Martial Messiah – Part 1
I’d love to be a pacifist. Not so much for the moral and philosophical benefits, but due to the fact that pacifism implies a certain degree of inaction.
But that’s just the cynic in me going off on a tangent about pacifism being a way of not reacting to things, leading to a natural logical progression that results in it equaling the ideal slacker lifestyle. Unfortunately, stuff just doesn’t go down like that.
Anyone that’s watched enough anime series is all too familiar with the pacifist hero. He’s the sort of character that does everything in his power to resolve a potentially violent conflict by non-violent means. He usually has the capacity to take down every vile villain within sword’s reach, but he’d rather convince said bastards that their way of thinking is wrong and convert him into the good guy fold. They’re Jesus figures, if Jesus had a six-shooter hanging from his side.
The problem is that said Martial Messiahs are rarely pulled off very well in anime. The best example of such failed figure is Vash the Stampede.
Vash is a killing machine. His only real skill in life is murder. He’s socially impaired, since he’s far too eccentric and troubled to get along with people for extended periods of time. When taken out of his combative element, he’s shown to be awkward and lost in the world.
The catch is that he doesn’t want to be a killing machine. Despite his physical prowess, he does everything in his power to not use his lone skill. His only desire in life is to deny the very thing that defines him, and he pursues these feelings at all costs. As a child, he was presented with saving an insect from a spider. The only way to save the bug was to kill the spider. There was literally no other way to save the bug from being eaten by the spider. Despite being presented with a situation where someone had to die and he had the power to save the individual he felt was “innocent,” he refused to accept reality.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this view of the world. I might not agree with that view, but it can make for an interesting story. Presenting Vash as a reluctant hero who’s only means to save the world is the very actions he abhors is a fascinating situation. The problem with Vash, and the problem with Trigun, is that Vash’s world view wins out in the end.
Vash never wavers in his philosophy. Again, this is a good thing. He stays devoted. The problem is that characters who don’t adhere to his ideology are punished for their so-called sins. Wolfwood, Vash’s friend and moral foil, dies towards the end of the series, and his death is presented in such a way that essentially makes him realize that he died because of his way of life. As he kneels before a church altar dying of his wounds, he reflects upon his life and basically comes to the conclusion that it was his violent lifestyle that resulted in his demise. Had he not been so willing to take lives, perhaps he would have lived a better life, and perhaps he would still be alive to see his unborn child.
Throughout the series, Wolfwood is presented as a counterpoint to Vash’s idealism. This was pretty awesome, since Trigun played both sides and, for the most part, allowed us to form our own opinion on who was right. Sometimes Vash was right and sometimes Wolfwood was right. They both had legitimate arguments for their actions. Then the series goes and makes the decision for the audience by having one of them essentially “win.” Not only does Wolfwood get punished with death, Vash’s pacifism wins out over his brother Knives, and he’s able to defeat his brother’s plans while strictly adhering to his no-kill principles.
There’s no ambiguity. There’s no Superman/Batman duality, where there’s no attempt at resolution beyond the audience picking sides. In the end, Trigun preaches a party line and “proves” its superiority to the dissenting opinion.
I don’t like that take of this archetype. I have no beef with seeing an idealistic hero. I don’t like it when their world view is presented in a moralizing manner.
Then there’s the pacifist heroes that work, but that’s a completely different post that’ll saunter along later.