Sunday, September 6, 2015
Kamisama Hajimemashita 135: Full Circle
I have always believed that Kamisama Hajimemashita would end up being one of my favorite all-time mangas. The potential was there, and yet my faith wavered from time to time: I wasn't sure if Suzuki Julietta would be willing to follow through fully on the threads of evil and redemption, grace and love, humanity and cruelty, that she originally stitched into the series.
With this chapter, I can say that she absolutely has. Whatever happens after this, Kamisama has made a meaningful - and, more importantly, authentic - statement on those themes with this poignant chapter. Keeping the focus on Akura-ou and the relationships he's formed as Kirihito, Suzuki does what I'd always hoped she'd do: she allows these characters, all of them, to evolve in ways that still remain true to their identities.
You can read the translation here at Kira Kira Treasure Box; now let's go on and discuss the chapter!
It's sad that Akura-ou has faded away. (And this leaves aside the question of whether he is gone permanently, or whether we'll see him reborn in some fashion - right now, I don't know.) But it's also right that he faded away. I was worried for a long time that might never happen: that we'd see him 'redeemed' in some other way and yet allowed to go on living without any seeming damage or suffering.
But this was necessary. It's necessary because, painful as it is, from a narrative perspective Akura-Ou had to receive some punishment for his past evil. For him to be redeemed without walking through the fire, so to speak, would have rendered Nanami's suffering at his hands and Yukiji's death meaningless. He made them suffer, and so, from a narrative standpoint, he too has to suffer in some way.
What happened to him is also necessary because it's the key to both his and Tomoe's evolution. For Akura-ou to die or disappear hating humans would be meaningless. Here, Tomoe recognizes that Akura-ou finally understands what it was that Tomoe always felt: he cares about humans, and recognizes the value in them. There is a happiness in that; Akura-ou says that he has "you...my mother...my familiars...things I treasure." Akura-ou has learned to care, and to be cared for, and in doing so has experienced the fullness of love and warmth - and in witnessing Akura-ou's transformation, Tomoe can see the full and final strength of humans despite their fleeting lives.
But what I love most about this chapter is the authenticity of it, and that the manga doesn't fall back on cliched romantic tropes to allow this redemption to come about. Akura-ou gives back Nanami's life force, yes - and by doing so rights a wrong he has done to her - but it's not just Nanami's care and warmth that has influenced him. It's a mother's love, and the affection of his 'brother' Tomoe, and the loyalty of his familiars that have moved him, too. And Akura-ou is himself to the end; he admits he "gained many irreplaceable things" because having a human body forced him to invest time into people and make them be useful to him. He invested in others, he admits, only because he was forced to - and yet, in the end, he was changed.
Tomoe's transformation is no less authentic. One of the things I love about Kamisama is that Tomoe mostly wants to be human because of Nanami. She's really all he cares about, and he doesn't give a damn about much else. Because of this, he often devalues her strength and also devalues the world in which she lives. But here, he is changed not because of Nanami (I think it's very appropriate that she is mostly just a witness to all this) but because of seeing the change that humans have wrought in Akura-ou. And that feels honest, too.
The relationship between Tomoe and Akura-ou is one that has tormented both of them; Tomoe's been disturbed by Akura-ou's behavior, but I think you can argue that Akura-ou has been no less disturbed by Tomoe's. Tomoe doesn't understand Akura-ou's cruelty, but Akura-ou was never - until now - able to understand why Tomoe 'abandoned' him. But this chapter ties up all of those loose ends: it brings Akura-ou and Tomoe to a better understanding of each other, it in some sense resolves the wrongs of the past, and it permits Tomoe to take the final step toward changing his mind about humans.
I'll admit that I'm curious about where Kamisama goes from here. As much as I love the idea of both Nanami and Tomoe embracing humanity and becoming humans, I love the god shenanigans and Nanami herself living as the god of the shrine, and I'll miss that if it happens. I wonder if this is truly the last we've seen of Kirihito/Akura-ou. And there are still some conflicts left to deal with and some issues to work out.
So I can't say what will happen. What I can say is that I'm fine and I trust Suzuki with whatever will come next. She hasn't let me down yet.