「さよなら、冥界の女神」 (Sayonara, Meikai no Megami)
“Goodbye, Goddess of the Underworld”
We have been anthropomorphising death for ages. This is understandable; death is mysterious and scary, and it helps to put a face on it. In fact, so compelling is this idea that humans have been doing it in stories ever since stories were invented and we’ve basically never stopped.
Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite fantasy authors of my generation, also created one of my favourite depictions of personified death in fiction. His Death was based on the classic skeleton-in-a-hood/horseman of the Apocalypse, and SPOKE IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. Yet he was altogether a friendly sort, fond of humans in general, and always our ally and never our enemy (at least, after the first book). Death didn’t go around killing people, let alone revel in it, he was just doing his job. He was a grandfather figure who helped you get to wherever you were going and plays Santa Clause on his off-days (it’s Discworld, it’s weird).
Sir Terry’s friend, Neil Gaiman, also had a version of Death in his Sandman graphic novels. There, instead of a grandfather Death was a cool older sister. She was chill, had all the answers, and dressed in black as much for fashion as anything else. In a story that was full of moral ambiguity she was one of the only genuinely good people and when the atmosphere got heavy (as it often did in Sandman Death could, ironically, be counted on to lighten it.
You see a common theme here, yes? We anthropomorphise death to take the edges off. Anecdotes from Pratchett and Gaiman tell of many readers coming to them with stories of how their respective characters helped the reader come to terms with mortality both in themselves and their loved ones. It is comforting for death, even though it be inevitable and indiscriminate, to be likeable — and perhaps more importantly, for it to like us.
It is only a matter of course that Japan turned death into a cute anime girl
And Eresh is pure and simply weaponised cute. It goes beyond her innate Rin-face powers, I think; again, Death is the nice one. Death cares. It’s common to many pantheons, really; take the Greek one. Most of the Greek gods are petulant trolls but Hades? Hades is serious about his work (I know the god of the underworld isn’t the same as the god of death, but just roll with it here). Hades cares. And thus Ereshkigal, even though she seems on the surface to be some pandering Nasu creation, actually fits our modern conception of ‘goddess of death’. Death may be a solemn duty, a necessary part of the circle of life, and kinda sucks for us mortal. But at least there’s somebody who cares.
Of course, Eresh’s tragedy, as she frames it, is that she spent her entire existence being the one who cares and then the Age of Gods ends and suddenly humanity doesn’t need her any more. I question that though. We are still, to this day, writing stories about ‘benevolent’ death. I would say something deep down in our nature still holds onto her.