(There are no spoilers in this post except where marked. It can be read spoiler-free.)
The idea that there are no “good guys” or “bad guys” in war is ubiquitous, but it’s one that must be repeated at any time where emotions run high and logical thinking must be laid down. By my logic, there’s no inherent “right” or “wrong” in the world. (I say “by my logic” because even if I think it’s the absolute truth, I am not all-knowing, and I will not pretend like I understand any “truth” about the universe.) There simply is what there is.
I don’t consider any action that I take in life to be a reaction to a moral idea. I would never kill a human being, but not because I think it’s “wrong” to do so. It simply isn’t something I would do, having been raised as a person with an aversion to doing such a thing. On a personal level, as I’ve mentioned before, I see murder as a waste because the dead can never benefit the world nor, by extension, myself. If a person remains living, then they carry with them the potential for infinite possibilities, and I don’t have any reason to destroy that.
But people do die, and do get killed, and while I can afford to be indifferent to some of it, I can’t always remain so. By that I don’t only mean that people close to me dying would effect me; I also mean that something such as war effects me. As a human being living in a nation, that nation’s affairs effect me on some level. Our current war isn’t one I’ve felt a profound effect from personally, but thing could always become that way.
Right now, tension is mounting between North and South Korea. My dad is the general manager of a Hyundai dealership, and I live entirely on his dime. If something happens to where Hyundai can no longer produce cars and sell them in the U.S. (say, if they have to make tanks and such during wartime), then I could be fucked.
So, yeah, I don’t like the idea of killing and, yeah, I ignore it when it doesn’t effect me, but if the Koreas go to war, I’ll be faced with a dilemma. I’ll end up in a state where the death of certain people would be either a detriment or a benefit to my existence, and I’ll find myself choosing a side. If South Korea loses, I’ll be sad. If North Korea loses, I’ll be happy.
Some would call this evil, or at the very least, feel uncomfortable with that way of thought. Even though those people and myself agree that no one is “justified” in war, it’s a difference in that they do believe that justice exists somewhere, whereas I don’t. Those people wouldn’t support either side in that war because they would be morally opposed to supporting murder. I, however, not feeling that moral pressure (this is hypothetical—being as I was raised in a highly moral society, there’s no way I can be completely without moral pressure, as it’s built into me psychologically), would focus on what will ultimately benefit me and choose to support that outcome.
A fictional conflict cannot be a benefit or detriment to my life except in that it can effect my emotions. After all, I get attached to stories and characters because of how they appeal to my emotions. It’s because I love a character that I want to see them succeed. It’s because I want to see them succeed that the conflict in the story is involving.
But a fictional conflict appeals to the observer in more than just one way. It’s not only an appeal to emotion, but to ethics as well. Most stories invoke both of these equally, in the eternal conflict of “good vs. evil.” We support the hero on an ethical level because we disapprove of the villain’s actions, and we support them on an emotional level because we’ve seen their backstory and understand or relate to them psychologically.
Once again, however, I don’t feel bound by a set of morals. Plenty of my favorite characters are horrible murderers and I don’t feel guilty about liking them.
And of course, plenty of stories will raise morals as a question (is murder justified if it’s to save people? To me, it doesn’t matter. We kill to save people we care about and shouldn’t worry about justification), while others will throw morals out the window. (No one in Baccano is worried about the moral implications of their actions—they live the way they want to, and if that involves killing people, so be it.)
My support for a character is directly proportional to how much I like them emotionally. I very often support the lead character and want him to defeat the “bad guy,” but only because I enjoy the lead character and am invested in his happiness. If the villain does things that put the character I support through emotional pain, then I can grow to hate the villain and want them to lose just as much as I want the hero to win.
[Aside: A lot of my favorite anime either feature little conflict, or conflict that’s only significant in the way it effects the characters’ development. The reason for this is that I don’t like seeing characters that I support die, especially at the hands of other characters I support. My favorite conflicts in anime are those from Nanoha (espeically A’s), because they aren’t about overcoming the opponent, but about finding a way for both sides to be happy.]
There was a very important moment in Escaflowne episode 20/21 where I felt a shift in my emotions towards the conflict in the series. During the first 13 episodes, I’d firmly supported the three main characters because I liked them a lot. I also loved the main antagonist up to that point, Dilandau, but while I enjoyed him as a character, I didn’t feel that I wanted him to be victorious.
Throughout the second half of the series, the plot and production fell apart, and I quickly found myself caring less and less about everything that was going on. What’s more, the development of the three main characters had taken a strange turn to where all of them were quickly losing my respect and support.
Finally, in the episode 20 range, Dilandau made his triumphant return along with his right-hand man Jajuka and during a battle between them and the main characters, I realized that I wanted Dilandau’s team to win. At that point in the series, they’d become the more interesting characters.
It was apparent, then, that I really didn’t care about what either side stood for. All that mattered to me was that I liked them, and so I wanted whatever they wanted.
That wasn’t a good thing, because Escaflowne was written in such a way that I was expected to support the heroes. The villains were to be someone I wanted stopped, and indeed, there was no doubt that they’d be stopped by the time the series was over. Because I’d turned to supporting the villains, the rest of the series could only be disappointing, because I’d have to watch them get defeated, and worse yet, I’d have to see the victors believe that they were justified in victory.
Gundam never presents that issue. The UC Gundam narrative seems to generally agree that there’s no such thing as good or bad killing; or at the very least, it’s a series that lays all moral ideas out on the table and makes no pretension of drawing a conclusion. Different characters have their own approach. Some argue that they’re justified, and others don’t pretend to be, and honestly admit that they’ll kill to save the people they care about and there’s nothing else too it.
Moreover, Gundam leaves the viewer with the power to support whomever they want and never forces the decision on them. After all, the supposed “villain” of the franchise, Char, is given the opportunity to be the most badass character in the franchise. The viewer isn’t punished for siding with him or for siding with Amuro, and hell, you can just as easily love them both and be happy no matter what the result. In Gundam, to no victor goes the spoils, really, if there are even spoils to be had when the conflict is so never-ending.
My favorite currently-airing anime, Shiki, pushes moral questions and conflict to the forefront more and more as it nears the end, and struck a crescendo in episode 20. The conflict isn’t like that in Gundam, where so much of it is political—in Shiki, it’s an outright war of survival. However this ends, one side will face a lot of death, and the other will face complete annihilation.
(Spoilers for Shiki ahead.)
After the conflict began in episode 19, with convenient timing for me to get it into a 12 Moments post before the next episode, I stated clearly that I was in support of the shiki. I was disgusted at the murder of Chizuru, and I came to hate Ozaki for having killed her. In the comments on that post, and on Shinmaru’s twelve moments post on Shiki, I saw a lot of moral questions raised about taking sides in this conflict, and especially so in this comment on my post by Yukimura:
I’m a bit puzzled by this sentiment of disgust at Ozaki for Chizuru’s death but relatively little about what he did to his wife. The sympathetic part of me did cringe at Chizuru’s treatment but the practical and fair parts of me say that what happened to her was a rather extreme example of getting what was coming to her. Yes it was executed in a very inhumane way but it didn’t feel nearly as bad as what was done to Ozaki’s wife. As far as we know all Kyoko she ever did was snark and be annoying to some people and for no other reason than she woke up a Shiki she was tortured for a couple days and then killed by her own husband with no explanation as to why. Chizuru on the other hand was a willing, unrepentant killer who displayed no empathy about not only killing but toying with those she intended to kill to suit her desires (not needs mind but desires). All that happened to her was she was dealt a massive dose of social rejection and held down and had a stake driven through her heart. I have a hard time feeling much anger at someone who facilitated the death of a murderer who was thoroughly committed to the idea of enslaving him and using him as a toy even if he resorted to psychological warfare and deceit. His own life was literally hanging in the balance as Chizuru had stated outright that she intended his eventual death after she’d had her little fun. I don’t mean to paint Ozaki with a rose colored brush by any means however I see his struggle as one of life or death against an active, superior, and malicious aggressor force while I see the Shiki’s struggle as one of life or death against an ignorant, passive, and mostly docile indigenous group.
Despite the gruesomeness and underhandedness of her death I can’t bring myself to rebuke any of the villagers for what they did to Chizuru or any of the other Shiki either. The Shiki for the most part, and certainly Chizuru, seem to willfully participate in and facilitate the torture, enslavement, and death of dozens upon dozens of people with little to no remorse shown outside of Sunako who, ironically, is their leader.
As I’ve made clear in this post, I have no feelings about the morality behind the shiki nor human’s actions. I fully agree with everything Yukimura said about Chizuru getting what’s coming to her and that there’s no justification to be found in any of the killing in the series. Both sides are killing to survive, plain and simple.
So it comes down to a very simple question: who do I want to survive? It’s just like that earlier scenario I painted about the idea of a Korean war. Which side will benefit me with it’s victory? As I said before, anime conflict can only effect me emotionally. The question is literally, who do I care about most?
One way I could do this is to simply make a list (since that’s my field of expertise).
Kirishiki Sunako: My favorite character in the series, almost predestined to be so by being a centuries-old, wise goth-loli played by Yuuki Aoi. Sunako is as close to the kind of characters I try to write as imaginable, and it’s no surprise that I adore her. Being the leader of the shiki, every piece of this conflict effects her, especially the deaths of people she personally cares about. This obviously means a lot of support for the shiki from me.
Muroi Seishin: Doesn’t want anyone to die, and sympathizes with the shiki, no doubt wanting co-existence more than anything. I think what he recognizes is that one way or another, a lot of people are going to die. And, I think, all of the humans are going to die. If the shiki can gain power from his blood (as Tatsumi does) then they’ll be able to suffer fewer losses and therefor ultimately more people will come out alive. Muroi is my second-favorite character in the series, which means more support for the shiki.
Ozaki Toshio: I think Ozaki is a wholly fascinating character, and one I really enjoy watching. However, he isn’t someone I can support, because in reality, his actions are meaningless. He’s driven only by his madness. Ozaki clearly doesn’t care about the humans, nor about individuals. His wife had become a shiki, so he slaughtered her remorselessly. His mother was killed in retaliation, and he didn’t bat an eye. The only thing propelling him is the last thought in his mind, which is that he’s supposed to be a doctor with responsibility for the lives of humans in the village. Because I like Ozaki, sure, I could want him to be happy, but how could he be? There’s nothing left to him. There’s no happiness that he seeks. Everyone he loves is dead. Once the shiki are gone, he’ll just be left with his insanity. When I weigh what he doesn’t have to gain against what the shiki do, then it’s easy to decide to support the shiki.
Yuuki Natsuno: I like Yuuki, too, or at least I did back when he was a character. But once again, I have no reason to support him, because like Ozaki, he’s driven by a meaningless sense of justice. Yuuki intends to kill himself along with the Shiki. He has ultimately nothing to gain from all of this either, and so I go to support the shiki again.
Now, regarding the smaller players:
Out of the humans, the only one remaining that I care about at all is Takana Kaori. Kaori doesn’t have any real position on this, and when she was last shown, it was clear that she’d gone insane. If she fights with the humans, she will certainly die, because all of the humans are likely to die. If the shiki won and were to bite her, there’s a good chance she could become one of them. In the end, her chances are better with the shiki, so I have more reason to support them for her sake.
Kirishiki Seishirou is a human, too, but supports the shiki. I like him, so that’s another obvious one. I also like Tatsumi, Ritsuko (who’s probably going to die regardless), Tohru-chan, Megumi, and Nao, to varying extents, all of whom are shiki. There are a couple of characters that I don’t like on both sides, but when the battle is over whom I do like, then whom I don’t is inconsequential.
And so, by this train of thought, my support is overwhelmingly for the shiki, which is why I continue to hope for them in this conflict, and why this show is able to play on my emotions so well!
Bonus: Rather than an image or video, this bonus is another thought. Re-reading this post, I noticed how I accidentally used the word ‘risen’ instead of ‘shiki’ once and decided to change it. It then occurred to me how, when going through terms with Muroi, Sunako stated how she hated the term ‘vampire’ and came to really like the term ‘shiki.’ I then thought of how the shiki all refer to themselves as shiki proudly, but even though the humans know about that title, they still call them the ‘risen.’ I wonder if ‘risen’ is meant to be thought of as like a racial slur in this context?