THE PURPOSE OF A VALUE
What is the purpose of a dream? And what is the purpose of a value? Those were the questions we found ourselves asking as Denji fought in what he entitled “A Battle of Dreams” against the Leech Devil (Tachibana Yuuko), Bat Devil’s girlfriend. Tired of others looking down on his values and dreams, Denji asks this new foe with a grandiose vision of murdering and consuming all of humanity’s blood: “If I defeat you, what does that mean about your dream?”
The question is meant to give us pause. Everyone seems to be implying to Denji that dreams and values exist in an objective hierarchy that is determined by social evaluation. Some values are better than others just because. But Denji challenges this, implying that the worth of a value comes down to the strength it affords and how much we are willing to give for it.
In this model, there’s no such thing as an objective value; values are subjective. And if it has any objective value, this is determined by strength–whether you can back it up, what kind of power it affords you and sacrifices it justifies on the way to actualizing it.
If the Leech Devil wins, she’s right and her value is worth more. But if Denji wins, the Leech Devil, Aki, and the viewers who agree that Denji’s value is trivial, are wrong. This Nietzschean perspective houses a lot of subtlety, because there are many ways people can ‘win,’ and different paths they can take to win. Most misinterpret this as “power is the rule,” or “the strongest survive”––in the brute, straightforward sense of physical strength and violence. But it’s more complex than that. Power itself is a shape-shifter.
When the Leech Devil and Power call Denji’s dreams stupid; when Aki says he’s not taking the job seriously enough; when the spectators scoff, roll their eyes, or laugh at the things he wants; these are statements about the nature and worth of values. Denji, maimed and beaten bloody, perseveres and makes his own statement: values are subjectively valuable. Their purpose is to supply power by rendering us willing to incur great cost.
The purpose of a dream is to give purpose. Purpose affords us the feeling of strength, willingness to sacrifice and suffer, a motive to move forward. Fujimoto intentionally makes Denji’s purpose [fondling boobs] something most would find paltry. This is a statement in itself, meant to catch off guard those who default unconsciously to the common position that values have objective worth. It’s not about what the value is, but that it exists and carries strength. It’s also a normal and healthy desire for a teenage boy. We might even go so far as to link the fixation on breasts with insufficient breastfeeding and the absence of female nurturing in his life.
POWER DYNAMICS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Keeping in the theme with the power dynamics between men x women, this week we had two glaring examples that were impossible to ignore. For the second time now Aki is imposed upon by having to house someone he doesn’t want to, at all. If anything, we’re shown just how much Aki actually seems to enjoy his solitude through various scenic shots: the ritual of grinding and brewing his own coffee, his balcony with a single chair, a morning cigarette over the newspaper. This serenity, peace and quiet sets us up for a juxtaposition with the chaos that follows.
“You’re the only one I trust,” says Makima-san, as Power and Denji shout and argue in the background. Aki immediately blushes at the soft, tender voice speaking magic through his ear and straight into his heart. All it takes is an underhanded compliment, a sprinkle of romantic expectation used as leverage and he gladly gives in to something he was strictly against. I don’t think this would’ve been so easy if his supervisor were a man.
The same theme repeats itself when Denji saves Power not once, but twice. After being tricked, betrayed, terribly injured and maimed, after saving her cat with the promise of touching her boobs, he later learns that she wasn’t even going to honor the deal. Power then waltzes into his (Aki’s) house, refuses to shower, clogs the toilet because she doesn’t want to deal with her own shit, steals his toast, causes mayhem and chaos. Not only that, he’s the one having to begrudgingly plunge her shit down the toilet.
In what can only be called brilliant irony, the curtain closes on Power, sitting on a toilet full of her own shit, unshowered and uncaring. Denji kneels before her, beholden and grateful for her ‘generous’ handout. “She’s an angel!” he thinks to himself.
Whatever direction Fujimoto decides to take this, it’s very hard to dismiss these blatant themes of power imbalance.
How incredible was the entire fight sequence between Denji and the Leech Devil? Wow, MAPPA really does not disappoint. We were also very, very briefly introduced to more members of Squad 4: Himeno (Ise Mariya), Higashiyama Kobeni (Takahashi Karin) and Arai Hirokazu (Yashiro Tako). I can’t wait to see more of these guys. As always, major thanks to Choya for his immense help with the caps and to our readers: keep an eye out for his comments if you want to hear his perspective as a manga reader!