I’ve been pondering the character Esdese from Akame ga Kiru for a while now, because her character eludes explanation. It seems impossible that such a bad character can appear so innocent when the manga takes us away from her job. Her terrible crimes seem to call for judgment, and yet one almost wishes her to get off scot-free. I described her worldview as Nietzschean in my prior article, but the more I read the more apparent it becomes that she does not base her worldview in a philosophy. Rather, her understanding of right and wrong derives from her coming from a savage society, and having these ideals rather confirmed by living in a “civilized” society which has been reduced to a state of nature. I would recommend reading Adam Ferguson’s An Essay on the History of Society if any of my dear readers find the points I am about to make interesting.
When we are first introduced to Esdese, we hardly come off with a good opinion of her: she subjugates some rebels with fierce reprisals, forces a certain rebel to lick her boots, and later she gives pointers to some torturers on how to increase human suffering. Shortly after the last scene, she greets the king and prime minister in the throne room. Upon being asked whether she has any new goals, she declares–in complete incongruity with her prior actions–that she wishes to fall in love and produces a ridiculous list of desired traits for her lover.
I must confess, I did not much care for Esdese until she produced that list. At the same time, I did not know what to make of it. Love should be the last thing a person of this sort wants. None of the other hardcore villains desires love! And yet, outside of the scenes where she inflicts pain on others, she can be heartwarming and cute. Which brings me to the point I made earlier: how can cruelty and kindness exist in the same character and appear authentic?
The solution to the enigma of Esdese lies in her being a savage. (Kudos to the mangaka for making an blond haired, blue eyed savage!) She dresses like a Nazi, which perhaps first led me to compare her ideas to Nietzsche, but perhaps a deerskin shirt and breeches would suit her character better. She hales from the frigid north of the Empire and was raised to believe that it was natural for the strong to do whatever they liked to the weak. Her father tells her not to feel sad that her mother was killed–’tis natural–nor to feel pity for the live animal they harvest some organs from–’tis natural. (I’m sure she first develops a taste for torture here.) Lastly, he even tells her not to grieve for his own death as he lays dying with their tribe annihilated! That’s quite natural too!
In the movie Ulzana’s Raid, Burt Lancaster’s character claims that hating an Apache because he is cruel is like hating the desert because it has no water. Similarly, Esdese was brought up in a state of nature and displays its values: “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” as Thomas Hobbes says. In the above named essay, Adam Ferguson writes that Native Americans tortured those of their enemies they found brave. It was actually an insult to be killed quickly! In certain cases, they would even remember fondly the guts a certain warrior displayed under torture! (Couldn’t resist the pun.) One wonders whether Esdese believes that she is showing regard for her defeated foes’ bravery when she shows them the same treatment.
Her person reminds one of the part in the Gospels where Christ says that someone who ignorantly does something worthy of a severe beating will be beaten lightly (Luke 12:48). Esdese’s simplicity (she was an incredibly docile child) and ignorance of civilized morals–which are even more obscured due to the present state of affairs–make one think of her as a lion: beautiful, strong, graceful and yet would think nothing of mangling any animal smaller than it. We don’t blame lions for ferocity. Nor can we blame Esdese that much even though she does things truly horrible. Instead, we wish for this savage to become civilized–or at least to metamorphose into a knight. Tatsumi concludes that there is no saving her, but plenty of other violent races have become gentle through religion or philosophy: Christianity made the Vikings and Native Americans gentle and Buddha’s teachings changed Tibetans for the better. So, one hopes that Esdese can realize that there is a better way to live than in the state of nature. At any rate, I find it impossible to hate this cruel, charming, bloodthirsty, cute savage.