This review contains spoilers.
For the ordinary person being a hero is a compelling notion, as it represents the apex of humanity: saving others at the risk of your own well-being. It is often considered unattainable, for one may lack the skills, or the intellect to save the world. Most importantly, one may be overcome with fear of the inevitable component of self-sacrifice.
How is it that heroism has become must always end in self-sacrifice?
The paradox of heroism is hinted in the “death positivity bias” theory. Essentially, this means that we love heroes most, and we treat heroes greatest when they’re gone. Especially when they die for the “greater good”.
However morbid and unfortunate the inclination, I have to admit there is something romantically tragic about heroic sacrifice. It is a special phenomenon, an example of extreme behaviour that is rarely seen in everyday life.
The rarity of the heroic sacrifice makes us respect the hero more, enhancing their unattainable “god-like” status. At the same time, we appreciate the fact that they are not totally inaccessible because they too have flaws.
Now heroic sacrifice is losing meaning rapidly, frayed with overuse. Ironically, what was meant to put more meaning into the character, is now taking away from it – death used to mean something.
When Lightning Lad died fifty years ago battling Zaryan the conqueror it had dramatic weight, and created emotional impact.
Perhaps it is my overexposure to bad films that has worn away my love for heroic tales. In my defence, most of the time cinematic heroic sacrifices have an inherent alternate solution, but the author chooses to turn a blind eye on logic to either create the “bittersweet effect,” or to go against the expected “happily-ever-after” ending entrenched in culture by Disney. By doing so, the writer simultaneously creates the idea that this character is too great for this world, and too cool to fit cookie-cutter endings.
So what separates the meaningful from the senseless versions of heroic sacrifice?
I recently re-stumbled upon a sci-fi manga called Eternal Sabbath by Fuyumi Soryo. Eternal Sabbath is the name of a gene created by scientists who strived for immortality. The basic function of the gene is to immunize the body against all strains of viruses. It was tested out on several genetically engineered humans.
After several experiments, results determined that the gene was so aggressive that it targeted the body of the carrier, killing all of the test subjects except one, who, once developed, was named “Shuro.” Joyous from the single success, the scientists cloned him, producing Isaac – who was essentially a back-up just in case the original, Shuro, needed another organ or something as equally as horrific.
The important distinction between the two that sets up the plot for the rest of the series is that although Shuro and Isaac are clones, Shuro was the only one who experienced the full range of human emotions, as he was not trapped inside an artificial womb like Issac was.
The two get separated, and Fuyumi Soryo presents a distinct dichotomy right from the beginning – the dichotomy of good versus evil, ironically stemming from the exact same root.
Shuro is obviously the main character, as the aloof hero who eventually softens when he meets Mine Kujo, a neurology researcher. They develop a mutual goal: to put an end to Isaac, who has become corrupt and ruthless. Nearly every supporting character dies by his hand.
In a way, Soryo desensitizes and habituates readers with the ongoing deaths that occur in the first seven volumes while developing the novel’s darker themes. I flinched a bit at a particularly gruesome murder, as the emotional ties with the characters flew out the window. Oh, there goes the little girl. And her mother. And her father.
However, since it is a Josei manga I knew there was bound to be a turn-around somewhere. And there is, although not one I expected.
At first I thought it was all just a part of the author’s intention of creating a specific atmosphere for the series – dark, almost apocalyptic, heavy sci-fi. Maybe Soryo’s point was to show Isaac’s insurmountable power and lack of morality. Or, to emphasize the good vs. evil dichotomy, ironized by the fact that they are clones of each other.
That is, until the series reached volume eight, when Shuro dies in a single page. It was so sudden and was so implicitly stated that even Mine had to take in a moment to fully comprehend what just happened.
The effect to which Soryo creates this moment is absolutely amazing. Shuro’s death was as quick as any other death in the story, but it was right after a battle with his counterpart Isaac – a fight, which ended too suddenly, and one everyone thought Shuro won.
This is the moment everyone (both fictional and real) has been waiting for, yet it is oddly anticlimactic, continuously floating in mid-air, buoyant with hanging ellipses. Something has gone awry, but what? We (readers and Mine) only realize this when Shuro responds to her uncharacteristically.
In the whole sequence Mine is so stone-faced and unresponsive, we know something is wrong, but no one wants to voice it – not even Mine herself.
We discover that Isaac displaced Shuro’s mind into his own body, took over Shuro’s body, and murdered his (Isaac’s) own physical body with Shuro inside of it.
The battle and the focus shift to Mine versus Isaac, which is an extremely powerful one because it is an internal one, a mental struggle. Their fight literally occurs in their minds.
The meaning Soryo embeds in Shuro’s sacrifice is a significant one, as she shows us that although battles do not necessarily end because the hero gives up his or her life for it, their sacrifice does not have to be a meaningless one. In fact, I feel as though Shuro’s death was more meaningful than the deaths of heroes whose sacrifice resulted in their side’s victory, because Shuro’s sacrifice initiated Mine’s heroism.
The heroes who sacrificed themselves and bring an end to struggles become revered and unattainable, but Shuro proved that it doesn’t matter who you are and what your limits are. Supernatural or human, no matter where your roots lie, heroism is not unattainable; rather, it is merely a kind of potential that just needs ignition.
-contributed by Ariana Youm