Thursday, July 12, 2012
Bishounen of the Week: Miketsukami Soushi (Inu x Boku SS)
I'll shamelessly admit to my bias here: Miketsukami Soushi is one of my all-time favorite animanga characters, and the fact that he is actually makes it more difficult to write about him. Mostly that's because I think that, a lot of times, Soushi gets shortchanged as a character and deserves so much more appreciation than he receives - not just because he serves as Shirakiin Ririchiyo's hopelessly-devoted-to-the-point-of-self-debasement SS agent, but also because that loyalty and devotion, as well as Soushi's fragile sweetness and dark manipulative cunning, stem from his tangled past, insecurities that leave him fractured, and the very nature of his mixed-blood heritage. I'll focus a lot on the events of the anime here, but I'm touching on the manga as well, so there will be a bit of both!
Initially, Soushi appears as Ririchiyo's desperately loyal SS agent. His devotion seems, at first, to have no apparent source, but extends endlessly and to all aspects of Ririchiyo's life. He serves her meals, chauffeurs her to and from school, escorts her to events, and even volunteers to wait outside her door until she has need of him. His service even extends to significant self-sacrifice; he willingly places his life on the line for hers, even in situations where it might not be necessary. Though Ririchiyo finds herself mortified at his abject servitude, his compassion and acceptance eventually help her to open her heart to him and to others. I find that a lot of fans either embrace or abhor this aspect of Soushi's character - they think it's either wonderful or cringe-inducing that he follows her around, as he admits, like a dog. I think it's worth noting that in both the manga and the anime, while Soushi's devotion is admirable in the sense that it's genuine and comes from a deep love for Ririchiyo, it's also unhealthy and stems from his deeper internal struggles.
In particular, Soushi's past is a painful one, marked by isolation and deception. As a child, his heritage ensures that he's effectively kept under perpetual house arrest and isolated from the outside world. Lonely and desperate for freedom, he takes advantage of his innately manipulative nature and seduces others until he eventually leaves home and finds himself in the service of Kagerou Shoukin. There, Soushi's deception continues in a new way: tasked with writing Ririchiyo love letters on behalf of his master, he eventually opens his heart to her under the guise of "Kagerou" and falls in love.
I can't stress this enough: Soushi knows he isn't a saint. He owns up throughout the manga and anime to a lot of regret and shame over his actions, most notably deceiving Ririchiyo. Admittedly, a lot of his actions were necessary for his own survival - and the story of his longing letters to Ririchiyo is incredibly romantic and poignant - but Soushi holds himself responsible for these things, and doesn't consider himself a noble or even decent person. And even after he meets Ririchiyo, his nature as the nine-tailed fox doesn't quite die; he's able to manipulate her, too, by debasing himself to the point that she often caves in to his desires. Soushi's more in control of circumstance than it sometimes seems, and he's aware of his own ability to obscure the truth, to achieve his goals, and deceive others. The knowledge hurts him and make him feel that he's filthy - it's one reason among others that he debases himself to such a profound degree.
The other, and perhaps more painful, reason for Soushi's devotion is that he's desperate to be loved and needed. Starved of affection and in awe of Ririchiyo, he finds himself most comfortable - thanks to his past - in a position of deference. The larger story of Inu x Boku might be the narrative of how Ririchiyo learns to open up to others, but nestled within that narrative is the story of how Soushi slowly learns to find value in himself. Simple things - Ririchiyo's invitation to coffee, being included in group activities, hearing expressions of gratitude, the joy of being loved - often overwhelm him to the point of tears. For a half-youkai with no concept of self-value or worth, Ririchiyo and the rest of the Inu x Boku gang prove to be a balm; for the first time, Soushi learns what it's like to belong, to be cared for, to matter.
What I love most about Soushi, though, and what I suspect other fans love equally as much, is his heart. Soushi loves. Desperately. Deeply. His adoration for Ririchiyo that stems from their exchange of letters becomes immediately apparent and informs all that he says and does. He's driven to anger when she's in danger; he finds his joy in her happiness. His simple but most profound dream for nothing more than the family he's ever had becomes even more real to him as he starts to learn what he might be worth, as he takes refuge in the hope that he means something to the person he loves more than anything else. One of the animanga's most beautiful climaxes is when Ririchiyo finally screws up her courage to confess her feelings to Soushi; Soushi's shock that she might care for him at all is painfully apparent, and obliterates his expectations of receiving nothing in return for his care. The delight he takes in the revelation and the way it unleashes him transforms his character entirely. Unfortunately, that love extends to a bitter self-sacrifice, too: Soushi will do anything for Ririchiyo, and one of the manga's most painful scenes occurs when he literally sacrifices himself to save her.
Adding to the angst, of the course, is the particular reincarnation curse at work in Inu x Boku SS, which seems reminiscent in some ways of the eternal time loops of Steins;Gate; Ririchiyo, Soushi, and the rest of the gang find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of love, life, death, and reincarnation. Their love story never quite settles, never finds it happy ending, before being thrown back into chaos again, and again, and again. I'll admit that I'm not certain of how the story will ultimately end - and yet I have a lot of hope that it will end well, if only because Soushi's earnest passion, his desire to love and be loved, anchor the bond he shares with Ririchiyo in a way that really does seem eternal.