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May 20th, 2015
Anime Relations: Detective Conan (TV)

Detective Conan doesn't actually have any officially named story arcs, but in the interests of organization, the fandom has divided the story into such arcs anyways. While there are some variations, in general the following is the classification used by most DC fans. I've included this here for the purpose of convenience, so that the reader will know what part of the series I am referring to when I refer to any of the story arcs by name.

The Conan Arc (episodes 1-128)
The Haibara Arc (episodes 129-178)
The Vermouth Arc (episodes 176-345)
The Cellphone Arc (episodes 346-425)
The Kir Arc (episodes 425-508)
The Bourbon Arc (episodes 509-???) [Ongoing in the anime as of the time of this writing, finished in the manga, which has recently entered a new arc]

[Continuation from Part 3]

One of the most prominent ones, and probably the most subtle, is Ran’s slowly building suspicions. The entire Bourbon arc can be seen as one long, long set-up for what is very likely to be Ran’s final suspicion arc, the one where she finally discovers Conan’s identity. The brilliance of the way Gosho has written it can be seen in the way that he made an event from the ancient early days of the series very much relevant to the present. I’m speaking, of course, of Conan’s stabbing in episode 118, the case that introduced Kazuha. At that time, the broken piece of the handcuff that had once bound Heiji and Kazuha as children, the one that was stuffed away in Heiji omamori (good luck charm), saved Conan’s life by blocking the knife. He had jumped in to protect Ran at the last second, taking the hit for her. She had understandably panicked, and he managed to calm her down only by physically extracting it from the charm in order to show it to her.

This becomes very relevant to a certain case near the beginning of the Bourbon arc, the one in which Shinichi is accused of being a murderer. Of course, the reality was that the “Shinichi” present throughout the case was an imposter. Heiji used the handcuff piece, which had Conan’s fingerprints on it, to decisively prove that the Shinichi who had stabbed the lady was in fact a fake. Of course, the grave error that Heiji committed here was using Conan’s fingerprints to prove Shinichi’s true identity. This mistake did not escape Ran’s attention, who later asked Kazuha, quite directly, about the discrepancy. Conan had touched the handcuff piece, yes, but when had Shinichi? Kazuha had no good answer, and Ram appeared to brush it off.

However, Gosho dropped very subtle clues throughout the remainder of the Bourbon arc that Ran had not let go of her suspicions; in fact, they seemed to grow stronger, and by the end Ran’s interactions with Conan strongly imply that she’d already come to the solid conclusion, whether consciously or subconsciously, that Conan and Shinichi were one and the same:. To elaborate: Ran asks Conan off-handedly in Amuro’s introductory case about the nature of DNA testing, and how it could be used to expose a person’s true identity even if they were disguised. It’s a point that gets chillingly close to landing on a way to destroy Conan’s cover, and although the moment is played for laughs, it clearly startles Conan. An even more blatant moment comes in episode 691, Yuusaku’s Cold Case. Conan accidently refers to Yuusaku as “dad” when speaking of his deduction, and Ran sees a younger version of Shinichi in Conan. She grabs him and asks him, “Conan-kun, right?”, a clear expression of doubt about his identity and practically a confirmation that she has her suspicions. Conan of course comforts her by affirming his false identity, to which Ran responds by scolding him for scaring her, especially because he looks just like Shinichi. This is another important point, as it lets the audience know that Ran is very much aware of the similarity in appearance between Conan and her childhood friend.

Following the Mystery Train case, Ran seems to have already decided, on at least a subconscious level, that Conan was indeed Shinichi. This comes across most obviously in a scene in episode, when Ran asks Conan about which girl he liked. Her behavior in this scene is odd for two main reasons: one, Ran seems way too interested to find out the identity of a seven year old child’s love interest, practically pleading him and specifically saying that she was “curious.” Second, she is blushing when she asks Conan all of this, which again is a bit strange when interacting with a first grader. Why would Ran blush, unless she thought she was speaking to her own romantic interest?
An excellent example of Ran subconsciously associating Conan with Shinichi occurs in the very first chapter of the Scarlet Showdown, when Ran calls for Conan eagerly so that he doesn’t miss Yuusaku’s appearance at an award ceremony. Kogoro points out her weird behavior: why would Conan care at all about Yuusaku? The two aren’t supposed to be connected in any way whatsoever. Again, this small scene demonstrates Ran’s mentality in regards to Conan’s identity.

This gradual build-up is more than Ran just getting suspicious, however. It’s been designed in such a way that could allow Ran to actually be able to expose Conan’s identity no matter what tricks he might try to pull. Ran’s main problem in previous suspicion arcs was that she had no firm, unshakeable physical evidence that could incriminate the object of her doubts. She had reasons to believe that Conan wasn’t who he said he was, certainly, but they easily collapsed in the face of the elaborate and complicated schemes that Conan concocted to keep her in the dark. This time, though, things are different. Consider: Ran now knows that Shinichi supposedly has his fingerprints on the handcuff segment within Heiji’s omamori. She could easily acquire an object with Conan’s fingerprints on it and have someone do a comparison for her, which would essentially prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Conan and Shinichi are the same person. Ran’s comment on DNA shows that the possibility of using such an analysis is on her mind. Another important point to consider is Ran’s awareness of both Conan’s bowtie as well as his soccer belt/super-powered up shoes, courtesy of episodes 690-691. Sera drew Ran’s attention to Conan’s bowtie, and for the first time, Ran witnessed Conan take someone down with a soccer ball. These odd inventions lend credibility to the idea that something’s not right with Conan, and provide more solid evidence that Conan can’t easily shake, especially if Ran were to ever actually examine them, now that she knows they exist. The end result of all of this is that Ran practically as an arsenal of incriminating information to use against Conan, which is something that she distinctly lacked in previous suspicion arcs. What’s really impressive about this slow build-up is how it spanned the entire Bourbon arc, and yet could be almost totally unnoticeable to the inattentive viewer.

There is an abundance of motifs scattered throughout the arc, some related to the plot while others complement certain thematic threads. In terms of plot, the most prominent are easily the symbols related to Britain. Of those, the most consistent and persistent one is that of the Britain flag. Since Sera’s introduction, it has been virtually everywhere. In the very first chapter that she appeared in, on the cover, Conan has a flag with the Britain flag on it. During the brief flashback in the Yuusaku’s cold case arc, Conan as a child is wearing a shirt with the design of the British flag. The last chapter of the Scarlet Showdown has Conan wearing a tie that has the Britain flag design on it. In Movie 18, Conan is wearing, once again, a shirt with the British flag design on it. On the cover of one of Shounen Sunday’s editions, Conan is wearing a shirt with, you guessed it, the design of the British flag.

There are other clues pointing to Britain, namely surrounding the characters of Sera and Amuro. Sera, despite her claims of having lived in the United States for the past three years, is much more British-like in her mannerisms. She refers to soccer as ‘football’ instead of its American name. She holds eating utensils in a manner customary to British folk. Lastly, she is associated with the mystery girl, who dresses in a distinctly British style. Amuro screams ‘Britain!’ even more blatantly. Like the aforementioned mystery girl, he has a British wardrobe. He is a skilled boxer, a sport that originated in Britain. He is also a very skilled tennis player, a sport that DC as a series has firmly associated with Britain via the London case and Wimbledon. He casually referenced the M16 (a British agency) during the Scarlet Showdown. Finally, he is shown to have a past with Elena Miyano, the one plot character in the entire show who is totally British. Taken altogether, these small details pile up into the massive, undeniable image of a giant hand pointing straight to ‘Britain.’ Gosho is clearly building up to something that is related to it, a build-up that spanned a great deal of the Bourbon arc. Again, like with the hints about Ran’s suspicions, the viewer who isn’t paying close attention could easily miss all of these clues. There is not a single moment in the entire narrative in which the Britain hints are explicitly pointed out in any shape or form. Instead, they are slipped casually into several seemingly insignificant circumstances, subtle enough so that they could be missed easily enough, but also present enough so that the viewer who picked up on even just a few would soon be able to find many more. Together, they give Britain a compelling presence in the proceedings, without the location ever being deliberately pointed out to the audience, an example of some truly fine writing, evidence of the Bourbon arc’s subtlety despite the frequent claims of its supposed heavy-handedness and obviousness.

What makes all the clues regarding Britain so especially brilliant is how they tie into the London case. At the time that it was published in the manga, its appearance seemed almost random and spontaneous. Gosho had spoken of such a case seven years before he actually wrote it, so most people assumed he had kept putting it off until now. Some fans complained that he had missed a golden opportunity to make the London case one related to the overarching plot, especially considering its significance as the birthplace of Sherlock Holmes, instead of wasting it on Shinichi and Ran’s romance as well as that of a one-off character like Minerva Glass. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it becomes very clear that the London case functions as a remarkable piece of foreshadowing. Not only that, but it very deliberately establishes the ‘Britain’ theme of the Bourbon arc moving forward. Fans at the time had been quick to denounce Gosho’s writing for various perceived failings and missed chances, as they lacked the foresight and knowledge that the author himself possessed. In the end, the joke was on them, as now, five years after the fact, it becomes obvious just how carefully crafted the London case was, with its hidden allusions and hints.

Just consider Minerva’s statement to Ran about love, for example. “Love is zero,” she said, in reference to Ran’s romantic woes. The statement is an integral aspect of the case, as it ties into both Shinichi’s confession and Minerva’s own story. However, the deeper meaning behind the number “zero” would not become clear until near the very end of the Bourbon arc, when the audience learns that Amuro’s nickname is “Zero.” That nickname doubles as a hint in regards to Amuro’s past as well as his true allegiance. That “zero” first came up long, long before this only makes it an even more impressive piece of foreshadowing. Amuro’s association with Britain is what connects this back to the London case, bringing it all together.

Another prominent motif in the Bourbon arc is the color red, or “scarlet.” This is fitting, as the entire arc’s narrative is built around Akai, whose name means “red.” He is Okiya Subaru, Sera is his sister, and Amuro is his enemy. All the major players revolve around him. This motif appeared in the very first case of the entire Bourbon arc, the one that introduced Okiya. There, Okiya was referred to by the kid involved as the “red man,” because he always watered his garden, like a fire truck. Not only did this serve as a clue for Okiya’s identity, it also began the pattern of the color “red” appearing consistently and persistently throughout the rest of the arc, a.k.a nearly 300 chapters and episodes. It’s interesting to note that the color symbolism had actually been established prior to the Bourbon arc’s beginning, namely in the climax of the Kir arc, the Clash of Red and Black. Although it may not have been clear at the time, in hindsight it becomes obvious that the “red” referred to in the title is Akai.

The Bourbon arc has an unusually high percentage of cases that are scarlet-themed, an intentional move by Gosho. A few easily come to mind: the Red Wall case, the Red Shirts case, the Blush Mermaid case (the jewel was red), the Treasure Chest case (the victim was buried in red apples), the Cherry Blossom case, the KID vs. Makoto case (where the green jewel turned out to be red in reality), the Red Woman case (which also involved red tomatoes…), etc. Shinichi is referred to as the “scarlet detective” in the Aquarium flashback case, and is even wearing a red jacket to complement the label. In addition, the case has a strong focus on sharks, animals that are commonly associated with blood, which is also red. Episode 581 is called “The Red Shaking Target,” likely a reference to the fake Akai. Finally, the climax of the entire arc was labeled the “Scarlet Showdown,” and the title of the chapter that featured Akai’s long-awaited return was titled “Scarlet Return.” Aside from all of that, even the anime production team got in on the scarlet theme, an indication that they had either realized Gosho’s intentions or that he had informed them of it himself. Consider anime-original cases that were also scarlet-themed: the Red Wine case and the Red Leaf Palace case are examples. Even the special titled “The Disappearance of Conan Edogawa” had a major event take place at a location with “red” in the title. In addition, the anime changed the color of Subaru’s character to red whereas it had been white in the manga. The point of all this is that the color ‘scarlet’ totally dominated the Bourbon arc, so much so that even the climax was named for it. This is yet another of those subtle cues that the narrative never explicitly points out, simply leaving it to the audience to notice it.

There are also several phrases and terms that show up repeatedly throughout the Bourbon arc, serving primarily as hints that foreshadow what’s to come, as well as a means through which to give the giant narrative a feel of cohesion. The most oft-repeated phrase is probably “territory,” a word whose meaning in the context of DC’s story has yet to become clear. It first shows up shortly before the Mystery Train case, when Haibara attempts to uncover what lies beneath Okiya’s scarf. He grabs her hand forcefully just before she does, warning her that beyond that point lay his “territory,’ which she couldn’t cross. Sera used the term later on, in the Fruit Coffin case, when she told Ran to stay back because beyond that point was her “territory.” Finally, the Mystery Girl used it when she told Sera to tell Conan that she was “her little sister from outside the domain (territory).” There’s clearly some sort of significance in the fact that only those related to the Akai family in some shape or form use the term, but what exactly has not been revealed at the time of this writing. Nonetheless, it’s interesting and an example of a phrase that showed up repeatedly in the Bourbon arc, lending it both a sense of mystery and cohesion. Yet another word tossed around a lot in the Bourbon arc, or more specifically in its last third, is the ‘Wizard.’ Again, this is related to Sera in some way, who speaks of this mysterious ‘wizard’ often, and who is strongly implied to be Conan. Her middle brother speaks of the ‘wizard’ as well, as can be seen when he asked Sera if she had met him yet. And while we’re on the topic of Sera, I’d like to point out a tiny little thing about her: that small fang-shaped tooth. It first appeared in the Cabin case before the Mystery Train, but no attention whatsoever was called to it. Lo and behold, it became the object that sparked Conan’s memory of Sera and that confirmed to him that he had met Sera before. This was after Sera had shown the tooth on several occasions, although it had never really been acknowledged by any of the characters. This is the sort of subtle writing that forms the essence of not just the Bourbon arc, but of DC in general.

The Mystery Characters
This is where the Bourbon arc shines in particular. It is the one thing that the Bourbon arc is arguably superior to the Vermouth arc in: the three “villain” suspects. Both arcs bear this similarity: a group of three newly introduced characters who serve as the suspects for the identity of the BO agent the arc is focusing on. In Vermouth’s case, it was Jodie Starling, Akai Shuiichi, and Tomoke Araide. In Bourbon’s case, it was Okiya Subaru, Sera Masumi, and Amuro Tooru. While all of the above are great characters, the Bourbon arc has a sharp edge: its mystery trio’s characters are better-developed in their respective arc than the former three. Jodie, Akai, and Araide were all fun characters, but for most of the Vermouth arc they were enigmas, especially Jodie and Akai. Mysterious individuals, yes, and they did have a sense of menace about them that infused the arc’s narrative with suspense and tension, but they didn’t really stand as characters in their own right. Sure, there were pieces of dialogue and thoughts that hinted at the depth that lay beneath the surface, but during the Vermouth arc, that’s all they remained: hints. Jodie and Akai were only really developed as legitimate characters in the Kir arc, while Araide remained woefully underdeveloped during and after his time of importance; for the most part, he was just characterized as a nice guy with a strong sense of justice.

Okiya, Sera, and Amuro are all far more dynamic characters with a livelier presence. They manage to come across as mysterious and even menacing while simultaneously expressing different facets of their personalities and really coming into their own as genuine characters. They play a far more active role in their arc then Jodie and Akai ever did, by routinely interacting with Conan and fully integrating themselves into his daily life. This is how they manage to have a more impressive presence than Jodie and Akai did. Those two were mostly passive onlookers; people who watched Conan’s life unfold from afar with minimal interference. Of all of them, Araide was the closest to Conan, but even he didn’t appear with much frequency. In sharp contrast to this, Okiya lives literally next door, in Shinichi’s house, and he frequently visits Agasa. Sera goes to school with Ran and Sonoko and enjoys hanging out with them often. Amuro is Kogoro’s apprentice, meaning he has an almost daily presence at the Mouri Detective Agency, literally where Conan lives. This meant that they were active parts of Conan’s social life, affecting and molding the events unfolding around him. This had the double effect of ramping up the tension, since one of them was Bourbon; the audience knew that regardless of who it was, Bourbon was in a position very close to Conan, one from which he could endanger the lives of virtually everyone in the series.

The three Bourbon suspects are such great characters both because of their own distinct personalities as well as the ways they reflect and parallel one another. Take Sera Masumi. She is a bumbling tomboy, one filled to the brim with enthusiasm and energy. She has high self-esteem and is very confident in everything she does. An excellent detective, she is highly intelligent and very perceptive as well as observant, and thinks well on her feet. She practices a form of martial arts, just like Ran, and seems to enjoy trying out her moves. As Akai’s sister, she functions as a deliberate foil to him: while he is serious, stoic, and moody, she is funny, expressive, and happy. Sera confirms herself that this is overcompensation for her brother’s attitude, the one she grew up with. She tells Ran that the reason she always smiles is because she was raised around someone who never did. As a result, Sera actively tries to avoid burdening herself with such a heavy demeanor. It’s her reaction against her brother, the one she always tried to make happy.

However, despite Sera’s merry and silly demeanor, she is also a chillingly realistic pragmatist, one who does not believe in the sacredness of life on the level that Ran and Conan do. She had no qualms about luring a man to his death in order to save herself and the lives of the people with her, and could not comprehend Ran’s idealism when she deliberately foiled her plan. This gray morality is made even more interesting by the fact that she is so young, still a high school student. She made it clear in her introductory case, however, that she was not fazed at all by death and murder. This attitude is likely a product of Akai’s influence on her.

More can be written about Sera’s character; note that as of the time of this writing, neither the manga nor the anime have resolved many of the mysteries surrounding Sera, including her past meeting with Shinichi and Ran, her middle brother, the mystery child she is with, her reason for calling Conan wizard, how she knows his identity, etc. Yet, despite that, she is still a very rich character, and the mysteries concerning her that were resolved only added more depth and context to the person she was. That she, the sister of Akai, acts as such a perfect foil to him is wonderfully fitting.

Amuro Tooru, too, is an excellent character. Like Sera, he is also a foil for Akai. Whereas Akai is serious, Amuro is often very funny and humorous. Akai is stoic, while Amuro is extremely expressive. Akai is socially awkward, unlike Amuro who has natural charisma and effortlessly fits into normal society. Akai is an introvert, whereas Amuro is a clear extrovert. Akai is usually silent, while Amuro enjoys talking and conversing with others. Akai was often moody, in contrast to the very cheerful Amuro. Where Akai is careful and composed, Amuro is often reckless and impulsive. Even their codenames within the Organization align with this opposition: Rye (Akai’s codename) is known to be spicy or fruity, and makes cocktails drier, while Bourbon is sweeter. However, Amuro doesn’t function merely as a contrast with Akai; he also mirrors and parallels him, often in ways that didn’t become clear until the very end of the Bourbon arc.

Both are highly intelligent individuals. Both are driven by an intense hatred; just as Akai hates Gin for killing Akemi, Amuro hates Akai for doing something to someone he cared about (implied to have done, at least, and likely to someone codenamed ‘Scotch’). Both come from special national agencies, Akai from the FBI and Amuro from the Secret Police. Both infiltrated the Organization, and both are working towards the same goals.
Amuro’s forte is psychological manipulation. He has a deep understanding of the human mind, of how people think, and of what affects people most deeply. This ties into his acute perception of human emotions. He breaks down his opponents through mental tactics, not physical ones, usually by first understanding what makes them tick and then using that knowledge to his advantage. This is what he did with Chianti when he smiled at her, what he did with Kogoro to get his password, and what he did repeatedly with Conan post-Mystery Train. He retrieved information from him and Jodie using a disguise while simultaneously deliberately making mistakes so that Conan could catch on later about what had occurred. Once the realization came to Conan it shattered his confidence and threw him off, rendering him a paranoid wreck that was susceptible to committing careless mistakes. This worked, as Conan became increasingly worried and terrified throughout the last portion of the Bourbon arc. Amuro did it again when he confronted Conan at the hospital, and also used it with the FBI. He initially mocked and derided them to get them emotional and off-balance, before he zeroed in on Camel and systematically attacked his insecurities as a low-ranking FBI member with a history of costly errors. By doing this he was able to get Camel to accidently spill the information he needed, which eventually led him to him figuring out how Akai faked his death as well as Okiya Subaru’s death.

One of the most interesting aspects of Amuro’s character is that like Sera, he’s a bit gray in terms of morality. He deliberately smiled at Chianti while disguised as Scar Akai in a show of mockery, knowing that it would break her concentration and enrage her. However, this was a dangerous move as it could have led to innocents being harmed. Amuro’s actions show that that fact did not really concern him. In his formal introduction case he almost allowed an innocent man to unintentionally destroy his exonerating evidence just for the sake of testing Kogoro. In the case right after, he noticed Conan’s disappearance early on but didn’t notify Ran and Kogoro until much later. The list goes on. In the Scarlet Showdown, Amuro used the police force to blackmail Akai into revealing himself by having them hold Jodie and Camel hostage. The confrontation almost killed them both. Amuro fully intended to hand Akai over to the Organization, thus killing him and Kir as well, just to raise his rank and get closer to finishing his mission. He was also willing to do this because he disguised Akai. However, he showed this same sort of behavior when he reported Shiho immediately to the Organization the moment he found her. While he did want her alive, had he not reported her at all there would have been no risk.

This is what made Amuro so dangerous. He was technically on the side of good, working towards a noble goal, but the methods he used were often dubious in terms of morality, and his willingness to let emotions guide his actions instead of logic made him downright destructive. Amuro is a passionate man, one who feels very strongly about things, and it’s this quality which is his most defining characteristic, as well as the source of most of his problems (similar to how Akai’s stoic and cold aloof demeanor is his defining characteristic and also the source of the majority of his issues). His hatred of the FBI in general as well as his nationalistic tendencies led him to mock the FBI when he met them, behavior that bordered on immature and childish; it’s the same as when he smiled at Chianti. He allowed his hatred of Akai to control him, carelessly causing collateral damage just for the sake of finishing him off. His desire to properly fulfill his mission essentially turned him into a loyal member of the Organization, reporting all his findings at once for the sake of success in his actual mission. Amuro soon lost sight of the bigger picture, so focused was he on satisfying his desires and moving up through the Organization. In short, he put his emotions and goals above everything else, to his own detriment as well to the detriment of others. Fascinatingly, this is an image of the person Akai used to be before Akemi’s death; it was his prioritizing of the mission before all else that cost him his relationship with Akemi and led to her death. Akai sees himself in Amuro, which is why he tells him pointedly over the phone that he shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture. Akai speaks from experience; after all, that same mistake is what took the person he cared about the most away from him, and it’s the mistake which he is still trying to redeem himself for.

More can be written about Amuro, but I think the above is sufficient to demonstrate just how complex a character he is, despite the fact that much about him is still unresolved. His character’s relationship to Akai as well as his own distinctive personality (replete with merits and flaws) makes him a fascinating character who is a pleasure to follow. More so, he arguably played a more active role in his own arc then even Vermouth did in hers. And speaking of Vermouth….

Bourbon and Vermouth’s complex relationship dynamic is one of the most entertaining and intriguing aspects of the Bourbon arc. Both are fiercely independent individuals with their own separate goals; pairing two characters that are so secretive together is sure to produce interesting results, and it does. The fact that the two work together frequently was first hinted in the Beika Mall case (episodes 578-581) when Vermouth appeared to assure Gin that all was well, and at the end of the Detective Nocturne’s case (episodes 671-674). The Mystery Train case was where there was explicit confirmation of their partnership, and it’s there that we first see just how poorly they actually do work together. The plan was to capture Sherry alive, but Vermouth couldn’t have that, so she backstabbed Bourbon and planted explosives in the carriage Shiho was to be held in. That ruined Bourbon’s plan, but interestingly, his only reaction when he realized what Vermouth had done was just an amused smile.

That, perhaps, is the funniest thing about their relationship: they do not fear each other in the slightest. They casually betray each other confidently without a care in the world. In fact, right after the Mystery Train case, rather than being upset at Vermouth for sabotaging his plan, Bourbon just asked her for some files, business as usual. The two seem to enjoy working together to an extent, and Vermouth does seem willing to help Bourbon whenever he needs a disguise. However, Vermouth does know that Bourbon is investigating awfully close to the two people most important to her (Conan and Ran), and it is heavily implied that her promise with Bourbon was to keep them safe. This would explain why Amuro freaked out so badly when Conan was hit on the head with a tennis rack and knocked unconscious.

Things came to a head in Scarlet Showdown. When Amuro had deduced just how Akai had faked his death and told Vermouth, she immediately concluded that Conan had something to do with it and shifted gears, posing flimsy arguments as to why Akai was most definitely dead. Amuro was unconvinced, but Vermouth cleverly forced him to play along with her game. By stating her disbelief in his words, she challenged him to gather evidence and prove her wrong. In short, if Bourbon wanted any credibility for his claim within the Organization, he would need to convince Vermouth, a very high-ranking member. Otherwise, his investigations were for naught. Bourbon accepted her challenge, deciding to go confront Akai and draw him out in person.

After the events of Scarlet Showdown, Bourbon tells Vermouth that he was wrong, and that Akai is indeed dead. Of course, he hid his alliance with Akai as well as the fact that he is an undercover agent from her. Bourbon reveals that he knows Vermouth’s secret; in response to this, she pulls a gun on him, threatening to kill him right then and there. Bourbon is unfazed, and even calmly advises Vermouth against such a course of action. It is here that we learn that Bourbon has actually arranged to have Vermouth’s secret leaked to the rest of the Organization should he be eliminated. In short, Bourbon is blackmailing Vermouth, ensuring his safety regardless of what he does. Vermouth withdraws with a rather bored look on her face, conceding his point. That the two so casually threaten each other is one of the most fundamental aspects of their relationship. Their ‘partnership’ is a flimsy thing, as both routinely double-cross each other, and yet both are also interested in keeping it going. Together, they are a fun and engaging duo. Aside from her brief interactions with Gin, Vermouth didn’t have such a lively personality to play off of in her own arc.

Aside from Amuro and Sera, there is some great development to be seen in Okiya Subaru. Taken at service value, there is not much more to him than just a quiet, intelligent guy is good at cooking and seems a bit suspicious. However, knowing his true identity changes the context of his every action, and in fact gives him a great deal of depth. Okiya Subaru can be seen as the second phase in the developmental arc of Akai Shuuchi’s character. In the final episodes of the Kir arc, we learn of Akai’s relationship with Akemi (which was hinted back during the Vermouth arc), the guilt he feels over it, and his hatred of Gin and the rest of the Organization. Akai got involved with Akemi and failed to protect; he was in many ways responsible for her death, and he needs both redemption and revenge.

Okiya Subaru is the logical progression of Akai’s character. He fakes his death, ending the existence of the man named Akai Shuuchi, and is reborn. Every trace of his original identity is wiped from the earth, even his beloved Chevrolet, whose destruction symbolizes the true death of Akai. He resides in the Kudo household, right next to Professor Agasa’s house, and begins his journey to redemption. He has but one mission: protecting Akemi’s sister, Haibara Ai a.k.a Shiho Miyano. Before, Akai’s mission ahd cost him Akemi. Now, as redemption, his only mission is to protect Haibara against any danger that might befall her. Where he failed to protect Akemi, he’ll protect her sister. Akai sacrificed everything he had to do this: his identity, his personality, his occupation, his relationships, everything. This is his way of compensating for his mistake.
More so, living as Okiya Subaru allowed Akai to experience a life that he never got to enjoy. His whole life, Akai carried burdens. He was always serious, and always isolated from the world around him. He struggled to form meaningful relationships with those around him (which is why the few he had were so important to him) and was a loner. Normal life was foreign to him, and in general he didn’t allow himself the pleasure of living. As Okiya, though, he had no choice but to fully integrate himself into normal, everyday life. Eventually he grew used to it and even came to enjoy it, came to really taste the sweetness of the life he never lived.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the final chapter of the Scarlet Showdown. Both Jodie and Camel are taken aback by Akai’s laid-back lifestyle. Jodie was stunned that Akai could cook, and his response was that it lessened food expenses and made for a good “change of pace.” The fact that Akai even worried about being frugal with money while shopping is bizarre considering his background as an FBI agent, but it is a good indication of just how much he had grown accustomed to civilian life. Camel thought that Akai didn’t have it easy having to deal with kids like the Detective Boys all the time, to which Akai said, “Do you think so?” implying that he disagreed. This is in marked contrast to his “Annoying kids!” upon seeing Vermouth take Conan back in the climax of the Vermouth arc. Akai even told Conan to invite the Detective Boys in, and he seemed to enjoy discussing things with them. All in all, Akai had become a true everyday man, one who seemed to enjoy the small, ordinary pleasures that life had to offer. He had become much more comfortable around people as well. The experience of being Okiya Subaru changed him for the better.

His relationship with Haibara as Okiya Subaru is interesting as well. Back in the Vermouth arc’s climax, Akai told Jodie that the time was not yet right for Haibara to meet him. This was before his backstory and relationship with Akemi was revealed. Once it was unraveled near the end of the Kir arc, the narrative moved to have Akai finally meet Haibara, if only in disguise, now that it was placed in the appropriate context and against the right backdrop. Interestingly, Haibara strongly dislikes Okiya for pretty much the entire first half of the Bourbon arc, mostly due to her suspicions of him being with the Black Organization, a suspicion that ironically has some truth to it. Okiya, for his part, does his best to protect Haibara however he can. There is a clever comedic subtext to their relationship despite its seeming seriousness; basically, that Akai is so socially inept and incompetent that he can’t protect Haibara without freaking her out. His attempts at being a guardian are clumsy and hilariously unsubtle. For example, during the Detective’s Nocturne case, he invited himself into Agasa’s house with some stew under the pretense that he had happened to hear them discussing the missing Conan, a lie that could not have been more obvious. When he went to fetch Haibara on the Mystery Train, he frightened her so badly with his demeanor that she took off running (even though she trusted him to an extent by this point).

Their relationship took a more interesting turn once Okiya gained a modicum of Haibara’s trust, after his actions during the Detective’s Nocturne, when he comforted her and took direct action in an attempt to save Conan from the kidnapper. Haibara begins to refer to him as ‘Subaru-san,’ an indication that she was more comfortable around him. Once he no longer terrified her out of her socks, Haibara was able to approach Okiya more aggressively. She actually begins to suspect him of being Moroboshi Dai, her sister’s boyfriend. Of course, Haibara was correct in her suspicions, but she didn’t know that. Naturally, she began to actively investigate Okiya. The way the entire situation unfolded is fresh and interesting; Gosho could have gone for a singular dramatic moment where Akai saves Haibara and then reveals himself, for example. Instead, he went for a story that has Haibara and Akai interacting extensively without the former knowing it, thus building suspense for the eventual reveal while also continuing Akai’s character arc. Having Haibara suspect Okiya’s true identity is also an interesting move, because it means that Haibara is less likely to be surprised once she discovers who he is. Haibara was also restored to being an active character, as she had largely been a passive observer since the end of the Vermouth arc. She took matters with Okiya into her own hands, aggressively investigating him until he warns her to back off. It made for an interesting character dynamic, while still functioning as a situation that can be interpreted in two distinct ways depending on who you think Okiya is (if Akai, he’s protecting Haibara, if not, he’s a threat), thus preserving the arc’s mystery.

Speaking of Haibara, she was on the receiving end of some nice character development in the Bourbon arc, after having virtually none in in the Kir arc. The big change comes specifically after the Mystery Train case, when Haibara lives in a world where she is no longer being hunted by the Black Organization, now that they believe that Shiho Miyano is dead. The change in her personality is subtle, nothing too flashy, especially since she had already been on the path to that mental state anyways. Still, it’s just significant enough to be noticeable. It boils down to something very straightforward: Haibara is happier. It shines through in her every action and every expression in the Bourbon arc’s last segment. She blushes more easily, she is more invested in the childish adventures of the Detective Boys, and in general she is more carefree in her actions. The examples are numerous: her enthusiastic imitation of her favorite soccer player (Higo) as she kicked the ball during a game with the Detective Boys, her delight when she found a stray cat, her happy and content demeanor as she listened to a song she really liked, etc. The most significant marker of Haibara’s changed mental state is the fact that she no longer has her Black Organization ‘sense’ which she had relied on for roughly episodes, her reasoning being that now that she doesn’t have anything to worry about, she doesn’t consciously take note of her surroundings. The consequence of this newfound comfort was that Haibara failed to detect both Bourbon and Vermouth at the shrine in the Cherry Blossom case, an oversight that allowed Bourbon to gain some valuable information regarding Akai’s supposed death, which in turn led indirectly to the Scarlet Showdown. Haibara’s vanished BO sense is the only time the narrative explicitly draws attention to the fact that she is a bit different post-Mystery Train, and that was only due to a need to explain a possible plot hole. Otherwise, the story respects the audience enough to leave them to understand Haibara’s current personality on their own, simply by observing her behavior and mannerisms. It’s great stuff.

Aside from the mystery trio and Haibara, the Bourbon arc had some interesting developments for several cast members, spread throughout the mammoth work. Conan himself got a very subtle arc, one in which he began to regress back into his arrogant state but which ended very quickly with Bourbon’s investigations. Prior to the Bourbon arc, Conan had received some wonderful character development, growing from an egotistical jerk to a much humbler and wiser individual. However, in the Bourbon arc he began to grow extremely complacent, and it showed in his general lax attitude and increased cockiness. This was the natural consequence of his success at the end of the Kir arc. After all, while everyone thought that Akai was dead, Conan knew the truth: the FBI agent had successfully faked his death and was now living right next to him. With Akai’s constant presence providing an unusual degree of comfort and safety, Conan began to become more and more reckless and heedless. It had been so long since he had been seriously threatened by the Organization that he no longer worried as much as he once did. Even Jodie informed him of Bourbon’s arrival, and even when he learned who Bourbon was, Conan didn’t really panic. He had both Akai and Yukiko behind his back, assisting every step of the way.

That confidence came crashing down, violently, in the last third of the Bourbon arc, when Amuro decided that he would stay at the Mouri Detective Agency after all. Conan, in contrast to the relaxed attitude that he had displayed for the first two-thirds of the arc, became extremely paranoid, frightened at the drop of a pin. He became nervous around Bourbon and increasingly cautious in general. Conan officially fell off a cliff in the aftermath of the Kogoro Bar case, when Conan realized that Bourbon and Vermouth had been present at the shrine and that they had gained valuable information. Conan became hyperactively aware of his surroundings, almost having a panic attack when he heard camera shutters around him, before realizing that it was just Sera messing with him. Bourbon especially was responsible for shredding Conan apart at the psychological level, most notably in the build-up to the arc’s climax. He threw Conan off at the Haido City Hospital, when he exposed Conan’s lie about Kusuda. Afterwards, when Conan had deduced Bourbon’s true allegiance and confronted Bourbon about it, he straight up lied, terrifying Conan and destroying the modicum of comfort that his discovery had afforded him. Finally, Conan seemed to almost have a nervous breakdown at the beginning of the Scarlet Showdown, after he realized that Camel had spilled highly sensitive information to Bourbon. It was at that point that Conan realized that Akai’s cover had been blown, and that immediate action was required to avoid a total disaster.

Up until this point, all the stress and pressure that Conan had suffered through had effectively been punishment for his cocky recklessness throughout the Bourbon arc. His success against the Organization had gone to his head, and Bourbon functioned as a very much needed wake-up call. He basically redeemed himself in the Scarlet Showdown, arranging an elaborate plan that would neutralize Bourbon as a threat while also keeping Akai hidden from him lest he attempt to betray them. Most importantly, it would ensure the safety of the people that Conan had placed in danger. After all, he shared some of the responsibility for Bourbon’s success in discovering Akai’s faked death trick. The agent had played him like a fiddle, crushing Conan at every step of the way. Conan’s plan worked, and the Bourbon arc came to a quiet conclusion. The effects of this run-in have not faded off of Conan, as can be seen in the early chapters of the Rum arc. Conan has not wasted any time in collecting as much information about Rum from Haibara as he could, and while he still has his trademark smug attitude, it is noticeably subdued, similar to how it was before the Bourbon arc.

Another character with solid development who comes to mind is Kobayashi, Conan’s homeroom teacher in school. During the Bourbon arc she and Shiratori became a couple, after Shiratori realized that she was his first love, and not Sato as he had originally thought. Now, Sato and Kobayashi bear an uncanny resemblance, a fact explicitly acknowledged by the narrative all the way back at the beginning of the Kir arc. That exceedingly minor plot point pays off big time in the Bourbon arc, when Gosho preempted accusations that Shiratori was just using Kobayashi as a substitute for Sato by writing a story centered on that very conflict. There, Kobayashi, who had yet to meet Sato, learns from members of the police department that she looks nearly identical to herself. Kobayashi then makes the incorrect but understandable deduction that she is a mere stand-in for Sato, a backup for his failed love interest. This results in a fair bit of drama, as Kobayashi abruptly becomes hostile and aloof towards Shiratori, who scrambles unsuccessfully to fix matters between them. Eventually things worked out between them, however, and the conclusion of the case took advantage of its own central focus to tie things together neatly in the end. The main culprit, who knew that Kobayashi had witnessed his crime and who was trying to eliminate her, was captured by the police for failing to distinguish between Sato and Kobayashi; the former disguised herself as the latter and caught him off-guard.

Even Yumi, a very minor character who’s function has always been, above all else, comic relief, got some nice development, even if it was only a bit. Gosho lampshades his tendency to pair the officers of the police department together through her in Chiba’s second love story case. Yumi, the only remaining officer at the time without a love interest, picks up the romantic tension between Chiba and Naeko and understands immediately what is unfolding before her. It’s here that the audience learns that Yumi had actually grown lonely recently due to her friends (Sato, Takagi, and Wataru) spending more time with their loved ones than with her. It’s the classic “bachelor thrown on the wayside” conflict, and it is quite humorous to see the normally upbeat and optimistic Yumi concerned about being abandoned and left behind by her peers. As such, she does the selfish act of actively attempting to sabotage the blossoming romance between her two workmates. By the end of the case, however, Yumi sees that Naeko is especially attached to Chiba, and as such reluctantly drops her efforts, even going so far as to deliberately arrange a situation where the two could be alone together. For such a silly and comedic story, the gesture represents a surprisingly touching and sympathetic moment for Yumi, who quietly accepts her “alone” status and does what would make her friends happiest, at the cost of her own happiness. Of course, Yumi herself became involved in small romantic subplot of her own when she met her former boyfriend; however, she didn’t get back together with him, simply regarding him with constant embarrassment.

More on the characters in the next part, which will be the last portion of this (very) lengthy essay.
Posted by MrAM | May 20, 2015 5:49 AM | 2 comments
May 9th, 2015
Humans are difficult creatures to understand. Most of us are walking contradictions, simultaneously holding two opposing beliefs, with behavior that often doesn’t follow our own chosen guidelines. Our thought processes are so complicated that there is an entire scientific field (psychology) dedicated to making even a semblance of sense of our frenzied minds. As Migi tells Shinichi repeatedly throughout Parasyte, human beings and their odd ways don’t compute with him, and he struggles to understand why human beings act the way they do. This is but one small part of an ambitious story that asks some very interesting questions about us, our very nature, and our place in the universe.

Parasyte is many things, but one thing it certainly isn’t is subtle. It’s been the target of some criticism for being overly obvious with its messages, sometimes being borderline preachy. As for me, I don’t take too much issue with the bluntness of most of the show. Yes, I would have appreciated a little more subtlety, and yes, perhaps there should have been a little more left open to interpretation, but in the end I think the overall product is a great and thought-provoking watch, and for all of its directness, I think Parasyte is a show still worth analyzing. It covers a good deal of topics and ideas (all still connected in some way, though), but for the purpose of this analysis I want to focus on what I see are two of its most prominent themes, and how they are intertwined: motherhood, and the question of altruism.

Near the beginning of the series, shortly after Shinichi becomes acquainted with his new right hand, Migi tells him that, to a non-human such a himself, one of the most incomprehensible aspects of the human psyche is altruism, which is basically defined as helping someone else at a cost to yourself. In other words, selflessness. It’s something that human beings express from time to time. Migi sees this as so bizarre because his personal priority is always his own survival. He’d willingly allow others to die, or kill them himself, if it guaranteed his continued existence. To put himself at risk for someone else is a nonsensical notion. This statement of Migi’s set up the foundation for one of Parasyte’s central questions: are human beings inherently selfish?

This was a question of the utmost importance to Shinichi, at least in the beginning of the show. In the early episodes, there is much philosophical rumination on whether or not human beings are like any other animal. Shinichi starts out as an idealistic teenager, believing in the sacredness of human life and glorifying his species above all others. To Shinichi, even if he never says it quite so bluntly, human beings are superior to other living creatures on earth, and more importantly, are in an entirely different category of life. Many people today, and indeed modern science, regard humans as just a particularly sophisticated animal, further along the evolutionary road then other life forms. There are other, though, who assert that identifying human beings as animal devalues their uniqueness, an assessment that fails to take into account the specific traits and abilities that human beings possess which are absent from pretty much everything else.

Shinichi subscribes to this view, and he makes a point of telling Migi, and himself, that human beings are “different from animals.” Migi claims that his kind, and other animals as well, are fundamentally selfish, valuing their survival above all else. This seems to tie in well with the concept of “survival of the fittest” in nature; however, Shinichi, who is adamant that humans are different, feels pressured to prove to Migi that he and his kind are not selfish beings who only do what personally benefits them. After all, in Shinichi’s mind, Migi is a “monster.” If there really is no difference between him and himself, then what does that make him? Shinichi’s pride as a human being makes him feel terrified of such an idea; it threatens his entire worldview.

As such, Shinichi goes out of his way to prove to Migi, and more importantly to himself, that he is altruistic, that he would willingly put himself in danger for others. When he sees his classmate being bullied and beaten up in an alleyway, he goes out of his way to tell the thugs assaulting him to leave him alone. After he is punched in the face and told to leave, Shinichi hesitates momentarily. However, upon remembering Migi’s words about selflessness vs selfishness, he insists on his actions, once again challenging the bullies, all who are much stronger than him. Consequently, he gets roughed up, acquiring quite a few injuries. Eventually the attack ends, and, despite the bruises on his face, Shinichi is satisfied. After all, he had just committed a truly altruistic action: he helped a friend in need, even though he stood to gain nothing from it but pain. It seems that his point has been made.

Ironically, however, Shinichi has actually proven nothing, and the narrative relentlessly hammers this fact home for the remainder of the episode. The first hint towards this is the way Shinichi is repeatedly called a ‘poser’ by the bullies for interfering. Basically, an actor. Shinichi’s brave and seemingly heroic actions are nothing but a performance, an artificial cover. The thing is, considering what we as the audience know, that is actually a valid accusation. After all, it’s very possible that Shinichi would not have interfered at all had Migi not spoken to him earlier about altruism, and if Shinichi were not feeling so insecure about his humanity. Shinichi did what he did to make a point, mostly to himself. In that case, his actions were, at their core, selfish, done only to make him feel better about himself. The safety of Shinichi’s classmates did not actually factor much into his decision to challenge the bully. Far from showing that human beings are selfless beings, Shinichi merely provided further evidence that his beliefs are incorrect.

There are other things which imply the hollowness of Shinichi’s actions, mostly by emphasizing just how different he is from most people. When Kana looks into Shinichi’s eyes right after he was beat up, she is terrified by what she sees. Clearly, to her, Shinichi is not “normal.” Later on, when the bullies take Murano hostage and beat up Shinichi once again, their leader expresses severe confusion at the fact that Shinichi refuses to run, even though that would be the most logical course of action. Shortly afterwards, Shinichi’s classmates from his school come to his rescue in a large group, easily outnumbering the bullies. Migi makes a very important point to Shinichi: they challenged the bullies only when they had larger numbers and so an almost guaranteed chance of success, reaffirming Migi’s point earlier in the show that animals do not engage in fights that they know they can’t win. “They make better animals than you,” says Migi to Shinichi. Indeed, coupled with Murano’s later point that Shinichi isn’t normal because she had never seen anyone go so far to help others, it is made clear that Shinichi is an aberration, the exception and not the norm. His continued insistence on altruism and general behavior sets him apart from the human beings he is surrounded with. By attempting to be selfless in all circumstances, Shinichi only comes across to other as being even more alien, ironically seeming to confirm Migi’s suspicions that he is becoming “less human.”

It should be made clear that Shinichi still expressed selfless characteristics even before all of this, though. His confrontation with Migi in the second episode foreshadows the show’s extensive focus on the question of selfishness. At that time, Shinichi suggests to Migi that he turn himself in to the police. His reasoning is that they could use him to make progress against the parasytes, which are becoming ever more widespread. Migi makes it clear that he will not permit Shinichi to do such a thing, however, because it threatens his own survival. He puts Shinichi down by claiming that he would take away his ability to speak, see, and hear. Shinichi is terrified of the prospect of losing all of that, so he remains silent. The key point here is that ultimately Shinichi backed down out of fear for his own well-being, despite initially trying to do something that would have benefited others but could have brought harm to him.

This is something that comes up elsewhere as well, mainly in the character of the private eye detective, Kuramori, that Tamaura Reiko hired to investigate Shinichi. He was able to discover the truth about Shinichi before long, and soon Shinichi took action, telling him the truth and persuading him to keep his mouth shut. When Kuramori learns of the truth of Shinichi’s situation, he gives him a grand speech about Shinichi’s duty to hand himself over to the authorities, even if that meant spending the rest of his life as a lab rat. Kuramori’s reasoning was that Shinichi had a responsibility to protect the rest of humanity, not just himself. This assertion is interesting because it parallels the very same thoughts that Shinichi had at the beginning. Although Migi manages to threaten Kuramori into silence, his point still stands until he himself refutes it shortly after, when he realizes that he is in the parasite business way over his head. He backs out when Shinichi ask that he assist him in fighting, explaining his actions in terms of a desire to keep his family safe. Kuramori even goes as far as to call himself out on his own hypocrisy, apologizing to Shinichi for giving him that grandiose speech earlier. As he walks away, Migi comments that his actions are what to be expected of a “normal human being.”

Aside from serving to sharpen the contrast between Shinichi and other humans (especially relevant since at the time Shinichi was struggling with his own humanity), the whole incident touches on ideas that are very relevant to Parasyte’s core themes. Kuramori initially blasted Shinichi for not selflessly sacrificing himself for the greater good, before he himself backs out due to fear for his safety as well as that of his family’s. As Kuramori tells Shinichi, he is a single helpless human being, not at all equipped to deal with creatures as powerful as the parasites. When it came down to it, Kuramori ultimately prioritized himself over any supposed duty to the rest of his species; selfish, but very understandable. Parasyte actually harshly criticizes those who arrogantly declare that their actions are motivated solely out of a desire to help the world. Reiko herself alludes to humanity’s sweeping statements, such as the belief that “all life on Earth must coexist,” even if that “coexistence” simply means putting humanity at the top of the food chain. Now, this ties into another of the story’s larger themes, namely humanity’s place in the natural environment, a topic that I don’t intend to examine in-depth in this particular analysis; we stumbled upon it simply because of how tightly intertwined Parasyte’s themes are. So, back on topic: the series alludes several efforts to the human environmentalism effort, and asks, of course, whether or not that desire to keep the Earth safe is altruistic or selfish in origin. We’ll return to Kuramori’s dilemma later in this analysis.

So far, the answer to Parasyte’s question about altruism vs self-preservation seems very obvious.

However, the issue is handled with more nuance than might be expected, and there is plenty more to discuss in terms of this particular theme. A majorly important scene in the anime that relates to this topic is the lecture we see a professor giving in episode 14. There, the professor directly addresses the topic of altruism (hey, I told you Parasyte wasn’t very subtle). He makes a point that even though altruism has been observed in animals before, there are theories it is nothing more than an illusion. “The selfish gene,” the professor says, suggesting that selflessness is in reality disguised selfishness; animals view their DNA as being the representation of their selves, and make it their priority to ensure the successful transmission of their DNA to future generations, so that their essence may always continue. Their own survival is more important than that of their species. In this case, love itself doesn’t truly exist, as any action that seems to express it is actually just a selfish gesture. After the professor goes as far to say that maternal love may be fake, he backtracks and elaborates on the possible shortcomings of such a theory, ending his lecture with the question of whether or not humanity’s desire for environmental conservation ultimately has its origins in altruism or selfishness, neatly framing one of the most prominent issues that Parasyte focuses on. It is significant that Tamura Reiko, the one parasite who is officially a mother, is the one who attends this lecture, as its content connects with the themes and ideas surrounding her own personal story. This brings us to the second major part of this analysis, namely Parasyte’s unrelenting focus on maternal love.

Mothers have a very large presence in Parasyte, much more so than fathers. It only takes a quick glance at Shinichi’s story to see this. When she was alive, his mother was the one the narrative chose to center on rather than his father, and following her death, the show largely ignored the male parent, relegating him to “background character” status while story moved on to more important things (like Reiko’s own journey with maternal feelings). In truth, using either parent to make a point would have worked, but since the mother has always been seen by most people, in the past and still overwhelmingly today, as having the most intimate bond with her child, more than the father, and in most cultures around the world, especially in Asian ones, the mother plays the bigger role in the upbringing of the child, Parasyte’s decision to focus on the mother makes sense. Maternal love is often said to be one of the most powerful forces on Earth, and the show’s narrative makes use of all this to make crucial points on altruism through motherhood.

Very early on the series, before Shinichi’s mother, Nobuko, died, there is a flashback of the incident that gave her the scar that she has on one of her hands and arms. Shinichi was being a reckless little kid, trying to reach for something from atop a fridge on a wobbly stool. Naturally, he tripped and fell, bringing down a pot full of boiling oil upon him. Without thinking and without any hesitation, Nobuko grabbed it with her bare hands to keep it from burning her beloved sun. So great was her concern for him that she didn’t even notice her own pain until her husband pointed it out to her. The scar she received from having the searing hot oil spill over her symbolized her compassion and her love, her utterly selfless sacrifice for Shinichi. It was what Shinichi associated with his mother, and he it was what he used to identify her body when the parasite who was possessing it came to his house.

Reiko herself sees firsthand just how powerful the bond between mother and child is. When the mom of the lady she killed and possessed meets her, she sees through her facade almost instantly. Reiko disposes of the mother, naturally, but the fact that she so readily identified her as someone other than her actual daughter fascinates her. It’s a testament to just how connected a mother feels to her child, of the power and intensity of that bond. This scene foreshadows Reiko’s eventual understanding of this, on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

Reiko’s character arc is of the utmost importance in relation to the themes of the show, and I would argue that she is easily the most significant character in the show, behind only Shinichi and Migi. From the very beginning, she was interested in human beings and wished to integrate herself into their society, instead of outright eating them like the majority of the parasites did. She researched them extensively and came to understand them far better than her companions, even the ones who, like her, had managed to pass as normal in the human world. Their goals stood in stark contrast to hers; exploitation and dominance, rather than understanding and cooperation. Reiko was always on a more human path, and the fact that she gave birth to a human baby only pushed her further along that trajectory.

Of course, at first Reiko wasn’t much better than her brethren, in terms of methodology. She was casually cruel and made numerous plans to experiment on her newborn child. She walked around with it like it was a rag doll and was, in all senses of the word, a terrible parent. She even defended herself against in Shinichi in episode 14 by holding up her baby before him, knowing that he wouldn’t attack if it risked hurting the innocent boy. Up until shortly before her death, it seemed that Reiko could care less about her son; in fact, she herself had been under that impression.

What finally woke Reiko up to the realization that yes, she did care, was the private eye’s actions episode 17, when he kidnapped her baby. Reiko maintains her calm when she sees what happened, and her first course of action is to visit Shinichi’s house. While she is there she sifts through some old images on his computer, of his mother playing with him happily. Reiko is fascinated by what she sees, and the first semblance of true understanding of what it means to be a parent, of what it means to care for and value another’s life, of what it means to be human, comes to her. Later on, when she confronts the private eye on the roof of a building, and he continuously blasts her for being an unemotional monster who could never understand the grief of losing a child, the grief that he went through, Reiko begins to undergo the last stage of her transformation. It is heavily implied that what Reiko felt at that precise moment was true, genuine love, the love of a mother for her child. Migi, who is in the area, detects Reiko’s signal but is utterly confused:

“What is this?.....What is this emotion?”

It is something alien to Migi, whom despite his extensive interactions with Shinichi had not evolved to this level. What Reiko felt was something that no parasite before her had ever felt, and in her case, the lines between human and parasite blurred. The private eye threatens to throw the baby off the edge, to certain death. Reiko reacts impulsively and without thought, stabbing him immediately and retrieving her baby safely. The private eye bleeds out with an amused smile, surprised that such a “monster” had the capacity to feel what she did. Reiko, too, expresses surprise. She had not known that she felt this intensely until this very moment.

At this point, Reiko looked more human than ever. In fact, the process had been progressing consistently throughout the anime, and her psychological changes were reflected in her physical appearance. Madhouse did some very subtle work in terms of the structure of her face as well as her facial expressions to give her an increasingly human look. Compare Reiko at the very beginning to her final appearance at the time of her death; she literally looks like a different individual, and on a metaphoric level she is indeed. By the time she faces Shinichi one last time, it is almost impossible to identify her on the basis of her appearance alone as anything other than a human.

Before we discuss Reiko’s magnificent death scene in episode 18 (a scene worthy of its own analysis, really, considering how well it ties together virtually every single theme in Parasyte in one poignant moment, some of which are beyond the scope of this essay), we need to backtrack a bit and come back to the professor’s lecture on altruism in episode 14. I mentioned earlier that it’s significant that Reiko was the one who attended it, as she is one of the primary means through which Parasyte explored the theme of motherhood in relation to altruism and selfishness. The professor made a point of saying that all altruism is possibly false because it is motivated by a desire to only conserve yourself and your genes through the protection of your offspring. This relates very specifically to parents and their protection of children, and in this show’s case, especially mothers and their supposed feelings of love for their offspring. A question is posed here: is the love that a mother shows to her child really truly selfless and unconditional love, or is it in fact simply a manifestation of self-centered desires? In other words, when Nobuko protected Shinichi from the boiling oil when he was a child, regardless of what she thought, was she really doing it for him, or for herself?

Parasyte’s writer very deliberately chose to use parents to address this question of selfishness because of how sharply it gets to the heart of the matter. Considering how often parents are glorified and praised for the integral roles they play in a child’s development and how utterly compassionate most seem, suggesting that that love is fake is unsettling and downright upsetting. From another angle, parents are also perfect for this issue because they are ultimately the ones who keep the natural order of things flowing; they are the ones responsible for producing and raising a new generation of humans, making them a crucial force in nature. The natural cycle of life and the environment at large is a big theme in Parasyte as well, making this a perfect fit.

Alongside all of this stuff about selflessness, selfishness, parents, and the environment, there is another crucial thematic thread: humanity, and Shinichi’s struggle to retain his following the trauma of his mother’s death. Shinichi very visibly changes, both psychologically and physically, in its aftermath. He becomes more gaunt, looks more adult; the days of innocent, sweet little Shinichi were gone. Shinichi begins to feel alien to both himself and the people around him, something that distressed his love interest Murano a great deal. Even though Shinichi tries to move on, he utterly fails; wherever he goes he is reminded of his deceased mother, and he frequently grabs his chest in pain, suffering through agony so intense he could barely breathe, all due to an ever present “hole” in his chest. The symbolism here is that the “hole” represents his lost humanity, his connection to the people around him. The most significant marker of Shinichi’s change is his general apathy towards nearly everything. He could calm down almost instantly, and most importantly, he could no longer cry. No matter how hard things get, no matter how much he suffers, the tears refuse to come, as if they are being blocked by a dam. Shinichi reflects on this absence of tears following Kana’s death; he feels sad, but for the life of him he simply can’t cry. The message is hammered through, almost a bit too much: by losing his mother, Shinichi lost a big part of himself.

All of the above thematic threads come crashing together in episode 18, when Reiko stands before Shinichi amidst a silent snowfall. The police track her down and open fire on her, despite the fact that Reiko was holding a human baby. She let the bullets penetrate her body, opting instead to use her energy to shield the baby in her arms. Shinichi attempted to walk away from Reiko; when she saw this, she desperately thought of a way to connect to him, or, in her words, speak to his “humanity.” So what did she do?

She changed her face to that of his mother’s.

By doing this specifically to appeal to Shinichi’s humanity, Reiko reveals the symbolic association that Parasyte makes between mothers, or parents in general, and humanity. Parents, the ones who keep humanity’s metaphorical heart beating and living, symbolize its very essence. This symbolism is remarkably consistent; after all, Shinichi began to struggle with his humanity in the aftermath of his mother’s passing. When Reiko shows Nobuko’s face to Shinichi, he is moved to stay in his spot, despite Migi’s proclamations that he was falling for a trap. Reiko gives him her child, asking him to raise him properly, and after some reflection on her life, collapses with a smile on her face, dead, her last words being “thank you.” Her baby begins to cry, and that is what finally destroys the dam that had blocked Shinichi’s emotions ever since his mother’s death. After all, the baby was crying…crying for its mother, the one who was no longer alive, just as Shinichi had once cried for his mother after coming face-to-face with the truth that she was no longer in the world. And with that, he too began to cry. (The snow, I presume, is meant to symbolize both death (Reiko) and rebirth (Shinichi’s humanity).

There’s an elegant symmetry to the fact that before this, the last time Shinichi had cried had been when his mother died. Here, he cries right after someone else’s mother died, and more significantly, when he symbolically met his mother again. Back in episode 14, the fortune teller had told Shinichi that the only way to heal the hole on his heart (a.k.a restore his humanity) was to meet the person who had caused it in the first place. Shinichi had cynically responded with an unsettling smile, stating that he had already killed that person. Here, though, it becomes clear that Shinichi had misunderstood. The parasite that had taken his mother’s life was not the cause of the hole; rather, it was the absence of his mother. In order to bring back what he had lost, he had to meet his mother once again. Of course, that was seemingly impossible, but Reiko proved otherwise. In the moment that she shifted her facial features to resemble those of Shinichi’s mother, she herself had transformed into a true mother. Why? Because she had finally, without a doubt, gained her humanity. By genuinely loving and protecting someone other than herself, her child, she had simultaneously become a mother and a human. That essential bond of pure compassion that she felt towards her son allowed her to finally reach what she had always wanted: a true understanding of humanity as a species.

By unlocking her humanity, Reiko unlocked Shinichi’s as well. She allowed him to meet his mother once again through herself, which helped Shinichi finally come to terms with his grief. Ever since his mother’s death, he had buried all his pain deep inside himself, pretending that he had moved on when in reality he was constantly being torn from the inside out, from a pain so vicious that it totally consumed him in the occasional moments that it surfaced temporarily. That insistent hiding and blocking of his true feelings is what made Shinichi incapable of crying, even though it was the catharsis that he desperately needed. Seeing his mother in Reiko, and seeing her selfless sacrifice for her child, just as his mother had sacrificed for him, finally knocked down the barrier Shinichi had created within himself. So he cries, the result of the hole in his chest finally being healed. Reiko allows herself to die, at peace with the knowledge that she had finally discovered her place in the world, had finally understood motherhood.

This all ties into, of course, the question of altruism vs selfishness. My understanding of what happens here is that it is a rejection of the notion that humanity is inherently selfish. Yes, more often than not, human beings are selfish, valuing only themselves, often to the detriment of others. However, the point is that human beings are capable of altruism, that they can be truly selfless. That is what mothers are, of course. Parasyte uses them to symbolize humanity, and through their selflessness makes it clear that humanity itself is not a fundamentally selfish. The bond that exists between mother and child is too powerful to be regarded as anything other than genuine love. Nobuko scarred her hand for Shinichi without a second thought; Reiko took who knows has many bullets to protect her son, and reacted instantly to save him from being thrown off of a building. The lack of hesitation in these actions makes them seem almost instinctual, something that a parent does without thinking about it. There is no calculation involved here, no clever thinking- just an unrelenting priority to keep their offspring safe. The signal that Migi detected from Reiko before her death is the biggest indicator of the distinct human-ness of this. He doesn’t understand what Reiko feels; it is an emotion beyond his comprehension. Does that not echo what Migi told Shinichi in the beginning, that altruism was something beyond his comprehension?

So here we have a show that seems to offer us two contradictory perspectives: a grand statement about humanity’s altruism in a world that consistently emphasizes its selfishness. Parasyte’s stance seems to be that human beings are not fundamentally selfish, but that all too often they choose to be. In the narrative’s view, human beings tend to act more like other animals, even though they are capable of better. Ironically, this selfishness usually stems from emotions and feelings that are an integral part of being human. That humans need to be better than they currently are is a point that Hirokawa brought up in the speech he gave before being shot to death. He kept returning to the idea that humans are arrogant, imposing their will on the planet and unwilling to admit that their efforts of environmental conservation (there’s that again) are designed to benefit them, and only them, regardless of the effects it has on other organisms. Hirokawa’s solutions? Prioritize the safety of all life, not just that of the human race, and by doing so become the truly better species. As insane as Hirokawa appears during his rant, his major points seem to fit in snugly with Parasyte’s core themes and message. Why do we degrade ourselves by acting entirely out of self-conservation, when we are gifted with the potential for abundant amounts of compassion and love, gifted with the capacity to be altruistic? It’s a harsh condemnation of the human species, though as we later see, the author does not seem to be nearly as aggressive in his actual stance.

The oft-repeated question of altruism and selfishness features prominently in Parasyte’s penultimate episode. There, after Gotou is finally defeated, Shinichi contemplates whether or not to allow him to regenerate; without interference, his chances of survival are 50-50. Migi opts not to do it, having developed to the point where he no longer wishes to kill his own species, as he had many times before (a significant point we’ll return to). The choice rests in Shinichi’s hands.

What happens next could be seen as a bit confusing. Basically, Shinichi at first decides to leave Gotou to his chances and he actually walk away; however, after a flash of light Shinichi can be seen standing over him, killing him even as tears crawl down his cheeks. I was surprised when I visited the forums and found that most people interpreted that scene as literally unfolding in chronological order, with Shinichi walking away at first but then eventually returning and killing Gotou, anyways, despite his extensive reasoning against it just moments earlier. Me? I personally understood that scene as giving the viewer two possible scenarios that might have occurred, without making it clear which decision Shinichi made. The scene that follows right after, with the old lady Shinichi had stayed with asking if he had done it, even as he walk away, seems to me to have been deliberately framed that way so that the audience understands that it is meant to ask that question as well.

Running with that interpretation, what the mangaka did with Gotoh’s scene is stunning in its brilliance. The situation, obviously, mirrors one of the show’s central questions, selflessness vs selfishness. If Shinichi allows Gotou to leave, he is being altruistic; if he purposely kills him, he is being selfish. Shinichi’s words in the second scenario even directly echo Kuramori’s words from episode 15: he’s just a little human being who cares for his loved ones, and just does what he can to protect them. However, there is actually a double meaning to the way these two situations are presented, and what they each symbolize is actually reversed if you look at it from a different angle.

Shinichi’s reasoning for sparing Gotou was that he didn’t want to commit murder, and that he didn’t want to impose human values upon a non-human creature. As he walks away Shinichi acknowledges that his actions could have disastrous consequences for humanity, if Gotoh successfully reassembles himself. And that’s exactly it: Shinichi’s actions here are exceedingly selfish. He willingly puts his entire species in danger just to avoid having a guilty conscience, to uphold his own moral code. In the second situation, Shinichi is actually being altruistic: he is violating his very nature, committing an actions that he detests with every fiber of his being, to protect people other than himself. That the meaning behind the scenarios could change in such a way simply by shifting your perspective is fascinating, and complicates the question a big deal. With this, altruism doesn’t have to equal good, and selfishness or self-preservation doesn’t have to equal bad. In the end, it is left open for the audience, one of the few times Parayste does so, so it is obviously intended as food for thought long after you’ve finished the series.

I still do think, though, that Parasyte ultimately views altruism as a thing that truly exists, and more so, something that is to be desired. Migi, the creature that once saw altruism as an alien, bizarre thing, actually comes around to it by the end of his developmental arc. In the fight that concluded with Gotou absorbing him, Migi willingly sacrificed himself to keep Shinichi safe, staying behind to fight while Shinichi got away, an action that had no benefit for him whatsoever. This is the moment where Migi truly becomes human, the moment he sacrifices for someone other than himself. Throughout the entire show, Migi had protected Shinichi only because he needed Shinichi to live, not out any bond of friendship or affection. Here, though, Migi is placed in a situation where fighting to protect Shinichi will not benefit him, and yet he does it anyway, an indication that he had finally evolved to Reiko’s level. Two parasites who became more human than ever through self-sacrifice; it’s a consistent motif, and it strengthens Parasyte’s assertion that as little as human beings tend to display it, altruism is one of the biggest markers of humanity.

Parayste’s final episode is a very reflective one, with the majority of its runtime consisting of Shinichi philosophizing on what he had gone through and the lessons he had learned. It would be easy to see Shinichi’s own conclusions on the themes that underlined the series as the final message that the audience is meant to take away, but I believe it’s necessary to look deeper to really find the nuanced meanings behind the events in the series. Shinichi concludes that humanity is selfish, and that the movement to conserve the environment is indeed selfish in nature, done out of a desire to not feel alone. He also concludes (just as Hirokawa and Migi did) that human beings are arrogant too often, judging other species by their own standards and presuming to understand them from their limited perspective. It’s also very important to note that Shinichi comes to believe that being selfish is in itself not necessarily a vice, and that it should exist there to some degree.

Shinichi’s conclusions are made clearer when put in context of what came before, and pairing what he comes to believe with the variety of statements made throughout the show, along with the way events unfolded and the symbolic meanings underlining them, paints a much sharper image of Parasyte’s answers to the questions it posed. Firstly, yes, human beings are, most of the time, very selfish. However, as our discussion of the theme of motherhood and of Reiko’s character arc reveals, that does not mean that we are inherently, fundamentally selfish. We are capable of true self-sacrifice, of genuine acts of kindness that have nothing to do with ourselves. Iwaaki cleverly implies this by having the professor back in episode 14 note that there are several problems with the theory that we are controlled solely by our ‘selfish genes,’ an indication to the audience that he does not fully endorse this idea.

Shinichi’s point about the importance of loving ourselves also ties into an idea central to the show: the value of human life. We haven’t discussed it much in this essay since it’s not particularly relevant to the two dominant themes that have been the focus so far, but is actually one of Parasyte’s biggest themes; as mentioned earlier, the series covers an impressive range of ideas, all of which are connected one way or another. This love of life is an integral aspect of Shinichi’s character, and it is his belief that it is part of what makes humanity…well, human. When Shinichi comes close to forgetting the immense value he placed on human life by almost sacrificing himself recklessly in episode 22, he is scolded by the old lady he spent time with, who extols the inherent value of human life and of his duty to treat it as precious, i.e. to preserve and protect it no matter what; basically, self-preservation. That is actually the final challenge that Shinichi grappled with, in the last episodes when he feared his own death. He could have kept running forever, trying to keep himself alive, or he could have turned around and challenged Gotou, who was killing people on his quest to find him. In the end Shinichi chooses the latter, but even then he makes it clear that he’s doing it out of a sense of responsibility, not of any desire to save the human race or to be a hero.

This whole discussion is interesting because it provides a sympathetic angle to the view that humans are selfish. By doing this, the series makes it clear that selfishness itself in sot an inherently bad thing. It is not wrong to love and value ourselves; after all, that is an essential part of being human. After all, extreme altruism, taken to its logical conclusion, would result in an utter disregard for one’s well-being and an absolutely miserable style of living (like a certain Shirou from F/SN, but that’s a discussion for another day). Human life should be valued, and preserving it is an important part of living as a human being. Framing the issue in this way makes a compelling argument for the necessity of some degree of selfishness in everyday life. However, the problem comes when you consider that just as you value your life, so too does everyone value theirs. When you take steps to protect and ensure your continued existence, you inevitably hurt someone else, inflict damage on another precious life. In that case, are you not being hypocritical and truly despicable, placing greater value on your life than on others? What gives you the right to do that, if you are all living creatures?

It becomes clear than that while some selfishness is a good thing, a radical version of it is just as detrimental as an extreme version of selflessness. Love and value your life, but balance that with regard for other people, and don’t forget that you are but a small part of a large community of living creatures. Focusing only on yourself and ignoring the bigger picture is no better than focusing on the bigger picture at the expense of yourself.

The series makes its final statement on this issue with the final episode (as is to be expected). When Shinichi tries to save Murano from Uragami and at first thinks that he loses her, the audience is treated to a small scene where Shinichi reflects on his sorrow. Why, exactly, does he feel so sad when an “organism [he] met in passing” dies? Migi, now not so different from an enlightened philosopher, tells Shinichi it because human beings have “time to spare” in their hearts, and that that fact is their greatest virtue. Basically, what makes humanity so special is its capacity to enjoy life on a level that goes beyond satisfying base desires. Human beings do not spend their entire lives doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and procreating. Rather, they push themselves to lead highly sophisticated lives. We humans live in complex societies, ponder intellectual and philosophical questions regarding the very nature of our existence, produce great works of art across different mediums, and are able to actively change the world we inhabit, for better or worse. That capacity to experience life so vividly is also what allows us to love others besides ourselves so deeply, to make room in our hearts and minds for others besides ourselves. That love is where altruism originates from, and it is what forms the essence of parenthood, and in this case specifically, motherhood.

Migi’s final act in the series is ultimately an altruistic one, a simple gesture of love and companionship: saving Murano’s life. This woman had nothing to do with Migi; for virtually the entire series he could have cared less about her, and despite how much he had evolved and developed by the end, Migi had never forged any sort of bond with Murano. She wasn’t his friend (she didn’t even know he existed) and he wasn’t hers. And yet, he saved her anyways, an action that could not possibly be chalked up to a selfish motive in any way. Saving Murano didn’t affect Migi in any way, and he had no stake in her survival. No, he saved her for his friend Shinichi, a true act of kindness and compassion. Even though Murano didn’t matter to him, Migi knew she did for Shinichi, and so saved her. By the conclusion of Parasyte, Migi had come to understand the concept that had once baffled him so intensely. More so, his final understanding of humanity’s virtues affirmed Shinichi’s initial belief that human beings were special, that they could not be simply seen as advanced animals. This is how Shinichi and Migi’s relationship came to encapsulate and echo the themes of altruism and love that underlined the entire narrative, and the final episode of the anime brought it all together in a truly beautiful and poignant conclusion.
Posted by MrAM | May 9, 2015 7:05 AM | 0 comments
May 6th, 2015
Anime Relations: Detective Conan (TV)
Truth and Lies

Shinichi is a strong believer in revealing the truth; this aspect of his character is crucial to the entire show’s narrative and thematic continuity. It is stressed throughout the series that a detective’s job is to reveal the truth and expose the lies that conceal it. The culprits in the series often fall back on lies to avoid being caught and punished. Truths and lies abound in every corner. There is an interesting duality established by the show’s narrative in regards to truth and lies. They are polar opposites of each other, opposing forces which can’t be reconciled. And yet, sometimes lies are forces of good that save others, while the truth is painful and destructive. Thus, the duality between the two also becomes a bit of a paradox, as the line between which is good and which is bad is blurred repeatedly.

This duality is personified in the person of Conan, fitting as he is the protagonist of the series. One of the most ironic aspects of Conan’s character is that he is an impulsive liar who dedicates his life to revealing the truth. He exposes culprits left and right, and yet is reliant on deception to achieve what he wants and hide his identity from others, often for their own safety. This hypocrisy weights on Conan, heavily, and he acknowledges it throughout the series. His reasons for lying to Ran about his identity involve protecting her, even if it pains him. Likewise, Haibara, for example, withholds information about the Black Organization and is not totally truthful with Conan for his own sake, in her mind. Truth and lies can both be positive and negative, and sometimes both at the same time. This irony is prevalent in the show, and is fittingly encapsulated in the character of Conan Edogawa.

Masks, both literal and figurative, are a recurring motif throughout the series, one that serves to accentuate the duality of truth versus lies. A mask serves to conceal the identity or true intentions of a person under a deceptive front, and when removed the truth is revealed, making it an apt symbolism for truth and lies. Conan throughout the series constantly puts up a childish act, in an attempt to fool the adults around him into thinking he is a normal child. He only lets his true face show in front of others on rare occasions, often involving life and death situations. Haibara, in shrunken state similar to Conan, always puts up a mask of frosty, cold emotion, often coming cross as apathetic despite housing intense psychological problems and emotional imbalances. Symbolically, she has only showed her true face to Conan once, an act acknowledged by Conan himself, in her introduction case, episode 129, when she first met him. At that time, Haibara was exceedingly cold and mocking of Conan, and told him to give up when he experienced difficulty solving a case. Conan proved her wrong however, and she is genuinely shocked and impressed by the level of his genius as he deduces how the crime was committed. Afterwards she totally breaks down, grabbing Conan’s shirt and crying into it, admonishing him for failing to save her sister despite his intellectual capacity. She sobs and screams while holding on to him, and it remains the only time in the entire series that Haibara ever revealed her raw emotions in such a matter to anyone.

Conan wears a “disguise” of sorts to hide his true face from Ran, and this motif is echoed throughout the entire series, by many varied characters. The Night Baron, a character in a book written by Shinichi’s father Yuusaku, always wears a mask to hide his face. Kaitou Kid, an international criminal thief, utilizes disguises repeatedly in his heists to conceal himself from the police. Conan’s mother Yukiko is a disguise specialist, and often assists Conan with his exploits against the Organization using this ability. Vermouth from the Black Organization also uses disguises heavily, and helps Bourbon do so as well. Characters like Jodie, Akai, Camel, Sato, and the like often put up figurative masks to conceal their emotions. Thus, as a series, DC prominently shows the audience a world where people are always hiding secrets, where the truth is as abundant as the lies, much like our own world. Whether or not the characters are right to be so secretive is left up to the audience to decide, but there are moments in the story where the narrative seems to clearly imply an answer to certain particular cases.

The idea of the ‘one truth’, or the only genuine truth, is prominent throughout DC. In fact, it is repeated at the beginning of every single movie. To cap it all off, the name Shinichi, Conan’s true one, roughly translates to ‘one truth.’ It is an idea that is integral to the entire series. The meaning of the concept relates to the nature of the truth itself, and how the narrative views it. The theme is first explored in depth during Heiji’s first appearance. In it, Heiji is obsessed with challenging Shinichi to a duel, in order to prove that he is the superior detective, mostly as means to inflate his ego in order to compensate for his insecurity and inferiority complex to his father. In his zeal to solve a murder case first, he concocts an entire, elaborate explanation for how the murder method was done by incorrectly interpreting the evidence. When tested, Heiji’s deduction falls apart. Shinichi then arrives and reveals how the events actually played out. Humbled, Heiji acknowledged Shinichi’s skill, saying that his deduction had been superior.

Shinichi corrects Heiji on this account, and reveals his philosophy on the matter: there is only one truth. There are not multiple ones, just one. It isn’t better, or worse. It just is, without any more explanation needed. In short, Shinichi is saying that the truth is an objective thing. To him, there is no such thing as a painful truth or a wonderful truth, as such classifications are entirely subjective. The actual, unadulterated, ‘one’ true truth is completely free of human perception. That explains why, before undergoing his character arc, Shinichi was so totally detached in his cases. He never considered the human component partially because he espoused a personal philosophy that declared it irrelevant. It extends to why competitions of the sort that Heiji was proposing were meaningless: in the end, the conclusion would be the same no matter who reached it.
It is interesting to note, however, that the overall stance of the series on this issue is not as blunt or uncompromising as Shinichi’s at this time. Rather, the narrative agrees that the truth is an objective thing, but takes the more nuanced position that states that despite that, human sentiment and emotion needs to be factored into the equation, as they are the ones perceiving the truth. This is supported repeatedly throughout the series through Conan’s evolving character as well as several murder cases.

Naturally, the whole theme of truth and lies applies to DC on a metatextual level. The very structure of the series has it as one of its foundations. After all, it is a mystery show. The objective is to uncover the lies to reveal the truth. The series makes use of lies to obscure the solutions to the cases, using misdirection, red herrings, etc. Deception and trickery is an integral part of tricking the audience, misleading them from uncovering the truth. This is repeated both in the individual cases and in the larger story.

Logic vs. Emotion

Logic plays a big role in Detective Conan’s overall philosophy. From a meta perspective as well as in-universe one, the series is stepped in it. The cases, while sometimes implausible, always employ a logical structure and operate on strictly logical, empirical reasoning. The story arc of the entire series is laid down systematically and carefully, with all the necessary clues spread without and an orderly unfolding of events. Naturally, this core aspect of the series is manifested in its lead character Conan, who is the epitome of a logical, reason-based person, always regarding matters, no matter how small, with an objective, discerning eye. Many characters are often reprimanded for their illogical beliefs in ghosts and beasts. One of the most integral aspects of Detective Conan’s world is the firm assertion that the supernatural, regardless of whether or not it exists, has no actual effect on the physical world. As Heiji puts it at one point, detectives would be out of business if murder cases had supernatural causes.

It is ironic, then, that the overall narrative of the series, and indeed the characters, abandon pretensions of logic when confronted with serious, life-or-death situations. In those cases, the show and its lead characters often advocate seemingly illogical perspectives and even scorn colder, calculated opinions. This apparent contradiction is accentuated by the constant paralleling and contrasting of reason and emotion, communicating very effectively one of the most important messages of the series.
In this portion, we refer back to an earlier part in this analysis, namely that concerning saving killers despite their actions. Ran saved Vermouth in New York despite the knowledge that she was a serial killer. She did a similar thing again when she saved the life of a suicide bomber who had her at gunpoint. Conan goes out of his way to prevent murderers from killing themselves, as does Heiji. Time and time again, the narrative endorses the characters’ actions, despite their apparent absurdity. This seeming contradiction is fundamental to the message and overall themes of the series.

Why cause yourself potential harm to save a killer, especially one who’s trying to murder you? Is it reasonable to endanger other innocent people by sparing the life of a person who would not hesitate to end another’s? Does it not contradict all forms of logic and reason to persistently do such a thing? Those are the questions that are implied by the actions of the characters. The narrative summarizes its stance on the issue through Shinichi’s few words to Vermouth in New York, in response to her question, one that the audience is likely to ask as well: “Why did you save me?”

“I don’t know why you would take a life, but as for saving one…is a reason necessary?”

“Is a reason necessary? I don’t know why you would kill someone but as for saving someone…a logical mind isn’t needed, right?”

(Note: I have put two different translations of the line. Taken together, they make the meaning of the quote very clear.)

The irony here is extensive, and quite intentionally so. Shinichi and Conan, the personification of the themes of the narrative, are characters defined by their logical approach. Deductive reasoning is a fundamental pillar to their worldview. It is the philosophy they abide by in their approach to nearly everything. Likewise, the narrative of the entire shows does the same. As with truth and lies, logical reasoning applies to the series especially well on a metatextual level. It is the key ingredient in solving the mysteries presented throughout, the one rule that the show never stops following, the aspect that chains everything to reality and gives the series an internal consistency, the unshakeable belief held by virtually all the detectives ever introduced.

And yet here, in this crucial moment, such cold logic is utterly abandoned. Yes, it would make more sense to arrest the serial killer, or just to leave the murderous individual to die. Knowingly saving the life of the person trying to kill you smacks of idiocy, especially as said person could go on to kill even more people. Yet, despite that, the narrative always acknowledges Shinichi’s and Ran’s actions here as legitimate and right.
It goes even deeper than that. Shinichi’s character is built on two things: logic and love of life. Shinichi explicitly rejects reason and rationality in his statement, precisely because of how much he values life. In short, his two primary principles clash to create his fundamental philosophy in regards to the lives of the people around him. That he rejects logic specifically because he respects life is significant, as it ties the two ideas together while simultaneously contrasting them sharply. This is one of the most important moments in the entire show as well as for Shinichi’s character, for how it brings together several different themes as well as cementing who Shinichi is in one graceful, deft motion.

The narrative also tackles this theme from a different angle, and it is deliberately contrasted with this moment. Note how Shinichi mentions that he doesn’t know why someone would take a life- this is a callback to Desperate Revival, specifically episode 191. In that episode, Shinichi speaks of the one puzzle that he can never solve:

“..a trick is nothing but a puzzle mankind came up with. If you use your head, you can uncover the logical answer. It’s disappointing…no matter the explanation I think of, I cannot why one person would kill another. Even if I can see why, I can’t understand why.”

This draws an interesting parallel with Shinichi’s statement in NY. Here, Shinichi laments the lack of a truly logical explanation for murder; it is something that his rational, reasoning-based mind cannot truly comprehend or understand. Shinichi’s later statement to the serial killer also speaks of a lack of logical reasoning when it comes to saving a life. In short, there is no logical reason to either kill or save a life. The reasoning behind each statement differs, however, it ties once again into the larger theme about the sacredness of life. There is no logical reason or justification to robbing someone of the gift of life; this is so self-evident, according to DC, that it requires no further explanation. Likewise, there need be no in-depth contemplation to decide whether or not to save a life; the fact that acting would help someone preserve their gift of life is all the reason necessary, no justification required. Any outside factors are not considered in either case; all that matters, in the end, is keeping the person alive.

Shinichi’s inability to understand why people kill another is one of the most important demonstrations in the series of the conflict between emotion and reason. Shinichi could hear and comprehend the motivations of the murderers he meets, but he could never truly understand them. To a person who is so drenched in logic in every aspect of his existence, willingly ruining both your life and someone else’s through murder doesn’t make any semblance of sense. The reality that Shinichi failed to realize at that moment was that acts as extreme as murder are not usually driven by cold logic; rather, they are the result of turbulent emotions, of the feelings that make us human. The murderers that Shinichi and Conan meet throughout DC may use highly pragmatic and systematic methods of killing, but they are rarely motivated by logical reasons. They let their hate, jealousy, guilt, and the like push them forward. To attempt to explain their behavior in strictly logical terms is a failed endeavor.

In the end, ironically, for all of DC’s intense focus on logic and rationality, it values emotions and feelings more. A big part of Shinichi and Conan’s character arc is coming to understand that people are fragile, highly emotional people who are often severely affected by the trails they endure; they are not math problems to be solves, or just bundles of met. The biggest and most prominent theme of the entire show is built on an abandon of cold logic and on a glorification of decisions based on the heart and based on human decency. Interestingly, it is usually the people who advocate pragmatism and the like who are admonished by the narrative.

It does this repeatedly in many incidents. We return to an earlier example- the suicide bomber hostage case (eps 648-650) when Ran and Sera clashed on the best way to resolve the issue. Sera attempted to lure the bomber to his death, before Ran deliberately foiled her plan. Sera could not understand Ran’s actions; considering the situation they were in, killing the man who was holding them hostage was the best way to guarantee the survival of everyone present. It would make sense for a show so heavily stepped in logical reasoning to side with Sera here, and yet Ran is the one presented as being in the right, even though her actions were dangerous and made everything more difficult for everyone.

The show’s heavy focus on romance is one of the more significant demonstrations of the type of series it actually is. Characters frequently act irrationally for the sake of loved ones, including Shinichi, and yet this is treated as natural and right. People, whether recurring characters, murderers, or victims, are caused heartbreak and emotional devastation as a result of their romantic feelings. This pain could have been avoided had they not entangled themselves in relationships in the first place, and yet the show never takes such a stance and in fact encourages such intense bonds despite the pain that often comes with them (in fact Miwako Sato’s character arc deals with this theme head-on, and will be discussed later in this analysis).

Minerva Glass alludes to all of this in her conversation with Ran in episode 617, when they stood before a statue of Sherlock Holmes. She quotes the great detective:

“Love is an emotional thing. I will say nothing in praise of it…it is antagonistic to clear reasoning.”

Minerva uses Sherlock’s words as justification for avoiding romantic trouble all together, to spare herself any more heartbreak and pain. However, the content of the case itself soundly rejects this, as the tone is overly romantic and at its conclusion it is revealed that Shinichi confessed his true feelings to Ran. He even offers Ran a scathing rebuttal of Minerva’s “Love is 0” right after, implying that she’s got everything backwards. The case finishes with Minerva herself accepting that she was wrong and beginning to rebuild her relationship with Ares. The entire thing works well as a rebuttal of the idea that love could somehow be a bad thing.

This is ironic, of course, because it stands in direct opposition to Sherlock Holmes’s philosophy, as espoused above. The Sherlock Holmes canon has a heavy influence on DC, in more ways than one. Shinichi, the protagonist, looks up to Sherlock Holmes and idolizes him as a model. Detective Conan itself structures its stories based on the Sherlockian concept of mystery and utilizes many similar tropes. That it should be so directly contrary to it thematically is startling, and Gosho knows it. However, that only goes to further emphasize how important this element is to the series, and how it ties in to the overall themes. It is not the only time that DC deliberately and bluntly contradicts the philosophy of its greatest inspiration; Sherlock and Shinichi’s differing views on life and death are another example, but that is a discussion for another time.

This theme is also explored from a different angle, as can be seen when it comes to characters who allow their emotions to blind them to the truth. Yes, the series values emotions over cold logic, but that does not mean that it is acceptable to distort the truth to spare one’s feelings. The incident that represents this best is the 3 K’s case in Osaka, one of the best cases in the entire series solely on the basis of its fascinating exploration of Conan’s character. In that case, one of Conan’s favorite soccer players and idols, Ray Curtis, is the one who commits the murder. Conan, in his investigation of the case, was all too eager to prove all three suspects innocent, interpreting the evidence found in the most positive light and actively suggesting explanations to the law enforcement officers that declared the three suspects, including Ray, innocent. Heiji becomes acutely aware of Conan’s actions and grows frustrated with him when he sees that he is being deliberately obtuse. When Heiji aggressively challenges Conan, he loses his cool, stating that he would find the evidence that would prove Ray innocent.

What makes all of this so interesting is that it is one of the exceedingly rare occasions, if not the only one, where Conan so blatantly betrays his own principles. A detective, in his investigation, should be neutral; leaning one way or another means that he or she is biased on some level, which in turn could make the understanding of the evidence unreliable, since there is already a predisposition to support one specific conclusion. Conan wasn’t investigating to find the murder; he was investigating to prove Ray innocent. The reason was obvious: he couldn’t accept that his role model could possibly be a criminal, and yet seemed to be aware on the subconscious level that it was a very real possibility. As such, he actively fought against it, even at the cost of removing all semblance of open-mindedness from his deductions. Heiji could only look on with a mixture of pity and disappointment, as Conan ignored his oft-repeated quotation of Holmes, one that he himself had told Heiji before:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

What made Conan’s actions even more startling was that they contradicted what he had told Ran ages ago. Ran herself had faced a similar dilemma during the Night Baron case, when it dawned on her that her karate idol might be the murderer. She recalled Shinichi’s response to her when she had asked him what he would do if he discovered that Professor Agasa had possibly killed someone. Shinichi’s answer had been simple: he would try his hardest to find the evidence that Agasa wasn’t the killer, but if it soon became clear that he was, he would turn him in, despite all the pain it would cause him. Fortunately for Ran, her idol was soon proven innocent, partially by evidence that she found herself.

Unfortunately, Conan didn’t have that luxury, because his idol was indeed the killer. He threatened to become a hypocrite, a traitor to his ideals, a liar. In the end, however, Conan came to terms with the fact and confronted Ray himself, condemning him for his actions and eventually convincing him to hold himself in. The entire affair tore Conan apart from the inside, and his cold, bitter, and ultimately sad demeanor as he talked down Ray was a testament to the agony from which he was suffering. Despite that, he narrative’s portrayal of Conan’s actions is unabashedly positive, indicating that he had ultimately done the right thing. Yes, it had made him suffer, but individual emotional pain, in this case, was not an excuse for obstructing both justice and the truth.

There’s yet another case that tackles this from yet another angle: the Tottori Spider Mansion case. It’s one of the saddest cases in the show, namely because the murderer’s lover committed suicide due to a miscommunication between her and him. The killer, Robert, was an American who had struggled to learn Japanese. He once told the twin sisters who lived in his lover’s household that he thought that his lover was beautiful, that she ‘shined’ like a light. Tragically, the twins misunderstood the word ‘shine,’ thinking that it mean ‘die,’ which is how that word is pronounced in Japanese. The girl, who already had her own issues, sunk into depression when the twins told her that her alleged lover wished that she would die. She committed suicide shortly after, which started a chain reaction of events that led Robert to murder several people. Conan and Heiji figured out the sad truth behind the case, but they both agreed together to not let anyone know what had actually happened. The reasoning was simple: it would inflict a huge amount of mental trauma on both Robert and the twin sisters.

Unfortunately, Heiji lost his cool after Robert confessed to the crime and launched on an impassioned rant about how he didn’t care about the consequences of his actions, only that he wanted to lash out however he could (even if that meant hurting a total stranger, like Kazuha). Even as Conan shouted mentally for Heiji to not share the truth, he did so anyways. The result was predictable: Robert completely broke mentally. As he was taken away he kept muttering the same words to himself over and over; Conan compared him to a damaged puppet. Fortunately, the twin sisters were spared a similar fate: their grandmother distorted the facts and hid the truth from them. The narrative declares this the right course of action, he smiles in relief at the grandmother’s actions.

The message in this case was very clear: sometimes it’s better to hide the truth and provide comforting lies, because the alternative is too horrible to accept. In the Ray Curtis case, hiding the truth would have been an obstruction of justice, and so it was only right that Ray be arrested, regardless of the pain it caused Conan. However, in this case, there would be no violation of justice if the truth behind Robert’s lover’s suicide remained secret. As such, concealing the reality was totally acceptable, especially because announcing it to the world would have resulted in utter emotional devastation, especially because there were two innocent children involved. They didn’t mean to indirectly cause the death of a person, and so did not deserve to have their young spirits crushed by the truth. In this situation, the narrative prioritized emotional well-being over the truth, because in the end, DC as a series places more value on that. This is reaffirmed over and over via other incidents in the show, such as the one involving Araide’s family (in which the police deliberately distorted the facts to protect the maid Hikaru who had accidently caused the death). DC thus tackles the issue from several opposing viewpoints, handling it with greater nuance than it would have had it not done so.
Posted by MrAM | May 6, 2015 5:02 PM | 1 comments
May 1st, 2015
One of the many reasons that Hunter X Hunter (2011) is regarded as a unique work, especially in the context of the genre it belongs to, is its relentless aversion, subversion, and deconstruction of universal tropes but also especially of those that are common to the shounen genre (yes, I’m aware that it is a demographic, what I’m referring to here are the battle shounen in the vein of Fairy Tail, Naruto, etc). Friendship, power-ups, tournaments, boss fights, you name it. Hunter stands out in a genre commonly viewed by many anime veterans to be a bastion of mediocrity and worse, precisely because it actively defies the expectations of its genre-savvy audience.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve spent all that time talking about Hunter X Hunter when I clearly indicated in my title that this is meant to be an examination of FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. While, aside from the fact that I love Hunter to death and regard it as one of anime’s finest masterpieces, it serves as an appropriate lead-in to what I actually have to say about today’s subject. FMA: Brotherhood is an incredible piece of work practically dripping with meaning and absolutely begging for extensive analysis; its regarded by many as the finest battle shounen ever conceived, an title that wasn’t really challenged by any other shounen work until Hunter’s arrival. In any case, ever since I first read the manga roughly four years ago, I have been continuously awestruck and impressed by the sheer quality of Arakawa’s storytelling, by her ability to write such a compelling, well-organized story that dealt directly with themes and ideas that most battle shounen wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. It’s great stuff.
Which is why I was very surprised when I learned that there were FMA fans who thought that Arakawa’s original work was really nothing too extraordinary. I was introduced to these sorts of opinions through the never-ending debate within the FMA fandom: is the 2003 anime, or the Brotherhood version, the superior story? I personally believe that Brotherhood is far superior in almost every aspect, but that the 2003 anime is a pretty good work taken on its own. Passionate fans of the latter often argue, however, that it is far better than Brotherhood due to its darker tone and less shounen-esque nature in general. Even those who love Arakawa’s original tale usually agree that it is undeniably targeted towards the shounen demographic, what with its abundant humor, action scenes, happy ending, boss fight, and general adherence to many shounen tropes.

That is all fair and good. I agree that Brotherhood’s shounen origins are more visible than its 2003 counterpart, which did do things that would be exceedingly difficult to find in even the darkest shounen, and which in general did not stick to tropes common to works of its type. However, I find this type of thinking overly simplistic, a restrictive perspective that blocks the viewer from fully appreciating just how intricate Arakawa’s work is. “Shounen” isn’t an insult, and yet from the way a good chunk of anime viewers use it, it might as well be, as if it indicates a work of fiction that is inherently mediocre or poor. FMA is a shounen and a brilliant, complex work, and the two most certainly are not mutually exclusive. Seriously, in this show you have detailed explorations of morality, ethics, different schools of philosophy, and human psychology, all smoothly integrated in a story packed to the brim with thematic consistency, character development, and jaw-dropping plot developments. Not much to complain about.

But yes, FMA: Brotherhood is more shounen-like than its 2003 counterpart, even if it is so to a much lesser degree than, say, Fairy Tail. Something like Hunter X Hunter (2011) is arguably more innovative and original, since it deliberately side-steps the tropes that Brotherhood has in its story. However, to view Brotherhood as being more ‘conventional’ as a result and so inferior is, in my opinion, to miss the depth embedded in those so-called ‘shounen tropes.’ Arakawa took the often simplistic and straightforward themes of many shounen and turned them into layered ones, with hidden depths and surprisingly sophisticated meaning. In short, I believe that Brotherhood accomplished a truly brilliant thing: enriching motifs and ideas common to many shounen and thus transforming them into something truly magnificent.

One obvious example off the top of my head is the climax and end of the whole series; basically, everything from when Edward beat Father to the final photo of him at the train station. I have seen some claim that this ending was painfully conventional, a predictable turn of events not unlike hundreds of other shounen. And on the face of it, it does seem that way. Edward takes on Father one-on-one, literally beating him up with his fists in the mandatory “main protagonist beats Big Bad” shounen cliché, while all his friends cheer him on and give him strength through their words. In the end, Father is vanquished, all of the suffering ends, and all the characters lead happy lives. Edward sacrifices his alchemy willingly, telling Truth that he doesn’t need it when he has his friends. Cue “Nakama” trope, which in this case are all the people that Edward has gathered with him on his long and often painful journey. Things end in peace, with a bright future ahead. It’s something that would look totally at home in One Piece (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love One Piece).

But beneath all of that lies a very intricate, beautiful, and philosophical narrative, one that renders a reading of all of the above as “shounen happy ending” a very shallow reading indeed. There is a lot of meaning packed into the final episodes of the show, things which bring it to a perfect ending in terms of thematic continuity, much of which is beyond the scope of this essay since it requires discussing the series as a whole. Instead, there are just a few things I want to draw attention to.

Firstly, Edward’s battle with Father. Towards its end, after Father had been severely weakened and Edward regained his missing arm, he engaged Father in a literal fistfight. In some ways it can be seen as bizarre, as the audience watches Ed take down the primary villain of the whole series by a flurry of bare-handed punches. Edward’s last strike, the one that finally finishes Father, also comes in the form of a hand curled into a fist. Odd as it might appear, the way this scene unfolded ties in perfectly with some of Brotherhood’s larger thematic ideas. Note that Edward, in the very end, never used his alchemy to take down Father; he did it using nothing more than his hands. Edward, in this instance, symbolizes humanity’s power as a whole, a very prominent idea in FMA. Throughout the show, over and over, the homunculus had wondered at the seeming irrational persistence and strength of human beings despite their fundamental weaknesses. Edward pushes down Father, the being who simultaneously mocked human beings and yet desired to be just like them, with the pure, raw power of humanity, no magic a.k.a alchemy involved. Not only does this fit in with the larger ideas of the show, it also effectively foreshadows Edward’s eventual decision to abandon alchemy, which in turn means that it serves as a subtle indicator of his character development. After all, Edward’s character arc was about learning humility and about swallowing his pride, about realizing that the answer to everything did not always depend on science, which he had essentially taken as a religion despite his claims of atheism, and which he had used to bolster his ego and arrogantly declare that human beings were great. Human beings are great, but it is not because they have extraordinary capabilities and intelligence, not because they are individually powerful. Rather, it is because they are persistent and have each other. They stand together, each person a worthy individual and yet also an integral part of the whole.

Edward takes down his biggest enemy not with alchemy, but with good old hand-to-hand combat. He does not use his beloved science as a crutch; rather, he stands independent of it. In the end, he finally defeats Truth by willingly sacrificing his alchemy, with the keen awareness that his strength came not from the alchemy he practiced, but from the wonderful people he surrounded himself with. That the title of the entire series is "Fullmetal Alchemist" works to excellent effect here, because in the end the titular alchemist is no longer an alchemist. Edward had prided himself on his incredible alchemy for most of his life and loved the title granted to him by the state system; that in the end the title no longer applies to him underscores the significance and importance of his character development. His realization echoes the philosophical lesson that Izumi wished to teach Edward and Al by abandoning them on an island for a month: “All is one, one is all.” This philosophy permeates Brotherhood’s narrative. Human beings are part of nature’s never-ending cycle, weak and dependent on the larger world around them, but not worthless, as they play an integral function in keeping it operational and living. This same idea applies specifically to the human community: every individual is special and of worth, but is weak and defenseless without the strength and power of the people around him or her. All the individuals in the community come together to form one living, breathing entity, but each and every individual also embodies all the values and strength of that community. It is through this that people grow and change, until they finally reach their full potential.

That is how Greed’s character arc ties into the larger themes of the series. He is, more than anything else, a materialist, someone driven completely by worldly desires. He believes that happiness comes from having everything: wealth, women, power, anything the world has to offer. No matter how much he gets, though, Greed never ceases being greedy; he is never satisfied, always wanting more and more, no matter how much is already in his possession. The origins of this constant yearning, which is what makes him so greedy, is the emptiness he feels. All the things he has fails to satisfy him, and it’s not until the ending of the series, when he sees everyone fighting Father, that Greed realizes what he’d always wanted: not the world and everything in it, but something much more intimate and beautiful: friendship. On the surface, this is typical cheesy shounen, nakama and all of that. Here, though, it is deeper because Arakawa built a deeper foundation for it, something that renders a seemingly straightforward theme more complex and more meaningful. Greed’s character arc is a reflection of one of the central themes of the story and yet another echo of Brotherhood’s philosophy of “All is one, one is all.” In the end, Greed’s satisfaction came from building close bonds with others, and he is the only homunculus who is able to have that, which is why he willingly selflessly sacrifices himself to help defeat Father, in one final act of friendship for the sake of the people he’d come to care and love, people whom he saw not as possessions, but as equal comrades.

I strongly believe that Arakawa subscribes to the humanistic view of human psychology, which holds that all people have the potential to be great, and that the quest of every single human being is to achieve that potential. This idea is integral to Brotherhood’s narrative, which deliberately imbues almost all of its characters with numerous flaws at the start so that they may change and grow by learning from their mistakes, while also contrasting this growth with the stagnation of Father and the homunculus, who for all of their power and abilities are still ultimately alone and continuously fascinated by human beings, even as they put them down as inferior. Father wishes to become the Perfect Being, to swallow God so that he may reign superior over all, so that he may finally conquer what he sees as flaws holding him back from achieving the perfect existence. That is the reason why he eliminated from himself the seven deadly human sins, so that he may not be enslaved to them. However, removing them left him apathetic and even more alien.

This gets at the narrative’s assertion that Father’s entire goal from the outset, the premise that he operated from, was fundamentally flawed. Human beings are not God, and Brotherhood’s narrative repeatedly punishes those who attempt to be (the Elric brothers, Izumi, etc). People should not strive to be perfect, not only because human nature means that it is an unattainable goal, but also because perfection leads to stagnation, which is exactly what afflicted the power homunculus and Father. Human beings must always be flawed so that they may continue to grow and develop themselves, so that they may continuously improve in ways beneficial to both themselves and society as a whole. Human beings strive for self-actualization, and even though some do reach that stage, their journey never ends, because achieving your potential does not mean that you have become a Perfect Being. By the end of Brotherhood, most of the characters have undergone an extensive character arc and emerged at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. However, their journey is not done. They will continue to work, to strive and work for greater and greater achievements.

This is why Brotherhood’s happy ending is so perfect and beautiful, because anything else would have been a gross betrayal of everything, of all the ideas and thematic threads, that it had achieved to that point. Even a bittersweet ending would have undermined it, which is why anything like the 2003 anime is out of the question. Far from being a flaw or from somehow being mandatory since it served as a conclusion to a shounen work, Brotherhood’s ending is piece of brilliance and the natural conclusion to everything the story had been about. There was no need for it to be ‘darker’, ‘edgier, or even ‘more realistic,’ because Brotherhood never had any pretensions of being such a thing. It had its fair share of brutality and truly horrifying plot events, but only if such things served the greater story.

Here’s one of the most astonishing aspects of Brotherhood’s entire narrative, including its ending: it was all about building a philosopher’s stone. In-story, this was Ed and Al’s goal, to recover a philosopher’s stone so that they may fix their bodies and make things right again. In the end, they never did use a Stone to fix their bodies; despite that, things ended well for almost everyone, as if they had all gotten their hands on Philosopher’s Stones and used their powers to make things better. In the literal sense, they didn’t, of course. But in terms of meta, they most certainly did. After all, the whole show served as a metaphor for the process of creating a Philosopher’s Stone. They transmuted a Stone through their own personal and spiritual development, through the completion of their character arcs.

The process used to make a Philosopher’s Stone is called the ‘magnum opus’ (Latin for “The Great Work,” and contains four distinct stages: nigredo, the “blackening” phase, albedo, “the whitening” phase, citrinitas, the “yellowing” phase, and finally, rubedo, the “reddening” phase. The entire plot of the series is structured according to these stages. Before we get to that, though, notice the brilliance of Arakawa’s design for Edward. The colors of his original outfit symbolize the colors of the magnum opus: black shirt and pants, white skin, yellow hair, and a red jacket. Very deliberate choice of color there.

The first 20 episodes or so of Brotherhood represent the nigredo stage, the “blackening.” This blackening is associated with burning and burnt objects, and in fact those are frequent visual motifs shown repeatedly during that time. Edwards wears his black outfit most prominently during those episodes. Things are burnt black over and over; for example, Roy’s fake burning of Maria Ross. Fittingly, this stage also closes with burning, specifically Roy’s brutal burning of Lust. Note as well the black thing that appeared after Edward and Al’s failed human transmutation. It also appears in episode 20, the closing episode of the nigredo stage. This stage is characterized by darkness and bleakness, and indeed Brotherhood is darkest in its first third; things get better as the show goes on, rather than the other way around. Within these first 20 episodes we have the Nina incident, Hughes’s death, the deaths of Greed’s entire circle of friends, and finally Edward’s discovery that he and Al lost everything for nothing.

The episodes in the 20’s represent a transition phase that symbolizes other alchemical processes and philosophies beyond the scope of this essay. The start of the Brigg’s arc marks the beginning of the Briggs arc represents the beginning of the albedo stage, and indeed this ‘whitening’ shows itself everywhere, most significantly in the blindingly white setting of Briggs, coated with ice and snow. Note too that the character arcs of the characters follow these stages too, and their gradual development occurs alongside it.
The buildup to the Promised Day and the brunt of the events occurring that day can be seen as the citrinitas stage, the ‘yellowing’ stage where everything starts to come together. The last few episodes mark the final completion of the Philosopher’s Stone, the rubedo stage. All of the above can be discussed in a lot more depth; I’ve seen people elsewhere do it. What is here, however, is sufficient to make my point about the brilliance and genius of the entire show’s structure. Brotherhood is not just about alchemy, it is structured according to an alchemical process, one which is tied directly into the unfolding of events and the developments of the characters, and one that strengthens the thematic threads of the whole work as well. It is very carefully crafted and is truly awe-inspiring.

I don’t believe the makers of the 2003 anime were aware of exactly how the manga was structure, which is to be expected since they produced their anime when the manga was still in the nigredo phase. Of course, this led them to misunderstand what type of story Arakawa was going for, and when they veered away from the original manga storyline and began making anime original work, they kept Fullmetal Alchemist in the nigredo stage for its entirety, which was never meant to be the case. The story was never meant to be as consistently dark as it was in its beginning- the structure of the magnum opus demanded that it change. The 2003 anime didn’t follow this, however, and so kept its tone bleak for its whole run, resulting in a show that was indeed darker than Brotherhood (sometimes to the point of silliness, in my opinion) but that was missing the deeper meaning in terms of its structure.

The comedy in Brotherhood is another example of its brilliance. Like most shounen works, there are a few running gags in the series, usually involving the shortcomings or odd quirks of the characters, which are almost always played for laughs. The most prominent one here is Edward’s short height, which he is exceedingly insecure about and which basically functions as his ‘berserk’ button. Another one is Roy’s uselessness in the rain, seeing as his alchemy is flame-based. What differentiates these gags from those found in hundreds of other shounen works is, as is customary for Brotherhood, their deeper meaning.

Roy’s gag, for example, was used to heartbreaking effect at Hughes’s funeral. There, as he stood before Hughes’s grave, he told Riza that it was starting to rain. Riza began to point out that it wasn’t, but stopped when she saw tears rolling down Roy’s cheeks. Roy’s reference to the rain is actually a reference to how rain renders him useless. Similarly, Roy feels useless and worthless in the face of Hughes’s death. It’s a wonderfully poignant moment that somehow elevates itself by making use of what up to that point had been nothing more than a comedic gag.

What Arakawa did with Edward is arguably even more brilliant. Throughout the entire series, Edward is extremely insecure about his height and hates being referred to in any way that implies that he is short. The reason Edward is so sensitive about this is because it is insulting to his pride, something that he has an abundant amount of, and is actually his biggest personality flaw. Ironically and hilariously, Edward dislikes milk, especially because he knows that drinking a lot of it could help him actually physically grow. For the vast majority of the show, Edward’s short stature is used solely for comedic purposes. However, it pays off brilliantly in Edward’ s final confrontation with Pride. There, Edward successfully defeats pride by using his knowledge of how “short people fight” to overcome his opponent. In short, Edward defeated Pride by not only acknowledging the biggest insult to his pride, but also by actively using it to his advantage, thus accepting it as a part of himself. This is all a symbolic representation of Edward actually overcoming pride as his central personality flaw. What we have here is a beautiful marriage of extensive symbolism with a comedic gag to mark a milestone in a character’s developmental arc. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: brilliant.

There’s more that can be said on this topic, and I’ll probably eventually write a second part for this. For now, though, I hope what’s been written so far sufficiently communicates my point that what Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood did was take simple shounen concepts and transform them into layered ideas with sophisticated meanings. Where Hunter X Hunter (2011) averted, subverted, and deconstructed shounen tropes, Brotherhood kept them but transformed them into something more.

And that’s something worth admiring.
Posted by MrAM | May 1, 2015 5:58 PM | 3 comments
April 24th, 2015
Anime Relations: Detective Conan (TV)

Detective Conan doesn't actually have any officially named story arcs, but in the interests of organization, the fandom has divided the story into such arcs anyways. While there are some variations, in general the following is the classification used by most DC fans. I've included this here for the purpose of convenience, so that the reader will know what part of the series I am referring to when I refer to any of the story arcs by name.

The Conan Arc (episodes 1-128)
The Haibara Arc (episodes 129-178)
The Vermouth Arc (episodes 176-345)
The Cellphone Arc (episodes 346-425)
The Kir Arc (episodes 425-508)
The Bourbon Arc (episodes 509-???) [Ongoing in the anime as of the time of this writing, finished in the manga, which has recently entered a new arc]

[Continuation from Part 2]

The build-up to Scarlet Showdown was masterful, exciting to even the most cynical fan. It was relatively quick, too, just two cases in quick succession that followed Amuro as he steadily gathered valuable clues in his on-going investigation and pieced together the trick that Akai had used to fake his death. These chapters featured Bourbon at his best, as he effortlessly tore through every barrier in his path. Conan was left a worried, paranoid wreck, failing to stop Bourbon at every turn. The FBI weren’t much better, as the chapter with them at the hospital showed. Amuro taunted them and insulted them in a most casual manner, leaving them flustered and confused, just as he had done with Conan in the case directly before that. Bourbon’s psychological trickery was featured especially prominently here. All in all, he came across as an invincible enemy, one who wouldn’t be easy to handle once he inevitably learned the truth behind Akai’s death.
And then the actual Scarlet Showdown began. For most of the time, it was quite masterful. For starters, there was no murder mystery, nothing peripheral to the main events as was customary with these sort of confrontations. Instead, the entire showdown was entirely plot, with the central ‘mystery’ being the trick behind Akai’s faked death as well as whatever plan Conan had cooked up to stop Bourbon’s advances. The opening chapter featured some fantastic interaction between Vermouth and Bourbon, as well as a scene that established that Bourbon’s actions had rattled Conan to his core. He had not been prepared for this. Of course, that only served to build up even more suspense.

One of the most praise-worthy aspects of the Scarlet Showdown is the way that Gosho chose to finally reveal the trick behind Akai’s ‘death.’ It could have been done in a straightforward manner, with Conan or Akai just explaining it to someone else, similar to what he does in the usual cases. Instead, however, Gosho had other characters deduce it, which came across as far more natural and far more interesting. In Bourbon’s case, it makes perfect sense: after all, throughout the entire arc he had been presented to the audience as a genius detective with incredible analytic abilities. It was fitting that he would figure out the primary underlying mystery of the arc through his own investigation skills and lay it out for the audience. His deliberate and systematic explanation of the trick Akai and Conan used was paralleled with Jodie’s unraveling of Akai’s trickery as well. An entire chapter was dedicated to this reveal, as the two characters came to the truth behind a mystery that had lasted for nearly 300 chapters. The efficiency with which the complex trick was revealed deserves praise as well, as all its different facets, such as its psychological component as well as its physical execution, were detailed in very little time while still remaining comprehensive and well-paced. It also helped cement the integrity of Bourbon as a detective and redeem Jodie for the blunders that she had made throughout the second half of the Bourbon arc. Earlier, in the Cherry Blossom case, she had been accused of being exceedingly moronic, especially for an FBI agent; in the Scarlet Showdown, she figured out the truth about Akai’s death on her own, drawing upon her own experience and connecting the various clues together, thus reestablishing her credibility as a federal agent. Out-of-story, it also redeemed Gosho for his less-than-stellar treatment of Jodie’s character earlier. After Bourbon finished his deduction, he revealed to Subaru that he was holding Jodie and Camel hostage, and that the people chasing them were his men. This revealed upped the suspense and set the stage for the arrival of the star character of the showdown.
Akai’s return was handled almost perfectly. The manner with which he was revealed was narratively fitting and provided a great parallel to his original disappearance. Back at the end of the Kir arc, Akai was seemingly killed at Raiha Pass, and burned to death in a car. He made his dramatic return at Raiha Pass as well, the place that had been where he initially vanished. He also reappeared in a car, just as that had been where he had seemingly perished. He made his return in a position of action, saving his FBI companions by doing what he was known to do best: using firearms. He opened fire with a gun, keeping the people chasing them at bay with his laser-sharp accuracy. In short, Akai’s return provided narrative symmetry while encapsulating everything that was heroic and admirable about his character, all in one graceful swoop.

A bonus in the Scarlet Showdown is the screen time it gave to Camel, and the way that it brought his story together. His blunder had allowed Bourbon to get the last bit of information he needed to unravel Akai and Conan’s elaborate death plan, which in turn led him to confronting Subaru, hence putting the lives of many people, including Akai, Jodie, Conan, and even Kir, in danger. This error haunted Camel during the Showdown, as he realized that his mistake could be responsible for exposing Akai once again. This was a direct parallel to what Camel had done two years earlier, when he accidently exposed Akai’s cover in the Organization, which led to him leaving it, which in turn indirectly caused Akemi Miyano’s death. Camel had tried to redeem himself back in Clash of Red and Black by deliberately putting himself at risk, but now it all seemed to naught. He was about to expose Akai’s cover for the second time, and with perhaps even more dire consequences. However, Akai’s appearance in the car restored his hope, and he resolutely followed Akai’s instructions to steer the car in just the right manner to ensure his accurate aim. By doing so, Camel used what he was best at (driving) to redeem himself and ensure that Akai remained successfully undercover.

Redemption is actually, more than anything else, the primary theme of the Scarlet Showdown, the thread that underlies the whole narrative and ties it together. Jodie redeems herself by putting together Akai’s plan and Camel by steering properly to help Akai aim accurately. Akai himself, whose entire role in the Bourbon arc (as will be analyzed in detail later) was to redeem himself, does so again her by saving his friends after leaving them to suffer for so long. Conan makes up for his increasingly reckless and arrogant behavior throughout the arc, the behavior that had been part of the reason they were in this mess, by constructing a complicated plan to ensure everyone’s safety. Even Yuusaku, of all people, redeems himself for his abandonment of his son by playing an active and dangerous role in stopping Bourbon’s advances. Bourbon, too, began on the path to redemption at the very end, something which will be elaborated on in the ‘Characters’ portion of this analysis.

It’s a poignant and beautiful ending to the Bourbon arc because it is so heavily stepped in the interactions and flaws of all of these characters. The Scarlet Showdown single-handedly added a ton of depth to many of these characters, while enriching the interactions of others, something that will be explored in greater detail later. It tied together all the different stories of all of these characters that had been running through the entire arc into one effective conclusion under one major overarching theme. It is fitting for an arc that featured no true, straight-up villains: not Bourbon, certainly, and not even Vermouth. It was essentially a clash of different goals and motives, of turbulent emotions and past experiences colliding into one another.

Of course, the big elephant in the room that needs to be addressed here is the reveal that Bourbon is an undercover Japanese Secret Police agent, infiltrating the Organization in a matter not too different from Kir. This twist has spawned extensive controversy, and even now, roughly a year later, it is still a hotly contested issue. The reveal has made large chunks of the fanbase a lot more cynical about the direction the story is moving in and has caused even greater dissatisfaction in the fandom at Gosho’s recent writing. Common criticisms aimed at it is that it ruined any sense of suspense in the manga, that it was lazy, that it was a repetitive rehash of Kir, that it ruined Bourbon’s character, and that it was hopelessly anticlimactic and closed the Bourbon arc out with a whimper.
There are indeed valid reasons to dislike the twist. After all, it effectively renders the second half of the entire Detective Conan story (Kir arc onwards) one centered on spies in the Organization, rather than actual members. From a certain perspective, it can come across as mere filler meant to elongate the series. For those who were invested in Bourbon as a dangerous villain who could bring Conan low (and indeed especially before the Showdown that was exactly what he was), it was disappointing to have him be placed firmly in the ‘good guy’ category, yet another ally in Conan’s ever expanding team of them. That a seven-year arc turned out to be focused on a guy who just ended up not being a threat after all and who did not in the end threaten Conan in any meaningful manner was painfully upsetting. The Black Organization no longer felt like a legitimate threat; the last two members we were introduced to were not members at all. Just how incompetent was this syndicate, if it could allow so many moles to exist within it?

I will not claim that those who dislike/hate the twist are unreasonable. They are fully entitled to their opinions and have very understandable reasons for their feelings. However, I would like to defend the twist in terms of how well-written it is and how it fits in the larger context of the story, as well as offer a different perspective to some who believe the twist to be an atrocious piece of writing. I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel that some people are looking at this fromin an overly simplistic manner, because I do. There are many factors to consider, many reasons that Gosho may have chosen to write the story like this. What some fans are unwilling to do is give him the benefit of the doubt and respect his ability as a good author to analyze his work on a deeper level, instead of hating it without looking beyond the surface.

Firstly, it is undeniable that there was extensive foreshadowing of this reveal. Gosho very, very rarely doesn’t foreshadow, and clearly he did so here. This hinting at Bourbon’s true nature took place even before he was revealed as Bourbon, back in the case about Takagi’s mentor, Date Wataru. In the duration of the case it was revealed that Amuro had been close friends with him and had in fact attended the police academy and had been ranked number one there. Another clever, subtle hint was given in the Sakura case, the one Bourbon appeared in, when Haibara told Conan and Jodie to be careful, since undercover members of the Japanse Security Bureau might be poking around. It was very shortly after this that Bourbon appeared in disguise. The hints became more blatant and numerous as the Scarlet Showdown drew closer, beginning with the hospital case, where it was revealed that Amuro’s nickname was ‘Zero.’ This provided an important clue to attentive readers about Amuro’s true allegiance, and in fact large chunks of the fandom picked up on it almost instantly. In the months leading up to the twist, there was widespread speculation and theorizing in the fandom that Amuro was perhaps a member of the secret police or something similar. Conan actually approached him directly about this in the following case, after which Bourbon seemingly rejected his question, frightening Conan and further confusing the fandom. The Scarlet Showdown took place after that, and a fiery storm of rage was released within a good part of the fandom, ironically by many of the same people who had seriously considered that Bourbon might not truly be loyal to the Organization. From this it can be inferred that whether or not the twist was foreshadowed was of little concern to those who disliked it, since it wasn’t a totally unexpected possibility to them based on the clues they’d noticed. Still, their very hostile reaction feels a bit odd in light of their preparation for the potential for such a reveal about Bourbon to occur. It should be mentioned that the foreshadowing for this twist existed as far back as before the Mystery Train, so it was always part of Gosho’s original conception of the character of Bourbon, and not an add-on that occurred later.

I once wrote a post or two elsewhere that described some of my feelings about the twist, and also rebutted the claims that somehow both Bourbon’s character and the Bourbon arc had somehow become worthless. So, I quote myself:

“My initial impression was one of disappointment. Aside from the chapter feeling a bit rushed and somewhat anticlimactic, it totally nullified the threat of easily the most dangerous BO member Conan had ever encountered thus far in the manga. Gin may be all so scary, but he never gained the sensitive information that Amuro got his hands on and was never in a position as close to Conan to cause some real harm. Gosho had crafted the perfect set up by having a BO member be in such an incredibly close position to Conan with the latter being unable to do anything about it. Not only that, this BO member was super intelligent and specialized in investigation. He demonstrated considerable loyalty to the Organization. He could have been the catalyst for something huge.

I think that's why, despite the fact that there had been plenty of hints that Amuro was with the police (all the way since Date, before he was even revealed to be Bourbon), that I felt let down by it. Where would the plot go from here? Giving Conan yet another super intelligent and effective ally, when he already has the entire FBI, his parents, Agasa, and Haibara on his side seemed unnecessary. What was the purpose of Bourbon's whole character, if it came to this? (Not the whole Bourbon arc, though, a ton of important stuff has happened that is not affected by Bourbon's true allegiance either way).

Looking at it now, I think there's actually a lot of potential in this new setup. It could lead to interesting things. Bourbon is a formidable enemy to anyone, and unlike Kir he could get a lot more done within the Organization. Without the risk of the plot reaper over his head, he could stay around for a long time. Maybe Vermouth will report what Amuro told her and spark a new conflict. Who knows? Also, Amuro and Akai's rivalry business isn't over yet. As others have mentioned, Amuro's expressions in the latest chapter seem to indicate that hasn't forgiven Akai for whatever happened in the past; he's simply putting it aside for now. We'll probably see it come up again, in a real conclusion.

Someone brought up great points on how well the Akai/Amuro (I'll stick with that instead of Rei for now) parallel works. There's more to that too. Akai and Amuro are opposites in personality; Akai is calm, quiet, collected, and stoic, while Amuro is far more expressive, passionate, and emotional. Akai's anger manifests itself as a cold rage, while Amuro's more fired up when he's upset. They fit their alcoholic namesakes well; after all, Bourbon is sweeter than Rye. They are both highly intelligent, and are both extremely capable physically. The latest reveal explain why Akai and Amuro were always described as 'rivals'; they were competing for the same goal, taking down the BO. Both have their darker sides, and both seem to be driven by revenge. They're mirror reflections of each other with important differences. Amuro is the perfect foil for Akai.

Amuro might be the most important character in the manga at the moment. Despite all that I just said above, I think it's clear we are far, far from done with Amuro. Why, despite all this time, I'd say we're just getting started with him. He's Bourbon and yet he's also Japanese secret police, with interesting gray morals. It might appear that Conan and Akai successfully got Amuro to join their side, but they haven't, really. Amuro is a wild card at the moment, someone who works and does what will help him best.
First of all, Amuro hasn't forgiven Akai. I think this is significant. A simple phone call cannot, and did not, remove a deeply seated hatred. Amuro's simply repressing his emotions right now for the sake of the greater mission, bringing down the Organization, but he definitely isn't a-ok with Akai. That grudge might come up again, and likely at a crucial moment. Similarly, neither Akai nor Conan completely trust Amuro. The elaborate ruse that took three geniuses (Akai, Yuusaku, and Conan) to carry out in the Scarlet Showdown was designed specifically to make an alliance with Amuro while denying him Akai's whereabouts and tricking him into not suspecting Subaru anymore, whome he tracked down in a mere day. Basically, Akai still wants to hide from Amuro, and Conan wants the same. What they have with Amuro is a really shaky alliance rife with distrust and hatred, and it's bound to collapse before long. Let's not forget Amuro still hates the FBI too. More so, Amuro isn't exactly a beacon of goodness. His determination to get far in the Organization led him to make some morally questionable decisions, including reporting Shiho as soon as he found her. Some have made weak speculations that he was trying to save her life, but I doubt it. If so, why bother reporting her? He knew she would be on the Bell Tree Express. Why not just go with the Mouri family and find her and give her a warning, or even secretly sneak some police onboard, etc? No, Amuro didn't want to kill her, but the end result if she was captured would be the same: Sherry would die, and Amuro would be promoted. After Sherry "died", Amuro seemed rather not very concerned; he was more worried about the Akai silhouette he saw. Likewise, he had no problem taking Jodie and Camel hostage using police officers and robbing the FBI of their trump card by handing over Akai to his certain death. This is not mentioning Amuro's lax response to Conan's kidnapping, his carelessness in his first case in almost allowing an innocent destroy his exonerating evidence, and his potentially dangerous rashness in disguising as Scar Akai and putting innocents in harm's way, which is especially shocking for a secret police officer. I think it's clear that Amuro is still very dangerous, and Akai and Conan know that. He's not a bad person like Gin, but his ethics and morals don't really align with Conan's.

More so, in terms of plot there's a ton about Amuro we don't know. It's been strongly suggested that he was raised in the Organization, which makes him being a secret police member very interesting. It likely means that he infiltrated the Secret Police for the Organization before switching side while there. Or it's possible he wasn't. Who knows? What's the deal with Scotch? With Date? With his nickname zero? With his tan skin, as Gosho mentioned in a recent interview. And most importantly, what's the deal with Elena? What's his relationship to her? Elena recently came back to the story in the Bell Tree Express, when we finally learn what she told Haibara on those tapes all those hundreds of chapters ago. She needed to go away to complete the Silver Bullet...why? She told Amuro the same thing in her flashback with him, that she was leaving soon. On that matter, why was Amuro always getting into fights? Also, some members have pointed out the increased presence of British influence in the manga since Sera's appearance. On the cover page of the chapter Sera was introduced in, Conan has a pocket with the British flag on it. In the more recent Scarlet Showdown case, he had a British tie on one of the covers. Throw in the re-emerging prominence of Elena, who hasn't been this important since the Vermouth arc and who happens to be British, as well as Haibara and her research, and Amuro's relationship with the former and the appearance of the Mystery Child, and it all seems to tie together brilliantly, though it's not exactly clear how and why. Also, Amuro plays tennis, and an association between tennis and London has already been made in the manga, via the London case. Remember, Gosho said in a recent interview that a lot of old cases are connected to each other. This could be one example of that.

Finally, Amuro is the first named Japanese police character who is aware of the BO's existence. If he knows, how many other police members know? This is the first confirmation we have that a national law enforcement agency is actually aware of the lethal threat within its borders. Before this, it appeared everyone in Japan was oblivious to the Black Organization, and only foreign agencies like the FBI and CIA knew. This reveal could lead to major changes, and as mentioned by others, makes that robbery syndicate mentioned in Tottori back in the cellphone arc that the police are tackling suspicious. Also, it was shortly after that that we got a seemingly random mention of Yumi's boyfriend, who was forgotten until now, where he is a potentially major character. How far ahead did Gosho plan for what we're seeing now? Interesting, interesting...”

That, along with things discussed earlier in this analysis, should, in my opinion, debunk any claims of alleged worthlessness or wastes of time. The twist made sense logically, flowed naturally from what came before, opened up many potential doors for future developments, and completed the elegant symmetry that Gosho had constructed in Akai and Amuro’s relationship to one another. More so, it was used to directly lead into the next arc, whose main antagonist is Rum, the second-in-command of the entire BO and one who is out hunting spies, thus putting Bourbon and Kir in mortal danger and by extension everyone around them, and also demonstrating that Gosho is aware that some fans by be frustrated by the appearance of yet another spy, and so wasted no time in getting the level of suspense in the story to increase once again, specifically in light of this reveal, a very clever piece of writing indeed. Before concluding the Bourbon arc, Gosho also made a point of having him reveal that he knew Vermouth’s secret, the one she had been hiding and fans speculating about for so long, and that he was blackmailing her using it. This was Gosho’s way of letting the fans know that Bourbon was still very much an active player in the story, and that we were far from done with him, and also served the double purpose of continuing the prominent trend throughout the Bourbon arc of making old, crucial mysteries from the Vermouth arc very relevant once again.

Aside from all of this, what Gosho did with Bourbon deserves commendation for both its audacity and cleverness. Gosho played a very long game, a seven year one that threw a dizzying array of mysteries and developments at us while still misdirecting us even with its seeming resolutions. For a very, very long time, up until shortly before the arc’s finale, fans were convinced that Amuro was Bourbon and nothing more. After all, despite his pleasant tendencies, he still committed very morally questionable acts and was firmly in the gray zone; some dismissed him as being as a character on the side of ‘good’ completely based on his troubling morality, not realizing the true complexity of his character. But Gosho effectively pulled a double-bluff, revealing Amuro first to be a BO member before pulling another twist and revealing him to be an undercover member of another organization, all the while keeping this second fact directly in the face of the audience without them noticing.

More so, Gosho actually wrote Bourbon’s personality in a way that rendered him a threat despite his allegiances. After all, his behavior, if he was indeed a member of a law enforcement agency, was exceedingly reckless, irresponsible, and straight-up morally dubious; however, that was the point. He appeared loyal to the Organization when he immediately reported Sherry; after all, why would a person working against it do such a thing? However, as Scarlet Showdown made clear, Amuro was so obsessed with revenge (like Akai) and so goal-oriented that he lost sight of the bigger picture. He wished to increase his rank in the Organization in order to get closer to his target, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there, including placing lives in danger. Even though he wanted Shiho alive, he hardly looked distressed when she ‘died,’ and his various other callous actions have already been related above. In the Showdown itself, Amuro was willing to hold two innocent FBI agents hostage to capture Akai and hand him over to the Organization, thus killing both him and Kir, just for the sake of his own selfish motivations (revenge and increased rank). In short, up until the conclusion of the Scarlet Showdown, Amuro actually was a threat. He had every intention of exposing Akai to the Organization, and it would have been game over for Conan and company the moment he did. What happened in Scarlet Showdown wasn’t that it was revealed that Bourbon was never a threat all along; rather, he was neutralized as a threat by the end of it, stopped in his advances, because he had up to that point been a very real menace. This is a subtle distinction that I feel is lost on many, and it preserves the suspense present in earlier parts of the arc, since when the audience goes back to re-read or re-watch them, they will do so with the knowledge that Amuro was a threat at those points despite knowing his true allegiance. This is brilliant writing, straight-up, and it makes it very difficult to dislike this twist considering the skill with which it was pulled off.

And now, to discuss the various sneaky subplots and recurring ideas that Gosho so cleverly integrated into the arc’s story throughout, some of which were alluded to above…

Posted by MrAM | Apr 24, 2015 8:12 PM | 0 comments
April 20th, 2015
Anime Relations: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Episode 136 Review
Loved the calm atmosphere this episode. There was a noticeable lack of tension as well, which after the intensity that came before was a more than welcome change. I'm pleasantly surprised that Togashi took the time to give closure to characters as minor as Brovada and Reina. It brought the arc full circle and provided for some genuinely touching moments in the episodes first half. It's especially amazing how much I've come to like Welfin; he was just kind of 'meh' when he was first introduced but has really grown on me.

So...Kite was reincarnated as an Ant? Not exactly sure how I feel about that, and I'm a bit confused as to how its possible, and more so, what's the point of this particular story development? I think I'll put my thoughts about this on hold until I see a bit more regarding this revelation, since it was kind of left hanging there.

Killua's scene in the hospital stole the episode for me. It was great, almost completely flawless in its execution. I'm glad that Killua finally acknowledged how abusive his relationship with Gon had become. Throughout the series it was always Gon being the idiot and Killua being the voice of reason that looked after him. This was often played for laughs and was seen by both as perfectly fine. Gon even told Killua directly back in the Yorkshin arc that Killua's job was to correct Gon when he screwed up. Which he did, but this time Gon has crossed the line. Like many other habits and actions Gon had done before the Chimera Ant arc, this one took on a serious undertone and as we can now see, Gon's selfishness had dire consequences on himself and his relationship with Killua.

It makes sense that Killua, whose entire life is built around his relationship with Gon, would be so pained by this. The two displayed such great companionship and teamwork in Greed Island, which makes its destruction in Chimera Ant that much more devastating. It's interesting to note, though, that Killua was already being abused by Gon somewhat by the time of the dodegball match in Greed Island. Killua agreed to holding the ball as Gon powered up to punch it, but Gon himself insisted that only Killua could do it, completely disregarding the severe burns that Killua suffered. This crucial flaw in their friendship has been hinted at for the whole series, and I'm excited that it's finally getting the full brunt of the narrative's focus. Bring it on, Togashi.

That ending though...the Zodiacs seem like an eccentric bunch, looking forward to their character interactions. And Ging is finally here in the flesh. We've seen flashes of the kind of person he is over the course of the series, but I'm looking forward to a more thorough characterization.

Episode 137 Review
Oh yes, this episode was amazing. The Election arc is off to a great start, and it's shaping up to be everything I'd hoped it'd be. Politics, psychological trickery, fascinating character dynamics, and a lighter and more relaxed undertone than the arc that preceded it. It's great stuff. The new opening might be my favorite one yet. I don't mind them keeping the same song, and the animation and imagery scattered throughout the opening sequence is more than enough top compensate. The return of all these old characters has me especially hyped.

I really like the Zodiacs so far. Their interactions are fun top watch and they all have varied personalities and eccentric character designs. I especially like how perfectly each Zodiac represents their namesake, in both appearance and personality. Dog is the calm, responsible one, Ox is suitably fearsome and seems to have a lot of integrity, etc.

Pariston could not have been a more perfect Rat. Everything about him just fits it to a t: charming, motivated by self-interest, sneaky, etc. Unlike a lot of people here I actually really like him. He seems like a fun character and I'm glad we've got a corrupt politician as blatant as him. His talk of connecting with the common folks, etc, it's so similar to so many politicians in real life it's obvious Togashi means this as some sort of satire. Pariston's interactions with Ging are especially interesting.

Speaking of Ging, we finally meet the man that Gon has been chasing the whole series in the flesh. This episode only served to strengthen my belief that Ging is a terrible, terrible father who doesn't even really deserve to be called one. On the other hand, I quite like him as a character. The way he was able to predict everything that would occur in the meeting might have been a little of a stretch, but it got the point across: Ging is an extremely intelligent, manipulative person whom you probably don't want to mess around with. I like the characterization of Ging so far, especially because it fits so well with the small clues we were given over the series of what he's like. And sure enough, this episode gave us a look into one of the most crucial aspects of Ging's personality: his priority is to always have fun. Even in serious business like this, where he's trying to carry on Netero's will, he is chiefly concerned with his own enjoyment and with what would make things interesting. It makes sense then that Ging would be so irresponsible; a man like that isn't going to spend time raising a child. Gon's a lot like Ging, actually, in that regard.

I was pleased with how many old faces we saw this episode. Almost every single Hunter we've ever met made an appearance. And yay for more Hisoka, I missed the creep. The way he reacted to the news of Gon's possible death was precisely how I imagined. Can't go losing your beloved bundle of battle potential, can you now, Hisoka?

Something Illumi said caught my eye: "At this rate, both of them [Gon and Killa] will die."

Gon I get, but why would Killua die? This, combined with what Killua told Knov last episode about having the doctors ready anyways even after he saves Gon, makes me think that Killua's going to sacrifice himself or something, or at least get severely injured willingly. Hm......

Also, Killua's last sibling is a brother? I thought it was a sister? Or is this another issue of gender confusion like with Pitou?

Episode 139 Review
Great episode, as usual. Really enjoyed the comedy between Hisoka and Illumi, it's great to have that kind of humor back in the show again. Killua's part of the arc is more compelling than the still very good election side so far.

I really liked the insights we're getting into the twisted psyche of the Zoldyk family. We saw some of this back in the rescue Killua arc and we're seeing more of it here. Illumi's belief that Killua loves him most, for example. Yeah, it was played for laughs, but it also hints at a very interesting side to Illumi's personality we haven't quite seen before. What could have caused him to delude himself into thinking that? I hope Togashi explores this more in the future, as it opens up a lot of possibilites.

Killua's mom is completely insane. We know from the rescue Killua arc that she cares a lot about her son and so doesn't want him to leave the house, and she obviously desires for him to grow up and become successful at his future career. Unfortunately in this case it's assassination, and so she's overwhelmed with joy when Killua orders Alluka to kill her. Her son is growing up! He's progressing well if he's capable of such cruelty! Very creepy way to think, but on the other hand its kind of genius, as all Togashi has done here is take the way some mothers act (wishing for their children's success above all) and applied it in a very absnormal situation.

It's interesting how well Milluki understands Killua. Or rather, he can follow his reasoning on an intellectual level but cannot actually comprehend it on an emotional level. He explains away Killua's actions and feelings as simply stupidity, since it doesn't align with the way his family looks at such matters.

Alluka is unbelievably cute. Makes her monstrous side all the more disturbing.

Leorio is finally back next ep! I've been waiting for this for ages. Now we just need Kurapika, and the show will finally feel like it has 4 main characters again.

Episode 140 Review
I don't have much to say about this episode aside from LEORIO ALL THE WAY! That punch was one of the most satisfying anime scenes I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. I don't care if Ging could have dodged it or not, the fact that someone finally punched that smug look of his face is more than enough for me. I like him as a character, but he is a terrible father. You deserved it, Ging.

I love how unpredictable Killua's side of he story continues to be.The nature of Alluka's powers allows Togashi to set up some really interesting turns and twists in the story and pretty much holds infinite story potential. I certainly wasn't expecting Alluka to make a request of someone else so soon, but it shakes things up a bit and builds suspense regarding what course of action Killua will take. Great stuff all around.

And..going back to the Ging punch...there are some interesting things we can infer if Ging really deliberately allowed himself to be hit. It's possible Ging is aware that his actions towards his son are wrong. I mean, did he really think Gon was in any condition to ask for him? It's likely that Ging is purposely being such a jerk because he simply can't help. He's nothing more than a child with the appearance of a grown-up: smart, powerful, but also very irresponsible and a thirst to just have fun. Gon is very much like his father in many respects, but he also serves as an interesting contrast: he's a child that often wanted to be taken seriously and regarded as a grown-up, and indeed his entire character arc is centered on just that, while his father is a guy who desires nothing more than to be a kid.

Ging is a coward. We've seen this over and over since the show started. He told Gon on that tape back on Whale Island that he simply didn't want to see him, and he went to great lengths to cover up his tracks. The whole deal on Greed Island with 'Accompany' and whatnot points to this. Ging doesn't want to be a father, and he doesn't want to face his son either. So he basically runs away. Of course he's not going to willingly visit his son in the hospital, even if he knows what a horrible thing that is. Letting Leorio punch him could be his way of punishing himself a bit, because he knows that what he is doing is wrong but lacks the will to do anything otherwise.

A lot of the above is speculation, but it's interesting to think about.

Episode 142 Review
R.I.P Gotoh. Of course Togashi killed off the most likable butler...on the other hand it does succeed in establishing Hisoka as a threat again, which hasn't really been the case since Yorkshin, or Heaven's Arena for that matter.

Great episode overall, but it's the kind that's mostly self-explanatory. Lots of psychological mind games, as usual, and a fantastic build-up of suspense for what happens next. I did particularly enjoy seeing a different side to Amane and Killua's conversation with Morel, where we see the full extent of how much Killua loves Alluka and the level of hatred he holds for Illumi, something the latter is almost completely oblivious to. Also, the way Togashi effectively tied the Election arc into Killua's arc was brilliant, a really clever way of turning what had been two mostly unrelated stories into one.

Episode 146 Review
Brilliant episode, the scene with Alluka and Killua really hit me in the feels. Surprising, considering how short the time we've known Alluka and Something was.

Gon and Ging's reunion was suitably anticlimactic, as was everything else this episode. It was touching and revealed a lot about both; Ging was actually flustered and nervous about encountering his son after so long, and Gon was of course heartbroken over what had transpired and full of guilt, as he was before what he did to Pitou, ironically. I like that, as it shows that in the end murdering Pitou as brutally as he did didn't give him any closure, and in fact made everything worse. Gon went down the path of revenge, and it gave him nothing.

I did like that Ging showed a more responsible side when he he gave some actual advice to Gon, like a father should. Of course, saying that Gon needed to be stronger isn't the best advice, as it was Gon's thirst for power and strength that set him on the path he eventually took. However, I like to think that Ging means to become stronger responsibly and for a greater purpose; not to have power, but to protect those you care about. Hopefully Gon heeds that.

Pariston's abrupt resignation kept with the theme of anticlimactic endings this episode. All the preparation and complex mind games were for naught. Pariston showed actual vulnerability for the first time this episode, as we see that he was genuinely heartbroken over Netero's death. This was already foreshadowed in Ging and Cheadle's conversations a few episode ago, as Ging pointed out that Pariston was the only one truly carrying on Netero's will. This episode makes it clear, I think, that in the end Pariston was trying to have fun with the election as Netero was no longer there, and perhaps even try to make sure it went in the right direction. His threat to Cheadle seems genuine enough. He actually cares about what happens to the Association in Netero's absence, revealing a more sympathetic side to him, even if his reasoning isn't exactly sound.

Tbh, I didn't care much that Killua healed Gon so 'easily.' Yes, I can see how people can dislike that since Alluka's overly complex rules and conditions were emphasized a lot throughout the arc, but then again so were the politics and strategies of the participants of the election, and in the end the winner just resigned and made Cheadle president, which means all her planning and complex mind games weren't really necessary. As Ging would say, though, it was a load of fun and great entertainment, so who cares? The theme of 'games' and 'fun' has been very prevalent this arc, in the form of Ging and Pariston, who ironically enough are enemies of sorts. I think it's fitting that the arc adapted such a tone, since it was done as a tribute of sorts to Netero, a man who thrived off of having a good time.

Alluka and Killua's scene was moving. In the end, Killua was trying to do to something what his family did to him, and to Alluka as well: oppression for the sake of safety. Killua was so focused on saving his sibling from his family that he almost shunned Something forever, just like his family, showing how easy it is to slip into the same types of errors, regardless of who.

Togashi was going for a message with Killua and Alluka's scenes, and his earlier emphasis on the conditions and rules was a misdirection, concealing what really mattered in the end: Killua's respect for Alluka as a human being, and the beauty of the relationship due to that. It was what made the scene where Killua commanded Something to hide away forever and them subsequently apologized after being scolded by Alluka so powerful. Something was just as human and vulnerable as Alluka. They were two separate beings who really weren't, two people who loved Killua. Killua almost forgot that and was about to shun one of them, and Alluka scolded him for it. Wishing to protect someone does not give you the excuse to abuse them. It provides the perfect contrast with the twisted relationship that Killua has with Illumi. What Killlua has with Alluka is the love and compassion that could never truly exist in its purest form with a person as sick as Illumi. Poignant stuff all around.

And, finally, my thoughts on the last episode (148):

What a beautiful episode to end an amazing series.

The montage of scenes that summarized the whole anime in the early minutes of the episode was great, and in general Gon's entire climb was awesome stuff. I really like how the anime did justice for the sheer scale of the tree, and how much thought Togashi put into the details of how the tourism surrounding the tree worked and how the tree itself was full of life. Small touches like that went a long way to making the climb interesting to watch. The completely relaxed pacing throughout really created a fantastic atmosphere and seemed a fitting way to close off a series that became so intense and huge in its later stages.

Gon's conversation with Ging was the highlight of the episode, of course. It was just two family members catching up with each other, but considering who was involved and that this was the achievement of Gon's 148-episode quest, it was naturally intriguing. I like the small touch of Gon always calling Ging by his name, not 'dad.' Why should he? Ging was never a father to him. He's just a relative, albeit an important one. But still, I feel that we got a lot of insight into Ging's personality here, and it drove home that he may be a terrible dad, but he's in no way a bad person. What he was sharing with Gon here was basically what he'd learned from life, the realization he'd arrived at through his experiences.

Basically, Ging really does journey a lot and do so much because he wants to have fun. Ir runs deeper than that, though, as Ging craves to live life to the fullest by forming meaningful relationships, by seeing new places, by enjoying the small things in life. He sets goals for himself not because he's actually concerned with reaching them, but because he wants to enjoy the pleasures and experiences he'll have on the way. It's the answer that Gon set out to seek: What was so great about being a Hunter that Ging would leave his son behind to be it?

"You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest, because that's where you'll find the things that are more important than what you want."

This was it. It doesn't justify Ging's actions, but it does make them understandable. And as it turns out, they weren't really pathetic or despicable at all. Ging wanted to live his life...and as this episode implies, he wished the same for his son. He left Gon a goal, didn't he? "Find me if you can." And Gon set out to achieve that goal, and along the way, he made new friends, had new adventures, and went on many, many detours that both taught him much and brought to him to the lowest depths of despair. In the end, Gon emerged stronger for it, but also much changed. He'd come of age, after a long, incredible journey, just like Ging. It's not a coincidence that Gon found Ging right after the events of Chimera Ant. It was in that arc that he finally lost his innocence, finally transitioned to adulthood, the climax of his character arc. That arc had been running parallel to Gon's mission to find his dad, and the two conclude close together.

It really completes the parallels between Gon and Ging. Father and son, both with very similar experiences. And in the end, we realize that Ging was actually trying to teach Gon something, teach him and show what he'd realized through his own experiences. It's a beautiful message, and one that applies to the show as a whole so well. Isn't that what HunterxHunter was? The vast majority of it had nothing to do with Gon finding his dad. I'd heard complaints about this aspect of the story, and have pointed out in the past that it's plain that the destination is not what matters in this show; it's the journey. That is more important than what the end goal. The Hunter Exam, Killua's rescue, Heaven's Arena, Yorkshin, Greed Island, Chimera Ant....all detours, but ultimately what the series was actually about. Those 'detours' WERE the story. They were what mattered, and they are where Gon formed meaningful relationships with each other and developed as a person.

And Ging's statement is very meta in how it applies to Togashi's writing as well. It feels like he's speaking directly to the audience with Ging. Here, when Ging is finally found (and I really feel that he is based off of Togashi, down to the obsession with games), he reveals why he writes the way he does. It's a consistent aspect of Togashi's writing in HxH, bar Greed Island, that every arc ends on an anti-climax. It's such a consistent pattern that it's obviously deliberate. Also, Togashi had a tendency to focus on side characters that seemingly had nothing to do with anything, especially in Chimera Ant? Why? Because to Togashi, the end doesn't really matter. It's the trip there that is what he cares about, and the lives and personalities of his characters, no matter how minor, are worth exploring, because they are really what the story is about. People wanted epic climaxes, lightning quick storytelling...but what Togashi is saying here is: what happens along the way is ultimately more important than what you want, i.e. big explosive climax.

Saying that a lot of HxH is filler is meaningless. That IS the show. All those detours, all those minor characters, all those small details; THEY are what this show is about. That Ging's lesson to Gon ties in thematically with the very structure of the show is a stroke of genius, a move of utter brilliance. And in the end, we see a montage of some of the most beloved people we've met over the series, the ones the show was about. In addition to all that, we end with the reveal that there lies a greater and bigger world beyond what we'd seen thus far, an adventure waiting to be written and experienced. That's how we began the series, with a whole, unexplored world before us. And fittingly, it is also how we end it. It's a breathtakingly poetic way to end a truly incredible series.

A masterpiece, 10/10 overall. Thank you Togashi and Madhouse for such a spectacular series, a stunning example of the kind of quality anime should strive for. I'm going to miss the anime, and I hope Togashi gets better and gets back to the universe which, despite his hiatuses, he clearly loves.

So long, HunterxHunter.
Posted by MrAM | Apr 20, 2015 4:12 AM | 0 comments