found in what has gone before, but in what will happen next.

And now we come to the final segment of this analysis: Lelouch’s final scheme. We’ve reiterated the point that Charles and Schneizel’s plans were fundamentally flawed according to the show’s worldview quite a bit. Now, then, how exactly did Lelouch go about creating a “gentler world,” and why does the narrative ultimately support his actions? The Zero Requiem, Lelouch’s last and greatest plan, is thematically perfect in how it brings together most of the show’s biggest ideas in one conclusive ending in a demonstration of elegant harmony. It could be approached and dissected from several angle (and I intend to devote an entire blog post to it in the future), but for now we’ll focus on just one: the relationship between truth and lies. As mentioned earlier, it’s arguably the show’s most prominent one, so it is fitting that such a major part of the Zero Requiem would revolve around it.

Back in episode 17 of R2, Suzaku told Lelouch to atone for his lies, and the devastation they caused, by turning them into the truth. He told him to embody them, to live by them, until what was mere illusion became reality. And really, that’s what the Zero Requiem was: a mass deception, Lelouch’s most elaborate lie. It was really nothing more than a grand performance, consistent with Zero’s over-the-top demonstrations. Lelouch cast himself as the villain, the obstacle to be overcome, and the rest of the world as the struggling heroes. He won and subjugated all, until the hero of the masses, Zero, appeared at the 11th hour to save the day and restore peace to the world. It played out like a scripted narrative, feeding into its nature as a play acted out on the world stage. That the Zero Requiem feels like so similar to a theatrical performance is not a coincidence; not only does it fit Geass’s melodramatic nature, it also represents, symbolically, the theme at its core: the power of lies. A staged play is by its nature false, an idealized imitation of reality. The twist here is that Lelouch’s deceitful actions are what bring about true, lasting change to the entire world.

Lelouch’s death, just like his life, is a lie. He establishes a legacy of hatred and vile cruelty, ensuring that he’ll be remembered as a demonic murderer, all the while concealing that he was the creator of the identity that became synonymous with heroism and peace: Zero. More so, he chose the manner of his own death, yet to the world, it came about in violation of his will. Suzaku’s story, too, had a false end. To everyone who ever heard of him, he is dead and gone, killed in the service of a bloodthirsty dictator. The reality, of course, is that he now carries the mantle of the world’s greatest hero. The cruel irony of his position is that he, like Lelouch, will forever be cursed in the hearts of the people and in the annals of history, never to be thanked in his role of bringing about global peace. It is a fitting and beautifully poetic punishment for both, as their fate is identical to the one suffered by the innocent Euphemia.

In the end, it is a lie astounding in its magnitude that frees humanity and allows it to move forward into the future. It has been freed to make its own choices, for better or for worse. What's important is that it has the will to make those choices, to dictate its future, a will that would never have existed had either Charles or Schneizel had their way. That freedom is what will allow human beings everywhere to keep pursuing happiness. Geass’s conclusion is the ultimate validation of Lelouch’s rejection of both his father and his brother, as it very deliberately has it that falsehood is what brings peace to humanity in the end. It is not just the preservation of masks that ensures people’s continued survival, but the deliberate use of them that acts as a force of liberation. Zero, the ultimate personification of Lelouch’s lies, emerges at the end as the symbol of hope for people everywhere, and as the one to symbolically destroy the oppressive chains of the past through his killing of Lelouch. At the end of the show, widespread hatred has, for the time being, been completely erased, and it is no coincidence that the second-final shot of the entire anime is that of Damocles, the vehicle that Nunnally deemed a symbol of the world’s hatred, disintegrating into nothingness in front of the sun. And of course, the fulfillment of humanity’s wish for happiness could have never been fulfilled had it not been for the power of Geass.

The pursuit of happiness, indeed.
Posted by MrAM | Jun 21, 2015 12:08 PM | 0 comments