What is justice?
It is the question ZETMAN has been pondering the entire series, and a question that is continuously brought up in the finale. It goes unanswered, but perhaps that was the point – to make the viewers wonder, for them to ask themselves what justice means to them. There are complex layers built around the concept of justice and I like that ZETMAN continues to create more grey areas so that not one person is completely in the wrong. The prime example being Kouga, of course.
Kouga is a difficult character to figure out. He certainly wants to exact justice, but what kind of justice does he want? His definition of the concept is limited strictly to “eradicating evil”, a philosophy that certainly is noble and correct… but is it really that simple? The word “evil” itself begs a proper definition – how do you define something broad? Who do you label as evil? The Players who murder innocent bystanders? Or the people who engineered those beings in the first place? Or is it the man who leads the Players on a crusade against mankind? Or the person whose greatest weapon also brings about destruction and more deaths in its wake? They’re all evil on some level, but it’s also not quite that clear-cut. EVOL is an organization made of Players that strives to maintain harmony – so do you eradicate them simply on the basis that they’re Players, even though they have no ill-will toward humans? What of Mitsugai, who enlists Jin’s help in order to destroy the abominations he created? And finally, what of Jin, who only wishes to save people despite his origins?
On a personal level, Kouga’s definition took a lot of effort to understand; nothing he ever does is technically wrong, but he’s certainly a very narrow-minded individual. Part of it stems from his age – as a teen, what do we know about the world, really? Another contributor to his perspective is probably the way he grew up; he views the world through a very rose-tinted glass – some of the points he makes, while valid, sounds self-righteous coming from him because of the luxurious upbringing Kouga had. He might not have had the most ideal family life, but that doesn’t discredit all the comforts he was provided with. That’s why it’s a little discordant to hear him talk about how cruel the world is, how not everyone can be saved and sacrifices are required from time to time. Does he know the full weight of his words? It’s possible he gleaned that bit from Jirou’s tests, but I never got a sense he learned anything from it – I feel it destroyed whatever idealism he had left and cemented it into an absolute principle instead. All evil must be eliminated, no matter the circumstances.
It certainly was a surprise to see him point the gun at Jin, but I suppose it wasn’t completely unwarranted. Jin, while well-meaning, does pose a threat to the world with his Ring of Exposure. It still breaks my heart nevertheless to see him treated as a villain because Jin is anything but. His desire to save people has always driven him to do good, so it’s unfortunate the very thing that enables him to save people also puts them in danger. Even more impressive is his continued act of heroism from the shadows, despite the fact no one praises him for it – it’s not a stretch to say he’ll even be hunted down if he ever appeared in public again.
And here’s where the similarity struck me; I direct everyone to the ending speech in The Dark Knight because it encapsulates perfectly the ending of ZETMAN. True heroes often don’t see the limelight, because they’re not the kind people need – for their sake they need to play martyr. It isn’t fair that Batman becomes a criminal and the receiver of people’s hatred, but he recognizes it’s what people of Gotham need. They needed a “White Knight”, and that was something he couldn’t become. In this case, the “White Knight” the world needs is Kouga – a human being that performs extraordinary, heroic deeds for the benefit of the people. It’s not fair that the world doesn’t know the whole story, about the “Dark Knight” that keeps them safe from the shadows – but the circumstances are what they are. And it’s this type of noble sacrifice that will forever make Jin the true hero in my eyes.
Saying that ZETMAN has been a wild ride would be quite an understatement. Adapting an ongoing manga with chapter counts in the hundreds into a 1-cour adaptation is certainly a difficult task; admittedly there were some spotty portions, but as a whole I would still say the show has been largely enjoyable. It’s definitely not a flawless series and there were parts where some serious suspension of belief was required to let the plot run its course. But beyond that, I still feel ZETMAN offered plenty of things to make up for the rushed pacing and jumpy story – this show offers some of the most complex definitions of heroes and justice I’ve seen in the form of its two heroes: Kouga and Jin. They’re what carried the show for me because I was invested in seeing their growth and how they emerged from each and every conflict. I did care more for Jin than I did for Kouga, but even then I still wanted to see where the show would take his idealism and his enthusiasm for heroism.
I think ultimately, ZETMAN needed more time to flesh out its story; each arc had a wealth of great material and contained a lot of things could have elevated the show from “okay” to “great”. It still has some successful elements, but giving them more room to shine certainly wouldn’t hurt. The beginning and the end still remain the best parts, where the conflicts were firmly grounded to the two leads and their struggle to find the meaning of justice. ZETMAN tended to be a little spotty with its secondary characters, with some being great and some… not so much. So it’s no surprise the plot got a little draggy whenever the focus switched to peripheral participants – next to layered characters like Jin and Kouga, it’s hard to achieve the same level of intensity and complexity that commands their scenes.
At the end though, ZETMAN did keep me coming back every week (and not just because I had to blog it) – and I’m glad I decided to pick this up since I would’ve missed out on something unique and great otherwise. It’s definitely not a show meant to cater to a wide audience, but it’s one that should be given a chance, especially since it continuously challenges the viewers’ perspective with every episode.
Anyway, thanks a lot for sticking with me throughout my coverage everyone! It’s certainly been one hell of a ride!