Akana ga Kiru: Love Makes the World Go Round

Well, my dear readers, Akane ga Kiru happens to be the latest manga to capture my imagination.  However, the villains are downright fiends.  Some of the atrocities they commit make it easier to think of them as demons or monsters than human beings.  The violence often reaches the level of Hellsing (and the artwork of Akame ga Kiru is incredibly reminiscent of that work) and occasionally the level of the Berserk manga (don’t read that for Pete’s sake!); so, I only recommend it to the thickest skinned of my readers.  I find myself skipping pages and examining each page for foreshadowing of the gruesome so that I can avoid scenes reminiscent of the worst passages of Terry Goodkind’s novels.

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Then, why read Akame ga Kiru?  Any lover of dark stories will tell you that one reads dark stories for the light contained therein.  The surrounding darkness makes the light seem that much more precious and lovable.  If dark stories contain no light, they fall to the level of trash or poison—the product of a diabolical or melancholy imagination.

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

The point of light which seems most precious because it shines most precariously is romantic love in Esdese, our heroes’ greatest opponent.  Objectively speaking, she’s a vile sadist, but I cannot help but be fascinated by her–nay, she’s actually my favorite character right now.  Her desire to fall in love separates her from the majority of the villains.  And who else should she fall for but the hero?  During a tournament instigated by her to find the sixth member of her Jaeger team, Tatsumi steals her heart, and she drags him from the field in a manner reminiscent of a caveman claiming a bride.  They pass the night debating philosophy–Aristotle vs. Nietzsche, you might say.  Like Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic, she claims that Tatsumi’s notion of justice derives from weak people: the strong only need to act to their own advantage.  All the while, Tatsumi tries to convince her to defect from the Empire and join the Rebel side without admitting that he has already joined the Empire’s most infamous enemy: Night Raid.

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Esdese seems pretty cute until you get to know her.

During a hunting exercise, he escapes her grasp.  She tells the Jaegers that they do not need to offer Tatsumi mercy should they meet him in combat; yet, she still pines for him.  She even refuses the evil Prime Minister’s offer to find a similar man for her.

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Why should this be significant?  Even bad people love others.  That’s natural, isn’t it?  But, love is intimately bound with happiness, the chief end of human beings.  If love were not so bound with happiness, the family would not be the chief unit of society.  The most effective governments try to foster the health of the family through fostering peace and justice.  Essentially, Esdese, by desiring love, also wishes for the flourishing of peace and justice unless she wants a sham love–the mere indulgence of her feelings.  If she opts for true love, she must become the enemy of her current employers.  (Oh, what a beautiful moment that would be!)  The rampant cruelty and injustice infecting the country hardly fosters the creation of happy households.

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But, many things war against her defection: her vicious character first and foremost.  Her subordinates are incredibly loyal to her because she shows them affection; however, her show of affection is motivated by the desire to make them good subordinates, i. e. tools.  Aristotle claimed that the wicked can only have friendships of utility, and all of Esdese’s relationships belong to that category.  Her relationship with Tatsumi stands as the sole exception, but if she begins to view her relationship with Tatsumi according to usefulness or pleasure, that will shatter her ability to find real love, where the beloved is loved for his own sake.  Then again, the heroines have taken a shine to Tatsumi, and he could easily break Esdese’s heart by choosing one of them over her.  At which point, Esdese might forsake love altogether.  Thirdly, the Japanese concept of karma would certainly deny Esdese the right to real happiness.  The manga takes a grimly realistic view of humanity.  I’d have to say that Dostoyevsky’s underground man had a greater chance at salvation than Esdese.

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In the meantime, I shall follow with rapt attention Esdese’s standing on the fence.  Shall she fall on the side she naturally leans towards and snuff out the little bit of light in her soul?  Or shall amor, with all its demands, sacrifices, and true joys, truly omnia vincit?

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Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

While browsing through my manga app, I ran across a manga titled Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund.  At first, I was delighted to find that it was a manga based in 14th century Switzerland and that the artwork was quite brilliant.  However, it was disconcerting that it began with an execution of a Swiss freedom fighter; yet, stories that begin darkly often feature stronger struggles and make a happy ending more compelling.  So, I decided to read the first and then the second chapter.

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The first chapter was pretty grim.  A knight tried to smuggle the executed freedom fighter’s daughter across the border, because the tyrannical lord wished to execute his entire family.  Goaded by a claim I found on Baka Updates saying: “The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were,” I must point out certain flaws in the manga on this point.  First off, it would be incredible for a medieval king to wish to wipe out a family’s womenfolk.  Most would not even make a serious attempt to kill all the men as long as they no longer posed a threat.  Exile and imprisonment were much preferred means of punishment until around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the masses of people executed on both sides for heresy seems to have dulled people’s qualms about capital punishment.

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Anyway, the daughter disguises herself but she and the knight end up being discovered by the noble running a checkpoint known as Wolfsmund (Wolf’s maw).  The knight is killed by crossbowmen and the lady  executed on a chopping block.  Medievals never executed women unless they were found guilty of witchcraft.  The attitude of a 19th century American on the topic of hanging a woman differed not in the least with the attitude of a medieval man on the subject.  But, in this manga’s favor, I must note that the style of fighting employed by the knights, which uses the hilt and pommel as well as the blade, is very accurate–even if finishing one’s opponent off, which the lady’s knight was compelled to do, was not.

Knight and Lady

Anyway, having been depressed by these events, I pressed on to the next chapter, wherein it is revealed that the freedom fighters are making great progress in ousting the tyrant ruling over them.  A pair of lovers is separated because the woman, a very capable fighter herself, is given a mission to pass beyond Wolfsmund to transport back money from a Florentine bank.  Need I say that a woman traveling alone is unheard of in the Middle Ages?  Especially in the disguise of an old woman?  That’s a very easy way to arose suspicion!  Better would have been to disguise herself along with a compatriot as nuns.  As it turns out, the poor girl is discovered by a trick the nobleman plays on her and thrown into the dungeon.

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From which, she herself manages to escape, only to be cornered atop a wall and killed by a thrown sword.  Now, the broadsword, unlike the katana, was never intended to be thrown.  The weight is balanced too close at the hilt.  The first throw does hit the girl hilt first, which is the most likely way it would land; while the second pierces her back–a blow only possible through incredible good luck.  Then, her corpse is displayed on a wheel–I did not turn the next page to see exactly how they displayed her corpse, but it must not have been pleasant.  At any rate, though male enemies’ corpses were sometimes displayed and mutilated during the Middle Ages; I doubt that a woman’s corpse ever suffered the same fate.  Despite popular opinion, medievals were not barbarians, and I suspect such an action would have brought the censure of the Church.

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At this point, I got the picture that the manga would consist of failed attempts upon the gate and the cruelty inflicted on the trespassers by the nobleman in charge of it.  No enduring protagonist had emerged yet, with the exception of the female owner of an inn (women owning inns was probably not uncommon at the time), who seems unable to help the good guys.  And so, I put down this novel which concerned itself more with exploring human suffering than telling a good story.