Don’t you love it when two shows come out on or around the same day with a similar plot point to work around? No matter your answer to this, I sure do, because it saves me the time of attempting to stretch some kind of esoteric theme out of an anime about fighting wooden dolls, or just hammering out a dull episodic review capped with a statement along the lines of “I think it was great.”
So this week, both Steins;Gate and Kamisama Dolls attempted to humanize their villains and make them sympathetic. However, only one really succeeded, while the other was just so heavy-handed with its fleshing out that it came across as more goofy than saddening. Just be warned that this will be a particularly spoiler-heavy post, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know who FB is, or if you want to wait to see the apparent reason as to why Aki is so fucked up.
For the two or three of you reading who haven’t seen the latest Steins;Gate yet, Moeka’s mysterious manipulator FB is revealed to be none other than Okabe’s landlord, the affectionately named Mr. Braun. Evidently the name was meant to be a giveaway as much as it was meant to be endearing. After Moeka’s breakdown and subsequent rebuilding in the last episode, it’s nice to see a character finally take the rational way to make a point… oh wait, he just shoots Moeka. Okay then!
In all seriousness, by the end of this it was hard to hate the two main antagonists thus far. While what they’re doing is evil in that it only benefits them at the expense of others, Moeka’s instability and Mr. Braun’s (Yuugo Tennouji would be his real name, Mr. Braun’s just easier to type out) debt to SERN make their betrayal of Okabe a little easier to stomach.
It helps that nobody in Steins;Gate with a personality is truly all good or all bad. Everyone on both sides has ulterior motives of some sort and some sort of loose bolt that keeps them from functioning within the realm of normalcy. In fact, I daresay the most stable one involved is Mr. Braun, and he kills himself rather than allowing SERN to control him any longer. The best thing Steins;Gate did for its villains was avoiding the transfer of blame from them to an even more evil entity. While Moeka was manipulated by Mr. Braun and Braun was taken in by SERN as a means to survive, it wasn’t unavoidable for them to get involved.
While SERN are evil, they aren’t made out to be anything worse than they were at the beginning: Megalomaniacs hiding under the veil of philanthropy and science.
On the other, heavier hand, Kamisama Dolls does shift the blame from Aki to an even greater evil through means of his stepbrother. While Steins;Gate did so with enough skill to make up for its shortcomings in explanation, Kamisama Dolls did so with all the finesse and subtlety of the Vietnam War.
Aki, our designated psychopath, has everything he loves taken away from him by his stepbrother and takes his life in turn. It COULD have been heartbreaking to see Aki descend into a murderous rage, and it could’ve succeeded in painting a picture of a wronged man somewhat justified in snapping. But the way it does it, the sheer over-dramatization of the story, completely ruins it. Everything is either contrived or could be solved if Kyouhei would’ve told somebody important that something bad was happening. Actually, I think a play by play is in order, since most of this is simply too unbelievable on its own.
Basically, a teacher named Senou takes up a position at the local school. Right away, she’s harassed by Aki’s hulked out stepbrother, who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. When she rebukes him for his misconduct, she’s reprimanded by the principal and given a warning not to mess with the stepbrother because he’s super important as a Seki. As the days continue, the harassment becomes progressively worse and indirect, which Kyouhei notices. But rather than take it up with the principal and attempt to help things, he just sits back and says that he will. How proactive.
At around this time, Senou grows closer to Aki, and the threats become even worse with actual physical harassment happening again. After Aki saves her from one of these situations, she jumps his bones and informs him that she was brought to their rustic village because she was indirectly responsible for the injury of one of her students. Think like that episode of King of the Hill where Hank saw his mother having sex with her new husband on his dining room table, except he runs out into traffic and his mother is then stationed in a Japanese village.
A photo gets out, assumed to be taken by the jealous stepbrother, and Senou is sacked from the school. At home that night, the stepbrother uses his kakashi to kill her dog and kidnap her, before leaving a note for Aki to retrieve her for… some reason. I guess because they have to drive the point home that he has more going for him than being a spoiled, psychopathic brat; he also has a streak of idiocy the size of the Mariana Trench.
Aki arrives to find Senou beaten and bruised, raped by the stepbrother and his crew of goons. Aki, furious, takes control of the stepbrother’s kakashi after it kills Senou, in time for several villagers to arrive and assume that he killed her. Before they can ask questions, he rips them into pieces with his reclaimed kakashi.
This episode demonstrated the lazy way to earn sympathy for a character, and that’s to ruin any sense of mystery surrounding his crass, psychopathic nature. By giving him such a contrived reason to be imprisoned, Kamisama Dolls just didn’t succeed in making him sympathetic. As E Minor put it better than I did, it’s manipulative rather than truly pulling at the audience’s heartstrings.
If anything, let’s walk away from this with a lesson learned. The best way to elicit any kind of sympathy is to subtly imply that the target of said sympathy isn’t perfect, but they don’t deserve to be thought of as a villain. Also, murdering puppies is a cheap way to make someone hate a character.