An Apology for Savagery: Explaining the Crime-Ridden yet Pure Soul of Esdese

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.

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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.

akame-ga-kiru-3376647

Seryuu actually disturbs me quite a bit more than Esdese.

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?

Pardonnez la fanservice.

Pardonnez la fanservice.

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!

Esdese young

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.

Here's a scene from when she picked up her special weapon.  She overcame these temptations without losing her mind.

Here’s a scene from when she picked up her special weapon. She overcame these temptations without losing her mind.

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.

Akame ga Kiru

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6 comments on “An Apology for Savagery: Explaining the Crime-Ridden yet Pure Soul of Esdese

  1. […] The Medieval Otaku looks to the gospels to help explain the character of Esdese from Akama ga Kiru. [Medieval Otaku] […]

  2. redmaigo says:

    The phrase “the banality of evil” can explain why this little monster is appealing (to you) because that monster is us. And I paraphrase, ” …the great evils in history generally…are not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were/are normal.”

    • My main interest in good ole Esdese is whether or not she can be redeemed. When a civilized person displays extreme cruelty to another human being, they become warped. This warping of a human being into a monster is not really banal. And the manga does show people whom the tyrannical government has warped into monsters for whom repentance is impossible.

      Ordinary people have aided their governments in the commission of the worst crimes in history. Yet, first they must destroy their consciences. They must forget stories of heroism, the great men they looked up to, and every bit of moral education they picked up. From being human, they turn themselves into cogs in the state machine.

      But, Esdese is unique in that she, for all her evil deeds, somehow seems more upright than people who do fewer evils. I can only explain Esdese’s escape from being similarly twisted by her being a savage: she has simply known no other way to act or think from childhood. Her soul is almost shielded by her ignorance and simple-mindedness.

      For the life of me, I can’t think of another anime character who is so similar to a wild animal.

  3. MarkyMark says:

    Esdese has commited atrocities against condemed criminals and her enemies and she revels in it, certainly not the actions of a saint. That being said, she is kind and compasionate to those close to her and her soldiers( for the most part) gaining her much respect from her troops. She even provided the widow and child of Bors with a good amount of money without expecting anything in return, which goes against her supposed beliefs of the weak deserve to die. Despite the belief system that her dad instilled in her, she does have good in her.
    The thing is, in this story, we have characters that are much much worse than Esdese with no redeemable factors. Ones that trully prey on the weak and innocent. Hell, even the Night raid is guilty to some extant. The revolutionary army sided themselves with the northern tribe that were shown to be vicious and cruel. Najenda was more than willing to let a large group of fighters die at the hands of the jeagers as a means of distraction. This was for the greater good, but still….
    So it’s not totally unreasonable to want her to get off scot-free.

    • Yep, she’s a fascinating character. We’ll have to see where the manga takes the story. The past few chapters have not been especially happy.

      I’m definitely rooting for Esdese’s conversion to the side of the good guys. As you noted, they’re no angels either. A certain development does make me doubt that Esdese will do so unless a certain person dies rather soon; but, we’ll see. The mangaka can’t make circumstances perfectly miserable, can he? 🙂

  4. […] understanding of creativity applies very well to the character Esdeath, who combines various traits which may be seen as contradictory.  While musing about Esdeath’s character, I pondered whether she had any equivalents in […]

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